Evaluating bees

Abi Duffy – Conservation Trainee

One of the sounds of summer is the recognisable buzzing of busy bees. Bees are a beautiful symbol of British summertime, but much more importantly are one of the best performing pollinators vital for pollinating plants and crops across the world.

Bee facts:

  • Of the 270 species of bee to have been recorded within Britain, 27 of these are bumble bee species and there’s only 1 honey bee species.
  • Wild bees pollinate two thirds of British crops whilst cultivated honey bees pollinate the remaining third.
  • The exact economic value of pollinators in the UK is uncertain due to small numbers of studies but is estimated at hundreds of millions of pounds (DEFRA).

I’ve been wanting to learn more about bees and how to identify different species, I was fortunate enough to travel to the Field Studies Council’s Malham Tarn Residential Centre at the start of June to take part in a Steven Falk Bee Workshop. Steven wrote the ‘Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland’ which we used throughout the workshop, making use of the guide’s dichotomous keys and illustrations and photographs of the different bee species.

It was a really interesting course – we focused on the habitats around Malham Tarn and the bees that can be found there. The habitats we visited included nationally important calcareous (limestone) grassland and fen/mire (wet grassland) habitats which are part of the Malham-Arnecliffe Site of Special Scientific Interest. We saw fabulous plants such as Bird’s Eye Primrose, Butterwort, Northern Marsh Orchid and Water Avens which was particularly popular amongst the bees.

We identified thirteen different species of bee using these habitats. These included the Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum), a Red-tailed Bumblebee queen (Bombus lapidarius), the Bilberry Bumblebee (Bombus monticola) and the Moss Carder Bee (Bombus muscorum). To ID accurately we learnt to catch the bee carefully with a net and then place it into a container to get a closer look at the head, thorax and abdomen to look for distinguishing features. After a few minutes the bee is released back where it was found.

Declines in bee populations are due to a dangerous combination of reasons which together add up to a growing crisis – reasons include climate changes, creeping urbanisation, agricultural practices including using pesticides, a decline in habitats including the loss of meadows – unfortunately 97% of wildflower meadows in Britain have been lost since 1937.

Bees need continuous legume-rich flower habitat to sustain populations. Lots of bee species live in large colonies and need enough flowers in their surrounding habitat to sustain up to 400 worker bees over a season so that a colony can successfully produce new males and queens. Remaining species rich grasslands like meadows have become isolated across the landscape as areas shrink and contract, such habitats need to be better linked by creating corridors and stepping stones for bees to move through and between and so be able to make best use of the nectar (and pollen) producing plants. Like many other species, bees benefit from ecological networks where semi natural habitats are biggerbetter and more joined up (Making Room for Nature, 2010, John Lawton)As well as the species rich grassland areas themselves there are other useful linear versions such as species rich road verges, arable farmland flower margins, and native species hedgerows which can all act as useful corridors for pollinators. Domestic gardens with bee friendly plants can act as useful refuelling stops/stepping stone habitats. 

The Pollinator Monitoring Scheme brings together experts and the public to monitor pollinator populations over time. Anyone can join in with the Flower-Insect Timed Count, which is reassuringly complex.

If you want to help build up a national picture of bee populations then The Great British Bee Count continues until the 30 June this year. There is an App to help you to ID and record the different bee species you see. Sightings will help the experts to understand how bees are faring and results feed back into the Pollinator Monitoring Scheme.

Recipes for meadows


Coming up this Saturday (1 July) is National Meadows Day.

Wildflower meadow in the Hole of Horcum. Copyright NYMNPA.

There is a partnership project called Save our Magnificent Meadows, led by Plantlife and largely funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund which promotes the importance of hay meadows and other species rich grassland types for the country’s natural and cultural heritage..We’re not one of the landscapes where the project is directly working but we have similar aims and objectives for North York Moors grasslands too. Save our Magnificent Meadows has a really useful Advice and Guidance resource which can help land managers work out what kind of grassland they have (e.g. acid grassland, neutral grassland, calcareous grassland, cornfield flowers), what type it currently is (e.g. improved, semi improved, unimproved) and then how best to manage it for conservation benefits. In the North York Moors we have a lot of improved grassland like most places, but we still have an amount of unimproved grassland and a bigger amount of semi improved grassland. Semi improved grassland – i.e. some characteristic species found in low frequency – can have great potential for biodiversity enhancement.

A little less salt, a little more species abundance

John Beech – Land Management Adviser

If you’ve driven up or down White Horse Bank near Kilburn recently you might have noticed the appearance of some new green lided boxes at the side of the road. These are grit bins which are now in place to hold the rock salt available to help in icy conditions on this 1 in 4 gradient road.

Looking up White Horse Bank, Kilburn - spreading salt heap. Copyright NYMNPA.Looking up White Horse Bank, Kilburn - salt bin replacing salt heap. Copyright NYMNPA.

It’s the most recent example of us working in partnership with North Yorkshire County Council Highways over the past few years to replace salt piles with salt bins at certain sites around the National Park. Holding the salt in bins limits leaching where rain washes salt into watercourses and limits ground salination, in both cases the chemistry of the water and the soil is altered by the accidental addition of salt.

The National Park Authority is involved because we’re particularly interested in the conservation of the small number of remaining species rich roadside verges, and the potential restoration of degraded species rich roadside verges, around the North York Moors. By holding onto and better controlling the salt source the idea is that the plant life of roadside verges will be less damaged.

The bins were paid for by the National Park Authority and NYCC Highways will refill them when empty. Salt is far from the only threat to our roadside verge habitats. Other dangers include over management, badly timed management and the lack of management; as well as through the encroachment of vehicles on one side and the affects of land management on the other. The replacing of sprawling salt heaps with the green bins is a cost effective and useful small scale initiative – which still helps keep roads passable in the winter but also means through the rest of the year the remnant grassland habitats found on verges have an improved chance of continuance. Botanically rich roadside verges are ecologically valuable in their own right but also provide useful connecting corridors between habitats for species such as pollinators. They also provide an accessible glimpse for many people of the colour and beauty of our wildflowers.

With spring just around the corner we’ll be looking out for a plethora of wildflowers growing on our species rich verges this year – on White Horse Bank the plants along this woodland edge roadside verge include Dog Violet, Primrose, Foxglove, Stitchwort, Wood Avens, Wood Sorrel and Wild Arum.

A number of our identified species rich verges are monitored by local volunteers who, working safely, record the presence or lack of it of key species, and keep an eye on the verge management. This monitoring is important so that change can be identified and then addressed if appropriate. If you’d like to help please contact us.

Example of a species rich verge in the North York Moors - copyright NYMNPA

A week in the life of a Land Management Adviser

Ami Walker – Land Management Adviser

Places like the North York Moors National Park may at first glance seem like areas of wild, natural beauty, but in reality they are largely managed landscapes. As a Conservation Land Management Adviser working on the Habitat Connectivity – Linking Landscapes Programme (“bigger, better, more connected”), I work with farmers and landowners to encourage and assist them in managing their land in a way that maintains and improve conditions for our native wildlife.

My week is usually a mix of sitting at a desk and being out and about in the North York Moors (no prizes for guessing which I prefer). By far the best bit of my job is the people I come into contact with. The North York Moors is a tough environment to farm in but we are blessed with some wonderful characters who have a deep sense of pride in what they do and where they live, and I love working with them.

Lately a typical week has started with a visit to a farmer who is willing to get involved in the Linking Landscapes Programme. This requires an on site survey looking in very fine detail at the important habitats and features on the farm – and working out opportunities to link these areas together to enable movement of wildlife around the countryside.

I spend a day walking the area to get an idea of what already exists conservation wise on the ground – making lists of plants and birds seen, whether there are any veteran or ancient trees and any good examples of other habitats such as hedges or species rich grasslands. I’m also looking for the potential to improve the farm for nature conservation – by fencing river banks, or planting new hedges and trees. At the same time I’m noting whether there is any archaeology that could benefit from protection and making sure any planned natural environment work won’t detrimentally affect irreplaceable historic environment features.

Back in the Office, I consult other National Park Authority Officers on the farm holding e.g. Area Ranger, the Ecologist, the Archaeologist, the Rights of Way and the Woodland Officers, to see whether anyone has any insights and comments on my findings. This culminates with me working up a Conservation Agreement management plan with the farmer to agree habitat improvements on their farm.

In the same week I’ll be back on another farm, this time for a catch-up on how things are going with a Conservation Agreement that was set up earlier in the year; checking to see how the planned capital works have gone e.g. hedges planted and new fences installed correctly to allow effective grazing of important grassland sites. Each individual holding is an important part of the bigger programme of habitat connectivity. The more farm holdings involved, the greater the achievable connectivity will be.

As well as the farmers, I also love working with our dedicated Conservation Volunteers and our work experience students; passing on my enthusiasm for nature conservation and hopefully inspiring them to stay involved long term for the good of the North York Moors.

My job enables me to go to places where only the farmer usually has access to – something I feel extremely privileged to be able to do. I get to see wading birds, deer, owls, rare plants, all with the backdrop of stunning views and lots of peace and tranquility. I feel a small part of something much bigger.

Living on the edge

Bill Shaw – Ecology and Conservation Land Management Adviser

Over the spring and summer one of the UK’s most colourful, ever-changing, but often overlooked habitats is at its best. And it’s one that most of us see every single day – our roadside verges.

I cycle to and from the National Park Office in Helmsley most days, and travelling slowly(!) over the ten mile stretch on minor roads it’s a joy to notice the roadside verges and how they change through the seasons. Early on it was the yellow primroses and cowslips that dominated, then there were glimpses of orchids poking through, and patches of tall purple comfrey. Next came the swaying ox eye daisies and the tangles of blue vetch and now it’s the turn of the creamy meadowsweet, deep purple knapweed and mauve meadow cranesbill.

Unfortunately what is sometimes also noticeable is how some of these verges are cut just when the flowers are in their prime. Roadside verges are sometimes cut for road safety issues, which is fair enough. But sometimes the cutting can seem random, and apparently for the sake of ‘tidiness’, which seems a real shame in the countryside.

Like all species rich grassland, management is required to prevent the habitat becoming rank and overgrown but the timing is crucial so flowers can bloom and seed before being cut down. Verges are important for wildlife, especially pollinating insects as long as plants are allowed to flower. Species rich road verges can be brilliant movement corridors linking up habitat that may otherwise be isolated (see our previous Connectivity programme posts). No.21 Skelton Bnk + butterfly

The issue of verge management has been in the national press recently. A ‘National Pollinator Strategy’ from the Government is due out by November and this is expected to propose that councils only cut roadside verges when they have finished flowering. There is a current campaign highlighting detrimental verge management by local councils led by Plantlife. But it is worth remembering that not all road verges are managed by local councils.

Here in the North York Moors National Park we have been trying to ‘do our bit’ for verges for some years now. Following on from an original verge survey in 1985 by Margaret Atherden and Nan Sykes we currently have 181 verges in and around this National Park that have been identified as being ‘special’ for their diversity of plants. These verges are monitored each year by a team of keen volunteers (managed by PLACE) who keep an eye on key species and who can let us know if there are issues that need attention like salt heaps, invasive plant species, untimely cutting, lack of management etc. We also, where possible, negotiate specific cutting regimes on special verges managed by the local council or by individual parish councils when they have taken on the verge cutting.

One highlight this summer has been protecting an individual greater butterfly orchid from getting the chop. This was done very simply by putting a wooden peg either side of the plant and the local North Yorkshire County Council Highways Office alerting the sub-contractor to the pegs so he could just lift up the arm of the flail mower and avoid the plant. The orchid was left to look beautiful for the whole of its brief flowering and more importantly was allowed to seed. Hopefully in the future there will be more than one greater butterfly orchid at this location on the southern edge of the Park.

If you think you might be interested in becoming one of the keen verge monitoring volunteers, as mentioned above – please get in touch through conservation@northyorkmoors.org.uk

A corner of the National Park


This gallery contains 33 photos.

As part of the roll out of our new Connectivity Programme, the team spent a very hot day practising on one particular target area and working through the process together to share ideas and learn lessons. The target area (polygon … Continue reading

Developing connections

The objective of our Connectivity programme, put simply, is to protect and enhance the best bits, and to extend and connect them to other sites where possible. To do this we’re going to be working in the National Park towards:

  • improving the quality of current wildlife sites by better management;
  • increasing the size of existing wildlife sites;
  • enhancing connections between sites, either through physical corridors or by ‘stepping stones’;
  • creating new sites; and
  • reducing the pressure on wildlife by improving the wider environment.

Our Management Plan illustrates the strategic corridors (“wildlife super highways”) in the North York Moors, and we’ve come up with specific areas along these corridors where we’re going to concentrate efforts for the next few years. Different people in our Conservation Department have been allocated different ‘polygons’ (target areas) to lead on.

We’ll be keeping you up to date with what is happening on the ground.

Ami Walker – Conservation Land Management Adviser

I’m well underway with Connections 5 to 8 which run from Dalby to Levisham (in the south east of the National Park). The first step has been to ascertain which habitats and species are found in this part of the North York Moors and to see if the current management is beneficial or detrimental to these interests.

2013-05-17 Polygons 7 & 8 - Lockton

Species rich grassland areas and road verges are just one of the important habitats in this area. I’ve been surveying those that we are already aware of to make sure they are in tiptop condition and I’ve been looking for any potential to extend these assets further. There is a particular site just outside Lockton village that has got that potential! It is a steep grassy bank which lies between a road verge with lots of flowering plants and another area of flower rich grassland. Managing flowering grassland by cutting or grazing is necessary to maintain the diversity of this habitat or else it will be overcome by rank grass and scrub. By getting this intermediate bank site into good management using a positive grazing regime, in this case with native breed sheep, the flowering plants will be given a chance to flourish so increasing the good habitat for pollinators, such as bees and hoverfly, which birds and other animals feed on; and linking up two separate sites of species rich grassland into one larger extent.

In the same target area, I’m going to be trying to extend the valuable habitat at Sieve Dale Fen SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) by setting up a National Park Authority Land Management Agreement to conserve and encourage the wetland plants in the next door field to the SSSI and so increasing the extent of this diverse wetland habitat.

There are also deciduous woodlands in the wider area which mainly run in a north/south direction. Where new actual tree planting isn’t appropriate there is still the possibility to strengthen the hedgerow links (east/west) around Lockton and Levisham instead, in order to connect up the wooded areas in Dalby to those in nearby Newtondale.

Lockton and Levisham village both have large areas of communal/amenity grassland and I’m thinking there may be potential to turn some of this 2013-05-17 Polygons 7 & 8 - Lockton - Geotrupes stercorarius Dor beetlegrassland in to village nature areas. While I’ve been out surveying with my clip board I’ve been approached by locals and visitors who’ve all been receptive to the ideas behind what I’m trying to do. It’s really important to get local people on board as well as specific land managers and I’ll definitely be reporting back to the local community on how the project progresses in their area and the wider National Park. Village nature areas would be a great way of getting local people involved, if they’d like to.

The next phase is to start doing practical work on the ground such as grassland management and enhancement, installing fences so that positive grazing regimes can be instigated, and setting up the hedge planting for the 2013-05-17 Polygons 7 & 8 - Lockton - Early Purple Orchid 1autumn. In most cases this will be done through agreements with land managers and farmers. Money from national schemes and National Park grants will assist by paying a contribution to help cover the cost of capital works and acknowledge profit foregone.

John Beech – Coastal Project Officer

I’ve been out ground truthing a target area round Robin Hood’s Bay on the North Sea coast, with an emphasis on reconnecting existing habitats. A mixture of grasslands, hedgerows, wooded gills, wetlands and streams all provide scope for improvement works to connect, extend and create a more robust mosaic of habitats.

I’ve been talking to landowners in that area to identify work which we want to support and which they are happy with. I’ll be working up the details in the next few weeks with an idea to implement the work over the coming autumn/winter.

Whilst out and about a further two project ideas (pond creation, species rich grassland donoring) have come up in previously surveyed areas  – proof that the connectivity message is spreading!

We’ve already installed six new ponds close to Robin Hood’s Bay, and now that it is summer they are already attracting aquatic life including invertebrates such as greater water boatmen, whirligig beetles and pond skatersCurlew, Swallow, Grey Wagtail and Snipe have also been seen using the ponds. In partnership with the National Trust (land owners) and the tenant farmer, the ponds have now been fenced to prevent cattle and sheep accessing them which has solved the siltation and effluent problem.

Coastal grassland - Kingston Field, Fylingthorpe

Better, bigger and more connected

Simon Wightman – Head of Natural Environment

The State of Nature report was recently published and represents the first time the UK’s wildlife organisations have joined forces to undertake an assessment of how nature in the UK is fairing. If you haven’t had a chance to have a read, you can find a copy of the report here.

The overall message is a bleak one. Of the species that we have enough data to analyse a trend – the reasonably common or well studied ones – 60% of species have declined over the last 50 years. One in ten species are considered to be under threat of extinction in the UK.

Farmed landscape  - Rosedale

However, something else struck me and offered some cheer. England still supports a fantastic diversity of wildlife that inspires us and enriches our lives every day. Many of these species are in trouble, restricted to tiny islands of suitable habitat in an inhospitable countryside, but they are still here. It is a huge challenge but if we can find a way of making our towns, villages and countryside friendlier for wildlife then it’s not too late.

Coastal slope at Boulby

If we cannot start to address some of these weak links even in our National Parks then it will be much harder in the wider countryside. But there are a huge number of people and organisations working to protect and enhance the fantastic wildlife of the North York Moors. There are farmers and woodland owners who care passionately about the plants and animals they share their land with.

Grassland in Summer - Danby Dale

The North York Moors National Park Authority has launched a new ‘Connectivity’ Programme, which has identified key areas where we feel the landscape could be improved to make it more wildlife friendly. This might be planting trees and hedgerow corridors, or connecting up old farm buildings to help bats. It might be buffering species-rich grasslands or creating new habitat patches to help rare butterflies. It might be planting woodland to link up fragmented, isolated patches. We have set aside money to support landowners and land managers in developing these networks along four simple principles:-

  1. Ensure that existing habitat patches are managed as well as possible
  2. Enlarge existing patches wherever possible
  3. Create new habitat
  4. Improve the surrounding habitat to make it easier for species to move between patches

Hay Meadow close up - RosedaleIt is early days but the response and enthusiasm from farmers and other land managers has been fantastic.

I was mulling over the challenge facing us last weekend whilst digging a pond in the garden with my son. He wants to see tadpoles but we decided to wait and see what comes along by itself. If ours was the only garden with a pond then we would never see a frog but we know that our neighbours have tadpoles so I’m confident we’ll have frogspawn next year.

So securing a future for wildlife is not just about having great habitat, it’s ensuring that there’s enough of it and that species can move Duke of Burgundy butterfliesabout between the patches. Of course, a lot of the species and habitats that we are trying to help in the North York Moors National Park have much more specific requirements than the common frog and need it provided on a much bigger scale than garden ponds. It won’t be as easy but the principles are the same.

It would be great to hear your thoughts and ideas about how our new Connectivity Programme could improve the North York Moors for the special wildlife that lives here.

New roles in the Conservation Department – part 3

Bill Shaw – Ecology and Conservation Land Management Adviser

I have recently moved over the Pennines from south Cumbria to take on this new exciting and varied job with the North York Moors National Park Authority. Over there I was the local officer for the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust with a focus on conserving the rare and charismatic natterjack toad, which has the accolade of being the UK’s noisiest amphibian. Before that I spent seven years as a Ranger with the Lake District National Park.

With the North York Moors National Park Authority my role is split into two parts. For three days a week I am working on the Authority’s land management agreements under our Wildlife Conservation Scheme. These agreements are aimed at conserving small areas of particularly valuable habitat where other funding sources or protection methods aren’t appropriate. I’m also responsible for winding up the last of the Authority’s long running agreements under the North York Moors Farm Scheme. The Farm Scheme began in 1988 and focused on farms in the central dales area providing grant for capital works and annual payments for environmental land management. Over the last few years these farms have been encouraged and helped into Natural England‘s Environmental Stewardship Schemes. Where there are farms with particular environmental features which can’t be protected solely by Stewardship, the Authority is offering top up Wildlife Conservation Scheme agreements. I’m currently managing 41 agreements dotted all over the North York Moors.

For the other two days a week, I’m assisting Rona Charles, the Authority’s Senior Ecology Officer. I’m already picking up on upland water vole issues (water vole are much much quieter than the natterjack toad); the Himalayan Balsam control project along the River Seph and the Cornfield Flowers Project; aspects of the North York Moors species rich road verge project; and the annual monitoring of the wild daffodils in Farndale.