Linking with the Peak District

This year I was lucky enough to be successful in applying for the National Trust’s Ranger Link Award. This award provides the opportunity for Rangers to visit and exchange experiences with another property. I had chosen to visit Mark Bull at the Longshaw estate in the Peak District for my visit.

Last spring I had observed a couple of singing pied flycatchers in woodland in Bransdale. These little birds are on the red list meaning that they are of the highest conservation priority as their population is in serious decline. Most common in western oak woodlands, the North York Moors is at the edge of their range so we’re lucky for have them in our woods in Bransdale. They readily take to nest boxes so we’ve been putting plenty up over winter ready for this year’s breeding season, but I wanted to find out more about how to make the nest box scheme a success and what makes the best habitat for them. A quick search on the internet helped me find out about Mark and the work he’d been doing in the Peak District, so I got in touch and arranged my visit through the Ranger Link scheme.

Mark started my visit by showing me around the woodlands where they have installed nest boxes for the pied flycatchers. We started off in Padley Wood, which is well known by local bird watchers as a place to see the species. It didn’t take long to see the birds as they busily flitted around catching insects on the wing and zipping in and out of the nest boxes. The woods here were ideal habitat with well-spaced mature oak trees, a fairly closed canopy, not too much understory and plenty of nest boxes.

Pied flycatcher singing

A male pied flycatcher singing

After this we visited some of the other woods in the estate. Mark has been putting boxes up in suitable woodland over the years and there are now over 200 boxes on the estate. As a result pied flycatchers have spread into more areas and the population is now thriving.

One of the reasons that nest box schemes can be so beneficial for pied flycatchers is that they can struggle to find natural nesting sites. They are late migrants, only returning from their wintering grounds in West Africa in Late April or even May in the North York Moors. By then other hole nesting species such as blue tits and great tits will have already taken the best nesting spots. To counter this Mark has started bunging the holes in some of his nest boxes. The bungs are removed once the first returning flycatcher is spotted. This means there will always be plenty of available nest sites, but it is labour intensive. Mark replies on a team of volunteers to help with the bunging and unbunging of the boxes and to survey them throughout the season to see how the birds get on.

It was a great first day that gave me plenty to think about for the coming years as we expand the scheme in Bransdale.

On my second day Mark had arranged for me to go out with Kim, an ecologist from the Eastern Moors Partnership. The Eastern Moors Partnership is a joint venture between the National Trust and the RSPB, managing the Eastern Moors on behalf of the Peak District National Park Authority. Kim’s main role is monitoring and protecting the ring ouzels that nest in the area.

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A ring ouzel, or mountain blackbird (northeastwildlife.co.uk)

Ring ouzels are another red listed bird that can be found in both the Peak District and the North York Moors. The grit stone edges of the Eastern Moors are a stronghold for this enigmatic bird of the uplands. Clumps of vegetation such as heather, bilberry and bracken underneath the rocky crags make ideal nesting habitat. Unfortunately the crags of the Peak District are also extremely popular with walkers and rock climbers

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The year’s first egg

and disturbance can often cause ring ouzel nests to fail. Kim and I went to check on a couple of territories he had been monitoring. While we weren’t lucky enough to spot any birds, we did manage to check one of the nests which contained a single egg that would have been laid that morning. The female will lay two or three more over the coming days before starting to incubate. Now that she’s started laying, Kim will return with warning signs to ask people to stay out of the area until the chicks have fledged.

Kim was extremely knowledgeable about birds and I was able to quiz him about a whole range of subjects and have come back with ideas of how we can better manage habitat and monitor for species like whinchat and curlew as well as ring ouzels.

In the afternoon I looked at some more woodland habitat management work the team had been doing with Mark to benefit species like spotted flycatcher, redstart and lesser spotted woodpecker before helping with building a tree guard. All too soon it was time to get on my way back to North Yorkshire.

Many thanks to Mark, Kim and the rest of the team at the Longshaw Estate for making me feel welcome and taking the time to show me the work you do.

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Managing our meadows

Recently the ranger team has been busy managing the meadow in Dovedale, part of our Bridestones property. Each year we cut the grass here, then rake off the cuttings. Doing this has a number of conservation benefits. It stops scrub species coming through as any trees or shrubs that have set seed are cut out before they can become established. By removing the cuttings we are also gradually removing nutrients from the meadow. Rank grasses and undesirable species such as nettles, thistles and docks all need plenty of nutrients in the soil to fuel their vigorous growth. They cannot survive in nutrient poor soils and instead wildflowers thrive instead. They are already many wildflower species in the meadow including harebells, black knapweed, tormentil, ragged robin and common spotted orchids to name a few. With continued good management we hope even more species will grow here.

Common spotted orchids

With good management wild flower meadows can become spectacular

Completing the work is quite a time consuming process. The easy part was getting it cut. Using a power scythe on the flatter areas helped us get the bulk of the grass cut. We were all novices using it and there were a few times where it ended up stuck in a ditch due to our poor control!

Jonny on scythe driving duties

Meanwhile the rest of the team used strimmers to cut the more uneven parts of the meadow. We managed to crack on with the job and got the whole area cut in one day.

Strimming

Chris doing with strimmer dance

For the raking and removing of the grass it’s very much a case of more hands make light work. We called on the National Park’s Hobs volunteer group to help us for the first day. It was a very still and slightly muggy day, which unfortunately made it ideal weather for midges and they came out in droves. Despite all the volunteers coating themselves liberally in midge repellant and fashioning interesting anti-midge outfits, working conditions were pretty unpleasant.

Alkan

Alan’s very fetching anti-midge outfit

Despites the midges the volunteers did a great job of raking a decent proportion of the meadow. We’ve since been back with our own volunteers and will be returning several more times before it’s finished. Let’s just hope the midges leave us alone next time.

Hobs

The Hobs in action

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Gareth | National Trust

A Restoration Job

Last week the team were working in Bransdale – a beautiful if slightly remote dale in the middle of the North York Moors. Here the National Trust has many tenanted farms and cottages and one of these is currently empty while some repairs have been undertaken before a new tenant is found.

House

I knew there was a cottage in there somewhere!

Garden

Jonny and Chris did a great job of restoring the garden.

 

While it has stood empty the garden and yard has become a little overgrown so we grabbed our strimmers and some spades and went to make it beautiful again. Jonny and Chris took care of the garden, turning it from a jungle of docks and nettles to something more closely resembling a lawn. Meanwhile our volunteer John and myself took on the yard where we uncovered stonework that probably hadn’t seen the light of day for quite a few years. It was hard work, but well worth it as I hope you’ll agree from some of the before and after shots.

Yard

John clearing the stonework around the out buildings.

Now the property is looking good again our Rural Surveyor can get on with finding a new tenant. We’ll look forward to welcoming a new face into the dale.

Gareth | National Trust

Gareth | National Trust

 

Frosty Fencing

This weekend our volunteers braved some pretty icy temperatures to head up to the Bridestones to work on a fencing project.

The team ready to brave the arctic temperatures up on the moor

The team ready to brave the arctic temperatures up on the moor

Bridestones Moor is a little bit unusual as it isn’t managed by burning or cutting like most of the rest of the North Yorkshire Moors are. As a result species like crowberry and cowberry thrive in amongst the heather. The only downside is that we have to do a lot of management work to remove the trees that try to spread into the area.

A snowy day at the Bridestones

A snowy day at the Bridestones

To try and decrease the amount of scrub invasion and help to increase the biological diversity of the moor even further we intend to introduce grazing in the near future. Before we can do that we need to make sure that the cattle can’t escape.

Alan and Chris whack in another intermediate

Alan and Chris whack in another intermediate

The Ranger team and several volunteer groups have already spend a good part of the year so far working on the first part of the fence. On the weekend we were focusing on knocking in intermediate posts and attaching the netting and barbed wire. Fueled by volunteer Alan’s toffee crunch we made short work of it! Another day or two and this stretch will be complete. There’s plenty more to do though with another kilometre to go in at the other side of the moor. That should keep us busy for a while.

Ali attaches the netting and barbed wire

Ali attaches the netting and barbed wire

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Gareth | National Trust

Gareth | National Trust

Winter work

Now that winter is well under way it’s time for us to do a little bit of tree work in our woodlands. At the moment we’re focusing on removing some of the sycamores around the woods at Roseberry Topping, and here’s why:

Although a familiar common species, the sycamore isn’t native to the British Isles. It is believed to have been introduced in this country in the middle ages. While it is now so common that it can be considered naturalised we’re trying to control how much of it we have at Roseberry. The other main tree species in the woods are oak and ash, both of which support a much greater number of species than sycamore does. As there is very little oak/ash woodland in the surrounding area it is important that we do our best to keep the woods in the best condition for the wildlife that it supports.

Redstart

Oak wood loving species like the redstart can be found in the woods at Roseberry.

Sycamores can produce a huge quantity of seed once mature and the resulting saplings grow much better in the shade of the woodland floor than oak or ash does. If left alone and given enough time, sycamore can eventually out compete some of the other trees. We don’t want that happening, so we’ve been working with volunteers to remove sycamore in the worst affected area.

Volunteers

The volunteers in action

Last week our Sunday volunteer group headed into the woods for a day of sycamore bashing. The trees are carefully cut down as close to the ground as possible, then the stumps were painted with a herbicide to stop them resprouting. The felled trees were then trimmed down and piled up to make deadwood habitat. They should provide suitable nesting sites for birds like wrens or somewhere for hedgehogs to hibernate next winter.

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Gareth | National Trust

Gareth | National Trust

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

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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.

Thanks.

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Gareth | National Trust

Gareth | National Trust

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 (northeastwildlife.co.uk)

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

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.

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Gareth | National Trust

Gareth | National Trust