Loving Levisham Estate: a personal view point

Rachel Pickering – Natural Environment Team Leader

Every day (when I am not at my desk) I take the dog for a walk past ‘the view point’ and every day I love it!  How could you not?

‘The view point’: view from Newton on Rawcliffe looking north east over Levisham Moor. Copyright Rachel Pickering, NYMNPA.

‘The view point’: view from Newton on Rawcliffe looking north east over Levisham Moor

My favourite version of the view is when the wisps of mist are still stuck to the trees in the valley even when the rest of the morning mist has long since left. I get to admire the landforms – Newtondale, the finest example of a glacial-lake overflow channel in England, carving through the striking two tiered moorland plateau. If I time it right I can hear and sometimes see a steam train chugging and tooting its way into Levisham Station down in the valley.

What makes this view extra special for me in particular is that it comprises part of Levisham Estate which I manage, alongside our Senior Ranger David Smith, for the National Park Authority. Between us we ensure that the Estate, which has been owned by the Authority since the 1970s, is managed for National Park purposes. As well as the stunning landscapes it boasts some outstanding wildlife habitats and a full range of archaeological curiousities including scheduled monuments.

It’s not just me that thinks its special. The majority of the Estate is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (because of succession habitats, botany and geology), with the moorland also being designated as a Special Protection Area (because of merlin and golden plover populations) and a Special Area for Conservation (because of heathland habitats).

The majority of the Estate’s 3,358 acres are heather moorland but it actually includes a bit of everything. Here are a few of its gems:

Over the years we’ve been carrying out projects to conserve and improve the Estate. Here are a few examples of these:

Levisham Moor with heather in bloom. Copyright NYMNPA.

Improvements to the moorland grazing regime via a traditional Countryside Stewardship Scheme (2003-2013) and continued through the current Higher Level Stewardship agreement with the Commoners (Levisham Moor is Common Land).

Hole of Horcum following bracken control in 2015. Copyright/photo credit rjbphotographic.co.uk

Hole of Horcum area in 2015 showing positive results of bracken control . Bracken has also been specifically controlled on areas of high archaeological value at Rhumbard Snout and Dundale.

Carrying out scrub control at Station Field. Copyright NYMNPA.

Scrub control on wet grassland habitat at Station Field 2008.

Tree Planting, Hole of Hocum in 2011. Copyright NYMNPA.

Tree planting in the Hole of Horcum 2011 as part of the Slowing the Flow at Pickering partnership project.

Access improvements, Hole of Horcum in 2013. Copyright NYMNPA.

Access improvements being shown to National Park Authority Members – pitched path in the Hole of Horcum 2013.
Levisham Moor and the Hole of Horcum Walk

The Estate is a great place for volunteers to get involved. Over the last few years 4,000 of the trees planted are thanks to our committed volunteers. It has also proved to be a useful place for our Apprentice teams to practice their newly learnt skills including heather burning, bracken and scrub control, and fencing.

The Levisham Estate is a big commitment and a rewarding place for many people, not just me.

Footnote
I confess that I am feeling rather reflective at the moment as a couple of colleagues who have been working at the Park for even longer than me (over 18 years) are about to leave. I grew up near to Levisham Estate and have seen the changes close up, over time. A few years ago the following photos of ‘the view point’ were included in the ‘Now and Then’ photographic exhibition at The Moors National Park Centre, Danby. It was rather strange, but striking, that on the day I went to take the ‘now’ photograph there just happened to be four walkers sat on the bench. They were fascinated to see the level of change to the landscape and fortunately were very happy to be slightly rearranged to replicate the ‘then’ photograph.

The 'then' photo - looking down Newtondale, 1960s.

The 'now' photo - looking down Newtondale, 2012. Copyright NYMNPA.

Soggy moorland helping to stop soggy carpets

Rachel Pickering – Conservation Officer

I wish that my favourite view in the National Park was tucked away somewhere that nobody else knew about – but it isn’t.  Instead it’s one of our most photographed views – the Hole of Horcum within Levisham Estate. Not only is the view stunning but it has also proved to be a key location for landscape works towards the Slowing the Flow in Pickering project.

Work began on 8 January 2014 on the bund at Newbridge which will store flood waters upstream of Pickering. This work is a culmination of efforts by a number of partner organisations over the last few years to make changes to upstream land management to slow down the water running off the North York Moors and into Pickering Beck before it gets into Pickering town.  For the last three years the National Park Authority has been busy carrying out the following work on its own land at Levisham Estate.

Slowing the Flow - tree planting

Tree planting

Wooden dams created

Slowing the Flow - moorland gully blocking photo taken November 2012 - shows heather bales holding water back

Moorland gully blocking

  • The National Park Authority has spent £7,000 on partially blocking natural occurring moorland gullies with heather bales on various parts of the Estate.


Re-vegetation work

  • Heather brash has been spread in the Hole of Horcum to aid re-vegetation after the previous years’ bracken control left areas of bare ground.

Footpath repair work

  • An eroding footpath into the Hole of Horcum has recently been repaired with improved drainage that will slow down run off along the route.

Heather burning buffers

The hope is that with this type of beneficial land management established upstream of Pickering, along with the creation of the bund just to the north of the town, the chance of extreme flooding events will be lessened in the future.

Not too late for water voles

Rona Charles – Senior Ecology Officer and Laura Winter – Aquatic Mammal Specialist and National Park Volunteer

There is often a gloomy tone to reports on Britain’s water vole (Arvicola amphibious) populations. For example, an Environment Agency spokesman has said that numbers in the UK are thought to have fallen by over 95% since the 1970s and a further 20% since 2011. But recent work by University of Aberdeen researchers shows that water voles can move from further from place to place than had been thought previously. This behaviour could give them a better chance to adapt to changing conditions, but only if there is still suitable habitat to act as corridors for them to travel through.

Despite difficult weather conditions over the last few years, and the presence of predatory mink, we believe that the North York Moors water voles are hanging on here in the uplands more successfully than in some other parts of the country. The best area here is in the east of the North York Moors, centred on Fylingdales Moor and Langdale Forest. The nature of this area means that the water voles are able to move and recolonize other sites when environmental and predation pressures render their usual habitats inhospitable. This is because

  • there is a large number of tributaries, ditches and headwaters connecting two river systems in the area;
  • there are large expanses of heather and forest providing cover for movement as well as pockets of water vole favoured habitat;
  • and importantly, the major landowners in the area, are sympathetic to the needs of the animal and try to manage their land accordingly.

Water voles need lightly-grazed wetland habitat extending beyond the immediate banks of slow flowing becks and rivers. Legal mink control can give the water vole a better chance of survival, although good wetland habitats provide better cover for the voles to escape the attentions of all potential predators.

We’re definitely not complacent though.

The habitat connectivity programme we’re rolling out in the North York Moors will help to reconnect fragmented areas of valuable habitat and should give the water vole more chance to safely relocate and hopefully spread out. Peatland restoration on a number of moors over the last few years, plus the ‘Slowing the Flow’ project above Pickering, is resulting in water being held back for longer on the higher ground and the run off during heavy rain slowed. This is an advantage for water voles (slower-flowing watercourses and less flash flooding of their burrows), as well as hopefully for people living further downstream.