Blast Beach Litter Pick

Yesterday we were joined by 17 willing volunteers from Northumbrian Water for a litter pick on Blast Beach near Seaham. I’d like to thank them for their hard work and effort. Luckily it was a beautiful, warm and sunny day.

Ranger Jonny and volunteer John Parks. Unfortunately no pic with the Northumbrian Water volunteers

Ranger Jonny and volunteer John Parks. Unfortunately no pic with the Northumbrian Water volunteers

They helped us collect over 30 bags of rubbish over the day which will help make Blast Beach cleaner and safer for visitors. Also, it will make Blast Beach look beautiful to the public. Despite the rubbish it can look nice as you can see


Despite all we picked up, littering is still a bad habit and problematic and cause a wide ranges of issues such as;

  • It wastes money and time, in many places around the UK the goverment have to get in people to clean up areas which costs millions. On National Trust sites it means we have to spend time clearing litter on a regular basis.
  • It is also hazardous to your own health and others. We found many smashed bottles and sharp objects on the beach, which could be stood on by adult/child/pet animal and go into their foot.
  • It is also very harmful to birds as they could swallow small piece of plastic which can cause the birds stomach to become full of plastic. The plastic will never decompose and it will eventually fill their stomach and cause them to starve as they have no room for real food
  • Finally it makes places to become ugly and will put off people coming to visit a place which without the litter is a lovely place and it usually encourages others to litter

If you are ever out anywhere, National Trust property or not please take the litter to the nearest so that other don’t have to tidy up after you.



Managing mountain biking

Sometimes managing the countryside can be a real challenge. We really want to help people enjoy the outdoors in their own way, but we also have a responsibility to do what is best for wildlife conservation and sometimes the two don’t go hand in hand.

Recently we’ve done a couple of contrasting jobs that show why sometimes we have to take a different approach to the same problem.

Firstly to Scarth Wood Moor in the Sheepwash area of the North York Moors. This is a fantastic place both for people and wildlife. Right on the doorstep for Osmotherley residents it’s perfect whether you’re a picnicker, dog walker, rambler or cyclist. It’s also an important and fragile wildlife habitat.

Scarth Wood Moor

Scarth Wood Moor is a beautiful spot for a stroll

Here we discovered we had a problem caused by local mountain bikers who had taken it upon themselves to dig tracks and build a series of jumps in an old quarry on the moor opposite Cod Beck Reservoir. Aside from not asking our permission as land owners and the physical damage caused to the area, the major problem with this is that the area has special protection as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). This is in place because the area is important wildlife habitat with a high number of rare species. Through this protection Natural England can prosecute any individual who ‘intentionally or recklessly damages or destroys any of the features of special interest of an SSSI, or disturbs wildlife for which the site was notified’ with fines of up to £20,000.

Common Toad

Scarth Wood Moor has a huge population of common toads – a protected species (

With such protection in place it was very much in the interest of the mountain bikers own interest to stop what they were doing. We got the message out by putting signs on site explaining the situation as well as putting an article in the Osmotherly Newsletter. We then spent a day with our  volunteers removing the tracks and jumps that had been created so far and restoring the area as much as possible.


Volunteers hard at work trying to restore the damaged area

So to some, the National Trust may seem like a stuffy old organisation trying to stop young people having fun, but that’s not true! Just a few months earlier our volunteers have been out helping to build a mountain bike track.

This took place further north at Penshaw Monument on the outskirts of Sunderland. Here, in a piece of woodland at the back of the hill mountain bikers have been creating tracks for many years. In the past this has been without our permission and has been a source of conflict. However in recent years we’ve managed to get a relationship with many of the people who ride here to the benefit of both parties.

For us, we’ve been able to allocate an area of the woodland for them to use. It’s an area of sycamore plantation that has low value in terms of wildlife habitat. This has allowed us to put up warning signs to make the area safer for our other visitors, while the rest of the woodland is reserved for wildlife and walkers.

For them, we’ve got actively involved in helping to construct a couple of the tracks. This has allowed us to get a bit more ambitious with the creation of some bigger features such as berms and jumps. We’ve then been able to use these more exciting lines for organised downhill mountain bike competitions.

Mountain bike

Action from Bikefest 2014 (Anthony Taylor)

Ian Hughes, owner of Sanctuary Bikes in Shiney Row is the organiser of Bikefest. The event was first held last year and returned on Easter Sunday even bigger and better. Over 60 competitors spent the day hurtling down the hill as fast as they could to see who could be the fastest. It was certainly quite a spectacle and many of our visitors stayed a while to watch the extreme action. The quickest riders managed to get down the hill in less than a minute.

Bikefest winners 2014

The winners celebrate at Penshaw Monument

In an area with little in the way of mountain bike facilities it’s great that we’re able to offer this track and host Bikefest. Hopefully it helps to show that the National Trust are an organisation that helps people enjoy the outdoors in their own way whenever we can.

Hedgelaying – what a bind!

Anyone visiting Penshaw Monument over the weekend may have noticed that we have put the finishing touches to our hedge. It’s taken us the last two winters to lay the hedge – a process that involves cutting part way through the stem of each plant in the hedge and bending it over. The stems are then held in place by a row of stakes to create a kind of living fence.

This is a traditional skill that has died out somewhat over recent decades. Happily we’ve been able to do some training for a few of our volunteers and our Trainee Ranger, Pat. They all managed to pick up the techniques pretty quickly, so the next generation of hedgelayers are good to go!

Adding the bindings to the finished hedge.

Adding the bindings to the finished hedge.

The final part of hedgelaying involves weaving long pieces of hazel between the stakes. These bindings help to hold the hedge together even more firmly, plus it looks really nice when it’s done. You can see Pat and the vols hard at work putting them on in the sequence of photos. Hopefully you like the finished results.

We also spent the day burning off the brash we’d cut out of the hedge. It was a lovely sunny morning and there were plenty of signs from nature that spring is firmly here. The blackthorn trees were looking particularly nice covered in May blossom. It’s just a shame the spring showers were in evidence in the afternoon as we took a right soaking!

May blossom

May blossom

Graduation Day

Last week I had the pleasure of taking a trip down to the National Trust’s Attingham Park property to see the graduation of 2012’s intake of Trainee Rangers. I was there as the former manager of Chris Wood who left us in May to take up a post at Lanhydrock in Cornwall.

Attingham Park hosted the graduation ceremony

Attingham Park hosted the graduation ceremony

When Chris first came to us as a volunteer he didn’t really know anything about being a Ranger. What he did have was stacks of enthusiasm and an appetite to learn. He’d just come back from a holiday walking on the South Coast where he found himself falling in love with the British landscape and wildlife. It was a life changing holiday for him as he returned from it knowing that a career in conservation was what he wanted.

The class of 2012

The class of 2012

Fast forward three years and that’s just what he’s got. He was lucky enough to get one of 8 places on the Trust’s Ranger Training Programme and has spent his time with us learning practical estate management skills, habitat management theory and wildlife ID skills. Chris worked tremendously hard during his time with us, and this was recognised by him receiving a ‘trainee of the year’ award at the ceremony. He can certainly now consider himself a fully fledged Ranger. Well done Chris!

Chris was clearly overjoyed with his 'Trainee of the Year' award

Chris was clearly overjoyed with his ‘Trainee of the Year’ award

Sadly for us, the draw of the South Coast was too much for Chris and he has now settled in Cornwall. Happily he’s still working for the Trust and I expect he’ll have a long and successful career within the organisation.

I’m currently working on an application for us to get another Trainee Ranger in September. Should we be successful we’ll be recruiting in the summer, so if you think that being a National Trust Ranger could be the career for you, or you know someone who does, watch this space.

Dry Stone Walling at Roseberry Topping.

Roseberry Topping

Roseberry Topping

Back in December 2013 we spent a weekend on Roseberry Common with a group of our regular volunteers rebuilding a section of dry stone wall. It was a big job as most of the volunteers had not done any walling before and were learning as they went. So we returned on 12th January 2014 to finish the job.

The wall was in a bad state of repair so we took the opportunity to rebuild it from scratch. This meant taking down the old wall and digging out a shallow trench, into which we position very large foundation stones which form a stable platform for the wall to sit on for many years to come.

Trench ready for the foundation stones

Trench ready for the foundation stones

For a strong and stable structure, the wall will ideally be half as wide at the top as it is at the bottom. The wall gets built in courses (or layers), using a batter frame and string lines as a guide. When one course is complete you move the lines up and continue on the next layer.  The largest stones are used at the base of the wall, gradually working up to using the smallest at the top. Our wall was a double skin wall, with ‘hearting’ stones filling the gaps in the middle. We also use ‘through’ stones at regular intervals which span the full width and tie in both sides of the wall.

For a bit more information about walling see Chris’s post from back in 2012:

Here’s some pictures of the volunteers who took part with their finished section of wall…





Jonny & Alan

Alan & Jonny

John & Mick

John & Mick




The whole group. Cold fingers and toes, but happy with the finished job.

Running repairs at Warsett Hill.

Alongside conservation, a big part of our work is maintaining access to the special places we look after so that everyone can enjoy them.

Last week we went up to Warsett Hill, which is on the Yorkshire coast just below Saltburn.

Aside from invigorating walks and spectacular coastal views this site has some great industrial heritage. There are numerous remains of the Huntcliffe Ironstone mine which closed in 1906. The most prominent being the Guibal Fanhouse (a Scheduled Ancient Monument, SAM).

The Huntcliffe Guibal Fanhouse (built 1872)

The Huntcliffe Guibal Fanhouse (built 1872)

The building housed an engine room at the front. This powered a centrifugal fan and extraction flue in the central section, which drew the stale air up and out of the shaft (now filled in) at the rear of the building. The building is well preserved, and one of only a few remaining examples of its kind both locally and nationally.

The surrounding farmland is managed by a tenant farmer but there’s certain maintenance tasks which are down to us. Volunteers Greg, John and Fraser helped carry out a couple of odd jobs last week.

John freshens up the paintwork on a National Trust signpost.

John freshens up the paintwork on a National Trust ‘Omega’ signpost.

Greg, Fraser and John replacing a wobbly stile next to the Cleveland Way.

Greg, Fraser and John replacing a wobbly stile next to the Cleveland Way.

Fraser testing the new stile. It works!

Fraser testing the new stile. It works!

After replacing a second stile we headed off to nearby Loftus Alum Quarries to do some more odd jobs.

How to find Warsett Hill and the Guibal Fanhouse:

Grid reference: NZ 69717 21442 Nearest postcode:  TS12 2QX        

On foot: Accessible from Cleveland Way National Trail. Warsett Hill is 1.5miles North along the Cleveland Way from the car park at Skinningrove. Also accessible via public footpath from Brotton village through Hunley Hall golf course.

You can also find a circular walk from Saltburn to Warsett Hill at the link below:

Problems with Identifying Mushrooms.

Mushrooms are a commonly occurring thing in nature, and if you slow down a bit and look beneath your feet whilst you are out then you’re likely to spot some whether in the most far-flung corner of the wilds or just wandering off the path in a city park. But unlike common birds or trees, such as the robin or blue tit, the oak or the sycamore, species you can spot from a distance and be sure as to what they are, mushrooms are slippery customers that are almost impossible to accurately identify just by eye.

I was fairly convinced that there were a few species of mushroom that I could identify without any problems at all, but after a morning of mushroom foraging at Port Mulgrave on the Yorkshire Coast my confidence took a dint. To be honest, I’m now wondering how many of the mushrooms I munched through as a teenager were liver-engorging rather than mind-expanding! But anyway, that’s a story for another day.

There are at least enough features on a macrobiological level that are reasonably distinct that when foraging you can be confident of identifying the genus, or family, that the mushroom you’re looking at belongs to. Macro’s the opposite of micro, by the way; so that’s stuff big enough for you to make out with your eyes.

The basic parts of a cap and stem fungi.

The basic parts of a cap and stem fungi.

The basic mushroom shape that you think of when you’re thinking of a mushroom is probably one variation or another of Gilled Fungi. These are made up of a central body, a bit like the stem of a flower, which can vary greatly in thickness, called the Stipe; a dome that sits on top of the Stipe and can range from sombrero-like to jaunty fez, called the Cap; and the underside of the cap which is divided up into textured rivets, again of widely varying depths and delineations dependent on the mushroom, called Gills.

There are many other types of wonderful, exotic looking mushrooms, such as Earth Stars and Jelly Fungus, examples of which wouldn’t look out of place if wheeled in by the BBC special effects department to stand in for alien invaders in certain 1970s Dr Who serials. But IDing’s hard enough as it is and all the examples we found when out were Gilled Fungi of one sort or another.

Earthstar fungi (Geastraceae) have an outer skin which splits open into star-like rays. The spores within a central pod get poofed out when the pod is disturbed (eg. a raindrop falls on it).

Earthstar fungi (Geastraceae) have an outer skin which splits open into star-like rays. The spores within a central pod get ‘poofed’ out when the pod is disturbed (eg. a raindrop falls on it).

Yellow brain (Tremella mesenterica) is a jelly fungi usually found parasitising the crust fungi Peniophora, on Gorse and Hazel. Jelly fungi respond to wet conditions. They can dry out, but resume spore production once they're rehydrated.

Yellow brain (Tremella mesenterica) is a jelly fungi usually found parasitising the crust fungi Peniophora, on Gorse and Hazel. Amazingly, jelly fungi are capable of rehydration resurrection. They can completely dry out, then resume growth and spore production once they’re rehydrated.

To try and ID the mushrooms we’d gathered, we started off by inspecting them on a macrotic level i.e. looking at them with our eyes. The series of visual checks you can run through with mushrooms is fairly straight forward, but there can be a huge amount of variation within each check. We checked the following:

Colour: What colour is your mushroom. This can range from whites and greys through yellows and browns all the way to bright reds or oranges and most colours in between. All the mushrooms we found were brown.

A selection of brown fungi.

A selection of brown fungi.

Stipe shape: Again, this can range from slim and almost cress-like to fat and round like the type of mushroom that’ll shuffle about to the Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy. If picking mushrooms to ID, its worth carefully teasing out as much of what’s beneath the ground too, as that’ll help you figure out what you’ve got. Under the soil, the Stipe could taper off, twist, bend, shoot off at a right angle or blow up into a tuber and a decent field guide will give you notes on what to look out for there too. All ours were past their best and snapped off at ground level.

Cap: As well as the size of the mushrooms cap, its shape can be quite distinctive and should help you figure out what you’ve got. This can range from a broken umbrella to a nipple, with most shapes you can imagine in between. Most of ours were kind of nipple-y.

Gills: The gills underneath the cap are where a mushrooms spores are stored; just to confuse you, some mushrooms might have pores down here, but everything we found was sporting gills. Following on from that, there are three main ways that gills vary from mushroom to mushroom. Whether they’re crowded or distant; how they attach to the Stipe, be that high up where the Cap and Stipe meet, lower down the Stipe or a variation thereof; and the form of the individual Gills, taking into account their thickness, how far the protrude from the underside of the Cap and such like. Here, we had a variety in what we’d picked.

So, we had a load of little brown mushrooms. They all looked different, but going through our field guides over and over again; we could get a different result each time for every one!

That’s when we have to start looking at the microbiology of the mushroom. If you take the Cap of a mushroom and leave it facing Gills-down on a piece of paper over night, it’ll drop its spores and you’ll get a pretty print from them. The spread and size of the spores is another indicator to help identification. And so is the colour. All our mushrooms were sort of brown-ish, but we got a wide variety of colours in our spore prints. From dusty ochre’s that brought to mind hand prints in ancient caves to mustardy yellows and the sort of black you’d find in your handkerchief after an afternoon of riding the tube in that London, the variety found in spore prints is vital in getting anywhere near to accurately identifying your mushrooms.




And with the help of those prints… we were about 70% sure of what some of them might be.

Basically, ID for fun and not for food. ‘Nuff said.