Following in the footsteps

Elspeth Ingleby – Natural Heritage Officer, This Exploited Land of Iron

Wildlife can be wonderfully conspicuous – in the UK there are lots of places where you are assured a wealth of wildlife before your very eyes, be it throngs of guillemot on a sea cliff, ducks and geese scrambling for titbits at a local park, or even clouds of the infamous Scottish midge. However many other species can be much harder to discover, whether because of where they live, what they eat or their sensitivity to disturbance.

But with a little effort and some detective work, you can discover a whole new world of wildlife. Spring is a great time to look a little more closely and see what you can find.

Prints, tracks and signs

You can pick up guides to some of the more common prints and signs (the Field Studies Council produce several) and then with a little practice it is possible to find and follow the footsteps of your local wildlife seeing how animals are using the landscape which is their home. Things to look out for include:

  • Bare ground, turned earth or puddle edges which are great for retaining foot prints of passing wildlife – head out a few hours after rain (or snow!) to see what has passed by in the recent past.
  • Patches of white splattered on the ground, branches or tree trunks that are a dead giveaway for a regular perch or roost where the resident has lightened the load before taking flight.
  • The bottom of fences and around the base of trees which can provide rich pickings of hair tufts which can identify who has been there.
  • Holes in the ground that can indicate where a pheasant has scratched, or a badger has dug after worms.

Pellets and poo

You can tell a lot about wildlife from the physical remains they leave behind. Looking a little closer at droppings or the regurgitated pellets of raptors can yield a wealth of information, not only about the eater, but also about the eaten.

At our recent This Exploited Land of Iron launch weekend, we challenged young wildlife explorers to see what they could find within Barn Owl pellets. Within minutes we had identified remains of Field Vole, Common Shrew, Wood Mouse, Robin and Frog showing just what a range of food owls will eat. It’s also fun trying to see how many skulls you can find, or identifying the different bones of the victims’ anatomy!Getting hands on at the Land of Iron launch event (copyright NYMNPA) and photo of Barn Owl (copyright Brian Nellist).

Many of our native predators use scats (animal excrement) as sign posts advertising their presence and territory to others. Surveying some of our shyest mammals is often done almost entirely by poo alone. The distinctive ‘tic-tac’ Water Vole droppings can identify not only where a population is, but also size of inhabited area, number of population, whether breeding or not – where you could be walking every day and never actually see ear nor tail of a Water Vole.Water Vole by WildStock Images

Smell can be a great way to tell different species apart as a careful sniff can tell you a lot. For instance Otters will leave ‘Jasmine scented’ scats often containing fish bones and scales, on prominent rocks in a stream, whereas Foxes will leave grey, foul smelling scats with wisps of hair, bone and beetle shells in the middle of a path giving clues to their daily haunts and diet.

Camera tracking

Trail camera. Copyright NYMNPA.A slightly less ‘hands on’ approach is to wait for the wildlife to come to you. As technology progresses and costs fall, remote cameras are becoming much more accessible – whether you are hoping to learn about a particular species, or simply work out what is digging up your vegetable patch! Our Land of Iron Programme has recently invested in a number of cameras to help us find out more about the shy and elusive Ring Ouzel which breeds around the moorland edge, and is also known as the Mountain Blackbird. The local population in Rosedale has been vulnerable to nest predation in recent years and we are hoping to catch the Ring Ouzel with its distinctive white chest. Copyright North East Wildlife.culprits in the act by staking out key nest sites. We are also expecting these cameras to give us real insights into Ring Ouzel behaviour, informing how we can best support and bolster the population of these beautiful birds. The best bit? – we don’t have to spend the next three months sitting behind a bush to find out!

Rosedale with Rowan in the foreground. Copyright Tom Mutton, NYMNPA.

Animal tracking can be incredibly rewarding, and a great activity to do when you’re out and about – particularly with kids. You can get involved for yourself by joining This Exploited Land of Iron at the upcoming Rosedale History Society Festival on 22 and 23 April where we will be busy dissecting owl pellets, or taking part in one of the family friendly events at The Moors National Park Centre over the Easter holidays, or just heading out yourself for an explore! However when you’re exploring please remember that most of the North York Moors is privately owned and you’d need permission from the landowner to explore over private land.

This Exploited Land of Iron LPS logos

 

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

Ageing Mussels

Simon Hirst – River Esk Project Officer

As mentioned previously, the River Esk in the North York Moors is the only river in Yorkshire with a Freshwater pearl mussel population Margaritifera margaritifera. The population is estimated to be comprised of approximately 1,000 individuals and is in drastic decline, so much so that it is on the verge of extinction. The decline is due to a number of linked causes such as water pollution, choking of the river bed by sediment build-up, deterioration in fish numbers and habitat degradation.

A dense bed of healthy adult mussels in Scotland. Copyright Sue Scott - SNH,

We’re working to improve the riparian habitat and so help secure the local population of Freshwater pearl mussel in the River Esk. We recently sent a sample of mussel shells from the Esk* over to the Swedish Natural History Museum in Stockholm, in order to determine the age of the mussels in the River Esk. The maximum age of Freshwater pearl mussels in the wild has been shown to vary considerably, from a low of 35 years in Spain (warmer, lower latitude rivers) to over 200 years in arctic areas (colder and high latitude rivers). Information from the ageing study would tell us how long we have left to save the Esk population from extinction and help identify the approximate time when the River Esk mussel population went into decline.

Dr Elena Dunca from the Swedish Natural History Museum sectioned (cut though) the shells supplied and then counted the growth lines on the mussel shell using a high powered microscope.

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Growth lines visible on the freshwater pearl mussel shell.

Esk FWPM - Age and length graph - Swedish Natural History Museum

This age/length graph will allow us to age fairly accurately any mussels we find in the wild in the future just by measuring them.

A total of 10 shells were aged by Dr Dunca, and the graph below shows that the mussels sent to Sweden ranged in age from 45 to 88 years of age.  The mussels in the River Esk also showed normal growth rates.

Esk FWPM - Length frequency graph - Swedish Natural History Museum

Length frequency graph of mussels in the River Esk

The smallest live mussel we have found in the Esk up to now was 75mm (approximately 28 years of age). This means the last time the Esk mussels reproduced successfully in the wild was in the late 1980s. The largest mussel we have found in the Esk was 156mm (approximately 100 years of age), which means it was born around the time of the First World War. The vast majority of the mussels are around the 130mm-140mm size range (approximately 80 years of age). We now know for scientific certainty that the Esk has an ageing population in need of help!

The best hope for our mussels is for them to start to successfully reproduce again. We’re working with the Freshwater Biological Association (FBA) who are carrying out captive breeding work in the Lake District. We hope to re-introduce the captive bred young Esk mussels from the FBA Facility back into the Esk once the riparian habitat is restored enough to sustain them, and so ultimately stop this species from becoming extinct in the wild (of Yorkshire).

* Please note – No mussels were harmed in the making of this study! We used empty shells that were found on the banks of the Esk.

Thanks to our funders at Biffa Award, for their support to carry out this vital research work.

Biffa

Biffa Award is a multi-million pound fund that helps to build communities and transform lives through awarding grants to community and environmental projects across the UK, as part of the Landfill Communities Fund.

Revitalising the Rye

Tom Stephenson, External Funding Officer

There must be something in the water in the North York Moors, having just started delivering the This Exploited Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme, the National Park Authority and its partners* have also been successful at the first stage of securing a further £2 million of Heritage Lottery Fund money to develop our next Landscape Partnership SchemeRyevitalise.

The River Rye and its tributaries rise on the moorland of the North York Moors, flowing through fast and clear upland becks that carve out steep sided dales until the land flattens and the river slows and broadens taking on the character of the undulating Howardian Hills and the flat lowlands of the Vale of Pickering. The Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership Scheme under development will help appreciate and enhance the Rye’s verdant landscape and clear waters which have been prized for millennia for their beauty and tranquillity resulting in a more natural, better functioning and better understood landscape.

Planned projects will cover four themes:

  • Water Environment, looking at aquatic habitats of the Rye and rare and threatened species;
  • Water Quality, working with land-owners and managers to reduce pollution;
  • Water Level Management, working alongside our delivery partners to harness natural processes to manage the sources and pathways of flood waters; and
  • Reconnecting People, improving the understanding of the river landscape by telling the story of its evolution and helping people to protect their heritage.

Without wanting to spoil the surprise of future blog posts, below are just some of the particular issues we are aiming to address through Ryevitalise scheme projects if we’re lucky enough to be successful in our Stage 2 application due in October 2018.

The wet…

Water is the major theme of Ryevitalise. Through the Ryevitalise scheme, from the high moorlands to the lowland wetlands, we will identify priority areas of riparian habitat for restoration to ensure existing high-value habitats (and their species) are in positive management and can act as nodes from which to extend outwards by creating ‘stepping stones’ and connections between these habitat sites.

Wetter still, we will assess the geomorphology and key features of the aquatic environment and target areas where aquatic habitats could be improved by creating changes to the channel through creating gravel bars, by placing debris to create slacks or by making changes to river bank profile. This work will include a survey of the habitats and species of the oxbow lakes in the lower Rye, and also the collecting and analysis of sediment cores to look for valuable paleoecological data which might shed light on how the local landscape formed.

The dry…

We have previously reported on the problems that fluctuating water levels in the River Rye
in Duncombe Park has on the White-clawed crayfish, the only native crayfish in the UK, White-clawed crayfish - during 2016 rescue in Duncombe Park. Copyright NYMNPA.which is suffering from a “perfect storm” of threats. Ryevitalise will prioritise protective measures for the existing population and carry out a feasibility study to identify where potential local ark sites might be located. Ark sites for White-clawed crayfish would allow populations to become established in isolation, separated from the threat of non-native crayfish and the crayfish plague they can carry.

The small…

Alcathoe bat. Copyright Cyril Schonbachler.One of the Rye catchment’s smallest inhabitants is the Alcathoe bat. Relatively new to science, having been first identified in 2001 and only recently becoming the latest addition to the UK bat family, this little creature has only been found at two other sites in the UK so far. Ryevitalise will seek to establish a deeper knowledge of where colonies of the Alcathoe bat and other key bat populations are, along with the requirements to support their survival.

The tall…

At the other end of the size spectrum and intrinsically linked to bats are some of the Rye catchment’s largest residents – its ancient and veteran trees. The area is a national hotspot for these giants that not only give an air of majesty to the landscape as living witnesses to history but also provide important habitat for many invertebrate species as well as providing important roosting sites for Rye bat populations.

The old…

Not only is the Rye catchment home to iconic built heritage like Rievaulx Abbey, Rievaulx Terrace, Duncombe Park and Nunnington Hall but it also contains a wealth of less obvious heritage that traces vernacular land use and tells the story of the working River Rye. Working with local history groups, Ryevitalise will record the remaining evidence of man’s relationship with the river over the centuries, surveying and recording the traces of the former agricultural and industrial settlements along the river banks. Accurate 3D models will be produced of the principal remaining watermills, iron working sites, water races and leats. Essential conservation and consolidation work will be identified from the surveys carried out.

The new…

Meanders in Rye near Sproxton - can see the water crowfoot beds within the river, September 2016. Copyright North East Yorkshire Ecological Data Centre.Like a lot of watercourses, it is not practical to access the river in its entirety at ground level. So as part of the Ryevitalise scheme an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle flight will record the entire 50km main river from its moorland origins all the way downstream to where it
meets the River Derwent. This will produce an invaluable record and will provide an insightful journey along the river for local communities, highlighting how this vital artery connects them all. Tailored sections of flight data will be made freely available to local schools, businesses, and community groups as a community resource; it will also form part of the scheme’s wider education programme.

We are all really excited about the next steps in developing the Ryevitalise scheme; the opportunity to make the most of the wealth of habitats, species and history surrounding the river; the potential to make a lasting difference to this wonderful landscape, and the chance to create a real splash.

HLFNL_2747

* Partners currently include East Yorkshire Rivers Trust, English Heritage, Environment Agency, Forestry Commission, Howardian Hills AONB, National Trust, Natural England, North Yorkshire County Council, Ryedale District Council, Woodland Trust, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, as well as local communities.

Cosy and warm

John Beech – Land Management Adviser

Hygge (pronounced hoo–gah) has been a major trend for this Christmas period. It’s a Danish ‘concept’ of living cosily e.g. wearing thick socks whilst drinking hot chocolate and watching Murder She Wrote – which can make us feel better about the icy and harsh season outside.

For a number of wild animal species, they have their own version of hygge except for them it’s a necessary survival mechanism. Hibernation is an extended period of deep sleep, or torpor*, which allows animals to survive the winter extremes. By reducing their metabolic rate and lowering body temperature this enables them to sit tight, conserve their energy and survive through the cold periods when food is scarce or has little energy value. *Animals in a state of torpor rather than sleep can venture out to try and find additional supplies during warmer winter spells.

In autumn as the temperature begins to fall and the nights draw in, many of the small mammals that live in our fields, woodlands and hedgerows forage for extra food to store over the winter and look for a suitable site (a hibernaculum) to hole up in for the coldest part of the year. Autumn months are often one of the better times of year to see small mammals in the North York Moors such as mice, voles, shrews and Hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) out and about eating vast quantities of food to build up fat reserves which will carry them through to the spring.  Following this period of feasting they retreat to somewhere suitably warm and undisturbed and begin to enter into a period of hibernation, which can last for up to four months of the year depending on the harshness of the weather. Also in autumn bats relocate to hibernation roosts looking for a constant temperature and to avoid frosts and freezing e.g. caves, trees and built structures.

And it’s not just our small mammals that hibernate:  Queen bees dig in for the winter and also some species of moths and butterflies, like the Duke of Burgundy (Hamearis lucina) which hunker down in grassy tussocks. Many of our reptiles and amphibians also hibernate. Adders find warmer crevices under boulders or in dry stone walls. Newt species spend the winter in the muddy banks of ponds, under paving slabs, piles of wood or in a handy compost heap. Common Toads (Bufo bufo) sleep out the winter buried deep in damp places such as leaf piles or compost heaps, before emerging to travel back to their traditional breeding sites in early spring. The Common Frog (Rana temporaria) which needs to keep damp is able to partially freeze in its state of hibernation before thawing out in spring. Occasionally such species come out of hibernation during any short sunny spells in the winter to make the most of the weak sunshine, only to return to their hiding place when the temperature falls again.

Malkin Bower, Bilsdale - in winter - copyright NYMNPA.

So as you’re reading this, hopefully somewhere cosy and warm, spare a thought for our wildlife that’s out there sleeping through the winter, hidden away from view deep in their retreats, practising their own life saving hygge and waiting for the first signs of spring.

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.

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.

Another crustacean crisis

Due to the sustained period of dry and hot weather recently an emergency rescue was required last week. We’ve blogged about similar operations in the previous two years, where the River Rye in Duncombe Park, Helmsley tends to dry up during summer months because of numerous natural sink holes. This leaves large numbers of fish and other water-dependent creatures stranded in shrinking pools. This year the crisis was particularly acute with no effective quantities of rain in the short term weather forecast.

The River Rye is one of only a few rivers in the North East of England which supports a population of White-clawed crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes). The species are “Globally Threatened” according to the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. They are the only native crayfish in the UK, and the majority of populations here are declining due to competition from introduced crayfish species, crayfish plague and water pollution.

So last week, alerted by the local fishing club, staff and apprentices turned up in force under the supervision of Simon our River Esk Officer (because he has a licence to handle the protected crayfish). Using gloves and buckets everyone scooped up what creatures they could and then relayed the buckets upstream to where the collected creatures were released back into the River Rye, safely above the sink holes. Over 500 White-clawed crayfish were rescued along with a variety of fish species – Bullhead (250+), Brown Trout (20+), Stone Loach (20+) and Brook Lamprey (50+).

White-clawed crayfish rescue, River Rye, July 2016. Drought conditions. Copyright NYMNPA.

White-clawed crayfish rescue, River Rye, July 2016. Drought conditions. Copyright NYMNPA.White-clawed crayfish rescue, River Rye, July 2016. Bucket collection. Copyright NYMNPA.White-clawed crayfish rescue, River Rye, July 2016. Cooling buckets to adjust water temperature before releasing. Copyright NYMNPA.White-clawed crayfish rescue, River Rye, July 2016. Releasing White-clawed crayfish (adult). Copyright NYMNPA.White-clawed crayfish rescue, River Rye, July 2016. Releasing White-clawed crayfish (female carrying young). Copyright NYMNPA.The translocated fish and White-clawed crayfish will inevitably recolonise the dried up section once the flows return to normal. The habitat here is ordinarily really good, the only down side being the disastrous disappearing water phenomenon during the summer.

The future for local White-clawed crayfish is somewhat uncertain. Further survey work is needed to establish the location of populations in the Rye, in order to help direct and prioritise effective measures to bolster the populations and make them more resilient to climate change risks like flash flooding and drought crisis. Rescue events may need to become a regularised occurrence.

We have no current evidence that the introduced Signal crayfish, which are such a threat to the White-clawed crayfish, have made it into the River Rye yet. Elsewhere in the country ark sites have been established, away from river networks, where populations of White-clawed crayfish can be introduced and kept in blissful isolation. If feasible here this could be a useful additional safety measure, but the first priority is keeping the Rye White-clawed crayfish populations in the river for as long as possible and conserving this particular element of our local natural heritage.

Habitat connectivity: back to basics

John Beech – Land Management Adviser

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

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

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

Woodland with bluebells, near Hawnby - copyright NYMNPA

So what does this mean in practical terms?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little Fryupdale - copyright Mike Kipling, NYMNPA

Catchment Trilogy – Part 3: wildlife wonderland

Gallery

This gallery contains 10 photos.

Alex Cripps – Catchment Partnership Officer I’m the Catchment Partnership Officer for the Esk and Coastal Stream Catchment and I love rivers! A big part of my role is surveying along the River Esk and its tributaries. I get to … Continue reading