Microscopic wildlife

Recently the Hoopoe blog by NHBS hosted an interview with Ben Fitch, the Riverfly Partnership’s Project Manager.

Ben emphasis how important riverfly monitoring is as an initiative because it is such an effective way of monitoring the health of a river through its fly life. Ben also happens to mention the flat-bodied mayfly larva (Ecdyonurus dispar – Autumn Dun) as one of his favourite river flies, particularly the white-spot variant.

Excitingly during a socially distanced riverfly training session a few weeks ago Alex, Sam and Amy from the Ryevitalise Team found this very variant here in the River Rye. Apparently the exotic looking spots might be caused by a recessive gene, but what triggers it remains unknown.

Autumn dun white spot from the River Rye - through a microscope. Copyright NYMNPA.

Riverfly monitoring in the Rye catchment is getting going again now, whilst keeping in line with current Covid-19 restrictions. So we thought we’d have a chat with one of our own riverfly people – Sam Lewsey, Ryevitalise Field Officer.

Riverfly monitoring in the Rye Catchment. Copyright Sam Lewsey, NYMNPA.How long have Riverfly volunteers been out in the Rye catchment this year?

We started the phased return of riverfly monitoring from the middle of June. Amy (Education and Engagement Officer) and myself have been meeting individual volunteers on site to go through revised risk assessments and answer any questions they may have, as well as conducting the first kick-samples of the year. Normally riverfly monitoring would have started up at the beginning of May, but due to restrictions our volunteers understandably weren’t able to get out and monitor for the first 6 weeks of the sampling season.

How many Riverfly volunteers have you got on the Rye?

Currently we’ve got 30 riverfly volunteers registered through the Ryevitalise programme, although not all of these are currently ‘active’; unfortunately due to C-19 we had to Riverfly monitoring in the Rye Catchment. Copyright Sam Lewsey, NYMNPA.cancel our riverfly training and refresher days in April, so some volunteers are still awaiting their official training, including health & safety. Others have received training previously and are in the process of being assigned a site to monitor. Our first phase of volunteers to get back to volunteering were our established riverfly volunteers (8 in total) at sites where they had monitored before.

Riverfly monitoring is a good thing because…
See Catchment Based Approach partnerships website’s explanation of riverfly monitoring

“Riverflies (and other freshwater invertebrates) are at the heart of the freshwater ecosystem and are a vital link in the aquatic food chain. Because riverflies are riverfly populations are affected by many factors, predominately water quality, habitat diversity, water level and flow rate. Their common characteristics of limited mobility, relatively long life cycle, presence throughout the year and specific tolerances to changes in environmental conditions make them powerful biological indicators to monitor water quality, and so are commonly referred to as ‘the canary of our rivers.’  The Riverfly Partnership spearheads an initiative to allow interested groups to take action that will help conserve the river environment. This initiative provides a simple monitoring technique which groups can use to detect any severe perturbations in river water quality…”

Basically this Citizen Science initiative “ensures that water quality is checked more widely [than it would be otherwise] and action taken at the earliest opportunity if any problem are detected”.

Ryevitalise is participating in the national riverfly monitoring scheme run by the Riverfly Partnership. It’s important that we’re part of the wider scheme for several reasons: it standardises the methodology used across the UK; we get top-notch training and support from the Riverfly partnership’s extremely knowledgeable qualified trainers; we can run reports of our results easily from the database that our result go into; and we get to contribute important data on water quality and catchment health to the wider national scheme so that research into trends in the health of our rivers can be carried out and lead to informed changes and positive impacts on terrestrial and aquatic management.

Riverfly monitoring focuses on three groups – the up-wing flies or mayflies (Ephemeroptera), caddisflies or sedges (Trichoptera) and stoneflies (Plecoptera).

Such tiny creepy insects are actually fascinating and wonderful because…
See Freshwater Biological Association’s website

  • Riverfly monitoring - Mayfly larvae. Copyright Sam Lewsey, NYMNPA.They are a vital link in the aquatic food chain as a food source for fish, birds and mammals
  • They are one of the longest lived group of animals on the earth (mayflies have been around for over 3 million years, with the first written reference to them being made over 4000 years ago!)
  • Mayfly nymphs are present in the water all year round, and can spend up to two years feeding under the water before emerging as their adult form… but once they’ve Riverfly monitoring - Yellow hawk female. Copyright Stuart Crofts, Riverfly Partnership.emerged they fly for only a few hours (enough time to display and mate) before dying
  • Caddisfly larvae are fantastic grazers that clean up old leaves and twigs from the river bed, and sort through sediment as they go
  • Caddisfly cases used to be made into jewellery because they are so beautiful!
  • Riverfly monitoring - Cased caddisfly larvae. Copyright Sam Lewsey, NYMNPA.Stonefly nymphs are extremely hardy – managing to continue growth even in sub-zero temperatures. They are also able to suspend growth if a river dries up temporarily
  • Overall, riverflies are a vital part of both the aquatic and terrestrial food chains, as well as being key players in sorting sediment on the river bed and breaking down waste products like old leaves and twigs

Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership Scheme main logos

Tree by tree

Ann Pease – Ryevitalise Administration Assistant

On 8 February the local community and members of the public came out in force to show their support for the new Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership – volunteering their time to help us plant trees hundreds of trees at a local farm within a 30m wide buffer strip alongside the River Seph in Bilsdale. It was a fantastic bright and sunny winter’s day as we enjoyed the calm before the arrival of Storm Ciara the next day.

A mixture of native broadleaf trees were planted including oak and alder, as well as a range of shrub species including hazel, crab apple, hawthorn and rowan chosen for their high biodiversity value and food source for local birds and wildlife.

Amy from the Ryevitalise Team - tree planting task Feb 2020. Copyright NYMNPA.

Planting trees alongside rivers helps to stabilise the river’s banks via their extensive root network, and reduces natural erosion processes during high rainfall events when the river is in peak flow. Trees provide habitat, food and shelter for wildlife, and by creating an uneven surface and reducing compaction help to filter runoff from the surrounding landscape which in turn improves water quality by preventing excess sediment and nutrients making their way into the river. Trees create a more naturally functioning system and help restore aquatic habitats, such as sediment-free gravel beds, which are vital for the survival of species such as the white-clawed crayfish, trout and lamprey – all of which can be found within the Rye catchment.

Native White-Clawed Crayfish - copyright Dan Lombard.

To help protect the trees planted Ryevitalise has a funded scheme with the farmer which includes erecting a fence to exclude the livestock and so create a buffer strip between the grazed pasture and the river.  Buffer strips are an important component of a functioning river corridor, which act as superhighways for native invertebrates, birds and mammals.  As well as helping to control pollution and reduce run off, they provide a vital barrier between more intensively managed farm land and the delicate ecosystem of the river.

Tree planting task Feb 2020 - working within the riverbank buffer strip. Copyright NYMNPA.

A team of around 25 enthusiasts – young and old, experienced and novice, passionate conservationists and interested residents – were supplied with hot tea, plenty of cake, and together planted an amazing 300 trees over the course of the morning.

Tree planting task Feb 2020 - more tree planting. Copyright NYMNPA. Tree planting task Feb 2020 - more and more tree planting. Copyright NYMNPA.

Tree planting task Feb 2020 - more, more and more tree planting. Copyright NYMNPA.

This was Ryevitalise’s first public event focussed around climate change and carbon capture. The enthusiasm of the people who attended, their hard work and the difference we made to the area in just a morning combined to make the event a great success!

THE TEAM - tree planting task Feb 2020. Copyright NYMNPA.

The following week members of the National Park Authority’s Explorer Club along with other volunteers spent a day adding an additional 100 trees, with the remaining 400 planted by our amazing team of National Park Authority volunteers on Tuesday 3 March. So overall a very impressive 800 trees have been introduced at this site by the River Seph, providing a big ecological benefit to the river.

The Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership Scheme is supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, North York Moors National Park Authority and other partners. It is a four year project aiming to conserve, enhance and restore the natural and cultural heritage of the area, enabling people to reconnect with the history, wildlife and landscape of the River Rye and its tributaries. Our catchment area is a huge 413km2, spanning the western edge of the North York Moors National Park, parts of the Howardian Hills AONB and arable farmland along the Vale of Pickering. We have 16 on the ground projects (19 in total), covering everything from habitat restoration to built heritage and arts related programs.

If this is something you might be interested in getting involved with, we are actively looking for volunteers to help us achieve the aims of our projects. Whether it’s surveying ancient trees, examining historic records, helping at events, wildlife monitoring or outdoor conservation days – we’re sure to have something you will enjoy.  See our current volunteering opportunities for more details or email us.

Our project officially launches this Spring Bank Holiday (25 May), with a week long schedule of events throughout the catchment area showcasing how fantastic our rivers, wildlife and landscapes are. Fun and informative events will be held right across the catchment highlighting what varied landscapes and communities we have in the Ryevitalise area.

If you would like to be kept up to date with the Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership Scheme, its events and opportunities, send the Team an email to subscribe to our mailing list.

Esk ventures

Ryan Harvey – River Esk & Coastal Streams Catchment Partnership Officer

Hi there, I’m Ryan the new Partnership Officer for the River Esk & Coastal Streams Catchment – its part of a Catchment Based Approach and my post is jointly hosted by the National Park Authority and the Yorkshire Esk Rivers Trust (YERT) . I started back in August and what a fantastic experience I’ve had so far. My role is very varied and fulfills a broad range of objectives: liaising with landowners and farmers, managing volunteers, working with partner organisations and carrying out surveys. All this effort is in the hope of benefiting the ecology of the Esk and building strong relationships and partnerships to maintain the ecology into the future.

It all started with the electro fishing season. That meant getting to know our e-fishing volunteers and arranging some refresher training for them. This was a great opportunity for me to meet the team ahead of our actual surveys and set the scene for the coming weeks. Once the work started along with volunteers I had the much appreciated help of Victoria Franklin (our Conservation Trainee) and Ami Carrick (our Ryevitalise Education & Engagement Officer). Electro fishing is a hugely important element of our data collection on the Esk. It allows us to gain a better understanding of our fish species diversity and abundance, in particular migratory species such as salmon (Salmo salar), sea trout (Salmo trutta), European eel (Anguilla anguilla) and lamprey (Lampreta planeri).

Electro fishing on the Esk. Copyright NYMNPA.

Our sites are repeated year on year and we now have a record of each species population over the last six years. This along with a whole suite of other data collecting techniques better informs our next steps and future conservation measures.

We are looking for new electro fishing volunteers for the 2020 season, so if this is something that may interest you please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our Volunteers Team. We can offer all the training you might need.

Another aspect of my role has been working alongside our Pearl Mussel Volunteers who have a long standing history in the National Park; some of its volunteers have been working with us for over 10 years. The volunteers’ work is invaluable because it’s through this group (along with contractors) that we get most of the physical works and restorations done on the river. There are usually volunteer tasks every two weeks at locations along the Esk and in surrounding riparian habitats. Tasks can vary from week to week for instance woodrush and tree planting for bank stabilization and habitat creation, riverbank fencing and repair to help water quality, as well as hedgerow and riverside grassland management to enhance biodiversity. We don’t stop for winter; this year so far we’ve tackled left over Himalayan Balsam pulling/bashing tasks on the upper Esk catchment.

Our 26 existing Riverfly Volunteers have been busy as ever in 2019, providing vital spot data on the Esk’s freshwater invertebrates. This data is crucial as many of our invertebrates are indicator species and being very sensitive they act as useful litmus for water quality and pollution. Many invertebrates are key component of freshwater and riparian food webs and many other species feed on them. Rivers need to be clean for them to thrive and in turn every other species will benefit. The data returns from 2019 have all been highly valuable for us and the national Riverfly Partnership, with most sites showing high levels of target group abundance and a few showing the highest levels in the last three years, which is encouraging news – hopefully this trend continues into 2020!

Riverfly monitoring in the Esk Catchment. Copyright NYMNPA.

Our Adopt a Stream initiative is also a great source of data for the catchment. Another long standing citizen science project, this has volunteers who “take ownership” of given sections of the Esk, which they monitor on a month to month basis. Volunteers note down the general ecology of the site, the state of the river (flow regimes and water levels), any pollution inputs, any litter and invasive non-native species. This allows us, through the eyes of the volunteer, to recognise any apparent issues along the Esk. So if this is something you might be interested in, if you have a favourite walk or spot along the catchment you care about and like to visit frequently, then please get in touch and help us to continue to monitor the ecological health of the Esk Valley.

In addition we are hoping to start addressing some of the remaining in-river obstacles such as weirs, culverts and fords. This work could help towards the restoration of natural river processes and hydrology of the Esk and also importantly aid the passage of migratory fish species, such as salmon, trout, lamprey and eels. Structures can prevent fish species migrating up river to spawning sites and also prevent successful downstream migration of our salmon smolts which, added to the decline of salmon at sea, has further compounded population declines in the catchment in the last few decades. We found extremely low juvenile salmon numbers from our electro fishing surveys; this suggests that the installation of fish passage and fish easements could be a vital part of the continued conservation efforts along the Esk.

Example of an In channel obstacle for fish passage. Copyright NYMNPA.

Lastly but most importantly there are our pearl mussels. The catalyst for all this work over the last decade and into the future is our Freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera) population in the River Esk. We work with land managers as well as our volunteers and contractors to fence river corridors, plant trees/vegetation, stabilise and restore river banks in order to:

  • reduce diffuse pollution because mussels require oligotrophic (low nutrient) conditions, and
  • tackle erosion and sedimentation leading to suspended solids in the river because juvenile mussels require clean gravels with good oxygen circulation.

A strong salmonid population supports good healthy mussel numbers as the fish are crucial to the mussel’s life cycle – the larval form (glochidia) use the fish as hosts by attaching to the gills until large enough to detach and then self sustainably live within the river gravels. This is why we’re so keen on our river obstacle work because we want fish to spawn all the way up the catchment, creating strong, wide spread populations. Helping the fish helps the mussels and the mussels, being bivalves, help clean the river which in turn provides better conditions for our freshwater invertebrates, which then are fed on the by the fish and the cycle continues….

The glochidea phase of the Freshwater Pearl Mussel. Copyright Elizabeth Clements, NYMNPA.

Everything in the river is connected and helping one species will help another, this is why all our conservation work is so important and why partnership and cooperation between our volunteers, land managers and partners is crucial for the future of the River Esk.

Traversing the Esk

Christopher Watt – River Esk Project Officer

Hi there, I’m Chris and I’ve just recently joined the National Park Authority as a River Esk Project Officer, having moved down from Scotland, and seemingly brought the weather with me! My role will involve working with farmers and landowners to implement river restoration techniques that seek to improve the water quality of the River Esk catchment.

Over the last month I have started to piece together the Esk catchment, worked with volunteers in delivering practical tasks and began undertaking fish obstacle river surveys. It has certainly been a varied introduction to the role and area.

Autumn colours in Westeredale. Copyright NYMNPA.

Volunteers braved the drizzly elements back in October to repair a broken fence on the River Esk, near Castleton. Thankfully, the task allowed us to remain on dry land and avoid venturing into the river which was rather swollen after recent heavy rainfall. A bankside tree had fallen and crushed a section of the fence-line, slackening the wire and dislodging posts. The volunteers assisted with installing new posts, including a heavy duty straining post, re-attaching the wires and finally tightening them. The volunteers worked extremely hard and it was a pleasure to meet and work with them. The task was also completed in one afternoon and the sun even came out, which is a bonus!

This task was one of the many on-going works to restore and enhance the riparian habitats of the River Esk. Maintaining riverside fences assists in keeping cattle and sheep away from the bankside vegetation and so causing sediment loading through erosion. Bankside vegetation stabilises the soil and is an important habitat in its own right. The reduction of sediment loading should help improve conditions for conservation priority species such as Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), Sea trout (Salmo trutta) and Freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera) which favour clean, fast-flowing rivers and streams.

In combination to riparian habitat enhancements, we have also been undertaking fish obstacle surveys stretching from Westerdale down  to Goathland. These involve inspecting an assortment of obstructions from weirs, fords and culverts and assessing how severe they impinge on fish migration. At each obstacle the length, width and height are recorded, along with a written assessment of the level of severity the obstacle poses to migrating fish populations.  

Esk Catchment weir after high rainfall event. Copyright NYMNPA.

Due to recent high rainfall, many of these obstacles have been partially or fully submerged, and although looking dramatic, have been just too dangerous to take measurements from. Electro-fishing will also accompany these surveys at a later date to inform us about fish species diversity and abundance at each obstacle. The purpose of these surveys is to update our records on obstructions across the catchment and prioritise where mitigation measures would best be targeted to benefit fish populations of the Esk. Migratory fish are a vital aspect of the biodiversity of the river.

Esk Catchment culvert and ford system. Copyright NYMNPA.

Electrifying activities

Victoria Franklin – Conservation Trainee

Last week some National Park Volunteers (all fully trained) have finally been able to carry out the first electro fishing surveys this year along the River Esk. Delays had been caused by the weather.

The priority are sites up and downstream of the Sewage Treatment Works (STW) and one Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) in the upper catchment. The first day of surveying was at Commondale.

The concept of electro fishing is to collect samples of fish living within the river, the higher the fish count the healthier the river should be. This will also show the type of fish living in our rivers, the cleanliness of the river and theoretically what the invertebrate population is like along that stretch of river.

The river levels had settled down by Thursday meaning the water was back to a slow flow and all the previous rain had made the water clear giving the perfect conditions for electro fishing.

We fished the river in two 50m sections, one upstream and one downstream of water treatment works. This was done using a zig zag motion to ensure that no area was left unfished. Each 50m section was fished three times to ensure a fair population of fish were caught.

Esk electro fishing October 2019. Copyright NYMNPA.

The equipment used to stun the fish is called an electro fisher and consists of a positive charge the anode at the front and a negative charge called the cathode which trails along the back. These are both attached to a battery which is worn by the person conducting the fishing, today it was Volunteer Paul. Both the anode and the cathode must be in the water to cause an electro charge which is what stuns the fish, but don’t worry rubber thigh waders were worn by everyone so the electro pulse did not affect us humans like it did the fish. The rest of us were in charge of catching the stunned fish in nets alongside the anode, which is harder than it looks as the fish soon spring back to life! They are then transferred into a bucket from the nets.

Esk electro fishing October 2019. Copyright NYMNPA.

We set the voltage output at 150- 200 volts which is enough to temporarily stun the fish making them easier to catch in the net. Once the section of river has been fished the data collection begins. The fish are identified – on this day we found 57 trout downstream and 104 upstream with the largest being 180mm and the smallest recorded at 52mm. The information collected will now be analysed before being sent onto Yorkshire Water, they will then compare this with the other locations which are due to be fished over the next few weeks, and that will all help inform management of their sites as necessary.

An amazing day was had by all the volunteers and staff that attended. More data collection will happen in the next few weeks on different sites along the Esk.

Esk electro fishing October 2019 - small trout. Copyright NYMNPA.

Let Ryevitalise begin!

Alex Cripps – Ryevitalise Programme Manager

For the last two years we have been leading on the development of Ryevitalise, a landscape partnership scheme focusing on the River Rye and its tributaries.

So we are really delighted to report that we were successful with the final Stage Two application to the National Lottery Heritage Fund and have been awarded nearly £2 million towards the delivery of this fantastic four-year scheme – starting now.

Top of the Rye Catchment. Copyright NYMNPA.

With match funding included Ryevitalise is a £3.4 million programme in total, focusing on three key themes:

  • Water quality and the environment – restoring and conserving the aquatic habitats of the Rye and the rare and threatened species that the river and wider landscape supports;
  • Water Level Management – harnessing natural flood processes to create a more naturally functioning river; and
  • Reconnecting people – improving the understanding of the river landscape by telling the story of its evolution and encouraging people to protect their heritage.

River Rye - copyright NYMNPA.

Ryevitalise is very much a partner-led scheme with over 15 organisations working together to deliver their common goals across this part of the River Rye catchment. The River Rye and its tributaries meander through a variety of landscapes including moorland, upland farmland and lowland arable and livestock farmland; crossing over the National Park boundary into the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and into the non-designated wider Ryedale beyond. It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to work closely with partners like the the Howardian Hills AONB, Ryedale District Council and the Environment Agency.  The North York Moors National Park Authority itself is the lead partner and we’re currently recruiting the delivery team.

Rye at Ness. Copyright Liz Bassindale, Howardian Hills AONB.

I’ve recently been appointed as the Ryevitalise Programme Manager and I’m really excited about this amazing opportunity to share my enthusiasm for rivers and the fascinating wildlife that the freshwater habitats and the surrounding areas support. One of the main goals is to reconnect people with nature and our river environments. I am really keen to raise the profile of rivers by looking at how valuable these ecosystems are, and how important they are to people both within the Ryevitalise area itself but also beyond. Over the next four years we will be working alongside local communities, including land managers and young people, reconnecting people to their local river systems and exploring how simple every day actions to help care for our rivers can collectively make a huge, positive difference.

There will be lots of opportunities to get involved, from practical conservation tasks such as Himalayan balsam control to species monitoring. There will also be a programme of expert talks, exhibitions and discovery events. Keep an eye on social media, our website or this blog for further updates once the new team are up and running.

If you are keen to get involved at the start please get in touch, perhaps you are a member of a local community group wanting to know more, a local land manager interested in improving water quality, or you would like to sign up as a Ryevitalise Volunteer – it would be great to hear from you!

National Lottery Heritage Fund logo

What might have been

‘Our READERS Say IS THE FARNDALE SCHEME NECESSARY’. (Hull Daily Mail, 26 August 1932)

In 1932 the Kingston upon Hull Corporation bought a large area of land in Upper Farndale in the North York Moor, c. 2,000 hectares. The Corporation had a plan to create a large reservoir behind a constructed earth embankment at Church Houses , and then using gravitation through a series of pipes/aqueducts bring a safe and reliable water supply down to Hull (c. 50 miles away). The plans also involved a second stage with weirs constructed in the neighbouring dales of Rosedale and Bransdale (and possibly Westerdale?) – with the collected water piped through the dividing hills into the Farndale Reservoir, if and when demand required it. The River Dove which runs through Farndale naturally flows into the River Derwent which then flows into the River Ouse which ends up in the Humber Estuary where Hull is located – so all within the massive Humber river basin.Landscape view - looking north up Farndale. Copyright NYMNPA.

From the regional newspapers of the time there is a suggestion that the City of York considered a similarly located reservoir during the first reservoir enthusiasm at the end of the 19th century. In the 1920s/30s there had been another such outbreak of enthusiasm to use large scale engineering to make the most of natural capital and ensure sufficient safe water supplies with all the resulting health and welfare benefits. Ideas of progress and modernism assumed that cities and industry would prosper and expand if allowed to. Reservoirs meant (rain) water could be collected, stored and released under control, rather than relying on unpredictable and capricious rivers. The Kingston upon Hull Corporation were willing to make the required large scale capital investment at this difficult time (the Great Depression) for a better future.

As well as the very useful amount of water that could be impounded, the North York Moors water would be soft (less minerals) and could be mixed with the hard water from the Hull environs, thus improving the water as a product (the projected saving in soap is presented as one of the benefits from the scheme). Destructive flooding downstream would be prevented. The construction would provide a scheme of work for up to ‘600 labourers’ from the unemployed of Hull.

‘This Farndale scheme will not only prove a blessing to Hull, but to large areas of the North and East Riding, and future generations will appreciate, perhaps better than the present generation, the foresight and sagacity of the Hull Corporation’. (Hull Daily Mail, 25 September 1933)

Farndale. Copyright NYMNPA.

Farndale, as well as Rosedale and Bransdale, were farming dales, surrounded on most sides by moorland, with low populations of people. The Leeds Mercury of Monday 29 August 1932 reports on what farmers in the Farndale area thought about the plan to build ‘the second largest reservoir in the country’. There was apparently some ‘alarm’ and concerns about possible effects on the water supply lower down the catchment, but the report also emphasises the employment opportunities (a common claim with all infrastructure projects, now and then) and potential increases in property/land values. As well as the large scale areas of farmland to be lost, a small number of individual farmsteads (c. 3 or 4?) would be submerged however there would be no “drowned villages” as there had been elsewhere in the country. In the meantime the farmers in Upper Farndale remained the tenants of the Corporation.

‘Hull Civic Visit to Site of New Reservoir. From Our Own Correspondent, HULL, Wednesday. Members of the Hull Corporation Water Committee paid an official visit to Farndale, the site of Hull’s proposed new reservoir, yesterday. At the end of the day they wondered which to admire the most, the glorious scenery through which they passed or the vision and skill of the young engineer, Mr. T. H. Jones, which has led the Corporation to depart from its policy of deep well pumping stations within comparatively easy reach of the city and go out to the North Yorkshire moorlands [North York Moors]. Mr. Jones is the deputy water engineer, and less than three years ago, when doubts were entertained as to the advisability of proceeding with £900,000 scheme for a pumping station at Kellythorpe, near, Driffield, he cast about for an alternative…. CHOICE OF FARNDALE. Mr. Jones’s thoughts turned to the broad moors and lovely vallies of the North Riding, with their bountiful supplies of soft water. His choice fell upon Farndale, a selection that was afterwards confirmed by Mr. H. P. Hill, the Manchester expert, and endorsed by Parliament, when the necessary enabling bill was promoted. So it fell out that to-day Mr. Jones was able to point out the details of scheme which is estimated to cost £1,182,000 for the first portion and £2,127,000 [c. £144 million in today’s money] for the completed whole…The chief objective of the visit was Church Houses, Farndale, where the eastern end of the great dam will be, Mr. Jones indicated the great work that is to be carried out and which, far from detracting from the beauties of the valley, will add to them. A lake two and a half miles long and half a mile its widest point will set among the hills. The dam will be 1,900 feet in length and 130 feet high. Six thousand million gallons of water will be impounded [the capacity of Upper Farndale compared to neighbouring dales was why it had been decided on]’. (Leeds Mercury, Thursday 16 August 1934)

Farndale looking towards Oak Crag. Copyright NYMNPA.

During the 1930s arguments continued to appear in the regional papers – in letters, articles and editorials – mainly focused on who would have to pay for the scheme, who would benefit from the scheme, whether the water collected in Farndale was actually ‘pure’ or ‘peaty’, and whether the substrata of Farndale was pervious or impervious and therefore suitable for holding water (the top end of Farndale where it is sandstone rather than limestone is impervious). The main controversy seems to have been whether the reservoir was actually needed or not – opinions were based on short or long term perspectives. It was claimed the work itself would take at least 10 years, but would result in a secure water supply for Hull for somewhere between ‘100 to 150 years’ up to ‘all time’.

Whereas some saw it as another ‘grandiose and extravagant scheme’ the correspondent below is very keen, and seems the scheme very much as a win-win situation for all. It also references the drive at the time by many local councils trying to ensure that their own local citizens had access to national water resources.

‘HOW HULL’S WATER PROBLEMS MAY BE SOLVED’ FOR EVER HUMBERSIDE ECHOES A Day Out in Farndale Transforming a Countryside…I spent a very interesting and enjoyable day yesterday visiting Hull’s existing and prospective waterworks. A better day for an outing to Farndale could not been selected, and as one might imagine, the valley and the site of the dam were seen under ideal conditions. The journey was made by motor-car, and we proceeded by way of Thwing straight on to Malton, thence to Kirbymoorside, and struck the wonderful surprise view at Gillamoor. From this point of vantage one can see right across the valley, which, to its furthest upland extent, must be some eight or ten miles. To the left is the actual sweep the dale, and we proceed to follow this by descending a rather narrow roughly-stoned road. We have left many miles behind that part of the valley which has been described by Dr Eve as being difficult owing to limestone formation [Dr Eve was the lead proponent of the limestone in Farndale being pervious], and have yet many miles further the dale to go. A DELIGHTFUL VALLEY From this point the scenery is of the most delightful description. There is nothing of the wild moorland desolation about it. On the uplands the purple of the heather can be seen, but down in this smiling valley, where fields are being reaped of their hay, and corn fast ripening in the sweltering August sun, there is alluring geniality and intimacy. The road is undulating and tortuous; and as we turn first this way and that, new vistas open out that delight the eye, and more than satisfies one’s natural expectancy. The population is sparce: a cluster of a few houses doubtless constitutes a village, and such a place is Church-houses where we leave the car and proceed on foot up the hillside to the actual site where is proposed to erect the dam. And as one views the prospect – just a building here and another there, and not a soul in sight – one cannot put the idea out of one’s head that is the spot which Nature has assigned for such a use as the serving of a large city with pure water. THE FUTURE ASSURED A “Mail” correspondent has described this valley as dirty. What a libel! No air can be fresher; no countryside cleaner; no water purer than is to be found here. And let the man who says a reservoir will mar the amenities of the district blush for very shame; for here, in due time, will appear a beautiful sheet of water about 1,900 feet wide and over two miles in length and the valley preserved from spoilation for all time. Behind the dam will be stored six thousand million gallons of water – a year’s supply immediately available – and in the adjoining valleys of Rosedale, Bransdale and Westerdale are further supplies of such magnitude that, with the pumping stations Hull has, the water problem of the city is solved for all time. And we are less than 50 miles from Hull as the pipeline will go! Manchester has to go about 110 miles to Thirlemere and Birmingham nearly 80 to Wales. have said it before and I must say again: Hull is singularly fortunate in having found this place – thanks to Mr Jones, the Deputy Water Engineer – and having staked her claim to it’.  (Hull Daily Mail, Thursday 11 August 1932)

Towards the end of the 1930s the plans were well developed and permissions were in place, although the money still needed to be raised. So the work had not begun when WWII broke out. The war didn’t stop the newspaper correspondence on the Farndale Reservoir idea – one letter writer warned that open reservoirs like the one proposed for Farndale provided the opportunity for enemies to poison whole populations.

Landscape view - looking south from Farndale. Copyright NYMNPA.

After the war the Farndale Reservoir scheme remained, every time there was a summer drought there were calls to revive it. The end of the war meant more visions of progress, wellbeing and resurrected cities. The Kingston upon Hull Cooperation hadn’t given up. Back in 1933 the Corporation had received the required powers through Parliament to build the waterworks, to compulsory purchase land, to abstract water, to stop up access and to borrow the required monies to pay for it – and in the 1940s and following decades they continued to extend the time periods of these powers. The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer reported in September 1954 on the formation of the Farndale Local Nature Reserve largely to stop the large scale pillaging of wild daffodils. ‘Hull support for Famdale protection. Plan for nature reserve From our Hull staff. It is an offence to uproot flowers at Farndale, the North Yorkshire beauty spot, and in order to make Illegal also the picking of daffodils, the National Park Planning Committee of the North Riding County Council (as already reported in The Yorkshire Post) wish to establish the area as a nature reserve. The Water Committee of Hull Corporation, who several years ago acquired a large part of Farndale for a future reservoir unanimously agreed yesterday, to recommend the City Council to approve the nature reserve plan. It was pointed out that when the Corporation needed the land for the reservoir, the agreement on the proposed nature reserve could be terminated six months’ notice’.

What happened next?

Following on from the Water Resources Act 1963 the Yorkshire Ouse and Hull River Authority was formed. The Authority acting with the Kingston upon Hull Corporation and now also Sheffield Corporation promoted the new Yorkshire Derwent Bill, of which the Farndale Reservoir was one important element, aimed at regulating river flows and abstracting water supplies in Yorkshire.

The Bill received a second reading in the Houses of Parliament in 1970. The projected price for the Farndale scheme was now up to c. £8 million should everything go to plan (£132 million in today’s money), the reservoir was bigger than previously planned but there was less pipeline/aqueducts as modern reservoir technology used more controlled discharge into rivers and more abstraction downstream. There would be compensation for the farming tenants who would move to new homes, and rearrangement of farm holdings dividing up the remaining farmland between tenants.

As well as the continuing arguments over who would pay and who would benefit, by this time there was the added complication that the North York Moors including Farndale had been designated a National Park in 1952. So there were new arguments around the introduction of an uncharacteristic large scale water body into a designated landscape. But as well as providing water supplies for growing cities, by this time reservoirs were also seen as providing recreational opportunities and water catchment protection, in line with National Park purposes. The reservoir plans included woodland planting and a car park. The remaining wild daffodils would line the banks of the new waterbody – ‘A host, of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze’. (I wandered lonely as a cloud by William Wordsworth). In the arguments Farndale was presented as a national asset by all sides, but there was disagreement over what type of asset that should be.

The North York Moors Planning Committee (the predecessor of the National Park Authority) did not object in principle. Around 10,000 people signed a petition against the construction of a new reservoir in a National Park. Already in the less than 20 years of its existence other major developments had already been allowed in the Park – the Cold War RAF Fylingdales installation and exploration for a potash development near Boulby.

There were various suggestions of alternatives to fulfil the need for water supplies in Yorkshire. These included abstracting more ground water, reference was made to a so called ‘underground lake’ left over after the last Ice Age beneath the nearby Vale of Pickering; or making use of desalination processes which were currently being developed in the USA and were apparently due to come to fruition in the 1980s. As it happened, desalination turned out to be very expensive and not the overriding solution everyone was hoping for.

So the bill was read in Parliament for a second time, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government as well as the Water Resources Board were both keen,… but then an All Party Select Committee tasked with vetting the bill before it became an Act threw it out on the vote of its Chair. So that was it. Hull and Sheffield do still have water supplies which suggests there were workable alternatives. Farndale remains a whole dale rather than half a reservoir.

Daffodil Walk, Farndale. Copyright NYMNPA.

Sources from The British Newspaper Archive

Call of Nature

This might not be the nicest subject to ever feature on this Blog – but it’s important stuff.

Kate Bailey – Catchment Partnership Officer

The National Park Authority is a partner in the Esk and Coastal Streams Catchment Partnership. All partners have an interest in improving water quality in the catchment.

The Catchment Partnership is therefore very happy to be involved in the Call of Nature Yorkshire campaign which aims to reduce inadvertent pollution getting into rivers and the sea when off-mains sewage systems aren’t maintained as they need to be. In rural areas, like the Esk and Coastal Streams catchment, individual homes/farms and small settlements are often not connected to the mains sewage network and so waste – from toilets, sinks, showers, baths, washing machines, dishwashers – is contained in cesspits, or treated in septic tanks or package sewage treatment plants, on site.

  • Cesspits are very basic, these tanks hold waste without any treatment. They need to be emptied regularly and the waste removed.
  • Septic tanks hold waste water where it settles and separates with sludge at the bottom and liquid at the top. Bacteria breaks down the organic matter in the tank. The effluent at the top drains onto a soak away area so that other bacteria in the soil can break down the remaining pollutants. The effluent cannot be discharged directly into a watercourse (which include ditches, field drains, small streams, rivers, lakes etc)
  • Package treatment works are a bit more technical than septic tanks. An electric pump brings in air which helps bacteria breaks down organic matter more effectively. This means under certain conditions that effluent can be discharged into a watercourse.

The Call of Nature Yorkshire campaign is raising awareness of the potential problems if these off-mains systems aren’t maintained properly and providing guidance on maintenance.

Local surveys by the Environment Agency have shown elevated levels of phosphates in certain areas of the catchment, and this could be partly due to individual sewage treatment systems and the domestic detergents and human sewage they’re supposed to treat. This isn’t the only issue; diffuse pollution from agriculture e.g. fertiliser, manure and slurry can also cause elevated nutrient levels in watercourses.  Phosphate acts as a nutrient and can trigger excessive plant growth in rivers and streams. This depletes the oxygen in the water, smothers the river bed and blocks out the sunlight damaging these important ecosystems. The Glaisdale Beck Restoration Project and the Biffa funded Esk Project is working with farmers to tackle agricultural impacts. But that leaves the accidental domestic waste.

General binding rules were introduced in 2015 and apply to people who are not connected to the mains sewage network.  All tanks need to be maintained to prevent leakage and to be emptied regularly to prevent over flow, any faults should be fixed immediately and maximum discharge volumes should not be exceeded (without a specific permit). If waste water that hasn’t been adequately treated gets out, it can end up polluting watercourses and beaches so damaging everyone’s environment and the nutrients and sewage released can harm both humans and wildlife. It’s much easier to maintain a off-mains system correctly than replace it when it fails. A poorly maintained system can also have a detrimental effect on the value of the property and so affect a house sale. Dark smelly liquid, sewage fungus (a slimy grey growth), a backing up toilet and a poorly-draining soak away are all indications that there is something wrong.

How to reduce domestic phosphates getting into local watercourses wherever you are (some of these suggestions are applicable if you do or don’t have an off-mains sewage treatment system):

  • Make sure you know how your own system works and where it is located
  • Make sure tanks are emptied regularly (by a licensed company) to ensure the lower layer of sludge doesn’t build up
  • Check all parts of your system regularly – make sure any faults with the system are fixed immediately
  • Make sure your system can manage the amount of waste being produced by the household – old tanks were not designed to manage the volumes used now e.g. washing machines, dishwashers. You might need to invest in a new system.
  • Don’t connect rainwater drainage pipes or guttering into an off-mains system
  • If possible space out your use of a washing machine and a dishwasher so the waste water/detergent isn’t entering the system at the same time.
  • Use ‘environmentally friendly’ products – only use small amounts.
  • Only use minimum amounts of bleach or disinfectant – these chemicals kill bacteria that is actually vial to breaking down waste
  • Don’t flush solid items down the toilet which can block the system and lead to overflow.
  • Don’t pour grease/cooking oil down the sink. Don’t pour paints or solvents or down the drains.

If you do have one of these off-mains sewage treatment systems and would like further information please can call the Environment Agency on 03708 506 506.  The Call of Nature Yorkshire website also has lots of useful fact sheets with further information.

Call of Nature Yorkshire logo

Environment Agency logo

Attritional conservation

Seas of Green – UPDATE

Last September we reported on the installation of black plastic sheeting on a couple of ponds in Bilsdale with the aim of shading out the non-native invasive plant species – New Zealand pigmyweed Crassula helmsii – which was accidentally flourishing there. The idea was to give the plant a taste of its own medicine by depriving it of light.

By two months the pigmyweed was becoming etiolated – pale and weakened due to the loss of sunlight – indicting the sheeting was effecting growth.

Crassula helmsii two months after black plastic sheeting applied. Copyright NYMNPA.

The sheeting was left on the two ponds through the winter and spring, and a second survey was carried out this July. The sheeting has killed off 100% of the pigmyweed that was covered, however pigmyweed plants remain around the edges of the ponds, where it was difficult to install the sheeting due to the surrounding vegetation and irregular shape of the pond edges.

One of the ponds covered by the black plastic sheeting July 2017. Copyright NYMNPA.

Contrast between the remaining Crassula helmsii at the edge of teh pond and under where the sheeting where the plant is now dead, July 2017. Copyright NYMNPA.The National Park Authority’s southern Apprentice Team will be spraying off the pigmyweed round the edge with a herbicide. The sheeting will remain on the ponds until at least late autumn to try to finish off this invasive species once and for all in this location, allowing the biodiversity of the ponds to recover.

Other non-native invasive plant species

New Zealand pigmyweed is one of the most common non-native invasive plant species found in England, along with Common rhododendron Rhododendron ponticum, Himalayan balsam Impatiens glandulifera, Japanese knotweed Fallopia japonica, and Giant hogweed Heracleum mantegazzianum. They were all introduced into the UK as garden plants. All of these species are present in the North York Moors to some extent, and work continues to control these particular plant species, without natural competition and predators, that can have such a detrimental effect on the area’s habitats and water quality.

We’re grant aiding the removal of rhododendron from important Plantation on Ancient Woodland Sties (PAWS), to help let in the light and give native ground flora a better chance of survival. Rhododendron can harbour the Phytopthora ramorum pathogen which is a great threat to forest species such as larch.

Himalayan balsam can be pulled out/cut down by hand but this needs to be done before the seeds are setting (August/September) because one shake of a plant can release 1000s of seeds that can travel up to seven metres potentially creating 1000s of new plants. Repeatedly removing the plants from a location before they can seed over a number of years will eventually mean this annual plant no longer regenerates there.

Japanese knotweed is trickier to tackle because it needs to be treated by careful herbicide injection. Repeated treatment can kill the rhizome which is so effective at spreading. The accidental breaking up of live rhizomes can spread the plant expediently. Careful disposal is vital.

We’re currently making best use of four years of funding from Yorkshire Water to tackle Himalayan balsam and Japanese knotweed along the banks of the Rivers Esk, Rye, Seph and Seven, through whole catchments and sub-catchments starting at the top. Both species are particularly menacing to river habitats as they out compete evergreen native species and die back in the winter leaving banks bare and prone to erosion increasing the sediment loads in the water.

Giant hogweed isn’t quite so common as the other plants in this area. It can be dangerous to deal with because its sap can burn skin so it needs to be treated with care. It can be cut down or tackled with herbicides, but like all non-native invasive species repeat control will be necessary to achieve eradication at a site.

There are lots of initiatives now across the country to address the threat of these out of place species, it can sometimes seem overwhelming but concerted repeated local efforts can have an effect.

Bringing the vegetation back

Gareth Pedley – Wild Trout Trust

Back in June 2013 the Wild Trout Trust undertook an advisory visit for Glaisdale Angling Club on the River Esk, North Yorkshire. This was an interesting visit, identifying many of the common issues associated with livestock grazing and sandy soils on upland rivers leading to sedimentation. One specific issue was significant erosion on the outside of a particular sharp bend. This is exactly the type of issue that would have once been dealt with by hard engineering, often gabions or rip rap (rock armouring), for which there is already evidence of failed attempts. The Trust’s prescription here was to employ more sympathetic, natural bank protection measures that would actually enhance habitat in the area, rather than degrade it.

The use of brash revetment was considered, but the spatey nature of the river meant that there was a potential for further erosion from high water before any protection measures could be completed or take effect. So with this in mind, the recommendation was made to initially use a light touch, low cost approach that focused on fencing off a buffer strip along the bank to control the grazing (one of the main causal factors) and planting native tree species.

The tree and bank work was undertaken by 10 volunteers from Glaisdale Angling Club, in February 2014, coordinated by Simon Hirst of the North York Moors National Park Authority. In all, over 100 alder, 50 hazel and several hundred willow whips were planted, along with relocation of some of the overhanging bank turves onto bare areas of bank face.

As can be seen from the before and after photos from May 2015, fencing livestock away from the river bank has allowed large areas of the bank to become colonised by grass, the foliage and roots of which are already providing significant protection. The saplings and willow whips are now also well-established; the tree roots which will penetrate deeper into the ground and provide additional protection. If the fence is maintained, and livestock continue to be excluded, it can be expected that over the upcoming seasons the more stable bank will facilitate the colonisation of other herbaceous vegetation. This will increase the diversity of root structure within the bank and provide even greater consolidation. The roughness they provide will also aid natural colonisation with local trees and plants by trapping seeds and other propagules (agent of reproduction).

Although the bank is still not completely stabilised yet, and the technique is always initially susceptible to failure in very high flows, it is relatively low cost and provides a great demonstration of how removing the livestock grazing pressure can reduce erosion and stabilise river banks. If major floods do not destabilise the banks they will continue to consolidate and stabilise to natural levels. If major floods do cause further erosion in the future, there may be a case for undertaking a more formal brash revetment as well.

U P D A T E – July 2017

Simon Hirst – River Esk Project Officer

Kate (Catchment Partnership Officer) and I recently revisited the site with the Glaisdale Angling Club to assess the bank stabilisation work undertaken on this section of the River Esk back in February 2014. Three years later, the young alder, hazel and willow trees are flourishing, and woodrush has also successfully colonised the site naturally.

River Esk, sharp bend site - now (July 2017). Copyright NYMNPA.

We’re planning to carry out further work in winter 2019, which will involve hazel and willow laying, like you would with a hedge to provide horizontal structure. This work will further protect and stabilise the bank, and some of the stems will also be laid into the channel to provide in-channel cover for fish.