Shared learning

Roy McGhie – Conservation Project Assistant

I’ve taken over the role of Conservation Project Assistant from Kirsty who left the National Park Authority earlier this year for pastures new.

Roy McGhie - learning to scythe at Ryedale Folk Museum - copyright Roy Hampson

I have had a fairly diverse career so far. I am a qualified primary teacher, have worked in business and manufacturing, and have spent more time studying than I care to think about! I have always had a passion for the natural environment, and volunteered whenever and wherever I could. A recent move to North Yorkshire enabled me to retrain in this sector, and now I find myself working for the National Park Authority, which is a dream come true. I love being able to meet the people who manage the land in the National Park, helping them to conserve and enhance the North York Moors in a way that is beneficial to both people and the environment. So far I’ve been largely concentrating on turning Traditional Boundary Scheme (TBS) applications into agreements to help restore boundaries that are so important to the landscape character of the North York Moors.

North York Moors National Park landscape - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA

Amidst my TBS efforts, a couple of weeks ago John (Land Management Adviser) and I attended the annual Farm Liaison Officers conference hosted by the South Downs National Park. This event is an opportunity for agri-environment staff from all 15 of the UK’s National Parks to meet and discuss common issues and difficulties that we face, as well as to find areas of best practice which we can take back to our own National Parks. Whilst the job titles differ from Park to Park it was clear that what we all shared was a passion for working with land managers to achieve mutually beneficial conservation goals.

The first full day was filled with site visits – even if the specific habitats and species we saw were sometimes different to those in the North York Moors, the issues around land management and competing pressures are similar to those we face here.

Tom Tupper - South Downs NP, Farm Liaison Officers Meeting 2015 - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPAThe first day started with a visit to Bignor Farm near Pulborough. Here, Tom Tupper, a local landowner, introduced us to the chalk grasslands, known as downlands, that make up much of the iconic character of the South Downs. During World War II the South Downs lost about 80% of its grassy downlands, partly to intensive agriculture for food production, and partly to military training. Today, only about 4% of the South Downs remain as chalk downland.

Tom also took us to Bignor Roman Villa, which has been in his family’s stewardship since it was re-discovered over 200 years ago. The site is renowned for having some of the best Roman mosaics in the country, both in terms of detail and preservation. Our stop at the villa allowed us to discuss the intricacies of preserving monuments alongside the public (and often financial) requirement for interpretation and access. There are similar issues at Cawthorn Camps, a Roman site on the North York Moors.

Roman Villa - South Downs NP, Farm Liaison Officers Meeting 2015 - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA

We visited Peppering Farm on the Norfolk Estate. The Estate is currently in a Higher Level Stewardship agri-environment agreement, but carries out more conservation work than it receives money towards, for instance in regards to reversing the decline of the Grey Partridge. This highlighted the ongoing issues that arise from trying to balance landscape enhancement with the need for productive practical agriculture. We also saw a restored dew pond. Dew ponds have been dated as far back as Neolithic times, and are a source of much debate as to how they traditionally filled up with water. Landscape archaeology suggests they were used for watering cattle and were lined with clay to hold the water. As we saw, they are always a popular haven for wildlife. There are number of such ponds in and around the North York Moors.

Dew Pond - South Downs NP, Farm Liaison Officers Meeting 2015 - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA

We also visited Pepperscombe on the Wiston Estate. Here we were introduced to the Steyning Downland Scheme which aims to reconnect people, particularly children, with the countryside around them. The Scheme partly came about because of increased visitor pressure on the South Downs Way, which runs through many farms and fields, as well as mountain biking and dog walking issues. Today there are Trustees and a steering group to represent the needs of the local community, which has seen a designated area created for bikers, the establishment of a team of local volunteers to monitor the plant life, and the opportunity for school children to enjoy creative educational days out on site.

Cattle are used to graze the scrub. The photo below shows the effect just a small number

Conservation grazing - South Downs NP, Farm Liaison Officers Meeting 2015 - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA

of cattle can have. The area on the left in the foreground was grazed by just six Dexter cattle for only 3 weeks. The area on the right in the background is a new area of scrub the cattle have just moved in to. The difference is remarkable. Dexter cattle are the smallest of all European cattle breeds, and can be particularly suited to conservation grazing with public access because the animals are less intimidating to members of public than larger breeds.

South Downs landscape - South Downs NP, Farm Liaison Officers Meeting 2015 - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA

On the second day, we were back in doors talking through shared subjects such as funding opportunities under Rural Development Programmes and transition from the current national agri-environment schemes (Environmental Stewardship) to the new Countryside Stewardship scheme. Overall the conference proved to be very informative, and I think we all took away knowledge that will help us with our work with land managers to enhance the qualities of each of our wonderful National Parks.

Four seasons of the Traditional Boundary Scheme

Kirsty Brown – Conservation Project Assistant

The Traditional Boundary Scheme (TBS) is now into its third year, helping to restore hedges and drystone walls across the North York Moors landscape throughout the seasons.

Autumn haze - TBS - NYMNPAFog - TBS - NYMNPARain - TBS - NYMNPAAutumn brings out beautiful colours and dampening mists, and the chance to get going on hedge restoration tasks, such as hedge-laying and coppicing, as the plants become dormant.

Snow - TBS - NYMNPAFog & snow - TBS - NYMNPASnow - TBS - NYMNPA

 

 

 

Winter snow tends to put a stop to all TBS work, as the conditions make it difficult for moving heavy stones, and hedge plants aren’t going to appreciate being planted out.

Spring planting - TBS - NYMNPAHedge planting - TBS - NYMNPAEarly spring sun - TBS - NYMNPASpring means the leaves break out along the restored hedges. In a few years time birds will be searching out nest sites amongst the thorny branches, and the bees collecting the nectar and pollen from the blooming hedgerow flowers.

Summer sun - TBS - NYMNPALate summer breeze - TBS - NYMNPAHedge - NYMNPASummer sees derelict walls disappear beneath the fast-growing grasses and bracken, whilst the hedges and trees form a luscious, green network across the landscape. This is a great time to be getting on with dry stone walling, while the weather is fine and the ground is dry.

The new application period for TBS grant is now open. Please have a look at our website.

 

Criss crossing the landscape

Kirsty Brown – Conservation Project Assistant

The landscape and land managers in the North York Moors have benefited from grants totalling £64,400 through the 2014/15 round of our Traditional Boundary Scheme. The grant supported the restoration of hedgerows and drystone walls which aren’t being picked up through national agri-environment schemes. The work builds on that carried out in 2013/14 which was the first year of the Scheme. This year’s funding has enabled the restoration of over 2,600 square metres of traditional drystone wall and over 2,800 metres of hedge planting, coppicing and laying.

Hedge laying - Kirsty Brown

Hedge laying is traditionally carried out in the autumn and winter when the plants are dormant. Importantly this also avoids the bird nesting season. A rural craft which has been widely practised for hundreds of years across Europe, hedge laying has largely disappeared apart from in  a handful of countries including the UK. It involves partially cutting through the upright stems of shrubs, bending them down and weaving them around stakes driven into the line of the hedge. There are around ten different regional styles of hedge laying within the UK including a ‘Yorkshire style’ which is traditionally very narrow, laid flattish and no more than three foot in height.

Hedge laying is obviously more skilled and time consuming than hedge cutting and coppicing, and has been dying out as a traditional craft. But the availability of targeted support funding and an awareness and appreciation of the benefits of hedgerows as wildlife corridors, habitats and food sources, as well as landscape features, is assisting the survival and re-burgeoning of hedgerow management skills like laying. And don’t think that drystone walls are second best to hedgerows in terms of biodiversity and wildlife. Walls can provide corridors for species movement and homes for a world of biodiversity from saxifrages to spiders to slow worms etc. Fortunately we have a number of skilled hedging contractors as well as drystone wallers working in the North York Moors and the wider area, maintaining boundary structures and practising their craft.

Rebuilt drystone wall - Kirsty Brown

I would like to thank all the land managers and contractors who have undertaken work to restore and reinstate valuable boundaries in the North York Moors this year. Various dry stone walls in the National Park are believed to demarcate boundaries going back to the Iron Age or earlier, with some on the coast being noted from Viking times, while some of our hedgerows are remnants of ancient woodland margins. In addition to supporting our local farms and benefiting wildlife, up keeping our walls and hedges has economic elements too employing local contractors and making the area more appealing to visitors. The National Park Authority is keen therefore to do what it can to support the continuation of these traditional boundaries and despite considerable cuts to our core funding, we are still hoping to be able to offer the Traditional Boundary Scheme again in 2015/16 (keep a look out on our website).

Drystone walls in the NYM landscape - Kirsty Brown

Thank you and Merry Christmas!

David Renwick – Director of Conservation

I’ve been lucky enough over the past couple of months to have visited a number of farmers and land owners in various parts of the National Park. I’ve seen first-hand how challenging but rewarding their way of life is and how it’s very much more than a job! They live, breathe and sleep the work they do and it’s that work which keeps the North York Moors landscape what it is – iconic, beautiful and inspiring. They are trying to make a living from a sector that faces uncertainty and change  – vastly varying prices, and increased red tape along with increasingly arm’s length support such as the new ‘digital by default’ requirements – I could go on.

Winter sun - North York Moors landscape - by David Renwick, NYMNPA

But despite the challenges there are still many success stories in the National Park farming story and these help create the backdrop to the delivery of good environmental outcomes – be it farmers working with us on habitat connectivity; traditional boundaries being restored and managed within the landscape; catchment sensitive farming actions to protect water resources and preserve soil nutrient; or woodland management to provide cover, habitat and wood fuel.

ELS - grass margin and beetle bank establishment - NYMNPAEvery farm is different and every farmer has a different philosophy which is applied to their
particular holding. It is the interaction of these two things which results in differing opportunities for us to work with land managers positively in order to take forward our priorities. Some farms are livestock only; some are mixed arable and livestock. Some farms are dairy and some are mixed Charolais cattle - by Ami Walker, NYMNPAdairy, beef and sheep. We have hill farms with moor flocks. We have traditional hefts and robotic dairy parlours. We have organic, upland,
lowland, coastal…we have pigs, poultry, ducks and geese…the list goes on and the combinations are endless. The diversity of farming in the Park is great.Moorland Sheep - NYMNPA

But regardless of the particular blend of farming on any one farm we are confident there is always a way in
which a balance can be struck to allow land management that makes economic and environmental sense – and keeps the landscape looking tip Drystone wall - Bragg Farm, Farndaletop too! We look forward to continuing our work with our farmers in 2015 and beyond. I hope the National Park can make a really positive contribution to help – be it lobbying for land
management interests in the area, helping disseminate best practice and supporting networks for farmers, making links into wider opportunities like the Local Enterprise Partnerships, providing our own modest grant support or signposting to that of others.

Thank you to all the National Park’s farmers, land managers, land owners and estates and I hope they, and everyone else who we’ve worked with in 2014, have a good Christmas and a Happy New Year. Well-earned I’m sure.

Roadside robin - Murk Esk Guided Walk - by Emily Collins, NYMNPA

Boundaries restored

Kirsty Brown – Conservation Project Assistant

Following on from my previous update, the first year of the National Park Authority’s new Traditional Boundary Scheme (TBS) is now completed.

Approximately £92,700 in grant aid was provided through TBS agreements, resulting in:

  • 3670 square metres of drystone wall restored
  • 3785 metres of hedgerow planted/gapped up
  • 30 metres of hedgerow coppiced
  • 210 metres of hedgerow laid

2013-09 Red Legged Partridge on ds wall - Old Byland

North of Lastingham (2)The good news is that the TBS will be available this year too, providing grants of up to £2,000 to help land managers restore hedgerows and dry stone walls within the North York Moors National Park.

We’re still keen to help restore and sustain traditional boundaries which help manage stock, provide habitat and connecting corridors for wildlife, mark traditional field patterns and are such an important element of the North York Moors landscape.East of Osmotherley

North of Lastingham (3)Further information and the application form have a look at our website. Otherwise give me a ring on 01439 772700 or email me.

The application deadline is 6 June 2014. All work grant aided this financial year will need to be completed by mid-December 2014.

TBS Hedge Laying, Moors National Park Centre Danby - completed

Before and After

Kirsty Brown – Conservation Project Assistant

Land managers and local contractors across the North York Moors have been working hard throughout the year, despite the adversity of torrential rain, deep mud, and endless gale-force winds, to keep the hedges and walls of our National Park going.

In addition to being a great landscape feature, the hedge and wall boundaries provide a long list of benefits to land managers, livestock and wildlife. Here are a few of the benefits (you might be able to think up more):

  • Wind break (crop and livestock protection)
  • Long-lasting livestock retention (outlasting fences by many years!)
  • Soil erosion prevention
  • Wildlife corridors
  • Shelter for livestock and a range of wildlife from snakes to ladybirds
  • Nesting areas for wildlife such as birds and voles
  • Pollen and nectar for bees and other insects
  • Food for wildlife (and foraging humans!)
  • Diversity of vegetation, within the hedge and in the sheltered areas at the foot of hedges and walls, in addition to fungi and lichens

A number of land managers applied for grant aid via our Traditional Boundary Scheme during the year. It was my job to initially assess each site, run a constraint check to make sure that what we were going to grant aid wouldn’t have a negative effect, and draw up the grant-aid agreements. I’m now rushing around checking up on grant claims before the end of the financial year.

Here are some of the before and after shots from the Traditional Boundary Scheme so far.

Thanks to all the land managers who have been involved in the Scheme over the last year, and well done everyone who’s completed so far; the renovated boundaries are looking good (the hedgerows always take a bit longer to look good than the walls)! Keep an eye out on our website, our Twitter and Facebook sites, and in the local press, for how to apply for the Traditional Boundary Scheme next financial year.

Hedgerow possibilities: part 2

Kirsty Brown – Conservation Project Assistant

Following on from my last post about the natural history of hedgerows…

Hedgerow history and hedges as a natural resource

Hedgerows in the United Kingdom have been dated back to the Bronze Age, and many included banks and ditches. In the past, many hedgerow trees were very important for human use, and would often have been pollarded. Some ancient hand-drawn maps show individual trees within the boundaries, often at very regular intervals.

The wood from hedgerow trees was harvested for making poles, hurdles, broom handles and for use as fuel in fires. The term ‘by hook or by crook’ is thought to have originated from the historical allowance that tenant farmers and those with access to common land could take what they could reach with a shepherd’s crook or billhook, whilst the land owner owned the tree trunks.

The shapes of fields and hedge layout can provide important clues to the age of a hedge. Tudor fields tend to be square, those ploughed with ox and cart often had a sinusoidal edge to allow a wider turning circle at the end of the rows, and circular fields can indicate previous deer parks. The 19th century Enclosures Act resulted in the creation of many more hedge boundaries.

Hedges are beneficial to land managers as they serve to intercept strong winds and blizzards, protect soil from erosion and help reduce flooding. Livestock can often be seen pressed up against the hedge line or under the shelter of an ancient boundary tree in extremes of weather, including hot sunshine.

The recent interest in self-sufficiency and organic food has resulted in greater numbers of people going out foraging, including me. Foraging in England and Wales is not illegal as long as what is collected is not intended for commercial use. Foraging should always be done in a sustainable way, leaving plenty for the wildlife, so the plant can set seed and reproduce, and in the case of hedgerow 5hedgerows so as not to damage the structure of the field boundary.

Delicious fruits such as gooseberries, raspberries, apples, cherries, elderberries can be found in the hedgerow, along with hazelnuts, and plants such as meadowsweet along verges (which can be used to make an incredible sorbet). Be sure of what you’re picking if you’re going to eat it. Hedgerow 3Take care to avoid picking where there may be pollutants and pesticides present, and never remove a plant by its roots unless you have the landowner’s permission. Some plants may be protected by bye laws. There are many excellent books to guide you on the rules of foraging, what is edible, what to avoid, when to forage for it and how best to consume hedgerow 2it, and my current favourites are ‘Food for Free’ by Richard Mabey, and ‘The Hedgerow Handbook: Recipes, Remedies and Rituals’ by Adele Nozedar.

Over time hedge plants have become robust and often thorny to protect themselves, as ancient wild herbivores would have grazed on Hedge 1them, in addition to foraging humans! Hedgerow management, including cutting hedges, mimics this grazing action and exploits the natural vigour of the plants. Traditional hedge care including cutting by hand and laying/coppicing with billhooks would have been undertaken locally and over a greater period of time, compared to the more modern and rapid mechanical hedge-cutting with a Hedge laying - Levisham Estate hedge laying workshop November 2009flail. Whichever method is used, it is a good idea to clean equipment between locations to prevent spread of disease.

Cutting sections of hedges in rotation, spaced out over several years, allows a mosaic of habitat niches to develop along a single hedge so wildlife can easily move to the area of their preferred environment, and it also results in more fruit, nuts, pollen and nectar on the hedges that have not been cut for some time. Generally, larger, older and bushier hedges support a greater diversity of wildlife, whilst heavy management can reduce biodiversity. Natural England provide guidance and information on how to enhance hedges for wildlife. There is also useful information available from Hedgelink. Without management over time hedgerows become relicts, eventually declining as a connecting habitat and less likely to survive as a feature.

Hedgerow protection and regulations

Since the Second World War, there has been a huge decline in hedges as field sizes and building developments increase, and hedgerow management decreases. Under the Hedgerows Regulations 1997 it is against the law to remove or destroy certain hedgerows without permission from the Local Planning Authority (in the North York Moors National Park – that’s us). The Local Planning Authority is also the enforcement body for offences created by the Regulations.

Grants available from the North York Moors National Park Authority

If you’re looking to restore a hedgerow through planting, coppicing or laying, or perhaps create a new hedge where there is currently just a fence, we may be able to help you with our Traditional Boundary Scheme grant, with can offer up to £2,000 a year. Dry stone wall restoration is also eligible. Just ask and we’ll see what we can help you do.

 

 

Honey Bee Boles

Kirsty Brown – Conservation Project Assistant

One of our latest projects involves the restoration of approximately 77 bee boles along a wall near Glaisdale. This is the largest number in a single wall ever recorded in England and Scotland!

What is a bee bole?

Bee boles are sheltered recesses in the wall which would have traditionally held skeps. Skeps are wicker/heather/straw bee hives, often moulded around sheep horns.

Donald Gunn is an expert in historic dry stone walls and is currently working at the Glaisdale site to return the huge stones to their original positions, using photographs and historic knowledge of the site. Natural England are providing funding through Higher Level Stewardship (HLS), and the North York Moors National Park Authority are managing the project on behalf of the HLS agreement holder.

The wall runs east to west, with the bee boles facing south. This deliberate orientation would ensure that not only would the bees face the heather moorland alongside the wall, but the warmth from the sun reaching the sheltered skeps would ensure an early start and late finish to their day of collecting heather nectar and pollen, maximising the amounts of honey and other bee products per skep.

Researcher Caroline Hardie, of Archaeo-Environment Limited, is also working on the project, and believes this site may have been for commercial honey production, or was a resource shared between the local communities.

The Glaisdale bee boles and attempts at traditional skep creation were featured on BBC Countryfile, on Sunday 8 September 2013. If you missed it, you might still catch it on BBC iPlayer.

Another beautiful example of bee boles in the North York Moors can be seen in nearby Westerdale. This remarkable structure (see below) was built in 1832 and is a Grade II listed building.

If you want to know more about bee boles and find out where else you can see them in Britain – have a look at the IBRA Bee Boles Register website. If you have any information on or photos of the use of bee boles in the North York Moors National Park, we would love to hear from you.

The National Park Authority is also keen to help with the conservation/restoration of more mundane but still valuable drystone walling in the National Park which is an important cultural and landscape feature of the North York Moors. If you might be interested in a grant for the restoration of standard dry stone walls (and hedgerows), we have a new Traditional Boundary Scheme which could help.