End of an era

Our Senior Archaeologist is taking phased retirement, so before he goes he has been asked to reflect on his time with the North York Moors National Park.

Graham Lee – Senior Archaeological Conservation Officer

graham-leeHow do I sum up a career lasting over a quarter of a century in a few paragraphs? It is a strange feeling to have 26 years seemingly flash by so fast.

I started work for the North York Moors National Park in April 1990, having previously worked in the archaeology section of North Yorkshire County Council since the summer of 1983. I had decided many years before that I loved the north of England and had no desire to return to my southern ‘roots’.

Graham had decided many years before that he loved the north of England, whatever the weather ... Copyright - NYMNPA.One of my first tasks with the National Park was the completion of a management survey of one of our large estates, encompassing moorland and large blocks of forestry. This quickly whetted my appetite for the excitement of making new archaeological discoveries – often very subtle earthworks, no more than a handful of centimetres in depth or relief – despite an exceptional tradition of previous high quality archaeological fieldwork in the region. Working solo in large blocks of conifers was a good test of dedication – crawling under the branches of dense stands of conifers searching for vague earthworks mapped in the 1890s – and the steadiness of nerve, when yet another wretched pheasant exploded out of the leafy vegetation where I was just about to step! In recent years the delights of discovery have been broadening thanks to new technology and techniques, especially LiDAR which provides an aerial view through tree and ground-cover vegetation of archaeological remains that were previously hidden or obscured.

If you have a passion for the past, the North York Moors have something for pretty much everyone – enigmatic Neolithic rock art; surviving prehistoric pitted boundaries and avenues; upstanding Bronze Age funerary monuments and field systems; Roman encampments; medieval castles and monasteries…

Human industry is also well represented – from the earliest iron industry through the search for alum into the full-blown “iron rush” of the mid 19th century, the exploitation of coal and jet, and the plentiful local rivers managed to provide motive power for a range of watermills. Research and conservation priorities relating to these local industries finally led to our new HLF Landscape Partnership Scheme, This Exploited Land of Iron. Some 15 or so years in gestation, it is very rewarding to see new generations captured by the excitement of the important remains of our 19th century ironstone industry and the associated development of early railways – although the original scheme for a canal link between Whitby and Pickering would have been a sight to behold and a major tourist attraction if it had ever been built.

Into the 20th century, remains survive here from both world wars – in the form of coastal defences, army camps as well as troop training and target practice areas. Finds are still occasionally made of 2nd World War unexploded ordnance in former training areas across the North York Moors, in particular after the wildfire on Fylingdales Moor in 2003 which affected two square kilometres of heather moorland.

Fylingdales Moor after teh wildfire in 2003. Copyright - NYMNPA.

Although an environmental disaster – the severity of the fire in reducing the shallow peat cover to ash, this event was an archaeological revelation. Virtually everywhere you looked, subtle archaeological remains became visible, including the drip gulleys around former prehistoric round houses, low stony prehistoric boundaries and cairns, large numbers of previously unrecorded examples of Neolithic rock art and occasional shallow trenches which resembled grave cuts with a subsiding infill. As numbers of the latter quickly increased their interpretation became clear – slit trenches from 2nd World War troop training. I remember my first visit to the site after the fire when the ground was reddened and blackened, covered in ash and still smouldering; few trees had survived and many had toppled after the peat holding their roots in place had been burnt away. Flashes of colour were very noticeable, such as an adder emerging from its underground refuge having survived the conflagration. A major project ensued, both to protect and restore the moorland habitat and to record and investigate the breath-taking remains of surviving archaeology.

Rosedale Calcining Kilns in a perilous state. Copyright - NYMNPA.There have always been new specialisms to get to grips with. A visit to the Scheduled Rosedale iron calcining kilns with the Park’s Conservation Director at the time revealed that a portion of one of the kilns’ firebrick linings had collapsed the previous winter. This led to a major conservation project to stabilise these huge monuments which ran for three years in the mid 1990s, a forerunner of This Exploited Land which will continue the efforts to conserve these monumental sites 20 years on.

Conservation project to stabalise the Calcining Kilns in the 1990s. Copyright - NYMNPA.

It has been such a pleasure working with like-minded and dedicated professionals, both in my own National Park, but also with colleagues throughout the family of British National Parks, and Historic England and Natural England. We’ve shared experiences and ideas to the betterment of our discipline from research to management, and also shared the excitement of attempting to bring our subject, which we love, to life for anyone who cares to see and to get involved.

Graham at work - examining finds at an archaeological excavation - Coxwold Creative Minds Project, March 2006. Copyright - NYMNPA.

The National Park Authority is currently looking for a new Senior Archaeologist to lead on archaeology in the North York Moors. The closing date for applications is 26 January 2017.

Patience and perserverance

We’ve launched a new concerted effort against two of the most threatening non-native invasive plant species in the North York Moors, bolstered by funding from Yorkshire Water over the next four years. We’re chasing down Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) and Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) in the River Esk and River Rye catchments.

As well as damaging existing ecosystems and decreasing diversity, both these species tend to overwhelm other plant species along river banks and the danger from this is that during the winter when these non-natives die back the banksides are left bare of vegetation so subject to erosion which increases the sediment getting into watercourses and smothering the water habitat.

Both plants are vigorous growers and virulent spreaders. Himalayan balsam disperses thousands of seeds per plant through exploding seed pods that can propel the seeds metres from the original plant. If the plants are next to watercourses the seeds can be carried downstream to colonise new areas. Japanese knotweed spreads through its underground rhizomes which are so effective that all remnants of the plants need to be carefully disposed of because even a small fragment of rhizome if given the chance to re-root will form a new plant.

The only way to have any real impact on the plants is to tackle them systematically starting at the top of catchments and moving downstream, and repeating the control year after year to remove any vestiges of the plants. This new funding will provide a much needed boost to efforts made over the last few years.

Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) - it has a sickly, sweet smell, pink flowers and a bright green hollow stem. It can grow up to two meters tall. Copyright - NYMNPA.

Japanese knotweed grows to around three metres tall and has large alternate heart shaped leaves and a characteristic zigzag stem covered in purple speckles. Its flowers, which appear in late summer, consist of clusters of tiny creamy-white flowers. Copyright - NYMNPA.

We’ll be surveying the current extent of the plants and then resurveying each year to monitor the effects of the control. We’re using tried and tested control methods – hand pulling the Himalayan balsam before it gets the chance to seed and propogate, and treating individual Japanese knotweed plants with directly administered glyphosate injections to carry the chemical down into the rhizomes. We’ll be using contractors and volunteers to carry out the work coordinated by National Park staff.

Controlling and hopefully eradicating non-native invasive species in an area takes a long time. Simon, our River Esk Project Officer, is a real enthusiast for non-native invasive species control because he sees the detrimental effects the plants have on the river environment and on his beloved Freshwater pearl mussels. He can see the years of attrition starting to pay off as native vegetation starts to recolonise sites where invasive species have been removed.

“The secret of success is constancy to purpose” — Benjamin Disraeli

Discovered by Disaster

Aside

Prehistoric ‘cup and ring’ rock on Fylingdales Moor - photo by Jen Heathcote.

Fylingdales Moor on the eastern edge of the North York Moors features in an Historic England blog post from July on archaeological discoveries that came to light due to environmental change. In the case of Fylingdales Moor it was a severe wild fire which was devastating to the natural environment at the time – but from an archaeological point of view every cloud has a silver lining …

via Discovered by Disaster: 6 Astounding Archaeological Finds from Environmental Change — Heritage Calling

Habitat connectivity: back to basics

John Beech – Land Management Adviser

Currently this National Park Authority has two strategic priorities: one is to promote the North York Moors and the other is to improve the connectivity of habitats in order to benefit the biodiversity and landscape of the area, and mitigate the encroaching impacts of climate change.

Habitat connectivity features quite heavily on our Blog; that’s because it’s important to us. Habitat connectivity is the main driver for the work of the Conservation Department. It’s generally accepted that some of the most (ecologically) important habitats within our countryside have declined and fragmented over the decades and good quality habitat now tend to only exist in isolated pockets across the landscape. The first step is to conserve these remnants and then go on to establish connections, buffers, corridors, stepping stones – linking and increasing the habitat resource and therefore its sustainability into the future. These connections, buffers, corridors, stepping stones allow animals, birds, plants to move through the landscape between the habitats they need which helps populations thrive and grow (helping to mitigate the effects of climate change) – ‘stitching’ the landscape back together for wildlife.

Imagine a habitat e.g. native woodland and the biodiversity that depends on it e.g. oak, ash, birch, hazel, bluebell, wood anemone, wild garlic, great spotted woodpecker, nut hatch, wood warbler, tawny owl, ringlet butterfly, feathered thorn moth, barbastelle bat, wood mouse, not to mention the ferns, fungi, lichens, mosses, beetles and spiders etc. etc. We want to better the condition of existing native woodland habitat, to increase the extent of native woodland habitat, to create new native woodland habitat, and to ensure native woodland habitat is better connected; all to ensure a linked landscape for native woodland and the wildlife that depends on it.

Woodland with bluebells, near Hawnby - copyright NYMNPA

So what does this mean in practical terms?

Back in 2012 we sat down with a map of the National Park and considered where we were at. As discussions developed a clear picture of where concerted effort was needed began to emerge. We knew more or less where the surviving key habitats were and we also knew where we wanted to enhance other habitats more generally e.g. the areas which had been key habitats in the past and could benefit from restoration. Key habitats such as Ancient Woodlands, species rich and semi-improved grasslands, riparian strips and coastal hinterland were used as focuses around which to plan for greater connectivity. In the North York Moors, heathland/moorland which makes up around a third of the National Park would seem a likely key habitat but as this is already well connected with large expanses stretching as far as the eye can see, it does not require the attention that more isolated habitats do in terms of habitat connectivity.

We identified the strategic corridors where our efforts would be best focused in our 2012 Management Plan. We then identified the key ecological gaps along these corridors as well as a number of essential gaps to address more widely – 132 of them in total.

Strategic Connections Map from the North York Moors National Park Management Plan 2012

Target Connection Sites map from North York Moors National Park Business Plan 2012

What we then needed was a method of implementing our thoughts and vision. We draw polygons around the gaps to provide a framework for practical implementation. Officers are assigned individual or groups of polygons and using the original objectives for each ecological gap (e.g. restore PAWS to having Ancient Woodland characteristics, develop a mosaic of habitats, enhance species rich grassland) we develop rationales setting out what might be done on the ground and how best to do it. If we are going to carry out work and spend money in these target areas we need to establish sound reasons for doing so and to be able to justify our decisions. We start by carrying out a desk study of the habitat interest and records in that area – this includes previous habitat surveys, species information, existing and previous agri-environment agreement areas, public access, historic environment records, designations, and aerial photography. The records are important because as well as looking for opportunities we need to also consider potential constraints such as the historic environment because we don’t want to accidentally damage a valued feature by attempting to achieve the aims of Habitat Connectivity.

Once we have this background picture of a target area we need to get our boots on and get out on the ground to see what’s really there. We’re looking initially from Public Rights of Way only (unless specific permission to access the land has previously granted) – we need to assess how much of the information we have matches the real situation on the ground. A key requirement is to take good quality photographs (both of individual habitats and the wider landscape) as well as making accurate field notes, annotating our original maps and at the same time looking out for possible linkages across the landscape. As our main habitat survey information (a Phase 1 Survey) is nearly 30 years old it is not always still accurate as habitats have changed and shrunk since then. This is especially true of unimproved grasslands identified in the late 1980s where scrub, bracken and bramble succession has since encroached.

Once back in the Office with the results of the field work, we consult with specialist Officers (Rona the Senior Ecologist, Mark the Woodland Officer etc.) to agree the best way forward i.e. how to make a difference. A plan of action is developed using the following principles:

  • Identify – find and assess the current condition of the key habitats.
  • Protect – ensure that quality habitats are in some way ‘protected’ i.e. conserved. If there are particularly important species e.g. breeding waders, making use of a habitat e.g. rough pasture, that habitat might be enhanced but shouldn’t be transformed.
  • Enhance/restore – most areas of habitat need some form of continuing care and maintenance to prevent decline or loss.
  • Expand – are there any adjacent buffer areas of land that could be incorporated into the habitat?
  • Create – establishing new areas of habitat nearby – this is easier for some habitats e.g. woodland than others e.g. grassland. Long term commitment is required.

To take forward any ideas the involvement of landowners/land managers is essential. In many cases for a land manager and their family the land is their living. To protect, enhance/restore, expand or create the landowner/land manager has to be willing. We’re talking about facilitating capital works like fencing to control stock, scrub control, tree/hedge planting, spreading wild flower seeds, cutting grassland, managing woodland etc. Following negotiations, the National Park Authority can provide grant assistance, use its own Volunteers and Apprentices to carry out the required tasks, or buy the necessary materials and the land manager provides the labour. Longer term requirements are met through maintenance clauses or land management payments over time.

Then once the work is organised and underway, at some point we need to be able to declare whether the gap has been addressed and the looked for key ecological connection made, or rather is on the way to being made. We do that by returning to the rationale – have we been able to achieve what was identified as being required at the beginning of the process?

Although the process takes time it is necessary in order to ensure that we achieve the best workable and sustainable linkages we can.

Little Fryupdale - copyright Mike Kipling, NYMNPA

Falling leaves divulge our industrial past

Louise Cooke – This Exploited Land Heritage Officer

One of the tasks that we undertook during the just completed Development Phase of the This Exploited Land (HLF Landscape Partnership) programme was to try and establish a better understanding of the landscape character of the programme area.

Map of TEL area - submitted October 2015. By NYMNPA.

Understanding, analysing and describing the character types of the landscape includes some obvious ‘easy hits’ – wide open moorland, farmland, river corridors, enclosed wooded valleys. In each of these different landscapes in the This Exploited Land (TEL) area industrial archaeology has left a significant legacy.

For example, the industrial archaeology features are relatively straightforward to see in Rosedale. Alongside the well-known monumental kilns on both sides of the dale, it is possible to make out the flattened ‘terrace’ that marks out the line of the Rosedale Railway, and the ‘inclines’ that mark out the tramways bringing the ironstone from the mine entrances to the calcining kilns for processing. Whilst there are features that are unmapped (or which we are not quite sure how they actually ‘worked’) the industrial archaeology of Rosedale is easy to see in the landscape and so help to present the story of the dale’s industrial past. Rosedale East landscape - can see the surviving monuments and earthworks. Copyright NYMNPA.

But imagine that Rosedale was not an open moorland setting, but was rather in one of the enclosed wooded valleys. All that was easy enough to make out is suddenly very difficult to see and without seeing the features it is very hard to read the story of past industrial exploitation.

This is the case with the Murk Esk valley between Goathland and Grosmont, which today contains a mixture of broadleaved and conifer woodland, including Plantations on Ancient Woodland sites (PAWS) indicating there has been woodland on the site for a long time. But in addition, from c. 1840s – 1890s the valley was a scene of heavy industry including mineral extraction (ironstone and whinstone), calcining and ironworking (at Beck Hole and Grosmont), and associated domestic life.  This includes ‘key’ sites such as Beck Hole Ironworks, Grosmont Ironworks, Combs Wood, Blue Ber Wood and Holme House mines. Much of this industrial past is now ‘lost’ or hidden beneath the trees and it is very difficult to isolate, access and interpret the significant remains that are within the areas of dense woodland.

Murk Esk Valley. copyright Stephen Croft NYMNPA.

I’ve walked the route from Goathland to Grosmont with my children several times and they like the trees, really enjoy the river, but they don’t ‘see’ this as a historic place – it doesn’t have ‘easy’ to see ruins or landscape features – rather all they see is the trees, and these are somehow ‘old’ and must have always been there. The natural environment has subsumed the historic environment. As such the significance and value of the Murk Esk valley and the vital importance it played in the development of the ironstone industries and railway technologies is very hard to understand.

Industrial remains within Murk Esk woodland. Copyright NYMNPA.

Industrial remains within Murk Esk woodland. Copyright NYMNPA.

LiDAR

LiDAR survey employs a laser based instrument which transmits high frequency laser pulses and records the reflected signal which can be used to generate very accurate topographic map data even beneath woodland canopy. LiDAR is one of many ‘remote sensing’ technologies that are used by archaeologists to survey sites from the air – a ‘teched-up’ development from conventional aerial photography.

LiDAR has been used with spectacular results for archaeological discoveries around the world such as Angkor Watt, Caracol and here in the UK in the New Forest National Park (amongst many others). As it enables a landscape-scale approach it is particularly suited to documenting archaeological landscapes and features in a number of other HLF Landscape Partnership Schemes such as TEL. Although much of England is already covered by LiDAR data held by the Environment Agency (who need to understand topography and land use, including creating flood models and assessing coastal change) – the currently available coverage in the Murk Esk valley wasn’t available in sufficient density to make this useful as a tool for identification of the archaeological features beneath trees.

TEL LiDAR coverage map, coloured based upon broad elevation, showing the LiDAR survey area over the Murk Esk and the TEL data limits bordered in red. Bluesky/NYMNPA.High density LiDAR surveys enable us to ‘see’ beneath the trees and other vegetation where the laser beam has passed between the branches of the trees and been reflected from the ground beneath. So we commissioned our own survey of the Murk Esk valley to be undertaken in ‘leaf-off’ conditions – in the very short window between the leaves falling of the trees and vegetation and the new buds and growth forming – therefore increasing the possibility of the laser beam passing through the branches to the ground beneath. During the end weeks of winter I was spring-watching with increased nervousness in anticipation of the perfect combination of ‘timing’ and ‘weather’. Fortunately our survey was undertaken on the 9 March 2015.

 

Murk Esk LiDAR coverage in grey-scale overlain upon Google Earth map using virtual shading to highlight relief (with lighting from the south-east ) and in multi-shaded format in which virtual lighting from different directions is coloured differentially to enhance feature visibility. Bluesky/NYMNPA.We have now started to use the results to give us a much better understanding of the landscape character of the Murk Esk valley. The survey has demonstrated that the TEL landscape still contains significant unknowns, and there is a wealth of historic and natural heritage information that can be discovered, amalgamated and better understood. The verification of these results, mainly through ground truthing, will be a central element of the community archaeology and volunteer programs delivered through the TEL programme should HLF funding be secured for its Delivery Phase.

LiDAR - Beck Hole Ironworks - a number of industrial structures are served by sidings from the railway line. Bluesky/NYMNPA.

Ordnance Survey 1st Edition 25 inch map 1893 - Beck Hole Ironworks - a number of industrial structures are served by sidings from the railway line. © and database right Crown copyright and Landmark Information Group Ltd. All rights reserved North York Moors National Park Authority 100021930 2015 LM000373 2015.Aerial photography 2009 - Beck Hole Ironworks - a number of industrial structures are served by sidings from the railway line. © GeoPerspectives 2009. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With our industrial past revealed by the falling leaves last winter, the scale of the ‘unknown’ is surprising particularly given the relatively recent past represented by the histories of early railways and iron making in the North York Moors. The past is still there to be discovered.

National Park Newbie

Kate Bailey – Conservation Graduate Trainee

Kate, Conservation Graduate Trainee - copyright NYMNPAHaving started in September as the new Conservation Graduate Trainee, I have been busy getting out and about in the National Park getting to know my colleagues and my fantastic place of work.

One thing I have been fortunate to get involved with so far has been this year’s National Park Authorities’ Ecologists’ Workshop. The theme of the three day workshop hosted by this National Park was “Improving Habitat Connectivity” and there was a great turn out – ecologists from all 15 UK National Parks attended, apparently the first time this has happened! For a new member of staff it was great for me to hear about how this National Park is working on restoring and reconnecting important habitat networks such as species rich grassland, river corridors and native woodland. It was also a great opportunity to meet people from across the country who are so passionate about conserving our countryside and wildlife.

Our Monday evening activity was a boat trip out of Whitby – with the possibility of seeing some whales. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any. Everyone joked that it is always the way – as a group of ecologists approach, all the wildlife disappears! However, we had a great trip all the same with a beautiful sunset, topped off with fish and chips – a must if you are in Whitby.

View looking back at Whitby - Ecologists Workshop Sept 2015 - copyright Kate Bailey, NYMNPA

Sunset over land - Ecologists Workshop Sept 2015 - copyright Kate Bailey, NYMNPAComing back into Whitby - Ecologists Workshop Sept 2015 - copyright Sam Witham, NYMNPAWe had beautiful weather for all three days, especially for our field trips on the Tuesday. We visited four sites which illustrate some great examples of restoration in the North York Moors – on moorland, in PAWS and along rivers – always returning to the importance of building a connected landscape within the National Park and beyond.

Glaisdale Moor peatland restoration - Ecologists Workshop 2015 - copyright Kate Bailey, NYMNPA

Lealholm stepping stones - Ecologists Workshop 2015 - copyright Kate Bailey, NYMNPAEsk Valley farmland - Ecologists Workshop 2015 - copyright Kate Bailey, NYMNPA

Arnecliff Woods - Ecologists Workshop 2015 - copyright Sam Witham, NYMNPAArnecliff Woods - PAWS restoration - Ecologists Workshop 2015 - copyright Kate Bailey, NYMNPA

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m looking forward to getting involved with as many different things as possible to make the most of my time as Conservation Graduate Trainee over the next two years. I’ll be carrying out botanical and bird surveys, monitoring farmland and land management through our Wildlife Conservation Scheme and Traditional Boundary Scheme, and hopefully getting the opportunity to go on lots of interesting training courses as well as learning from my colleagues. All in all, I hope my time with the Authority will give me enough experience and knowledge to pursue the career in conservation that I have always wanted!

Guardians of the Prehistoric Park

Jo Collins – Monument Management Scheme Volunteer Coordinator

There are 840 Scheduled Monuments in the National Park; they include the remains of prehistoric settlements and burial mounds, medieval monastic sites, alum and iron ore workings, and World War II radar and decoy sites. Malo Cross near Saltergate - NYMNPA

Three years ago 15% of these monuments were classified as ‘at Risk’ by English Heritage (now Historic England). Through the work of our Monument Management Scheme (MMS) this has been reduced to 8%. This is due in no small part to the work of the Historic Environment Volunteers, who help us keep an eye on the large number of monuments in the park.

During the previous two years 43 volunteers have visited and surveyed 391 monuments; an considerable achievement, THANK YOU!

Historic Environment Volunteers visit a Scheduled Monument, fill out a short report and take a photo for the record. Part of my job is arranging permission to access the monuments beforehand and making sure the volunteers have the right information and maps so they know where they’re going. The monuments can be a short walk from the car, or high on exposed moorland with a long walk in, or across private farmland; all are accessed with the kind permission of the land owner. The volunteer’s reports and photos have highlighted some monuments that are in better condition than expected (🙂 ) and some monuments that are in worse condition than expected (😦 ). As a result eight have been completely removed from the ‘at risk’ register with a further eleven now classed as ‘low risk’. Bracken growth is the main reason for a worsening condition and we have been able to tackle this through the MMS.

A small sub group of volunteers have also been involved in surveying badger activity on 17 round barrows and dikes in the National Park – round barrows are burial sites dating from the Bronze Age and Dikes are linear earthworks which were built during the Bronze and Iron Ages, probably to indicate territory boundaries. These ancient monuments have since been exploited by people and nature, with badgers being some of the most recent explorers. Volunteers have so far found paw prints, ‘snuffle holes’, bedding airing, fur, tracks, and setts. The monuments are visited about four times a year by a dedicated volunteer. It’s early days for this project but so far so good; apart from the obvious damage caused by the existing setts there appears to be relatively little new digging and no exposed archaeology.

In addition a small group of volunteers help directly with practical management on
monuments; the majority of tasks involve cutting back growing vegetation which causes Danby Rigg - NYMNPAdamage to archaeological remains. This is a new group and we are hoping more people will be up for joining in the future. Two such volunteer tasks on Danby Rigg have contributed to a much bigger project to improve the condition of this prehistoric cairnfield – cairnfields are field systems dating from the Bronze Age; stones were moved and piled into cairns to make space for fields but the Danby Rigg - NYMNPAremains of burials and settlements are often found there too. The problems here were being caused by erosion by people and the flowing water running over site which had damaged and even destroyed some of the cairns. The project to improve the drainage and repair the bridleway was developed with our Northern Area Ranger, Naomi Green, and different National Park volunteer groups were roped in to add heather bales eroded path around ring cairninto small drainage ditches to slow the flow, infill some of the deep ruts and scours and then to spread heather brash over the bare areas. The vegetation will take some time to recover but the area should look as it used to in a short while and the archaeology will be defended from further damage.

Danby Rigg, one of the various volunteer tasks - NYMNPA

Mags, the Monument Management Scheme Officer, and myself were recently asked to share our experience with our neighbouring designated landscape, the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and to help with training their new group of volunteers. The Howardian Hills AONB is currently setting up their own Monument Management Scheme for their area and wanted to find out how we have been using volunteers. We started with a classroom session at Coxwold Village Hall and spent the afternoon visiting 4 round barrow sites to practice their volunteers’ new survey skills. We’d like to wish the AONB the best of luck with their MMS (although I’m sure they won’t need it!).

HE Volunteers working at a monument near Sutton Bank - NYMNPA

And so what’s the future? There are still those 8% of monuments ‘at risk’ and with the help of our volunteers we’re hoping to care for them to conserve our heritage for future generations. Without the help of volunteers it would simply not be possible to achieve everything the scheme has been able to. So here’s to our volunteer guardians of the prehistoric park! And if you would like to join us please do get in touch.

Horcum Dyke - NYMNPA

Monument Management Scheme (MMS) – Scheduled Monuments are assessed as being ‘Low Risk/Not at Risk’, ‘Vulnerable’, or ‘At Risk’ for a variety of reasons. Historic England (previously English Heritage) publishes an annual Heritage at Risk register to highlight the ‘At Risk’ monuments. The MMS is a joint funded project between Historic England and the North York Moors National Park Authority with the aim of reviewing and tackling the condition of these monuments at risk within the North York Moors. Historic England have recently agreed funding for a third phase of the scheme which will run until March 2018. The new programme will continue to work to improve the condition of Scheduled Monuments and remove them from the Heritage at Risk register and it will be looking for ways to keep them in good condition and well managed into the future – hopefully for the long term.

So did it actually work?

Emily Collins – Conservation Student Intern 

It’s eleven o’clock and the sun is already high in the sky above Lealholm stepping stones. There are two benches overlooking the river; one occupied by a couple of ice-cream savouring villagers, the other piled with buckets, Environment Agency fleeces and a hefty lot of electrofishing equipment. It’s time, at last, to find out whether last year’s bankside encystment really worked…

The plan is simple; the Environment Agency team will use their electrofishing kit to stun the fish, capture them in their net and place them in a bucket for us to examine. Freshwater Pearl Mussel glochidia – if present – will be visible on the gills of the fish as little white specks. Whilst Simon the River Esk Project Officer takes charge of handling the fish, it is my job to record whether it is a salmon or trout, its age, and whether or not it has glochidia on its gills.

In April 2014 we had followed the same routine, only to find that not a single fish showed signs of mussel encystment on their gills. This was more than a little disheartening, especially as this area of the Esk is prime habitat for juvenile survival. If young mussels aren’t growing on the gills of the fish then chances are they’re not growing in the riverbed either. Considering that our mussels are all the equivalent of old-aged pensioners and that it takes 10-15 years for a mussel to mature, this is a huge concern for us. Hence the decision to try out bankside encystment that summer.

Fingers crossed!

Electrofishing - May 2015 - NYMNPA

Checking for glochidia - May 2015 - NYMNPAClose up - checking for glochidia - May 2015 - NYMNPASuccesful group shot - May 2015 - NYMNPAAmazingly, it turns out that this time around, 1 in 4 fish (mostly salmon) had glochidia on their gills. Whilst numbers were low – approximately 4 to 6 glochidia on each fish – this is a great improvement since last year and an important indication that our mussel old-aged pensioners have still got it in them to reproduce. With this in mind, we’re already looking to carry out another bankside encystment this August to further their success.

In the meantime, there is the potential for transferring some of our juvenile mussels from the Freshwater Biological Association ARK facility back into the River Esk. Of course, there’s no point in doing this until the river habitat is suitable for mussel survival so, with the help of landowners, contractors and volunteers, we’re continuing to plant riparian trees, control invasive species, carry out bank stabalisation and fence along the river bank in order to reduce the sedimentation in the water and ultimately, improve mussel habitat.

Dispatches from Esk Valley

Lady Elizabeth Kirk (founder and trustee of the Byways and Bridleway Trust) rides her horse over the new Murk Esk bridgeSince this post was published the bridge has been completed and is now officially opened.

 

 

Tammy Naylor – resident of Esk Valley and member of the This Exploited Land Executive Group

Rebuilding connections

The last few weeks has been a momentous occasion in the normally quiet hamlet of Esk Valley*. The four lads that have been constructing the bridge (commissioned by the National Park Authority) which will replace one missing from over the Murk Esk since the 1930s, got to the stage of spanning the river. To do this was quite a task, with no crane on site and involved a lot of measuring and checking before gently winching the front edge towards the abutment.

Bridge construction using A frame - by Tammy Naylor

This was quite a leap of faith to let the beautiful curved span lower across the river but, with the help of an old fashioned A-frame on the opposite bank, it is now in place and it’s something special to see. Today there was the regular sound of hammering as the treads are nailed in place. It won’t be long now until we are again linked to Crag Cliff, Green End and the moors.

Bridge construction at Esk Valley - NYMNPA

The original bridge was built in the 1830s to transport whinstone from the mines near Green End, on to the Whitby and Pickering Railway, so is a very important structure, being so early in date. There was no settlement of Esk Valley until 1858, just a solitary farm. The ponies that hauled the tubs over the bridge were stabled on the west side of the bridge and the mine continued to operate until approximately 1935. The bridge then went out of use and would have been badly damaged by three successive floods in the same decade.

It will be a huge step forward to see the bridge re-instated and will open up many circular walks around the Murk Esk Valley.

Closer look  

The results of the HLF funded LiDAR survey** recently taken over the Murk Esk Valley are eagerly anticipated in this neck of the woods. The day itself dawned with a beautiful still morning. While out for a walk with my dog the plane was conspicuous in the sky as it criss-crossed above my head like a lazy butterfly.

The conditions were perfect for the survey. When I went down to Grosmont, a work colleague with a passion in all things ‘Aerial’, had not only clocked the plane but also the TEL archaeologist hiding in the bushes taking photos. Several parish councillors also said they had seen the fly past, at the meeting that evening, so all said and done you can’t get away with anything in down town Grosmont.

LiDAR survey flight - NYMNPA

*Esk Valley is a hamlet at the bottom end of the Murk Esk Valley, the Murk Esk is a tributary of the main Esk; the main river valley where the River Esk runs is often called Esk Dale and sometimes called Esk Valley. I hope that’s clear.

**This initial LiDAR survey has been commissioned through the This Exploited Land HLF Landscape Partnership currently in its development phase. The results will help locate and identify industrial heritage remains in Coombs Wood in the Murk Esk Valley.

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Giving toads a fair chance

Some thoughts from Steve Rogers of the Osmotherley Toad Patrol

The Cod Beck Reservoir site, close to the village of Osmotherley, is one of Froglife‘s top ten toad breeding sites in the UK. The aim of the Osmotherley Toad Patrol every February/March/April is to make sure as many toads as possible get safely across the nearby main road and to and from the Reservoir.

Common toad (Bufo bufo) - by Steve Ratcliffe, from BBC website http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Common_Toad

Question: What has been the impact of toad patrols on the population of toads around Cod Beck Reservoir? 

Conclusive evidence cannot be drawn, one way or the other, from the available data.  There are just too many other variables* to consider.

Cumulative Toad Numbers 2002-2014 - Osmotherley Toad PatrolThere were significant increases in toad numbers for 2002-2003 (when the organised patrols started), 2004-2005 and 2009-2010 but whether these were due to the patrolling …. Steve cannot say. The best year for numbers so far was 2005.

However it’s difficult to envisage how toad patrols could conceivably damage toad breeding success. Steve and others believe that toads migrate quite large distances, maybe over several days, across the North York Moors from their summer residences/hibernation sites. The patrols only work on the road side of the reservoir and it is quite possible that similar numbers come directly off the Moors or out of the moor edge woodland on the non-road side. The patrols are helping the toads move the few final hazardous – because of the unnatural predation by vehicles – metres to enter (or exit) the water. In addition, the patrols are helping to bring males and females into contact ready to breed by collecting them in numbers in their transport buckets.

As for other amphibians…frog numbers have been declining significantly both nationally and locally, possibly due to disease – “red leg” (Bacillus hydrophilus fuscus) and Chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium). The patrols have not seen direct evidence of either disease, except possibly one or two specimens.  However, frogs are moving before toads and the toad patrols really get going, in the coldest wettest nights of late February, so can’t report with any certainty on the frequency of frog disease. The patrols sometimes come across newts, probably Palmate. Numbers of newts have fluctuated greatly and may also have been affected more recently by Chytrid.

Toad numbers - Osmotherley Toad Patrol since 2002

*Variables

The trends in toad numbers are difficult to assess because of the multiple variables involved.

Weather

Over the last 10 years or so patrols have experienced a series of very cold, often dry spring conditions. Toads generally do not move if the temperature is below about 8C (though if it has been warm during the day they may move briefly at dusk with the temperature as low as 4 or 5 C). During a “normal” spring this threshold is reached around mid-March. What has happened in several years is that migration has begun in a brief period during mid-March but then the weather has turned colder for several weeks and stopped any movement. This makes it very difficult to forecast when it will be worth patrolling and, indeed, to keep volunteers motivated. Extreme cold conditions prevailed in 2013 when temperatures did not become suitable for migration until mid-April. A further feature worth noting is that, when toad migration has been inhibited by low temperatures for several weeks, movements also occur during daylight hours when it has been warmer. Of course, with higher traffic volumes during the day when people like toads come out to enjoy the warmth the numbers of toad casualties are greatly increased (e.g. 2007, 2011 and 2012). In 2005 – the best year – there was a consistently mild spring and all movements took place over a couple of weeks.

Diligence of patrols

During the first few years of patrols there were very adequate numbers of volunteers, and patrols were admirably thorough. As years have gone by the numbers of volunteers decreased to a very few until 2014 when Steve launched a publicity/recruitment drive. The new volunteers along with the remaining core were extremely diligent and the patrols achieved their lowest mortality rate since the heydays of 2005. It remains to be seen if adequate numbers of volunteers for 2015 turn out…

Other factors

  • 2001 The pernicious outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease lead to complete closure of the road during the toad migration period.  This was obviously good for toads, and may explain why the start of formal patrols in 2002 found large numbers.
  • 2004 A large wild fire in March on National Trust moorland (to the west of the reservoir) led to the inevitable discovery of incinerated toads. This may explain the drop in numbers compared with the previous year, though the following year (2005) was an all-time peak (7,325 toads).
  • 2009 A major emergency services rescue operation occurred in April. The night was mild and wet encouraging toad movement. The number of vehicles involved unfortunately led to a high level of accidental mortality amongst the toads.
  • 2011 onwards – Cod Beck Reservoir (Yorkshire Water owned) was partly drained in order to carry out maintenance work on the dam. Water levels were several metres lower than normal and it is supposed that this greatly affected breeding success as toads breed in deep water. The following year was the absolute nadir in toad numbers being a factor of 2 lower than any other year. Numbers have not recovered to pre-2011 levels since. There is some uncertainty around the future of the Reservoir and therefore the future of this toad breeding site.

The patrols out of Osmotherley will be setting forth again in the next few weeks – all volunteers are welcome. Click here to sign up.

 An information evening for those interested in helping out with the Osmotherley Toad Patrol is being held at the Queen Catherine Hotel in Osmotherley on Wednesday 18 February at 7.30 pm.