The aesthetics of trees

Gallery

This gallery contains 41 photos.

Throughout the seasons, trees are like works of art in the landscape. Reason enough to value trees, not to mention they provide wood; clean and stabilise soil; produce oxygen and hold carbon dioxide; slow the flow of water; give shade and act … Continue reading

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.

 

Teaching Trees

Clair Shields – Small Scale Enhancements Scheme Co-ordinator

One of the final projects supported by the LEADER funded Small Scale Enhancements Scheme in the North York Moors has been the Teaching Trees project, run by the Royal Forestry Society. The project encourages teachers to bring children of all ages into managed woodlands, and where possible introduces schools into the woodlands in their own vicinity helping to broaden and consolidate regular classroom work by using woods as outdoor classrooms.  The first session was run at Duncombe Park near Helmsley, where younger children foraged for leaves and seeds, hunted for minibeasts and built bug huts while the older children looked into the management of the woodland and helped to decide which trees should be thinned in a particular part of the wood. As a National Nature Reserve and a Site of Special Scientific Interest, Duncombe Park contains some of the best veteran and ancient trees in the National Park. Outside the formal parkland the woodlands are managed for a variety of benefits including timber, sport and landscape, as they have for hundreds of years, and therefore the site offered a great variety of interest for the Teaching Trees Project.

While the majority of the schools involved lie within the North York Moors National Park, an important element of the project was about bringing children from a more urban environment into their National Park to experience the special qualities the Park has to offer including some massive trees.

This is what Teaching Trees education officer Julia Cheetham said about it: “I have been working with a group of eleven and twelve year olds who live on a council estate and very rarely if ever visit a wood. Watching these children experience the different sounds and sights of a wood for the first time was truly magical. They couldn’t get over the true size of a tree and were amazed to find out how old they were.  I think the children taking part in this project are gaining a greater understanding of woodlands, how they are managed and, above all, why we need to look after them.”

Pam Sellar, a teacher at Egton Church of England Primary School in the National Park agreed: “Teaching Trees has had a much bigger impact on the children than I could ever have envisaged. It has made them think very carefully about trees and the impact on their lives. Every morning we have had to spend the first part of the day looking at samples of trees, leaves, fruits and seeds they have collected on their way to school.”

For more info on the Yorkshire based Teaching Trees project – click here.

Trees in the landscape

Mark Antcliff – Woodland Officer

Stock do like sheltering under trees. Here we can see the stump of a tree, a mature hawthorn bush, a new tree in a tree guard, and a content looking cow. Tree cover is easily lost over time and so the planting of individual field trees in stock proof guards is a great way of ensuring new trees are coming along with little disturbance to farm management. It’s important to plant the new trees well in advance of the old trees dying, so that plants, insects and other animals that need mature trees have somewhere else to go. The North York Moors National Park and the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) which is next to the south west corner of the National Park, both provide help with this type of approach where trees are an obviously important part of the farmed landscape. The National Park has been supporting in field tree planting for about six years now and has planted c. 600 trees, mainly oaks sourced from local stock by our annual acorn collection and locally grown on. Areas of particular importance are those where there are veteran trees. The North York Moors has a good population of these fantastic historic relics. Hawthorn trees like the one in the photo may not reach great heights but they can reach a great age e.g. several hundred years.