Much Ado About Mothing

Sam Newton – Land of Iron Natural Heritage Officer

MOTH NIGHT

Records generated from moth trapping with light traps by amateurs naturalists all over the UK is the main way conservationists can understand how moth numbers are changing. N.B. The moths are subsequently released unharmed. While many enthusiasts moth trap year round, Moth Night is an annual celebration of moth recording throughout Britain and Ireland aimed at raising awareness of moths among the general public. It is organised by Atropos, Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology. Usually held in the summer months, this year it is being held from 26-28 September to target the spectacular (in appearance and in name) Clifden Nonpareil, and other late summer migrants moths.

The records generated from Moth Night, and from all other moth trapping is useful to conservation. While declines in large and ‘charismatic’ species are regularly reported in mainstream media, insects are often forgotten. For example in the UK, Butterfly Conservation reported habitat specialist butterflies (26 species) to have declined by 77% since monitoring was started in 1976, while more generalist butterflies (24 species) decreased by 46%. This is unfortunately also seen on a global scale, with 40% of insect species declining, and a third classified as endangered. It’s also not just the numbers, but the biomass, with the total mass of insects falling by 2.5% a year – suggesting an unsustainable future for populations.

The more we know about insects, the more we can do to try and save them. Below are a few images of moths recently seen within and around the North York Moors, including our own brilliant Clifden Nonpareil – the first time this moth has been seen in Yorkshire for many years.

Further Reading/References
Insect Armageddon: https://butterfly-conservation.org/news-and-blog/insect-armageddon
Plummeting insect numbers ‘threaten collapse of nature’: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/10/plummeting-insect-numbers-threaten-collapse-of-nature
Warning of ‘ecological Armageddon’ after dramatic plunge in insect numbers: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/18/warning-of-ecological-armageddon-after-dramatic-plunge-in-insect-numbers

Levisham Estate: scrapbooking

Rachel Pickering – Natural Environment Team Leader

Looking across Newtondale and Levisham Estate. Copyright NYMNPA.

The photo above is my screensaver to remind me how lucky I am to live and work in such a gorgeous part of the world. It’s looking over the National Park owned Levisham Estate taken from Levisham Moor, close to the fascinating Skelton Tower which is a favourite feature of mine as I am sure you can see why …

Levisham Estate - Skelton Tower in the distance. Copyright NYMNPA.

Photo (above): Skelton Tower sits on Corn Hill Point (on the sky line). Crops were grown up here in the Napoleonic Wars.Levisham Estate - close up of Skelton Tower. Copyright NYMNPA.

Photo (above): This two story listed ruin was built around 1830 by Reverend Robert Skelton from Levisham as a shooting lodge.

Levisham Estate - close up of Skelton Tower. Copyright NYMNPA.

Photo (above): In 1978 the tower was partly restored and made safe by the North York Moors National Park Authority to commemorate the first 25 years of the National Park.

This place still continues to captivate me despite my 13 years managing the Estate for the North York Moors National Park Authority alongside our long term tenants and almost equally long term Senior Ranger, David Smith.

Levisham Estate - David Smith discussing land management. Copyright NYMNPA.

Photo (above): David Smith discussing habitat management with a tenant in Levisham Woods.

I got the opportunity to show off the Estate to National Park colleagues back in September 2017  – these are some of snaps (below) that they took, which just goes to show what wildlife is lurking about if you take the time to look.

We saw a dung beetle doing its thing too – happily recycling the Highland cow poo!

Levisham Estate - Highland cattle. Copyright NYMNPA.

As well as the cute and the curious we have plenty of what makes the North York Moors National Park special and that’s heather!

Levisham Estate - bell heather close up. Copyright NYMNPA.

And nothing shows heather moorland off better than a stunning landform or two and we are spoilt for choice on Levisham Estate. I said in a previous blog that my favourite view is shared by many at the Hole of Horcum but you don’t have to go far to find more satisfaction for the senses.

Levisham Estate - steam train. Copyright NYMNPA.

Photo (above): North Yorkshire Moors Railway steam train chugging up Newtondale with a backdrop of Levisham Moor.

One of the great things about Levisham is that parts of it are really accessible and very well used and then there are other parts that feel quite remote and isolated. The variety of habitats, archaeology and landscapes means that there really is something to interest everyone!  I would encourage you to come and explore.

Levisham Estate - moorland path. Copyright NYMNPA.

 

Photo (above): A well used moorland path to explore!

Levisham Estate - Nab Farm. Copyright NYMNPA.

Photo (above): A moody shot of the deserted remnants of Nab Farm

So I’m bidding Levisham Estate a fond farewell as in future I will be spending more time on woodland and moorland issues across the whole of the National Park. I am certainly sad that I won’t be working on this Estate anymore but I am really pleased that I can hand over the reigns to an experienced colleague who I know will love it as much as I do. David Smith will still be involved with his 20+ years of knowledge of the Estate but it’s always good to get a new perspective and the time is right for a change.

Levisham Estate visit Sept 2017. Copyright NYMNPA.

Photo (above): A staff training day on the Estate where colleagues discuss land management options for the future, Sept 2017.

In my previous blog I started with a photograph similar to the one below which is taken on my regular dog walk round ‘the back lane’ at Newton on Rawcliffe. So I thought I’d finish my post with these three photos all taken this year from the same viewpoint  in the sun, snow and mist. I’ll be continuing to keep an eye on my beloved Levisham Estate whilst trying to keep two spaniels and two children under control!

 

It’s dirty work but someone’s got to do it or: When all’s said and dung, don’t poo-poo the Dung Beetles

Sam Newton – Natural Heritage Trainee, Land of Iron

A single cow can produce over nine tonnes of dung per year, so across all domestic and wild herbivores imagine how this would quickly build up to mountainous proportions.

Fortunately there are many invertebrates whose life cycles involve clearing this up. Take Dung beetles – in the UK their annual role in the ecosystem is valued at £367 million, for cattle dung alone.

How the different groups of British Dung beetles utilise dung in different ways. Copyright Dung Beetle UK Mapping Project.

Dung  beetles are a collection of around 60 species in the UK, within the Scarabaeidae family which also includes non-dung feeding Chafers and Stag Beetles). The actual dung feeders are split into the Aphodiinae (dwellers, residing within dung) and the Geotrupidae and Onthophagus (tunnellers, burying beneath dung). Contrary to popular belief there a no dung rollers in the UK, as this group are only found in the tropics and sub-tropics. The adults of all groups feed on liquid within dung, while the larvae eat the solids.

These 60 species utilise dung differently and so avoid competition – they use dung from different animals, they feed at different times of day or year, they live in different habitats and they favour dung of assorted ages. The fact that all the species vary in their ecology enhances the benefits provided in dung recycling to the wider ecosystem, helping fertilise the soil and enhance soil structure, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, dung beetles transport mites between dung piles, which feed on fly and worm eggs, thus indirectly helping reduce fly numbers along with some gastrointestinal parasites that can affect livestock.

A Geotrupidae dung beetle with hitch hiking mites getting a lift to their next pile of dung. From https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/422423640023441381/

Dung beetles also provide an important food source to many animals, for example Aphodius prodromus (a small Aphodiinae dung dweller), which is incredibly numerous in early spring when there are few other invertebrates available.

So Dung beetles are incredibly useful, as well as being beautiful (without mites) and valuable in their own right.

One of the Dung beetles - this is called a Dor Beetle (Geotrupes stercorarius). Copyright Kirsty Brown, NYMNPA.

However, all is not well in the dung beetle world. A 2016 review found over 25% of UK species were ‘Nationally Rare’ (found in 15 or less 10×10km squares across the UK) and four may already be extinct.

Changing farming practises and the disappearance of livestock from historic pastures is a major cause of this decline in the UK. The loss of dung structure produced by modern livestock breeds fed high protein diets is also detrimental, as dung beetles essentially end up drowning in the dung. Soil disturbance is damaging to some species, and wormer overuse (e.g. Ivermectin can indirectly reduce larval development and survival) is perhaps the main cause of decline, ironically destroying the role dung beetles played in reducing parasitic worms naturally.

Some of the British Dung beetles. Copyright Beetle UK Mapping Project.

So how can people make changes to help conserve Dung beetles and their role in day to day biodiversity? If you keep any livestock, use faecal egg counts to reduce worming, consider keeping a few hardy livestock out during the winter if your land is suitable, also not removing all the dung from out of horse paddocks enables a constant supply of high quality dung. If you don’t keep livestock, try and support the keeping of native breeds which have better quality dung for a Dung beetle’s needs.

The Ancient Egyptians associated Khepri, god of the rising sun, with a dung beetle (a Scarab) which every day was believed to move the sun across the sky. While I’m not suggesting worshipping Dung beetles per se, we can try and appreciate these beetles, understand their predicament and even try and help.

There is a Dung Beetle UK Mapping Project. For lots of help with identifying between species, and to be able to record sightings and help build up a picture of distribution – see their website.

Apologies for the titular puns.

An exceptional bog

Last year the Land of Iron commissioned an eco-hydrological assessment of Fen Bog(s) by consultants (Sheffield Wetland Ecologists).  An eco-hydrological assessment examines the workings of a water system and its wider ecosystems. Sunday was International Bog Day so to celebrate the complexity and variety of bogs – here is a very very simplified overview of that assessment. Any misunderstanding or misinterpretation is all mine.

View over Fen Bog. Copyright NYMNPA.

Background

Fen Bog(s) is at the top end of the Newtondale glacial channel in the east of the North York Moors. It’s part of the Newtondale Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and the majority of it is also designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). Most of the site is a Yorkshire Wildlife Trust nature reserve, other parts are owned by the National Park Authority, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway and the Duchy of Lancaster.

Fen Bog(s) is a large peatland/wetland site, and according to the report “is of exceptional biological, palaeo-ecological and telmatological (to do with bogs) interest, especially as there are no comparable examples in the region or, indeed, in most of England”.

The bog happens to be within the boundary of the Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme. The scheme focuses on the landscape area impacted on by the short but intense period of ironstone mining and railway development in the North York Moors. Intriguingly part of the Fen Bog(s) site has been subject to long-term modification since the Whitby–Pickering Railway line (now belonging to the North Yorkshire Moors Railway) was built alongside/across the site. The Partnership commissioned the report in order to get an holistic assessment of the existing data (of which there is a lot), and to identify the gaps and address these through additional field investigations, with the aim of increasing the understanding of the eco-hydrological functioning of Fen Bog(s) in order to help inform future management decisions. This management needs to conserve and restore its environmental value as well as allowing the continued functioning of the railway.

Historical Aspects

The Whitby & Pickering Railway was first opened in 1837, as a single-track, horse-drawn enterprise carrying freight between the two towns. Newtondale connects through the central moorland which largely separates the north and south of the North York Moros. Soon after the line was doubled and substantially rebuilt for steam propelled haulage with services starting in 1847.

Benham (An Illustrated History of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, 2008) explains that Fen Bog(s) proved a “major headache” for the railway builders and that “Stephenson resorted to the same technique employed at Chat Moss when building the Liverpool & Manchester Railway. This involved stabilising the land by ‘pile-driving’ fir trees into the bog and overlaying them with sheaves of heather bound in sheep skin, together with more timber and moss.” In addition deep drains were dug alongside the railway through the mire to try and keep water off the track. The extensive drainage has tilted parts of the bog. It has also been suggested that it meant the bog turned from a topogenous system (source water mainly from the land) to an ombrogenous one (source water mainly from precipitation) – but the report considers this is unlikely. The railway’s embankments and sidings were built and maintained using railway ash, basic slag, limestone and basalt – all base rich materials imported onto the site which still have an impact.

The summit of the railway is a short distance north of Fen Bog(s), near the former location of the ‘Goathland Summit’ signal box. South of this the railway track skirts the western edge of the wetland, it is built mostly along the steeply-sloping edge so that its upslope side is on mineral ground or shallow peat whilst the mire side is over deeper peat. The railway line has therefore partly obliterated, truncated and drained much of the western edge of Fen Bog(s). Towards the southern end of Fen Bog(s), the glacial channel curves west and the railway here crosses the bog to the other side of the channel, thereby cutting across and separating parts of the Bog(s).

View of North Yorkshire Moors Railway crossing Fen Bog. Copyright NYMNPA.

Methodologies

Peatlands are strongly influenced by hydrology, chemistry, and vegetation.

The Fen Bog(s) report considers the hydrogeology including stratigraphy, surface profiles, and solid, wetland, and superficial (recent) deposits.

It also investigates the water supply in and the drainage out. All the different water features on the site are mapped – as pool, spring or seepage, stream/ditch with visible flow, water flow track, water filled ditch with no visible flow, damp channel, or seasonally wet channel. The main artificial drainage is associated with the railway including the drains on either side of the line, but there is also other historic drainage at the south end of Fen Bog(s) which was done to improve the land for agriculture.

Hydrochemical measurements were taken as part of the assessment to establish the current pH and also the electrical conductivity of the water at different points. There is a lot of variation across the site. It has been suggested that high pH readings i.e. alkaline are caused by leeching slag used in the construction of the railway track. Measurements from the recent assessment suggest that in terms of chemistry any effects of the trackway on the Bog(s) is either historic or localised. Because of the mix of chemistry Fen Bog(s) is classed as a Transition mire and this is reflected in its mix of vegetation (see below). The transition can be geographical or successional, or both.

There are a series of historic water table measurements at two specific points, from the 1970s to 1990s – one in ‘wet’ bog, rich in sphagnum, in the north, and one in relatively ‘dry’ bog, with a lot of heather, in the south. The report suggests the main reason for the more consistently higher water table at the northern monitoring point can be associated with the greater number and penetration of flow tracks across the mire, the number of groundwater outflows and a more consistent supply of telluric water (surface water and groundwater). Groundwater geology is always important in sustaining a high water table.

Looking into Fen Bog. Copyright Louise Cooke, NYMNPA.

Development and status

Much of the depth of peat at Fen Bog(s) is believed to sit in a hollow which decreases at its southern end. It has been suggested this hollow may have been a glacial or post-glacial lake. However it appears as if the mire developed on a dry surface, that is through paludification, and not by infilling a water body (terrestrialisation).

The lower layers of peat cores and sections collected contain the remains of tree species (Birch, Willow and Alder) and other plants (Reeds and Sphagnum) that suggest wet woodland. Then the higher up layers on top contain more plants and silt indicating the formation of swamp and a rise in the water level. This may be a consequence of wetter climatic conditions but also may partly be to do with human activity. There is an increase in non-tree pollen suggesting the removal of trees at the time, and the report postulates that the build-up of water on the site may have been due to it being artificially damned at the southern end. Sphagnum increases in the top level of peat, from c. 1100 AD atleat until the 19th century. The development of a Sphagnum-dominated surface on a reed-monocot swamp requires some isolation of the surface from more base-rich water sources which means the margins with inflow must have remained largely free of Sphagnum and a dome of peat therefore developed in the middle of the bog.

Fen Bog(s) can therefore be considered an embryonic raised bog, which has developed upon a protracted phase of reed–monocot peat that, because of the topography of the trough and the occurrence of marginal inflows, has been susceptible to flooding with telluric water until relatively recently. Because the system has developed across a shallow watershed, it can be regarded as an embryonic ‘sattelmoor’ (saddle bog). The report notes that this assessment is based on the centre and eastern margin of Fen Bog(s) – the western margin has been modified too much by the railway development and associated drainage to be useful as evidence. The modification led to a tilt of the mire’s surface towards the west.

Vegetation over time is the raw ingredients of a bog. The report reviews and updates current NVC vegetation classifications across the Fen Bog(s) site. It’s quite a mosaic. As well as non-mire vegetation such as dry grassland, bracken, dry heath and wet heath, there is also:

  • Weakly base-rich springs and soakways – base rich means a richness of chemical ions i.e. alkaline, a soakway is a narrow track of water flow where little or no water is normally visible. Supports plants such as Bog bean, Broad-leaved cotton grass*, Common butterwort*, and Black bog-rush*, as well as Sphagnum sp. and other bryophytes. Beyond the immediate Fen Bog(s) site there are base-rich springs and weakly base-rich soakways – where soils are acid rather than alkaline so it means the water ends up only weakly or not base-rich at all.
  • Acidic springs and soakways – supports plants such as Common sedge, Yorkshire fog and Marsh violet, as well Sphagnum sp.
  • Ombrotrophic bog – where the main source of water is precipitation. Supports plants such as Common cotton-grass, Cross-leaved heath and Bog myrtle.
  • Minerotrophic Bog – where the main source of water is watercourses and springs. Supports plants such as Purple moor-grass, Common yellow sedge and Carnation sedge.
  • Molinia mire – purple moor-grass dominated vegetation, also supports plants such as SundewsStar sedge and Bog asphodel
  • Nutrient-rich fen – these areas may be influenced hydrochemically either by base-rich springs, or by the base-rich material that make up the railway embankments/sidings. Supports plants such as Angelica, Tufted vetch and Water horse-tail
  • Carex rostrata fen – base-rich mire supporting plants such as Bottle sedge (this is the Carex rostrata), Marsh marigold and Ragged robin.
  • Pools and soakways with Carex limosa – supports plants such as Bog sedge* (this is the Carex limosa), Slender sedge*, and Bog pimpernel.
  • Wet woodland – these remaining woodlands are similar to that which began the formation of peat millions of years ago. Supports plants such as Grey willow, Downy Birch and Creeping buttercup.
  • Reeds and willow scrub – can also be classed as wet woodland. Supports plants such as Narrow buckler fern, Soft rush and Sphagnums.
  • Tall swamp and reedbeds – each at different stages of development with their own characteristics. One site which supports bulrush is presumably mineral enriched from the track ballast but this shows no sign of spreading out into adjacent vegetation without the enrichment. Another site, not yet colonised by willow scrub, supports plants such as Marsh pennywort, Water mint and Branched bur-reed.

* notable uncommon vascular plant species

Another view over Fen Bog. Copyright NYMNPA.

What next?

From the assessment the report goes on to outline the main management issues and to suggest restoration opportunities for the Fen Bog(s) site. These include vegetation control through gazing and fencing, monitoring the spread of reeds (Phragmites), clearing parts of the species poor scrub areas, retaining the wet woodland/scrub habitat, blocking and redirecting specific railway ditches, minimising the introduction of new embankment ballast material, and using engineered solutions to tackle subsidence problems. Interested parties will consider the recommendations and decide what is desirable as well as practically possible, in order to maintain this very important bog site that embodies a clash of natural and cultural heritage.

Postscript: There is a story that a steam locomotive sank into Fen Bog(s) at some point in the past, and remains there today. But this is just a story.

Why why why the Rye?

Anne-Louise Orange – Ryevitalise Programme Manager

We’re continuing to develop our stage two application for submission in October to the Heritage Lottery Fund to support the Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership Scheme.

We need to explain and evidence why the upper Rye catchment is such a special area for people, wildlife, and the rich diversity of habitats the wealth of species rely on; and why it needs support to secure its future.

To help us we are delighted to have recently appointed the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust Consultancy to undertake audience development and interpretation consultancy work for the Partnership. WWT Consulting are pleased too and have written their own blog post which you can read here.

We’re keen to hear from you if you have ideas and views about the catchment – please get in touch directly or complete our survey. Your ideas and views will be used to inform the delivery phase of Ryevitalise which, subject to a successful bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund, will commence spring 2019.

View of the Rye. Copyright Claire Flanagan, Environment Agency.

 

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.

Feathered courtship

Richard Baines – Turtle Dove Project Officer

No matter how much you plan wildlife photography sometimes the sweetest moments arrive when you least expect it. On the afternoon of 15 May back in 2015 Richard Bennet called into Sutton Bank National Park Centre for a cup of coffee and a slice of cake, unaware of the lovey-dovey scene he was about to witness.

The café windows were an irresistible draw for Richard who is a keen birder and photographer. As he sat down he noticed two Turtle Doves feeding on the ground beneath the bird feeders. Very pleased with this sighting he took several photos.

After feeding for a little while the two birds then flew up into the trees and performed a courtship routine right in front of the café window! Richard completely forgot about his cake as the opportunity for photographing the unfolding love scene outside was a far sweeter treat.

Turtle dove courtship at Sutton Bank NYMNP Visitor Centre May 2015 by Richard Bennet, North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project

Richard has kindly allowed our new North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project access to his gallery to promote the conservation of this beautiful bird.

Now at the end of August it’s post breeding time for our Turtle Doves, the young have fledged the nests. The birds will gather at the best feeding sites, often not far from where they have been nesting, to put on as much fat as possible prior to migrating back to Africa (Mali) in September. We’re looking forward to seeing them again next year.

 

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