What Katie did next

Katie Pownall – Conservation Research Student

My name is Katie Pownall and I am currently working at the North York Moors National Park for my year in industry, before heading back to the University of York to complete my biology degree next autumn. So many people have told me how valuable a year in industry can be for future employment prospects, and I feel very lucky to be able to spend my year with such an inspiring organisation. I hope to gain skills and knowledge from this placement that will allow me to pursue a career in ecology when I have graduated. What other job would involve me doing some of the things I’ve already had the chance to do so far?

Reptile monitoring at Sutton Bank…

Four of us travelled to Sutton Bank Visitor Centre and walked round existing paths on the heathland area there to locate the mats previously placed on the ground to act as attractive refuges for reptiles. We were looking for three particular species – Adders, Slow worms and Common lizards, all of which are protected by law in the UK. The ongoing monitoring was to provide evidence to consider as part of a planning application for a car park extension.

Reptile monitoring at Sutton Bank Visitor Centre - September 2017. Copyright NYMNPA.

After carefully looking under about a third of the mats and having had no luck, we decided to wait a little to allow the sun to heat up the mats a bit, which would encourage the cold blooded reptiles to rest there in order to warm up. When we continued we had more luck, finding some Common lizards as well as some Common toads. Unfortunately we did not come across any slow worms or adders, nevertheless we were pleased with what we had found, and a Fox moth caterpillar and a vole or two added even more excitement to the day!

Water vole surveying at Eller Beck…

The next day I joined the search for Water voles, or at least for signs that they are living in the area around Eller Beck, Fylingdales. Water Vole populations have suffered in the UK due to habitat loss as a result of agricultural intensification. More significantly populations have come under threat from the American mink as a short lived mink fur industry in the 1960s/1970s declined and mink were released into a wild without natural predators. Between 2004 and 2007 the UK’s Water Vole numbers decreased by around a fifth. In many areas mink have wiped out water voles completely; the remnant populations hang on in less than optimal habitats for Water voles but where mink find it very difficult to survive – upland areas such as Eller Beck and urbanised areas such as Burdyke in York. The fragility of the populations are why surveys to ensure they’re surviving in the North York Moors are so important.

Having donned our wellies and waterproofs we started trying to make our way over the rough terrain of a former plantation to find the beck. The ground was very tricky to move across, and we soon found multiple smaller streams running across the landscape by putting our foot down in the wrong place! Eventually we found the actual water channel that we were going to survey and started searching for clues that Water voles had been there. We were looking for latrines (piles of water vole droppings that look like dark green or brown tic-tacs!), grass that had been chewed and cut at a 45° angle, and Eller Beck - Water vole latrine with cut grass. Copyright NYMNPA.Water vole burrows along the side of the bank (which should have a clean opening with a diameter of 4-8 cm). After carefully treading along the banks of the beck we came across several latrines, some cut grass and potentially one or two burrows. This was encouraging since it proved that Water voles were still living in the area. Also, we didn’t find any evidence of mink in the same area, which is great news.

As the day progressed we found that some channels where signs of Water voles had been recorded in the past now seemed less suitable since the vegetation on the banks was particularly overgrown and so latrines and burrows could be less easily formed here. Water voles may still have been using these channels, but possibly just not living in them.

Eller Beck - Water vole burrows. Copyright NYMNPA.

Just after lunch we were surprised by an individual who had been lying low in the grass and which we accidentally startled. After not seeing one the day before whilst doing the reptile surveying, I was delighted to see my first Adder! The excitement of this experience more than made up for having a welly full of water all day.

Eller Beck - Adder. Copyright NYMNPA.

Plantation on Ancient Woodland Sites investigations…

As part of the This Exploited Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme, PAWS surveys are being undertaken to look for opportunities to conserve remaining ancient woodland features. The Ingleby Plantation was previously planted on the site of what might have been ancient woodland, so our job was to survey the area to identify any trees that we thought were over 60 years old, and would therefore have been present before the plantation. We recorded the level of threat to the amount of standing and lying deadwood, which is such a great habitat for invertebrates and fungi, and to the remaining ground flora.

Ingleby Plantation - stream that ran through the site, with stones from old retaining wall. Copyright NYMNPA.Ingleby Plantation - dead wood placed in piles after selective felling. Copyright NYMNPA.Ingleby Plantation - Dead Moll's Fingers fungus on lying dead wood. Copyright NYMNPA.

We considered what changes could be made to the area to reduce these levels of threat. Where it seemed like there was little succession of ground flora some thinning of the trees preventing light from reaching the ground would help. Tree felling in a ‘halo’ around older, more vulnerable trees would help them to grow and stay healthy. Ring barking some trees – cutting off the nutrient supply to the tree – would create more standing dead wood where there is a lack of it.

This Exploited Land of Iron logos

Practical conservation work…

I joined a group of National Park conservation volunteers to clear an area of scrub near Rievaulx to encourage wild flowers to grow and spread next spring in a site of potential species rich grassland. To prevent the scrubland plants such as bracken and bramble from taking over the site again before the wild flowers get a chance to establish we had to remove all the cuttings from the area so that they didn’t reintroduce their nutrients to the soil. Wild flowers should grow better than the scrubland plants on nutrient-poor soil.

This kind of outdoor work was what I had imagined I might be doing quite a bit of during my time with the National Park, and despite the couple of downpours we had, it was good fun, and we all felt a huge amount of satisfaction once the job was done!

National Park conservation volunteers clearly scrub. Copyright NYMNPA.

As the new Conservation Research Student I sarted my new job not knowing what the next week would hold, never mind the next year! I have not been disappointed so far, as so many opportunities to go out on site and get involved in a wide range of projects have been presented to me, and I am keen to gain as much experience as I can from them.

Conservation recruits

Abi Duffy – Conservation Trainee and Sam Newton – Natural Heritage Trainee

Abi Duffy, Conservation Trainee. Copyright NYMNPA.I’m Abi Duffy, and I have recently started as a Conservation Trainee. I graduated from the University of Liverpool with a degree in Geography in July 2016 and since then I have been working towards gaining employment within the conservation sector. I am really interested in developing my knowledge and experience in this two year position with the National Park.

Sam Newton, Natural Heritage Trainee. Copyright NYMNPA.My name is Samuel Newton and I have started in the position of Natural Heritage Trainee with the National Lottery funded This Exploited Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme. I have always been interested in the environment, leading to my graduation from Newcastle University with a degree in Ecology earlier this year. I am keen to use this opportunity to gain as much experience as possible of working in conservation.

Our first two months have been both varied and interesting as we’ve been contributing to a wide range of projects. We’ve taken advantage of the end of summer to be out in the field most days surveying.

Water vole surveying

One particularly memorable day was water vole survey training, for which we headed up to Fylingdales. This surveying entails walking a stretch of stream looking for signs of Water vole (Arvicola amphibious). The most obvious signs are droppings, which are ‘tic tac’ shaped and tend to be green, and are used for territory marking. Where droppings are flattened and more have been deposited on top this creates a ‘latrine’. We also looked for piles of nibbled grass, with a 45° cut angle at the end – characteristic of voles, as well as for burrows and footprints.

The training links in with our Water vole project which is aiming to secure the few remaining populations of Water vole within the North York Moors. The animals have North York Moors Water Vole. Copyright Elspeth Ingleby, NYMNPA.suffered from habitat loss and also the spread of invasive American mink. I (Sam) have been mapping water vole and mink survey results, mostly collected by our dedicated group of Water vole survey volunteers. These records create a base from which management of habitats and also mink can be carried out.

Botanical Surveying

We have been visiting species rich grasslands across the North York Moors, with a range of different underlying ecological conditions. By surveying the plant species and their abundance on these sites we can try and ensure management fits the individuality of each one, and that certain species are not being lost or becoming dominant to the detriment of others. Our Linking Landscapes volunteers also survey grassland within the National Park each summer; many volunteers survey the same site each year which helps identify changes. The volunteers send in their results to us for analysis.

Some of the interesting and beautiful flowers we have seen so far include Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis), Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsia), Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia) and Fairy Flax (Linum catharticum). We also joined in with the Conservation Volunteers cutting some of these grassland sites where they’re not grazed and importantly raking off the cuttings to stop the grasslands becoming too nutrient rich. Nan Sykes’ book ‘Wild Flowers of North East Yorkshire’ has proved invaluable in helping improve our botanical ID skills.

Harebell. Copyright Sam Newton, NYMNPA.

MoorFest

As part of National Parks Week back in August, I (Abi) got involved with a MoorFest event at our Sutton Bank National Park Centre letting people know about the species rich grassland resource within the North York Moors. We had many families chatting to us about wildflowers and asking us questions about the grassland. This was a good way to help communicate to the wider public the work that farmers and the National Park do together to conserve and enhance grassland sites.

Moonwort at Sutton Bank. Copyright Ami Walker, NYMNPA.The triangular meadow out of the front of the Sutton Bank National Park Centre is a great example of such grassland. Back in June, before beginning in our roles, we both took part in a Volunteer training day there; we found the rare fern Moonwort and several Common Spotted Orchids among a vast array of species. This site is a good quality species rich grassland in top condition, and with continuing management we hope to keep it that way.

Triangle Meadow, Sutton Bank - Common spotted orchid at the forefront. Copyright Ami Walker, NYMNPA.

West Arnecliff Woodland Survey

In early August we were given the opportunity to follow up on research work done by the previous Research Student at the National Park, Sam Witham. Sam had been investigating the impact of deer browsing in woodland by constructing small exclusion enclosures, in order to establish whether these allowed greater natural regeneration. This is part of the National Park’s long term PAWS restoration project. Non-native conifers had already been removed from this site at West Arnecliff and the continuing research is to help understand how best to assist the regeneration of the Ancient Woodland features and habitat.

Japanese knotweed surveying

Something else we have been involved with is the River Esk project – in particular surveying stretches of the river for Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica). This destructive invasive has the potential to spread rapidly along the river banks generating sedimentation and damaging the river environment. There has been control work over the last decade but it’s important to keep on top of the plant and where it is coming back it needs to be treated as soon as possible to prevent a new outbreak. So the surveying is important and has become a bit of a right of passage for new members of the Conservation Department.

Conclusion

So far we have really enjoyed the first two months in our new roles We are looking forward to going out into the field even more and meeting and working with the land owners and land managers who shape the landscape of the North York Moors.

It is great to have the opportunity to understand and contribute to the work the National Park is doing, while learning about working in conservation at the same time.

Abi, Sam and Bernadline surveying in Rosedale. Copyright Elspeth Ingleby, NYMNPA.

A to Z: a preponderance of Ps

P

PAWS

Where woodland has existed for at least the last 400 years (c. 1600 AD) it provides an ‘ancient semi-natural woodland’ habitat. Around 4% of the North York Moors National Park is classed as ‘Ancient Woodland’ according to Natural England’s Ancient Woodland Inventory. In some places woodland will have existed for much longer.

As well as the removal of woodland, particularly over the last century, there is another slower acting less visible threat to the continuation of ancient semi-natural woodland. This is where ancient woodlands have been planted up with trees such as conifers to create plantation forestry. These sites are still recorded on the Ancient Woodland Inventory, and categorized as ‘Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites’ (PAWS). This conversion leads to a detrimental decay of the ecological value of the woodland habitat from the shading caused by evergreen conifers, the acidic modification of soils, and potentially the management of the woodland to ensure maximum timber production. As well as the gradual decline of woodland flora, mycorrhizal fungi and native tree species; historic features within the woodland and the landscape value of the ancient woodland are also at risk.

Example of PAWS (Plantation on Ancient Woodland Sites) with bare slopes. Copyright NYMNPA.

Some habitats can be created/re-created, but when Ancient Woodland is lost it’s gone for generations. However restoration can be possible if it’s not too late. PAWS restoration i.e. management to maintain/enhance the ancient semi-natural woodland habitat elements, comes in many forms and scales from the removal of non-native invasive species like Rhododendron, to the replacement of conifers with predominantly native trees. Like most things to do with woodland, restoration takes time. Partial or limited restoration is often worthwhile, and maintaining the management and value of a woodland is often more beneficial than restoring but then abandoning it. The National Park Authority is keen to work with owners of PAWS to explore what might be done to conserve this significant element of our local natural heritage.

Small scale conifer removal and planting with native species on PAWS slopes. Copyright NYMNPA.

 Pecten Seam

The ‘Pecten Seam’ is part of the geological Cleveland Ironstone Formation made up of a number of ironstone seams formed one on top of the other during the Early Jurassic period (c. 199 to c. 175 million years ago). The ironstone seams are made up of shales and sideritic (iron carbonate)/chamosatic (silicate of iron) ironstone which settled at the bottom of the shallow sea across the area which now includes the North York Moors (see also Polyhalite below). The seam is called Pecten after the numerous animal fossils found within it from the Pecten genus (large scallops).

Large scallop shell (Genus - Pecten) from http://www.bgs.ac.uk

The Pecten Seam outcrops around Grosmont in Eskdale and is more important in local history for what it suggested rather than what it delivered. It was the identification of the ironstone in the ‘Pecten Seam’ during the construction of the Whitby and Pickering Railway in 1836 which led to the outbreak of ironstone mining during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the North York Moors and Cleveland Hills (see This Exploited Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme). The Pecten Seam was the second ironstone seam down (second latest) and quickly turned out to be of a poor quality, so it was the ‘Main Seam’ on top (the latest) which was largely exploited by the local ironstone industry as it was higher up and so easier to access, it contained more ore, and it was thicker than the other seams making it more cost effective to mine.

On top of the main ironstone seams were further sedimentary layers of shale containing jet, alum, coal, and further ironstone all of which have been exploited at one time or another in the North York Moors.

This Exploited Land of Iron LPS logos

Picturesque

The word picturesque was first used in the latter half of the 18th century to describe a scene worthy of being painted. It has since come to mean traditional and maybe a bit twee, but originally it meant an image that would stir the sensibilities of every right feeling man (and woman) because of its aesthetics and sublimity. The ‘natural’ and dramatic were in fashion and to not be able to appreciate the beautiful dread inspired by a landscape or view was a poor reflection on a gentleman’s character. The North York Moors did not have the grandeur of the Lake District’s mountains or the awe of the glaciers of the Alps, but it was not without its picturesque attractions.

JMW Turner engraved Rievaulx Abbey in 1836 from sketches he made in 1812. The view contains mediaeval romantic ruins (the might of nature overwhelming the vanities of man), wild woods and Italianate steep hills, a glowering sky and rustic peasants: all highly ‘picturesque’. The ruins of Rievaulx Abbey belonged at the time to Duncombe Park, the Estate had both a ruined abbey and a ruined castle (Helmsley) with which to create its own ‘natural’ picturesque landscape for the pleasure and wonder of the Duncombe family and their friends.

Rievaulx Abbey engraved 1836 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Bequeathed by Travers Buxton 1945

Pignut (Conopodium majus)

Pignut is a member of the carrot family, along with parsnip, fennel, parsley and less ‘benign’ plants such as hemlock and giant hogweed. Like some other members of the carrot family it has an edible tuber. The small tubers have been eaten by pigs hence its most common name (another name – St Anthony’s Nut – is because St Anthony is the patron saint of many many things including swine herders), and also by people who like to forage. Obviously never ever eat anything unless you are absolutely definitely sure what it is, and don’t dig on other people’s land without their permission.

Pignut is a short plant which flowers in early summer with tiny delicate white umbels (flat topped flowers on stalks like umbrella spokes coming from a single stem) that together resemble lace. It’s a tough little thing containing both male and female parts and therefore is self-fertile relying on pollinators like hoverflies, and also moths. It is an indicator of grassland/woodland pasture and can be found on road verges and alongside hedges where fragments of old pasture and woodland survive.

Pignut - from http://www.seasonalwildflowers.com/pignut.html

 A Particular Pigsty

Usually people probably wouldn’t want to go on holiday to a pigsty, however there is a particular listed building in the North York Moors that isn’t many peoples’ idea of a home for pigs. Described in the listing description as “a large dwelling for pigs” this pigsty was built in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century by John Warren Barry – a Whitby shipbuilder and ship owner who was the owner of Fyling Hall near Robin Hood’s Bay. He seems to have been inspired by the classical architecture he came across on his travels around the Mediterranean as the pigsty is built in the style of a Greek temple with timber pediments at both ends and a portico of six timber columns with Ionic capitals in its south side. It contained two small sties, and was intended to provide accommodation for two pigs, whose attendants were to be housed in a pair of neighbouring cottages. The pigs were apparently unimpressed and unappreciative of their sumptuous quarters.

In time, lacking any obvious practical use, the Pigsty fell into a poor state of repair. Luckily it was purchased by The Landmark Trust in the 1980s. The Landmark Trust aims to preserve remarkable buildings by providing them with new purpose. The pigsty has been restored, converted and extended for use as a holiday cottage. The extension is minimal which enables the principal building to remain the main focus and the conversion works have managed to maintain the original character. The Pigsty certainly adds to the diversity of the built conservation of the North York Moors.

The Pigsty, Robin Hood's Bay. Copyright The Landmark Trust.

It was apparently Mr Barry’s intention that the pigs should enjoy unrivalled views across Robin Hood’s Bay – a privilege that holiday-makers instead are fortunate to have today!

Primitive Methodists

In a number of villages and dales in the North York Moors as well as an established Church building there will be a Methodist Chapel building (sometimes known as a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel), and in some there also is, or was, a Primitive Methodist Chapel in close proximity.

View of the Rosedale Abbey Primitive Methodist Chapel, in close proximity to the Church of England church and churchyard. Copyright Rosedale History Society.

Methodism had made early in-roads in the North York Moors in the 18th century where the location of the area, out on a limb, provided a home for dissenting religion. The Primitive Methodist ‘connection’ splintered off from the Methodist Church at the beginning of the 19th century when the preachers William Clowes and Hugh Bourne were dismissed from the main congregation. Primitive Methodism was so called because its converts believed it was they who were following more strictly and truly in the footsteps of original Methodism and its founder John Wesley. One particular aspect of early Primitive Methodism was the holding of open air prayer meetings encouraging evangelical conversions, as the Wesleys had done in the century before. This was at a time when the meeting of ordinary people in groups, unsanctioned by Society and Authority, were considered a danger to the status quo.

‘On Sunday, July 30th [1820], he [William Clowes, one of two founders of the Primitive Methodist connection] conducted a camp-meeting [open air meeting] upon a depressed part of a mountain called Scarth Nick [near to Osmotherley]. About two thousand persons were supposed to be present. The Word preached was attended with much Divine power; the prayers of the people were very fervent, and many sinners were deeply impressed. Four or five persons were made happy in the love of God; one of whom, a farmer, was so overjoyed that he called upon the hills and dales, and every thing that had breath, to help him to praise God. He afterwards hastened home, and told his wife and servant what the Lord had done for his soul, and they also sought and found the salvation of God….He [Clowes] had invitations to Weathercote, and to Auterly [now Orterley] in Bilsdale [these two sites are still farmsteads], at both of which he preached with great effect, and many were brought to God. Many exciting scenes were witnessed during his missionary tour in this district, and a great awakening took place among the inhabitants, which we can not particularize’.
A History of the Primitive Methodist Connexion by John Petty, 1864.

The Primitive Methodists emphasized the role of the lay congregation rather than a clerical hierarchy and this included a sense of equality that allowed for women preachers. They valued simplicity in worship and believed that their Christianity demanded political engagement in the modern world. Primitive Methodism appealed particularly to the rural poor and the industrial immigrant labourers, to whom the promise of reward in heaven might have seemed like a longed for relief.

‘Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore,
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power:
He is able,
He is willing; doubt no more’
The Primitive Methodist Hymnal, 1889

The Primitive Methodist Church in Britain reunited with the main Methodist Church in 1932.

Polyhalite

Polyhalite is a mineral lying deep (over 1,000 metres) under the North Sea and along the eastern edge of the National Park; it’s a type of Potash. It was formed over 260 million years ago as salts were deposited in a shallow sedimentary sea as it evaporated. Polyhalite specifically contains potassium, calcium, magnesium and sulphur; useful components in agriculture fertilizer.

Alongside the existing Cleveland Potash Mine at Boulby (ICL UK), over the next 5 years the new Woodsmith Mine (Sirius Minerals) is being constructed in the National Park to extract naturally formed polyhalite for commercial use. The new mine is expected to be operational by 2021 and whilst the development work is taking place, a whole range of compensatory and mitigation projects to enhance the natural and historic environment and to promote tourism in the wider area are being delivered. The first of these initial priority projects for this year include the upgrading of a 4km section of the Coast to Coast at Littlebeck and improvements to the Lyke Wake Walk, repairs and renovations to the Grade 1 listed Old St Stephen’s Church at Robin Hood’s Bay with The Churches Conservation Trust, and habitat restoration within Harwood Dale Forest.Old St Stephen's, Robin Hood's Bay. Copyright NYMNPA.

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

Hitching a free ride

Roy McGhie – Conservation Project Assistant

You might remember at least something about photosynthesis from school – it’s the chemical process by which plants absorb light energy, which reacts with carbon dioxide and water, and produces glucose and oxygen. Photosynthesis provides food/energy for plants, which ultimately provide food/energy for every animal on the planet. It’s also the reason most plants are green – photosynthesis occurs in chloroplasts within plant cells, which contain the green chlorophyll that absorbs the light energy.

However some plants have evolved ways to get the energy they need without having to photosynthesise. Instead, they do it by parasitising other plants. Orobanchaceae is one such family of parasitic plants. There are varying levels of parasitism within the family, ranging from those that are hemiparasitic (only deriving some of their nutrients from other plants) to those that are holoparasitic (obtaining all of their nutrients from a host plant).

Toothwort is an example of a holoparasitic plant. I’ve found some particularly nice specimens of Common toothwort (Lathraea squamaria) growing on our doorstep in Helmsley. Note the lack of green colouring because the toothwort doesn’t photosynthesise, and also the resemblance to teeth. Toothwort feeds off the roots of woody plants, such as hazel, elm alder, and also walnut. There is a particularly fine walnut tree close by.

Common toothwort - NYMNPA Office, Helmsley. Copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

Common toothwort, also sometimes known as the Corpse Flower - NYMNPA Office, Helmsley. Copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

As I mentioned above, hemiparasitic plants are those that derive only some of their nutrients from the host plant but photosynthesise as well. Examples include Yellow rattle, Eyebright, Bartsia, Lousewort and Birds-nest orchid. We’ve commended Yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor) before on this blog. Yellow rattle can photosynthesise but also parasitizes grasses and other plants nearby. Because of its parasitic nature it can be a useful plant to reduce the vigour of grasses which in turn allows other wildflowers better opportunity to thrive. A recognised technique for establishing a wildflower meadow is to sow Yellow rattle initially to help ensure the grasses don’t out-compete everything else during the establishment phase. But it’s important to remember that Yellow rattle is an annual and like most annuals, it shouldn’t be cut or grazed until late July so it has had time to set seed and so has the chance to grow again next year.

Yellow rattle - copyright NYMNPA.

Plant relationships definitely aren’t as straightforward as you might think – and we haven’t yet featured the carnivorous sundews or butterworts (a future blog post). So the next time you’re out and about where ever you are have a closer look at what’s growing around you – it may not be as innocent as it seems!

A to Z: a multiplicity of Ms

M

MAGNETITE

As mentioned previously, in the 1850s a seam of iron rich ironstone was discovered in Rosedale. Also known as lodestone, magnetite had long been a valued mineral because of the amount of iron ore it contains, so much so that it is often magnetic.

Rosedale - copyright Colin Dilcock, NYMNPA

The discovery in Rosedale led to the rapid development and expansion of the mining and calcining industry there and in the wider area. There were great expectations …

“Professor Phillips delighted and informed the company by his description of the ‘Ironstones of Cleveland’ … The Rosedale band at its richest points, yielded 50 per cent [ore] and in many places 42 per cent. The Rosedale stone was magnetic and contained phosphorous, it was not merely magnetic, but it had an inherent magnetic polarity … There must spring up over the Cleveland district, through the working of the iron ore, great towns, with a numerous and active population; and, as a result, the moorland would be brought under cultivation and this once dismal tract of 20 square miles would rejoice in all the material means that could promote human happiness and prosperity…”

From a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Leeds, as reported in the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 2 October 1858.

However the actual magnetite seam was soon exhausted leaving the industry exploiting poorer ironstone and slowly declining into the 20th century. The magnetite proved to be rather a flash in the pan.

This Exploited Land of Iron logos

MESOTROPHIC LAKES

There are very few natural lakes in the North York Moors due to geology and climate, which makes Lake Gormire on the south western edge of the National Park even more remarkable. In the last Ice Age a hollow was formed by a meltwater channel between the edge of the moving Vale of York ice sheet and the edge of the North York Moors gritstone escarpment. The channel damned up and the lake left behind divided into two bodies of water – Gormire and the much smaller, Buttermere.

These are mesotrophic lakes – containing a narrow range of nutrients in medium concentrations. This type of lake chemistry is rare and becoming rarer as lakes are effected by artificially increased levels of nitrogen and phosphorus and so become eutrophic. Lake Gormire is surrounded mainly by semi natural woodland and fed by springs and so largely circumvents the risks of artificial diffuse pollution and nutrient enrichment.

Because of their chemistry Mesotrophic lakes can support higher levels of diversity of macrophytes (algae), aquatic plants, invertebrates and fish. The fen (‘mire’, ‘mere’) plants around Gormire/Buttermere reflect the acid soil, so there is Marsh cinquefoil Potentilla palustris, Common skullcap Scutellaria galericulata and Tufted loosestrife Lysimachia thyrsiflora, as well as Bog bean Menyanthes trifoliata and Water horsetail Equisetum fluviatile. Gormire is particularly popular with noisy water birds, mating toads and freshwater leeches, all exaggerating the primeval sense inside this Ice Age hollow.

Lake Gormire from Cleveland Way, north of Sutton Bank - copyright Mike Kipling, NYMNPA

Lake Gormire and the area around it is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest. The cliff slope woodland above Lake Gormire is the Garbutt Wood Nature Reserve managed by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.

MILKY WAY

The Milky Way is a galaxy of billions of stars and planets sometimes partly visible to the naked eye as a milky looking band of light in the night sky.

Milky Way and Perseid Meteor Shower Sutton Bank - copyright Russ Norman Photography.

We’re in the middle of the Dark Skies Festival 2017 here in the North York Moors National Park. The dark skies over National Parks make it easier to see the lights of the galaxies around us. This February is particularly good for viewing Orion and also a very bright Venus.

February 27 1920   The mysterious stars

…Later in the evening a half-moon shone in a filmy sky across which, from S.E. to N.W., ran a Noë-ship of thin white clouds. A soft mist hung in the far valleys, but the nearer moory slopes loomed clearer. In the pastures the furze bushes were startlingly like huge black beasts grazing on the rimmed herbage. No sounds broke the utter silence of the moonlit hills; the wind had almost died away, but as I stepped over the little rill from Thunderbush Farm [Commondale], I heard its faint, musical ripple.

The ever-mysterious stars flashed through the interspaces of the filmy clouds and circled silently above the dim earth. Sirius flashed due south whilst mighty Orion hung high above the moor edge, his glory somewhat dimmed by the moon. What would life have been without the stars?”

A Man of the Moors: Extracts of the Diaries and Letter of Frank Elgee.

MINI-BEASTS

We use the term mini-beasts for the tiny invertebrates that go without notice until they’re looked at under the microscope and a menagerie of marvel and dread is revealed.

Identifying and counting river invertebrates is a very useful way of assessing the health of a river at a particular spot. Certain species indicate good water quality and others, poor water quality; a change in species/numbers indicate a change in water quality e.g. a pollution incident. There is a national programme of riverfly monitoring led by the Riverfly Partnership. Results are recorded centrally and indications of a potential incidents are reported to the Environment Agency. The National Park run a number of local Riverfly Monitoring Workshops for volunteers – the next one is 1 March.

MOSCHATEL Adoxa Moschatellina

Moschatel is a perennial unobtrusive plant which likes the damp, shady conditions found along woodland edges and on shaded hedge banks. It flowers between March and May, producing five lime green flowers on top of a leafless stalk, four flowers face outwards and one flower faces upwards, forming a cubic which has led to the plant’s other common name – Townhall Clock. The plant grows along the ground through rhizomes with the flower stalks growing up through its leaves to only c. 15cm tall. It is a common plant but easy to miss – look out for it in early spring before it gets hidden by taller plants.

Moschatel at Sieve Dale. Copyright Ami Walker, NYMNPA.

MOTTE AND BAILEY

Historic England suggest there are over 600 motte castles or motte-and-bailey castles in England. These were early medieval fortifications built by the Normans and made up of a large mound of earth/rubble (the ‘motte’) with a defensive palisade and tower on top, and an embanked enclosure with other buildings (the ‘bailey’) adjoining.

A motte and bailey castle could act as a fort when required as well as providing the residence for the local landowner/representative of the King and a centre for feudal power. They were often built on high ground to take advantage of the extra height to dominate the landscape and overlook access routes.

Soon after the beginning of Norman rule in England came the ‘harrying of the north’ – a military campaign to overcome and overwhelm the population in the north of the country and hammer home the idea that the Normans were here to stay. The new motte and bailey castles were a highly visible tool for holding that ground and reinforcing that message.

By the 13th century castle design had moved beyond the basic motte and bailey. Although the timber structures have largely gone, the earthworks are often still traceable in the landscape, and rubble mottes and the remnants of stone towers remain. Many are scheduled. Examples in the North York Moors include Hood Hill, Easby motte, and Foss Castle.

MOTHS

Moths are often considered the poor cousins of butterflies in the Lepidoptera family. The most obvious difference between butterflies and moths are that the former are active during the day whereas moths are mostly (but not all) nocturnal, feeding on the nectar of night blooming/night scented plants. Another difference is that when resting, butterflies usually close their wings whereas moths leave theirs open and this makes it easier to examine their intricate patterning and refined colouring. But as with most ecological questions – what is the difference between butterflies and moths? – there is no obvious answer and always an exception. Moths can be just as colourful, just as beguiling and just as in peril, as butterflies. For more on moth conservation see here.

Shandy Hall, Coxwold has become a location for moth study and reporting over the last few years. The gardens there provide a semi-natural/cultivated habitat for many species – over 400 different species have been recorded in the gardens to date.

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

Summer days

Kate Bailey – Conservation Graduate Trainee

Grasslands are important habitats in the North York Moors supporting a wide range of plants and wildlife. They’re habitats that have suffered severe declines all over England in the past decades. Therefore conserving, restoring, creating linked grassland habitats is one of the key focuses of our Habitat Connectivity initiative.

National Park Volunteers carry out regular tasks like scrub control in order to maintain and restore grassland sites. But volunteers are also essential when it comes to monitoring our grassland sites. Botanical monitoring is a key tool to ensure that the prescribed management is having a positive effect on the site, and the information collected through the annual monitoring process ensures management can be tailored to each site to help ensure each is in the best condition they can be or are at least moving in the right direction. Repeat annual monitoring means changes, good or bad, can be quickly identified.

Our Linking Landscapes Grassland Volunteers have been across the National Park this summer monitoring grassland habitats. We currently have ten enthusiastic volunteers who kindly give their botanical expertise and diligently undertake an annual botanical survey at their ‘adopted’ site/s.

Back in June the LLG Volunteers attended an informal workshop to work through the survey methodology and brush up on field identification skills before embarking on their own surveys for 2016. Copyright - NYMNPA.

This summer I’ve also been out surveying a number of grassland sites which hadn’t been surveyed previously; getting to visit some lovely spots whilst improving my botanical identification skills and collecting information.

Common spotted orchid in an old limestone quarry sites - nearly twice as tall as my clipboard! Copyright Kate Bailey, NYMNPA.

Both the volunteers and I have followed the same simple methodology for monitoring our site/s. A walking route is marked out on an aerial photograph for the surveyor to follow – the approximate ‘W’ shape ensures that a fair representation of the site is surveyed. The surveyor walks along the route stopping at regular intervals – ten stops is usually adequate. At each stop a square metre (quadrat) of vegetation is assessed and each species present is noted down – this is usually where the ID books and hand lens are invaluable.

The monitoring route for an area of species-rich grassland at Sutton Bank National Park Centre. Aerial photography copyright GeoPerspectives 2009 all rights reserved.

At the end of the ‘W’ shaped monitoring route, a survey sheet will look something like this.

One page of the grassland survey sheets - filled in - NYMNPA.

Because we’ve recorded which species are present in each quadrat at each of the ten stops we can work out the frequency of each of the species:

A species is rare (R) if it occurs in one or two stops out of ten;
It is occasional (O) if it occurs in three or four stops out of ten;
Frequent (F) species occur in five or more stops out of ten.

Common spotted orchid and Betony. Copyright NYMNPA.

Additional information is also recorded, including the amount of bare ground and height of the sward, the amount of scrub and bracken on site, and the presence of pernicious weeds (such as thistles, nettles and docks). Lots of photos are helpful, plus any sightings of notable wildlife!

All this information allows a site to be assessed and assigned one of the following categories:
Good quality species-rich grassland;
or
Good quality semi-improved or degraded grassland of high species-richness;
or
Semi-improved grassland of moderate species-richness;
or
Species-poor semi-improved grassland.

The National Park is keen to see an increase in the area of species-rich grassland. For the North York Moors that means the priority habitats lowland meadow and lowland calcareous grassland. By this regular monitoring we can get a clearer picture of the changing status of each site and use it to advise restoration methods. Altering the grazing regime, clearing bracken and scrub and/or sowing locally sourced wild flower seeds/spreading green hay can improve the quality and diversity of a grassland site with the ultimate objective of achieving and maintaining good quality species-rich grassland.

Ragged robin and Greater bird’s-foot-treofoil- indicators of the Lowland Meadow priority habitat. Copyright Kate Bailey, NYMNPA.

Common bird’s-foot-trefoil, Knapweed and Field scabious on a species-rich area of calcareous grassland. Copyright Kate Bailey, NYMNPA.

We’ll be out again next summer, doing it all again.

Benefiting bees

Roy McGhie – Conservation Project Assistant

Recently my colleague Ami and I went on an organised farm walk near Menethorpe to the south of the North York Moors. The event was led by the Campaign for the Farmed Environment and the theme was habitat management for pollinators. The walk was well attended by local land managers who wanted to know a bit more about the benefits that pollinators provide, and how they might most easily encourage them, in particular on otherwise unproductive areas of their land.

The main focus of our discussion was inevitably bees – our most efficacious pollinators.  We were given copies of an excellent booklet from the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology called ‘Habitat Creation and Management for Pollinators’.

We’ve mentioned bees a number of times before in this blog, but felt it was about time they had their own post because they are so important.

CFE Farm Walk - a pollinator meadow on the farm we visited full of red and white clover and meadow vetchling. Copyright NYMNPA.

In the UK whilst there is only one species of honey bee Apis mellifera (both wild and semi-domesticated), there are about half a dozen common bumble bees and over twenty common species of solitary bees like mining bees, mason bees and leaf cutter bees.

The bee flying season can begin as early as March and extend right the way into October, as long as there is food i.e. nectar and pollen available. Most species of bees can survive over winter if there is somewhere for them to hole up.

Bumble bees on a thistle - copyright NYMNPA.

The anatomy of different bee species varies greatly, and so to assist most species it’s best to have a wide range of flower species from which they can feed. As some of the mining bees have short tongues of only 4-5mm, they need open flowers such as cow parsley and daisies. The garden bumblebee Bombus hortorum on the other hand has a tongue that can extend to around 12mm, so it can feed from flowers with a long corolla (i.e. petals) like foxgloves and honeysuckle.

As well as fragrance, one of the other things that attracts bees to flowers is colour. So its worth considering maintaining colours throughout the season. For example, coltsfoot and hawk’s beard provide yellow colour from about February to June, and then cat’s ear How we see it (left) and how a bee might see it with UV shades visible (right) - Klaus Schmitt.and bristly oxtongue do the same from June to October. Similarly, a successional combination of white deadnettle, oxeye daisy and yarrow can ensure there are plenty of white flowers throughout the year. Interestingly, it is thought that bees can see in ultraviolet, which means how they perceive flowers will be very different from how we do.

Establishing and managing a wildflower meadow is one of the most effective ways of ensuring bees have a suitable habitat. In addition it is thought that on arable farms having a flower-rich margin on at least 1% of the land will provide significant benefit to pollinators, which in turn will improve crop production and quality. Hedgerows can be another useful way to help bees – cutting hedges on a two or even three year cycle will encourage more hawthorn and blackthorn flowers. When new hedges are planted, a greater species diversity (using hazel, field maple, crab apple, holly and willow where appropriate) will also mean that there is more food and nectar available for a longer period throughout the year.

Bees are fantastic creatures in their own right. They also provide a number of hugely important direct benefits for our countryside and environment. There are things we can do to encourage bee survival such as sowing appropriate wildflowers and creating habitat stepping stones, allowing what we might think of as typically weeds to flourish (in the right place), creating patches of bare ground in sunny dry spots which will allow solitary mining bees to nest, and leaving tall grass over winter which can provide places for bumblebees to hibernate and nest.

Bees are often in the news these days, mostly because they are in decline – they even need their own national strategy. If we can do our best to make the landscape more friendly, we can help give bees a better chance, and ensure they can continue to play a key role in pollinating our flowers, trees and crops.

Bee on red clover - copyright NYMNPA.

For a local initiative – see B-Lines Ryedale

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.

 

A little less salt, a little more species abundance

John Beech – Land Management Adviser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battling the birch

John Beech – Land Management Adviser

Species rich grasslands are one of the key habitats that we’re working to conserve and enhance across the North York Moors.

Grasslands that are high in biodiversity interest are one of this area’s rarest habitats. A lot of these sites are now isolated, so once a site can be brought up to a good condition we’re looking for opportunities to buffer and expand the site and how best to link it up to other grassland sites in order to enable a re-propagating more sustainable future.

Grasslands have been compared with tropical rainforest in terms of the numbers of species and the importance of habitat to biodiversity. But over 90% of the traditional hay meadows (one type of species rich grassland) in the UK have gone under the plough or been ‘improved’ with inputs since the 1940s. Their importance to wildlife such as pollinators which mean the habitat is an ecosystem in itself is now being grasped and our initiative is only one among many being progressed across the UK.

As part of our ongoing habitat connectivity programme, National Park staff and volunteers are currently concentrating efforts in the south west corner of the North York Moors which has a particularly rich reserve of fragmented species rich grasslands peppering the area. Ensuring these sites are well managed, properly resourced and cared for into the future is a major part of our work in the Land Management Team.

Contact was initially made with landowners in the area and then followed up with an assessment of each grassland and proposals suggested to enhance the condition of the particular meadow or rough grassland habitat sites. One of the recurring issues arising from a lack of management is encroachment by scrub and bracken which can be detrimental.

This is an example of a site near Oldstead which recently required a task force and so National Park Volunteers were called in, organised and supervised by the National Park’s Volunteer Services Team. The task was taking out some of the birch scrub that was taking over and out competing the wet grassland/heathland habitat on the site. Rather than suddenly removing the scrub, the birch stems were cut and piled into concentrated habitat heaps to provide some shelter for wildlife over the winter before slowly rotting away. During that time the long lengths of timber providing wet, damp conditions just under the bark of the cut trees is ideal for invertebrates, so provides a food source for other wildlife inhabitants of the wet grassland/heathland site.

NYMNP Volunteer Task clearing scrub - copyright NYMNPA

NYMNP Volunteer Task clearing scrub - copyright NYMNPAAlthough this type of volunteering can look and sound like hard work, it can also be great fun to take part. At the end of the day you can see the results of your labour and you know it’s good for your natural environment as well as being good for you – you’ve had plenty of fresh air and it can actually improve your health!