Planting for the future

Alasdair Fagan – Woodland Creation Officer

In a previous blog I talked about the importance of collecting and growing on tree seed from the North York Moors and the benefits of a combined genetic approach to planting woodlands to provide them with the best chance of withstanding climate change impacts in the future.

It is now widely accepted that tree planting has a major part to play in helping to offset the emissions contributing to global warming. The UK is committed to reducing carbon emissions by 80% (compared to 1990 levels) by 2050. A recent study by The Crowther Lab of ETH Zurich suggests that a global effort to plant one trillion trees can have a huge potential to tackle climate change. 

The 25 year Environment Plan released in 2018 outlines governmental ambitions to plant 11 million trees in new woodlands by 2021 through national grant schemes such as Countryside Stewardship and the Woodland Carbon Fund administered and regulated by the Forestry Commission.

The sequestration of carbon is one huge benefit provided by trees, but planting trees can have numerous smaller scale advantages too including;

  • Significant benefits to biodiversity
  • Creation of a priority habitat
  • Reducing soil erosion
  • Reducing the flow of water downstream
  • Providing shelter to livestock and game

Which leads me onto Woodland Creation in the North York Moors …

Between 2000 and 2017, this National Park saw the planting of over 150 hectares of low density wood pasture/parkland and over 560 hectares of new native woodland; that equates to the planting of over 622,400 native trees!

Looking forward, we have ambitious targets to create 7,000 hectares of ‘environmentally positive’ new woodland over the next 100 years. This will mean we’d plant over 7 million trees! This will increase woodland cover from 23% to 25% of the National Park.

Skipster Hag - woodland creation project planted in 2012. Copyright NYMNPA.

But we’re not gung-ho about it. Every woodland creation proposal is carefully planned and there are many considerations to be examined and consultations to be carried out during the developmental stages of each individual project. Things to think about include:

  • Existing ecology and habitats
  • Existing archaeology and cultural heritage features and records
  • Current land sse
  • Soils
  • Woodland networks in the landscape
  • Public Access and Rights of Way
  • Landscaping impacts
  • Impacts on groundwater
  • Appropriate species
  • Provenance of seed/trees
  • Future impacts of Climate Change (ESC tool)
  • Tree pests and diseases (chalara, alder rust etc)
  • Land designations (e.g. SSSI, SAC, SPA)
  • Open Access Land
  • Parish Council
  • Inclusion on Public Register
  • Neighbouring landowners
  • Environmental Impact Assessment (if over 2 ha)
  • Services

Planting at Oakley Side, Danby - to extend existing native woodland. Copyright NYMNPA.

Rievaulx - planting to restore ancient wood pasture habitat. Copyright NYMNPA.

Shadow Woodland - woodland plants such as bluebells show us where woodlands used to exist. Copyright NYMNPA.

Each project has its own issues and individualities. Here are three examples of woodland creation projects over the last couple of years.

Cam House, Bilsdale

This woodland creation project in Bilsdale is a large planting scheme of over 15 hectares. There are 17,825 trees planted of 18 different species.

The site varies somewhat in terms of hydrology with some areas being particularly wet. These areas are planted with species that prefer wetter ground (willows and alder) but the majority of the site is planted as diverse oak and hazel woodland, with other species such as birch, holly, wild cherry and crab apple included to provide maximum climate change resilience and benefit for biodiversity.

Aspen has been included to further futureproof the woodland against potential issues such as climate change and disease, after consulting the ecological site classification software for the site. This is an online tool used to calculate what the suitability of particular tree species are to potential planting sites. The tool uses information such as soil wetness, soil PH, wind exposure and climate data to estimate how well trees will grow. It also usefully has a future projections function which is linked to the Met Office’s future climate data, which allows us to try to predict how a changing climate might alter the site and suitability for tree species – some will become less suited to the site and others will become more suitable, such as aspen.

Planting at Cam House, Bilsdale. Copyright NYMNPA.

 Ayton Banks

Ayton Banks is a site that is extensively covered in dense stands of bracken. The landowner’s primary objective for the planting is to sustainably control the bracken long term whilst creating a diverse woodland habitat. 8,610 trees were planted across 5.43 hectares using site appropriate native species such as oak, hazel, birch and rowan.

The wider Ayton Banks site is an historic Alum Works, now a Scheduled Monument. The proposals for woodland planting were carefully developed with the National Park Authority’s Historic Environment Team to ensure that none of the sensitive areas of the monument are influenced by the project.

Planting at Ayton Banks. Copyright NYMNPA.

 Howe End, Danby

This lowland planting project presented the perfect opportunity to work with volunteers and other groups due to its proximity to our National Park Centre at Danby, the ease of access and parking, and the cooperation of the landowner (who is a National Park Volunteer).

3,500 trees were planted over two months by a wide variety of volunteer groups as well as local primary school children, National Park staff and apprentices.

Planting at Howe End, Danby. Copyright NYMNPA.

If you have a potential Woodland Creation project in mind then please visit our website page for more information or contact me via the National Park Office 01439 772700 or by email.

Seeds for the future

Alasdair Fagan – Woodland Creation Officer

In a previous blog, on the Year of Green Action, we mentioned the planting of 3,500 trees near Danby by National Park staff and volunteers. Our volunteers form an integral part of the work we are able to do, this is particularly the case with woodland work.

Last year saw the origins of the Acorn Volunteer Group. The task for this Group is to collect tree seed from the ancient woodlands and trees of the North York Moors to then be propagated and grown on at local tree nurseries with the ultimate aim of the trees being used in future woodland creation schemes throughout the area.

We focused in the first year on acorns as the National Park Authority has a bit of a history of acorn collecting and so we already knew some good spots to try. We managed to collect over 25,000 acorns. Going forward we are looking to diversify the tree species we collect to include species such as rowan, elder and wild cherry.

One of the North York Moors' oldest Ancient Oak Trees. Copyright NYMNPA.

So why is collecting tree seeds important?

There are ongoing discussions in the world of woodland and forestry about what is the best approach for new woodland planting – whether it should be young trees grown from seed which has been collected from the local area (‘local provenance’) or trees grown from seed sourced elsewhere in the country e.g. further south.

Local provenance seed has benefits such as being from trees which we know grow well on a kind of site or in a particular area , but seed from a more southerly zone has the potential to be better suited in the future because of an increasingly warming climate.

The predictions for climate change vary in severity based on the potential for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, but what is certain is that our summers will be warmer and drier (this is especially true in the east of the Britain) and our winters will be wetter. This means that the climatic conditions of the places where we are planting trees today to create woodlands could be significantly different in 100 years time. 100 years is not a long time within the lifetime of a woodland. Woodland managers need to consider the effects of their work over these long timescales. Planning now to survive the effects of climate change is essential to give our woodlands the greatest chance of reaching maturity.

Skipster Hagg. When the right site is chosen to plant woodland the rate at which the young saplings grow can be surprising. Copyright NYMNPA.

Ayton Banks. Stitchwort and bluebells growing on a site with newly planted trees. These woodland indicator plants grow on woodland soils and show where woodlands once existed. Copyright NYMNPA.Currently the advice for woodland managers is that the best approach depends on the characteristics of the site proposed. On sites where the woodland soils have remained relatively undisturbed, with intact woodland plant communities – such as bluebells and wood sorrel – planting local provenance trees is still the best choice, particularly if it is adjacent to an existing ancient woodland. However if the site is less sensitive then it makes sense to try and improve the woodland’s chance to withstand the effects of climate change and the resulting pests and disease as much as is possible; making the woodland more ‘resilient’.

This type of resilience is increased by having a higher number of tree species as more diversity means that any one pest or disease is unlikely to have a catastrophic effect on the entire wood. If you also incorporate into this diverse mix of tree species a mix of genetic stock, such as you would get from planting a mixture of trees sourced both locally and from further afield, then this is certain to improve a woodland’s chances of adaptation and survival in the future.

Setting up a seed collecting project is a way to make sure we have some locally sourced trees to plant, including some of the genetics of our oldest living trees. The project is also a great way to include volunteers and give them the opportunity to visit some of the ancient trees and woodlands hidden away in secluded parts of the North York Moors.

One of the many handfuls of acorns that made up the 25,000 that were collected in 2018. Photo credit – Tessa Bunney.

If you think you might like to sign up as an Acorn Volunteer with the National Park Authority then please contact me by email or ring me on 01439 772700.

A to Z: a troupe of Ts

T

TEMPLARS

Most people have probably heard of the Knights Templar, mediaeval military monks best known for their Order being forcefully suppressed.

The sole purpose of the Order was to protect pilgrims, and that meant supporting knights in the Holy Land which required money. Along with many monastic orders the Knights Templar were good at making and managing money to fund themselves and their work. Nobles were particularly happy to endow military orders with gifts and property as a way to win favour with God, because they shared a common interest in the noble art of fighting. A mix of Papal and Regal authority granted the Templars immunity to local jurisdiction and taxation, putting them beyond the law.

The Templars were pan European and had a network of estates in England. One of these holdings was the Manor of Westerdale in the north west of the North York Moors, which was gifted to the Knights Templar in 1203 by Guy de Bonaincurt. There are also records of additional gifts from other landowners in the wider area, at Kildale, Ingleby Arncliffe, Pinchinthope, and Broughton. At Westerdale a preceptory was founded – a preceptory is a military order’s equivalent of a monastery – and the land put to good use producing income. It’s not known where the buildings and granges were, suggestions include Westerdale Hall and there are earthworks at two sites towards the head of the dale. 

The Knights Templar Order consisted of Knight Brothers (you had to already be a knight), Sergeants/Serving Brothers, and Chaplains. Then there were the lay servants to do most of the work. There wouldn’t have been knights at Westerdale, but there would no doubt have been servants farming the land. When the Order was surpressed the Manor was recorded as being 1,182 acres and producing £37 of annual income.

The Order didn’t long survive the end of the Crusades in the Holy Land. Pope Clement V issued a bull in 1307 telling all Christian monarchs in Europe to arrest Templars and seize their assets. The dissolution in England was drawn out and non-violent. The Manor of Westerdale was taken by the crown in 1311 or 1312 and then held until it was either given or sold to the Knight Hospitallers (the other major military order) in 1338. Two hundred years later it went back to the crown during the Reformation..

TEMPLE MOORE (1856 – 1920)

The fantastically named Temple Lushington Moore was a celebrated Victorian/Edwardian architect, particularly renowned for his ecclesiastical commissions both inside and out. He conceived new churches* and restored/rebuilt churches**, many of which are now listed. He also designed decorative church fixtures such as screens, windows, reredos, lecterns, and pulpits.

Moore’s style was Late Gothic Revival with its focus on the mediaeval: for example pointed arches, buttresses, vaulted ceilings, ornamentation and decoration.

There was a lot of new building/rebuilding of Anglican churches at this time; to serve the growing urban populations and to rival the pull of the evangelical low church congregations. The Gothic Revival style linked directly with the high church tractarian movement at the end of the 19th century. The exaggerated style presented an idealised medieval past in reaction to mechanisation and industrialisation. The enthusiasm for the style itself could sometimes result in the destruction or diminishing of original mediaeval elements of the buildings being ‘restored’.

Temple Moore worked on a number of commissions in and around the North York Moors and elsewhere in Yorkshire which earned the appellation for his work of ‘gothic with a Yorkshire accent’.

*New Churches in/around the North York Moors
St Aiden, Carlton
St Botolph, Carlton in Cleveland
St John the Evangelist, Bilsdale Midcable
St James the Greater, Lealholm
St Mary Magdalene, East Moors

**Restored/rebuilt Churches in/around the North York Moors
St Chad, Sproxton
St Augustine, Kirkby
St Oswald, Newton upon Roseberry
St Hilda, Danby
St Nicholas, Guisborough
St Gregory’s Minster, Kirkdale
St Mary, Church Houses, Farndale
St Mary Magdalene, Faceby
St Mary, Rievaulx

TREE PRESERVATION ORDERS

The North York Moors has a statutory claim to fame, because one of the first Tree Preservation Orders in England was served in the village of Sinnington. It was served to protect an area of woodland known as The Stripe to the north of the village. It was an ‘interim’ TPO made under the Town and Country Planning (Interim Development) Act of 1943.

This Act was followed up a few years later by the Town and Country Planning Act 1947. This legislation looked to build a new country, depending on receiving permission. It aimed to control development and protect the best elements such as buildings with special architectural or historic interest as well as trees and woodland, the natural equivalent of the buildings. Where trees or woodland might be under threat and those trees or woodland had an identified amenity value – that is they mattered to local people and the wider landscape – a Tree Preservation Order could be served. Also in 1947 came the Hobhouse Report which recommended the creation of National Parks; however the thing about Tree Preservation Orders is they can be used anywhere not just in protected landscapes, because any tree can be special.

Tree Preservation Orders are still a useful part of planning legislation, most recently reiterated in the Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Act 2012.

TREE SPARROWS

Many people would recognise the House Sparrow (Passer domesticus), a common visitor to garden bird tables and feeders. Less often seen is the smaller Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus), a shyer bird that can be distinguished by its chestnut brown cap and black cheek spots.

The Tree Sparrow has suffered a substantial decline in recent decades with a 93% population decrease between 1970-2008. They are therefore on the Red List for conservation concern.

Tree Sparrows make use of cavities in trees and old buildings to nest in. They will also build their own nests within thick hedges. During the 1970s and 80s many elm trees were lost to Dutch elm disease which reduced the availability of nesting holes for this and other species. Alternatively, they will make use of nest boxes – projects aiming to expand Tree Sparrow populations place several nest boxes close together as the birds like to live in colonies.

A good habitat for Tree Sparrows is mixed farmland where small woodlands, scrubby hedgerows, cereal crops and dead trees can be found together. Aquatic invertebrates are a good food source for their young so farmland ponds are also valuable features. Young chicks are fed on insects to provide them with the minerals they need to develop their bones. Seeds and cereals, such as wheat and barley, are also part of the Tree Sparrow diet.

The southern edge of the North York Moors is a good area for Tree Sparrows, villages such as Hackness, Staintondale, Newton-upon-Rawcliffe and Lockton all have Tree Sparrow populations.

Close up of Tree Sparrow - RSPB https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/old-world-sparrows/

TWAYBLADES

There are two types of Twayblades: Common Twayblade (Neottia ovata) and Lesser Twayblade (Neottia cordata). These are orchids, not the blousy bright orchids but much more subtle and discreet.  Both have one upright stalk with small clusters of flowers at the top. The Common Twayblade has tiny yellow/green flowers and can grow up to 60 cm tall, the Lesser Twayblade has tiny reddish flowers and grows up to 20 cm. The name Twayblade comes from Old English words for two leaves, because Twayblades have one pair of leaves except sometimes they don’t, sometimes there is a third leaf. Common Twayblade are much more adaptable than Lesser Twayblades, growing in neutral/calcareous grassland and woodland. Lesser Twayblades favour acid soil so are found in wet Ancient Woodland and on wet heath. They’re pollinated by tiny insects e.g. flies for Common Twayblade, even smaller gnats for Lesser Twayblade. They both smell, however whereas the Common Twayblade has a gentle sweetish smell, the Lesser Twayblade produces a smell like rotting flesh which humans find unpleasant but gnats like. Both plants produce tiny seeds like dust, but they can also spread through rhizomes from their roots. As well as diminishing habitat, one of the other reasons for Twayblades being relatively rare is because they take such a long time to grow up, it can take a Common Twayblade 15 years to mature enough to flower.

Close up of Common Twayblade flowers, Monks Dale in Derbyshire copyright RWD from wildflowerfinder.org.uk. The tiny flowers are said to look like tiny people if you look carefully..

Previously on the North York Moors A to Z … A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O , P, Q, R, S 

Hedgerow equations

Large parts of the North York Moors have either no field boundaries (open moorland) or have drystone walls as boundaries (upland tops and slopes), but round the edges of the area and in the farmland dales there are often hedgerows. A large number of these hedges will have existed for years, but they’re not considered ‘ancient’ unless they’re older than 1700, just like Ancient Woodland.

Hedgerows of course are made out of trees and shrubs just like woodland but are otherwise culturally and ecologically distinctive. Hedgerows have long been a man-made feature of landscapes – boundaries to keep things in as well as out. In other parts of England there are hedgerows that are thought to date back over a millennium. This is not so likely in the North York Moors. Many hedgerows here probably just date back to the 18th and 19th centuries when there was a lot of enclosure and land ‘improvement’ going on, here as elsewhere in the country.

Old roadside hedgerow, Bilsdale. Copyright Ami Hudson, NYMNPA.

Hedgerows have been created through one or more of these three methods – original planting/transplanting, allowing uncultivated field edges to grow up, or by leaving a ‘ghost’/edge of a removed woodland. A curved hedge suggests a ghost hedge because natural woodlands are more likely to have had curved not straight edges, whereas constructed boundaries are often as straight as possible.

Ancient hedges share Ancient Woodland herbaceous ground flora such as Wood anemone, Sweet woodruff and Golden saxifrage. There is also a well-known ‘rule’ (Hooper’s Law) sometimes used to estimate the age of a hedge by counting the number of established woody species over a 30 yard/30 metres stretch or preferably an average over a series of stretches. The equation is then Age = no of species in a 30 yard stretch (or average number) x 110 + 30 years.

Whereas an enclosure hedge (18th/19th century) will have one or two species, a pre Norman Conquest hedge might have more than ten species. However such ancient hedges would have been an unlikely feature in the ‘wastes’ of the North York Moors recorded in the Domesday Book at the end of the 11th century.

Managed hedgerow, Glaisdale. Copyright NYMNPA.

Like all rules there is bound to be exceptions. Hooper’s Law relies on the hedgerow being mainly naturally colonised, not planted 30 years ago by a biodiversity enthusiast. Also any hedgerow adjoined to or close-by woodlands are more likely to be colonised at different rate than another hedge. In the end it’s probably best to use other evidence of dating, such as maps and records, as well.

Although original hedgerows may have been planted and laid to incorporate existing older trees it would be difficult to keep such trees alive, and therefore much more likely that in-boundary trees were planted at the same time as a hedge or added later. The first edition Ordnance Survey 25 inch mapping includes individual in-field and in-boundary trees. For the North York Moors area these maps are usually from the 1890s. The presence of a mapped in-boundary tree suggests that boundary was a hedge rather than wall or fence at that time.

Since the middle of the 20th century the amount of hedgerow in the country as well as the number of boundary trees has been reduced. Machinery meant it became easy enough to remove a hedgerow, and to maximise the cutting of hedgerows. At the moment the cultural and ecological importance of hedgerows is valued and lately there have been efforts to use agri-environment schemes to encourage good practice management and to use the 1997 Hedgerow Regulations to control removal.

Briar rose in an old hedgerow. Copyright NYMNPA.

* This is the list of species which count towards Hooper’s Law. The species listed grow in a wide variety of habitats across the country, only some of these would ever have been used in and around the North York Moors. As it is currently winter, identifying different species is particularly difficult and therefore maybe more fun.

Alder Cherry-plum Hornbeam Sallow
Apple incl crab apple Dogwood Lime – ordinary, pry Service
Ash Elder Maple Spindle
Beech Elm – Wych, English, East Anglian, Cornish, Dutch/Huntingdon etc Oak – pedunculated, sessile Sycamore
Blackthorn Furze Pine Wayfaring-tree
Briar (three named species) Guelder-rose Plum incl bulace Whitebeam
Broom Hawthorn – ordinary, woodland Poplar – aspen, blackwhite, grey Willow – crack, white
Buckthorn Hazel Privet (wild) Yew
Cherry Holly Rowan

‘Bloody awful tripe’ about trees

Aside

The Trees by Philip Larkin

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

Veteran tree at Low Wood, Hawnby - copyright Alasdair Fagan, NYMNPA

If you like your poems recited by the poet and maybe animated – click here. Larkin sometimes thought his own poem was ‘bloody awful tripe’ – and at the same time upcoming spring might be ‘corny’ and predictable but it’s also reassuring and propitious.

A to Z: a quantity of Qs

Q

QUAKERS

Quakers is a commonly used name for the Religious Society of Friends. Whether the term was originally meant to be derogatory or not, it is now embraced. The Society of Friends was formed in 17th century England. Quakerism spread particularly in northern England during that century due to missionary efforts.  In the same way that Methodism took hold in the North York Moors in later centuries, the Society of Friends found ready converts in this area due in part to the distance from centres of authority and conformist religion.

The founder, George Fox, had an understanding of Christianity that differed from that of the established Church of England at the time – he believed that there was something “of God in every person” (i.e. an inward light), people didn’t need Churches or Clergy to experience God they could do it themselves and have their own direct relationship. This idea of equality of all and divergence from the norm didn’t go down well in a period of Civil War, Interregnum and Restoration. Fox and others who thought the same way and who met together to listen to God, were imprisoned over and over again. Official persecution ended in 1689. 

After the initial period of conversion the Society turned inward and consolidated. New generations of Quakers sustained the Society – they didn’t need special buildings or clergy, their local meetings acted as self-regulating communities. A way of life was expected based on morality, honesty, diligence and most importantly, an inner conviction. The life of Joseph Foord, the land agent responsible for the engineered water races of the North York Moors, provides an example of how sometimes it wasn’t always easy for members of Quaker families to live up to all the expectations – Joseph was officially disowned for fornication. When he was buried, years later and away from home, he did end up in a Quaker cemetery although recorded as a ‘non member’.

Maybe not having inherited a place in the establishment, and having therefore avoided a classical only education and a disdain for business, individual Quakers worked hard for a living and for the betterment of all. They had big impacts in the industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries including railways, and the iron and steel industries on Teesside.

QUAKING GRASS Briza media

Quaking grass is a common wild grass found in unimproved or semi improved grassland habitats on dry soils and slopes, the less nutrient rich the better. It relies on traditional hay meadow management (grazing or cutting) to give it a chance amongst more competitive grasses.

It has thin delicate stems ending in small coloured ‘locket shaped’ flowers which are what quake and tremble, making the grass easily identifiable in the summer when it stands out amidst the surrounding sward. The quivering movement and the rattling sound engendered make this grass particularly appealing and over time it’s been given a variety of different names based largely on the movement – Dothery dock, Shivery shakes, Wiggle waggle, Tottergrass, Quakers-and-shakers etc.

Image of Quaking Grass from http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/species/quaking-grass

Special QUALITIES

These are 28 Special Qualities of the National Park identified in the Authority’s Management Plan of 2012. The idea was to put into words the elements – landscape, environment, heritage and the feelings engendered – that make the North York Moors what it is i.e. special. It’s not an exhaustive list, everyone will have their own opinions, but it helps to illustrate the fundamental aspect that the whole has many valuable and interrelated parts.

Special Qualities from the North York Moors Management Plan 2012QUARRIES

Mineral resources from the North York Moors – limestone, sandstone, alum shales, ironstone, whinstone – have been quarried since the prehistoric period. Quarrying is a lot easier and cheaper than actual mining but depends on the mineral sought being close to the surface so it can be dug straight out, cutting into and manifestly changing the landscape. The available resources have been exploited to provide for local populations and sometimes the national interest if quarried on an industrial scale.

Now the majority of these local quarry sites have been abandoned, but it is still possible to identify these artificial landscape features all over the North York Moors. As well as having historic interest – sometimes you can see tool markings on a face, these sites have been re-colonised to some degree. Quarry sites provide refuges of uncultivated undisturbed land where since quarrying stopped unexpected plants and animals have moved in making the most of a habitat of rocky outcrops and thin low nutrient soil. These often isolated man-made sites can be extremely valuable for biodiversity such as cliff nesting birds like Peregrines and Kestrels and alpine plants like saxifrages.

Peacock butterfly, spotted in Boltby Quarry. Copyright Roy, McGhie, NYMNPA.

QUERCUS spp.

Quercus is the genus (Group) name for Oaks. There are two species of Oak found in the North York Moors – Pedunculate oak (Quercus robur) and Sessile oak (Quercus petraea) – as well as hybrids of the two. The difference between the two main species is that the acorns of Pedunculate oaks hang from stalks (peduncle) whilst Sessile oaks produce acorns directly from their twigs – so you have to look carefully to tell the difference. Pedunculate oak is also known as the English oak and the Common oak in this country because it has been so widespread in woodlands, hedgerows, fields and parkland. Sessile oaks tend to be found in upland areas in the UK, in places like wooded gills because they prefer dry soils.

Pedunculate Oak close up drawing from https://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/infd-5mhcqx

Sessile Oak close up drawing from https://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/infd-5mhcqx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of the most magnificent looking oaks in the North York Moors are Veteran Trees because oaks can last for hundreds of years if allowed to flourish in the right conditions. Oak woodlands are great biodiversity habitats for mammals, birds, invertebrates, fungi and lichen amidst the living and dead trees. Sunlight can penetrate the oak canopies to reach the ground and enable ground flora to flourish.

Upland oak woodland. Copyright NYMNPA.

Acorns are reasonably easy to propagate, by collecting local acorns to plant out in new woodlands the local provenance can be sustained hopefully for hundreds of more years.

Collected acorns to be propagated and planted. Copyright NYMNPA.

QUOITS

Quoits continues to be played competitively in the North York Moors through the Danby Invitation Quoits League and the North Yorkshire Moors League, in Esk Dale. The heavy metal quoits (originally two horseshoes forged together?) are thrown with the ultimate aim of encircling iron pins (‘hobs’), 11 yards away, set in a square of clay. Like all the best traditions there are lots of specific terms and rules used when it comes to playing e.g. a ‘Frenchman’ is the term for when the quoit lands underside (the ‘hole’ side) to the right of a hob.

Danby Quoit Club 1923 - from http://danbyquoitleague.btck.co.uk/Aboutus

Different versions of Quoits are played in different UK regions and countries. The variety played in the North York Moors is part of the northern England tradition which is also played in Swaledale, County Durham, Cleveland and Northumberland. It seems this north eastern sporting tradition, formalised in the 19th century, came out of a shared mining background and survived the end of that industry in the local area.

Quoit pitches are often located close to Public Houses or Village Halls, all focuses for social interaction. There are pitches (and matches)  in a number of villages in Esk Dale; a few years ago funding through the North York Moors, Coast and Hills LEADER programme (in a previous incarnation) helped restore the pitch in Fryup Dale.

Previously on the North York Moors A to Z … A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O , P

Fantastical fungi

Roy McGhie – Conservation Project Assistant

Fungi is found on every environment on the planet and plays a vital part in many ecosystems. They don’t actually belong to either the plant or animal kingdoms, they have their own. Fungi are key decomposers and so are crucial in terms of nutrient cycling. Because fungi don’t photosynthesise like plants (they don’t contain any chlorophyll) they instead rely on absorbing food from their environment to survive. This is why you will often see fungi growing on or around other plant material, living or dead. By decomposing organic plant material, particularly lignin and cellulose that make up the bodies of plants, the locked up carbon, nitrogen and minerals are released and used again by other plants and organisms.

Fungi often form important symbiotic relationships with other organisms. These can be antagonistic (injurious to the host e.g Hymenoscyphus fraxineus), mutualistic (mutually beneficial) or commensal (apparently neither injurious nor beneficial). One of the most well-known mutualistic relationships is that with mycorrhizal fungi. It is estimated that over 90% of all plant species are part of a mycorrhizal relationship and are dependent on it to thrive. Mycorrhizae are found between plant roots and the soil, and help other plants collect moisture and nutrients (such as nitrate and phosphate). In return the mycorrhizae are able to use the carbohydrates and sugars that the plants produce. It has been suggested that a single oak tree can have up to 19km of associated mycelium – these are the thread-like hyphae (filaments) that extend outwards from the mycorrhizal fungi.

For most fungi these hyphae are their main part. Even when these hyphae tangle together and are visible to the human eye we often don’t see them because they’re underground or within their food source e.g. a tree. Some fungi however produce fruiting bodies in order to release spores – these are the mushroom parts which appear when it’s warm and damp. The mushroom parts are short lived and die back within a season but fungi can live for years and years.

The North York Moors hosts a great variety of fungi types and their mushrooms, from waxcaps, inkcaps and milkcaps to chanterelles, boletes and russulas. Because of the amount of plant material available woodlands, particularly ancient woodlands, are an excellent place to see mushrooms in the late summer/autumn and some varieties in the spring. To encourage fungi on your own land leave deadwood where it is (either standing or on the ground) instead of clearing it away. Managed grasslands are also a good habitat to find mushrooms. Waxcaps in particular can be found on grassland around historic houses and churchyards, and also on grazed pastures. The best grassland fungi sites typically have a short turf, plenty of moss, are well drained, poor in nutrients and usually unfertilised. Many waxcaps form mutualistic relationships with mosses, so to encourage fungi in your own garden don’t remove the moss.

Over the centuries the hundreds of types of fungi in England have been given graphic common names like ‘Ashen Knight’, ‘Bitter Poisonpie’, ‘Dead Man’s Fingers’, ‘Dryad’s Saddle’, ‘Flaming Scalycap’, ‘Humpback Brittlegill’, ‘King Alfred’s Cakes’, ‘Mealy Bigfoot Webcap’, ‘Old Man of the Woods’, ‘Papillate Pinkgill’, ‘Plums and Custard’, ‘Powdercap Strangler’, ‘Scurfy Deceiver’, ‘Slippery Jack’, ‘Sordid Blewit’, ‘Witches Butter’ … I’ll stop there.

Fungi are an often underrated element of biodiversity; working away, mostly out of site, maintaining healthy ecosystems that are so important to the natural environment..

A few types of wild (uncultivated) mushrooms are edible, many taste of nothing, and others are toxic and quite often deadly. You always need to be absolutely sure which is which if you’re intending to eat one. Foraging in England and Wales is not illegal as long as what is collected is not intended for commercial use. However please remember that most of the North York Moors is privately owned and you’d need permission from the landowner to range over private land.

Picking mushrooms won’t necessarily damage the fungi but the more that are picked the less chance the fungi has of reproducing.

Fungi in and around the North York Moors - mixture of fungi possibly including Candlesnuff - copyright Tom Stephenson, NYMNPA.

For more on fascinating fungi – have a look at The British Mycological Society and the Fungus Conservation Trust websites. Local Naturalist Societies are often great sources of local knowledge.

Fostering hedgerow trees

John Beech – Land Management Adviser

Mature trees within a hedgerow network are an important feature in the countryside. This is where land managers across generations have allowed single hedgerow plants to grow to their potential, alongside hedgerow plants that are coppiced, laid, and managed to create a boundary. Hedgerow trees have no particular value in terms of land management, but have huge value for wildlife and for the landscape.

Re-laying a hedge - copyright NYMNPA.

Traditionally Elm, Ash and Oak trees were the dominant hedgerow tree species reaching heights of up to and over 30 metres tall, towering above the hedgerow corridors. Saplings that are allowed to grow higher than the surrounding hedge do not need to compete for light and therefore grow and spread their canopy high and wide up into the air. This provides a wonderful habitat kingdom for many species of wildlife, free from the clutch of ground based predators. Such trees act as key wildlife ‘stepping stones’ between woodland habitats and across a mixed landscape.

Large hedgerow tree near Low Askew - copyright NYMNPA.

The intensification of agriculture in the latter half of the 20th century including increasing field sizes resulted in the loss of thousands of miles of hedgerows along with their hedgerow trees. The outbreak of Dutch elm disease from the late 1960s onwards removed some 20 million elms from our countryside, mostly from hedgerows. It is therefore quite rare now to find a mature Elm tree within a hedgerow. Similarly Ash trees are now threatened by Chalara dieback.

In 1998 there were an estimated 1.8 million hedgerow trees in Britain (CPRE survey). Many of our over mature hedgerow trees today are beginning to die and slowly retrench. There is an adage that an Oak tree takes over 200 years to grow and then 200 years to die.

Planting hedgerow gaps between old hedgerow trees - copyright NYMNPA.

To check the loss of hedgerow trees we need to be planting new ones to replace the ones that are dying back. The 1998 survey revealed that only 1% of hedgerow trees were in the youngest age class (1-4 years old). Without successional planning there is a danger that these key features will be lost for good from the landscape and the disconnection between farmed land and semi natural woodland will become more marked than ever. It takes a leap of imagination but by planting now land managers will be leaving their mark on the landscape for their children.

Trees take time to grow. Native wildlife species use hedgerow trees but birds, bats and butterflies in particular favour mature hedgerow trees.

Hedgerow trees in the landscape - copyright NYMNPA.Tawny Owls take advantage of mature trees both as nesting sites and day roosts usually hiding close up against trunk. From a tree perch owls can see the movement of their potential prey on the ground below them. Bullfinches clamber amongst the branches searching for seeds, buds and insects. Treecreepers and Nuthatches use their Hedgerow trees in the landscape - copyright NYMNPA.acrobatic skills to forage for insects, nuts and berries and Woodpeckers drill away into the deadwood high in the canopy to make a home and feast on any tiny invertebrates in the wood. Butterflies such as Hairstreaks forage for honeydew from aphids and lay their eggs high up in the Oaks and Elms. Rich lichen communities also grow on the branches of old hedgerow trees.

In some of the older trees, holes and crevices provide ideal habitats for a variety of bat species. Around three quarters of British bat species are known to roost in trees. Bats use different parts of the tree for different reasons, depending on the time of year and temperature. In the summer bats use the higher canopy sites to have their young in warmer temperatures. In winter, they move deeper and lower into the tree to hibernate. Trees such as Oak, Beech and Ash are particularly suitable for bats, but any hedgerow tree has potential for a bat roost – especially if it has cavities in the trunk or branches, woodpecker holes, loose bark, cracks, splits and thick ivy. In Britain, all bat species and their roosts are legally protected by law.

Single hedgerow tree alongside an arable field - potential 'stepping stone' - copyright NYMNPA.

We’re working on enhancing wildlife corridors and connections through our habitat connectivity initiative, and as part of this we’re actively encouraging the planting of hedgerow trees where appropriate. With the loss of Elm and the threat to Ash, Oak is now the main species being planted in the North York Moors to become the hedgerow trees of the future. With good care and maintenance the trees should grow into vigorous specimens.

Mature hedgerow trees as a feature in the landscape - copyright John Beech, NYMNPA.

To foster hedgerow trees:

  • Select suitable saplings from within an existing hedgerow and add a tree tag to the top of it. This shows/reminds the person who cuts the hedge to leave this strong sapling to grow into a mature tree.
  • Alternatively, plant a hedgerow tree adjacent to an existing hedge to add variety and height. This has the added advantage of widening the hedgerow and enables useful wildlife buffer strips to develop along the hedge bottom. If there is an existing gap within a hedgerow that is wide enough to accommodate a hedgerow tree then plant a new tree there.
  • Try to avoid uniform planting and instead plant the new trees at irregular intervals along the hedge line. Planting two or three together may also be suitable for instance if a site is next to a field corner.
  • Plant trees with local provenance that will be used to the local conditions and be more likely to flourish.
  • It is best practice to add a tree guard or tube attached to a stake to protect a tree in its early years from stock, rabbits or deer. A mulch mat around the base of the tree helps to keep the weeds down. This will give the tree every chance to grow strong and straight.

Practical help and advice can be provided by the National Park Authority. Contact us.

Habitat connectivity: evaluating potential

Roy McGhie – Conservation Project Assistant

Over the last month or so I’ve been investigating habitat connectivity in a new target area – near Boltby on the western fringe of the North York Moors.

Landscape from top of escarpment, near Boltby - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

This particular area has a fantastic variety of habitats, from the arable plain on top of the escarpment, down the slope through Boltby Forest and across to the pasture fields in the west. Our overarching objective for this area is to strengthen the mosaic of habitats, with special reference to improving networks for butterflies and bats.

After my initial desk-based research I proceeded to ground truth the area to establish how much of our mapping and existing information was still accurate and to build up a current picture of the area. With so many public rights of way in the National Park exploring is usually pretty straightforward, but for closer examination of any particular area we would always ensure we have the land manager’s permission.

Felled veteran tree with dead wood left in situ (good for invertebrates, fungii and lichens) - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

It’s important to establish what levels of connectivity already exist. Above the escarpment most of the arable fields are in Environmental Stewardship agreements, which suggests positive environmental land management is already in place and making use of national agri-environment schemes is something we would always encourage where appropriate for the environment and the land manager.

The Forestry Commission own a large forest within the area – Boltby Forest – and their Forest Design Plan sets out their long-term vision. This includes increasing the ratio of broadleaved trees to conifers and maintaining areas of open space. The open space is very useful in terms of meeting our original objectives for the area because open spaces in woodland create edge habitat which attracts bats.

Within Boltby Forest - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

Another valuable habitat found within this area is unimproved and semi improved grassland, both acidic and calcareous in terms of soil pH because it’s where the farmland of the Vale of Mowbray meets the western edge of the moorland. Some of these grassland sites appear to be in a good condition and have an appropriate level of grazing to maintain this, whereas others seem more precarious.

Heath bedstraw and tormentil, indicative of an acidic grassland site - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

Lots of wild thyme, commonly found on calcareous sites - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.The biggest threat to most of the grassland appears to be a lack of effective grazing. On several sites rank grass are beginning to dominate, resulting in wildflowers being outcompeted. On other sites scrub encroachment means that the grassland interest will diminish.

Rank grass and ash trees taking over a grassland site - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

In a site where grazing is happening, there is occasional poaching (heavy ground trampling) by cattle alongside the small watercourse. This happens when stock congregate along particular parts of the bank to drink, or cross over.

Poached land beside a small beck - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

Bracken is another issue in the target area. Bracken isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it can provide excellent cover for ground flora and butterflies such as the rare Pearl-bordered fritillary, but its tendency to spread means that it can very quickly outcompete and overcome other vegetation.

Bracken alongside a public footpath - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

There are plenty of positive biodiversity hot spots in this area, including patches of habitat that are excellent for butterflies. There are also a number of established hedgerows acting as wildlife corridors for bats to navigate by.

Common blue butterfly - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.Small copper butterfly - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

So once I’d assessed the area and its connectivity potential, I discussed ideas and options for how best to deliver the original objective with input from Rona, our Ecologist, and Mark, our Woodland Officer.

One of the key ideas coming out of these discussions is to provide long term replacements for the many mature in-field and boundary trees. These trees provide multiple benefits such as shelter for stock as well as a habitat for birds, invertebrates and insects. I recorded a standing veteran tree during my on-site survey and ideally we would like to see this tree fenced off as the stock in the field are causing considerable erosion around the base which may be weakening it.

To reduce the poaching alongside the watercourse we could help repair the fencing and investigate the use of a field trough so the cattle wouldn’t need to drink out of the beck.

Another idea is to fence off a particular area of mature ash trees to allow natural regeneration. This is because some ash trees show genetic resistance to the ash dieback pathogen, so whilst planting new ash trees is currently not encouraged assisting natural regeneration by older trees might mean that potentially disease resistant stocks are bolstered.

For the various grassland sites in the area, different management options are proposed. On the sites with bracken encroachment we could suggest organising volunteer tasks to help keep the bracken under control. On other sites we will need to discuss with the land manager their aims for their land and see if there is scope to manage levels of grazing to ensure the wildflower interest remains and potentially expands. Land manager engagement is a crucial part of the habitat connectivity development process – our management proposals on private land can’t happen without their permission and goodwill. Negotiations are the next step in the habitat connectivity process.

Overall I think this target area near Boltby is in a pretty well connected condition. There is already a mosaic of habitats suitable for bats and butterflies, and it forms part of a much more extensive network along the western fringe of the North York Moors. Our involvement will probably be relatively minimal, working where we can with local land managers to conserve the valuable grasslands and to sustain the important tree population into the future.

Landscape near Boltby - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

 

Calyx, panicle, auricle and glabrous

Roy McGhie – Conservation Project Assistant

As my role in the Conservation Department develops I am getting more involved in woodland planting/creation, and woodland habitats. To this end, I recently attended a Field Studies Council weekend course on Identifying Woodland Plants. Over the three days we looked at not only typical woodland wildflowers and trees, but also the bryophytes, ferns and grasses which make up an important part of any woodland ecosystem. Plant identification enables a recognition and understanding of a habitat which then helps inform management.

In the North York Moors we have a lot of ancient semi-natural woodland (ASNW) as well as what is known as plantations on ancient woodland sites (PAWS) where semi natural woodland has been planted up with commercial forestry in the past but where ancient woodland features still persist.

If you walk through a woodland and see combinations of bluebells, daffodils, yellow archangel, celandine, wild garlic you might be forgiven for thinking you are in an ancient woodland because you are looking at typical ancient woodland ground flora. However, all of these species have garden imposters which look similar, and might have been introduced. Yellow archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon ssp. montanum) for example, is an ancient woodland indicator species, whilst the garden variety of the plant (Lamiastrum galeobdolon ssp. argentatum) is an invasive plant usually grown as ground cover in gardens. This garden variety of Yellow archangel is classified as a Schedule 9 plant under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 meaning it is an offence to release it into the wild. Quite often the garden imposters are brought into woodlands by people dumping garden waste or tracking seeds in on boots or vehicles. They are therefore usually found on the edges of woodlands at first, but can very quickly colonise inwards.

We spent a large part of the course looking at the species that can be easily confused. These include examples such as Wood speedwell and Germander speedwell, Yellow pimpernel and Creeping-Jenny, Wild strawberry and Barren strawberry as well as trees such as Beech and Hornbeam. When plants are in flower identification can be easy enough but we also focused on vegetative characteristics so as to be able to recognise plants when not in flower. For example, the terminal tooth on Barren strawberry (Potentilla sterilis) leaves is generally shorter than the two surrounding side teeth, whereas on Wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca) the terminal tooth is longer than the side ones. This is an important distinction to make as Barren strawberry can be a good ancient woodland indicator species, whereas Wild strawberry tends to be less so.

Wild strawberry in flower with Barren strawberry growing right beside it - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

Identifying different oaks on site - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.Another element of the course was learning to describe why a particular species had been identified as one thing rather than another. It was not enough to point at an English Oak (Quercus robur) and say what it was, we had to explain that it could not be a Sessile Oak (Quercus petraea) because there were intercalary veins (between the apex and the base) on the leaf, leaf auricles strongly present (ear shaped lobes), and a petiole length of approximately 2-5mm (that’s the leaf stalk). Interestingly, we found stellate (star shaped) hairs on the underside of almost all the English Oaks we looked at, suggesting that they were in fact hybrid oaks (Quercus x rosacea), albeit leaning strongly towards English Oak.

Many botanists currently rely upon Clive Stace’s New Flora of the British Isles for their plant ID, and recent taxonomic changes caught out some of the more experienced participants on the course who were more familiar with previous texts. Taxonomy is the hierarchical system used to classify organisms to a species level; it was initially developed during the 18th century and has been adjusted ever since. With the advances in genetic science a number of plants have been reclassified lately according to genetic, rather than morphological, similarity. For example, in the 3rd edition of Stace, Lime trees are now part of the Mallow family (Malvaceae) rather than having their own Tiliaceae family, the Maple family is now Sapindaceae instead of their own Aceraceae family, and Bluebells have changed from Liliaceae (Lilly family) to Asparagaceae (Asparagus family).

Studying bryophytes was a completely new experience for me, and it was fascinating area to investigate. We looked at the main differences between mosses and liverworts, and then broke them down into acrocarpous/polycarpous (depending on location/number of reproductive parts on the plant) and thalloid/leafy groups (depending on plant structure or lack of it). This allowed us to more quickly use a key to then identify what we were looking at. Out of all the ones we identified my favourite was probably Thuidium tamariscinum; it is tripinnate (the layout of the leaflets) and regularly branched giving it a feathery, almost fern-like appearance.

Identifying a bryophyte back in the classroom - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

Ferns were also rewarding. We were able to break these down into groups based on how pinnate (compound leaves with leaflets on either side of axis) they were, and how the sori (clusters of sporangia in which the spores form) on the back of the fronds were shaped. For example, the Dryopteridaceae family we looked at were bipinnate and had kidney shaped sori arranged in a row on either side of the mid-rib of the pinnule (division/sub division of a compund leaf). Male-fern (Dryopteris filix-mas) was one such member of this family. It was similar to the scaly male-fern (Dryopteris affinis agg.) but had fewer golden scales, lacked a small dark mark at the rachis (leaf axis) join and the pinnules tended to taper inwards more towards the apex.

Hard fern (Blechnum spicant) showing the fertile (lighter in colour and more upright) and sterile (darker) fronds on the same plant. Copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

Grasses, rushes and sedges can also be ancient woodland indicators. Some of them, such as Pendulous Sedge (Carex pendula) are also common in gardens (and therefore liable to colonise woodlands through being dumped as garden waste), and this served to highlight the importance of always doing a broad survey of any woodland and not assuming it has ancient characteristics based on the presence of only one or two indicator species.

Pendulous sedge (Carex pendula) growing beside a footpath - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

The course finished with a two hour exam in which we had to identify and justify our reasoning for twenty different woody and herbaceous plants. Whilst two hours initially sounded like a lot of time, it meant only five or six minutes per plant, and the time quickly flew by! I actually enjoyed it.

Despite having never previously looked closely at bryophytes or ferns before, let alone encountered terms such as calyx, panicle, auricle and glabrous*, the course had me completely hooked. Some people have dedicated their entire lives to studying single plant families, and new discoveries and species are not infrequent. Now whenever I go into a woodland I’m going to be carrying a hand lens with me – if you do the same you might find that there is a whole world to discover.

*If you want to find out what these words and a host of other botanical terms mean – try here.

Please note that it’s always best to try and identify a plant in the field if possible – take an ID key and a lens out with you. Collecting small amounts of plant material for identification purposes is usually okay, except in the case of protected or (rare) Red List species. But please don’t pick plants if  the population at the location is very small and may suffer as a result. If a specimen really is needed for identification, remove the minimum quantity necessary. Please note it is illegal to uproot most wild plants without the express permission of the landowner.