Connecting for Nature

A Biodiversity Partnership for Ryedale, Scarborough and the Howardian Hills


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The Cinder Track

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The Cinder Track provides walkers, cyclists and horse-riders a great way to explore the Yorkshire Coast between the seaside towns of Scarborough and Whitby, along the course of the old railway line that ran between them.

The disused rail route between Scarborough and Whitby, known to many simply as ‘The Old Railway Line’ is 21.5 miles long and runs parallel to the Yorkshire Coast, frequently in sight of the sea. Others know it as ‘The Cinder Track’, a name coined to promote the route as a traffic-free trail for walkers, cyclists and horse riders. The entire route is owned by Scarborough Borough Council, although a magnificent 13-arch brick viaduct at Larpool, carrying the line 120 ft high over the Esk, was sold to sustainable transport charity Sustrans for a nominal sum when the route first became part of the National Cycle Network.

Recently  an old botanical survey report dating from 1996 came to light in a dusty workshop at Scarborough Borough Council’s Parks depot. The original report, now scanned electronically into a series of pdfs was authored by a botanist by the name of Ken Trewen and includes details of plant species, including grasses and ferns along mapped stretches of the line. Access the report here.

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Botanical report unearthed

20180325_171343.jpgRecently  an old botanical survey report dating from 1995 came to light in a dusty workshop at Scarborough Borough Council’s Parks depot. The original report, now scanned electronically into a series of pdfs was authored by a botanist by the name of Ken Trewen and includes details of plant species, including grasses and ferns along mapped stretches of the old railway line, between Whitby and Scarborough, designated as a multi-user traffic free path. See The Cinder Track Case Study for more on this route.

The report, commissioned by Scarborough Borough Council in 1995 was all but forgotten about, but has been shared with local naturalists who might be interested to see what botanical treasures lurked in the trackside undergrowth over two decades ago and may wish to venture along the path to compare the current flora.

The wildlife corridor which the old railway line offers is recognized widely in the local community as a vital part of the line’s legacy and will inform some guiding principles in the aspirations of the Local Authority to improve access and enjoyment of the route by people living nearby and people visiting the area.

The links below comprise the scanned Trewen botanical report, two parts typed report pages and one part the scans of the maps annotated with the survey sections along the route.

DISUSED RAILWAY LINE- WHITBY TO SCARBOROUGH pp1-54

DISUSED RAILWAY LINE – WHITBY TO SCARBOROUGH pp55-99

DISUSED RAILWAY LINE – WHITBY TO SCARBOROUGH maps Large pdf file 16Mb


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Local Nature Partnership fund

 

The North Yorkshire and York Local Nature Partnership (LNP) is offering small grants through its new Community Fund. This fund has been created to support the activities of LNP partners and interested groups that are delivering the LNP’s vision, which is “to see the natural environment of North Yorkshire and York conserved, enhanced and connected for the benefit of wildlife, people and the economy.”

The fund is open to anyone working within the LNP’s area (see map above) and covers a wider range of activities, from capital items to insurance and staff costs. Applicants can bid for between £500 and £5,000.

The deadline for applications is 4 March 2018. For more information about this fund, including the guidance notes and application form, please contact:

Matt Millington, Local Nature Partnership Development Officer
Matthew.Millington@northyorks.gov.uk


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Kittiwake mitigation on the Futurist

20180201_091017.jpgThe iconic Futurist Theatre on Foreshore Road in Scarborough is being demolished this spring. This has been a controversial decision for many reasons, but planning permission was granted last autumn for the clearance of the site and stabilizing the steep cliff slope behind it, to pave the way for future development on the site.

This post will not explore the issues around the campaign to save the historic building, but it will focus on how nesting birds – in particular Kittiwakes, which have used the building’s ledges to nest upon in recent years, will be protected from harm as the process of taking down the complex of buildings proceeds.

The lead contractors, Willmott-Dixon take pride in doing their job carefully and correctly, staying within all legal obligations. Knowing that the structure has offered nest sites for the seabirds and that the engineers’ schedule for carefully dismantling the building requires that the demolition, commencing soon, will extend into the Kittiwake breeding season they have sought specialist services to make every effort that the gulls will not attempt to begin nest building on the Futurist. It is anticipated that the birds will seek nest sites on other nearby buildings; there are many seafront buildings in Scarborough already colonised by Kittiwakes.

Estimates by the contractor’s  ecologist put the number of nests last season at around a dozen, though the total number of  old kittiwake nests currently on the building – remaining from past seasons is several times that figure. A confirmed number will be gained as they complete de-nesting prior to netting the building.

Nesting Instinct

Kittiwakes return from the ocean in mid to late Feb and begin gathering in ‘rafts’ on the sea, before the nesting instinct draws them to seek suitable ledges. Pairs which nested on the Futurist before will no doubt come back looking to get access, but if they commence building a new nest – or more typically adding to an existing old one, then their nest becomes protected by law from removal or destruction. Naturally this presents a headache for the contractors as it would mean that demolition of the part of the building with a nest on would have to halt until the nest was vacated at the end of the season.

Preventative Measures

An array of measures will be deployed by the contractors to dissuade Kittiwakes from landing on and starting to build nests on the old building. This is perfectly legal and humane, but technically challenging, hence multiple approaches will be used, a ‘belt and braces’ plan if you like. Chief among them is the removal of all the old existing (unoccupied) nests and the shrouding of the building in fine mesh netting, fitted by specialist and tensioned in two directions. The aim is to complete this by mid February. Regular routine inspections of the netting ensue both to check its integrity and its safety with respect to the birds. If any bird should become entangled, an emergency response team, paid by the contractor will be on call to attend and release the animal before it suffers injury. This is very important and an obligation not universally followed by premises with exclusion netting installed – see the earlier post sharing an RSPB blog on this very topic.

In addition a number of solar powered sonic deterrents will be deployed. These are devices which mimic the Kittiwakes alarm calls and will hopefully persuade them to relocate to other nearby buildings out of range of the sound. A special ‘olfactory / visual’ bird deterrent gel applied to ledges will also contribute to the proofing measures. The bird gel is said to reflect UV light in such a way that birds won’t approach it. A similar ‘fire gel’ product has been successfully employed for some years on the Rotunda Museum nearby.

Another approach the contractors are employing is that operatives patrolling the building can deter birds which despite all these measures do land on the Futurist with a special optical device, akin to a laser pointer. Apparently gulls legs, being cooler than their general body temperature are very sensitive to warmth. A spot of light played across their legs when perched will cause them to take off again. Finally there will be ‘hawk on a string’ bird-scarers flying near the building, such as may be seen on some farmers fields.

Willmott-Dixon plans to display an information notices on the hoardings around the building site, illustrating how to recognize Kittiwakes and providing an emergency phone number to call in the unlikely event that, despite all these measures a Kittiwake, or any other bird does become entangled in the netting. It is really pleasing to work with a contractor which takes its responsibilities so seriously and has gone out of its way to do everything practically possible.

The proposed Kittiwake protection plan has been shared with representatives from the  recently formed Yorkshire Urban Gull Forum, including RSPCA Inspector Geoff Edmond, SBC Ecologist Tim Burkinshaw and Scarborough Birders’ Nick Addey. Scarborough Birders will collaborate in monitoring the colony in the town, as they have done for some years now, and advise on whether the loss of the small number of nesting ledges on the Futurist appears to have any impact going forth on the numbers of active nests elsewhere in Scarborough. In future years, when the site is finally developed, we will re-assess the question of whether to furnish the new structure with suitable ledges for Kittiwakes to return to the site, by way of mitigation for those lost to demolition this season. Given that there are ample unoccupied ledges on nearby buildings at present we are not currently concerned that the Futurist nesting site will be an empty development plot for a period of time. The situation will be monitored however.


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A tale of two seabirds

I would like to share with you a recent RSPB community blog on urban gulls in Scarborough,   A tale of two seabirds – Kittiwakes and Herring Gulls in Scarborough is about the problems, as some perceive them, of living in proximity to these two urban-nesting gull species. More crucially it describes the wisdom of being clear to distinguish between them.

It is well worth reading the blog, written by The RSPB’s Helen Quayle, for yourself, but to give a simple, message – we can help by urging everyone to describe our urban seabirds by their correct names, most crucially by distinguishing Herring Gulls from Kittwakes. Their different behaviour and ecology means that the solutions to any conflicts between people and gulls nesting in our coastal resorts are not interchangeable between the species, as Helen explains.

Kittiwake fatalities due to badly installed or unmaintained bird exclusion netting have been sadly been happening in Scarborough for several years. While netting on numerous buildings does need sorting out, if it is to safely and legally deter the birds from nesting on them, I welcome the spirit of the blog in trying to educate the wider public about the broader and arguably more insidious issue of conflating the ‘problems’ of Herring Gulls and Kittiwakes.

We have a way to go on this matter but some movement in the right direction is afoot. Finally there seems to be some progress with helping influential people in the council to take notice. Let us help educate the public and local business premises about the ecological and behavioural distinctions between our two urban breeding gulls.

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North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project

This innovative conservation partnership, led by the North York Moors National Park began will help the iconic Turtle Dove in and around North Yorkshire’s forests. The project secured £100,000 of funding enabling it to get started in 2017. The Project secured a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund of £64,000 forming the bulk of the cash to enable the biodiversity project to happen.

The National Park’s partners in the scheme include the Forestry Commission, Ryedale District Council, the RSPB, Scarborough Borough Council, Howardian Hills AONB and the North East Yorkshire Ecological Data Centre.

The Turtle Dove is a summer migrant to England facing national declines of 91% since 1995. It seems to be holding its own in North Yorkshire though. This project wants to find out why and help them do even better through conservation measures in rural villages and on local farms and even quarries with suitable breeding habitat. Educational talks, school visits and new interpretation at public visitor centres such as Dalby Forest and Sutton Bank are also on the Project’s to-do list.

Surveys by volunteers, rising before dawn to catch the bird’s distinctive purring call have already contributed to a picture of this species’ status in North Yorkshire. It seems that they may be bucking the national trend and we hope to find out why and see what can be done through positive land management measures combined with an awareness-raising campaign. Farmers, parish and community groups, schools and visitors to the area will all be engaged in different ways to learn about, look for or help the birds through practical measures.
For more information and updates see these other posts on the Connecting for Nature blog:
Two Turtle Doves project secures funding (April ’17)  – News blog post
Turtle Doves and Tree Pipits… (July ’17)  – A surveyor volunteer perspective
Dew Pond restoration at Sawdon (Oct ’17) – A Community Nature Reserve project benefitting Turtle Doves
Turtle Dove project update (Oct ’17) News from the TD partners and Project Officer.
Turtle Dove Surveys (Jan ’18) In Volunteering menu – You could help the project by looking and listening for Turtle Doves.
The Project Officer Richard Baines may be contacted via the Conservation dept at the North York Moors National Park: conservation@northyorkmoors.org.uk
Please also see the NYM blog and the project’s page on the NYM website: http://www.northyorkmoors.org.uk/turtledoves


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Turtle Dove surveys

The North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, got underway in 2017. An essential part of the project is to locate breeding Turtle Doves, a summer visitor to North Yorkshire’s forests, farms and villages and identify population hotspots to better target local conservation efforts.

If you are a birder or naturalist with some experience or a willingness to learn to identify a small number of species by sight or song – including the Turtle Dove, then read on. The Project Officer, Richard Baines is coordinating with Forestry Commission and other landowners a survey of random 1km grid squares in likely territory. The snag is that the optimum time of day for detecting these elusive summer visitors is the first two hours after dawn, when they are most likely to perform their distinctive and un-mistakeable purring song, so the survey method calls for an early start!

The last two summers, 2016 and 2017 have already seen parts of the North Yorkshire forest district visited by early-rising volunteers. (Cropton Forest and Dalby Forest respectively.) In 2018 the project expands to cover a wider area, including Wykeham Forest as well as suitable parts of the Howardian Hills AONB, plus some follow up monitoring visits to sample of squares in Cropton and Dalby.

A written methodology is provided for volunteers to follow, ensuring consistency between surveys. Two dawn survey visits are called for in May – July. A daytime recce is also required to check out the lay of the land, identify the route to be walked and check for hazards. The survey visits take place at least 10 days apart and must begin as close as possible to daybreak.

Since the survey’s geographical scope is widening new volunteers are sought. Local birding groups around York, Scarborough, Ryedale and adjoining areas are being approached. It may also mean that the project has to use volunteers who have not done surveys before or who are reasonably competent birdwatchers but have never seen or heard Turtle Doves. This might be achieved by buddying-up less experienced newbies with volunteers who have surveyed the forests for Turtle Doves in previous years. If you have some birding experience, binoculars, keen ears and access to a vehicle* and you fancy taking on a dawn visit square, or if you are interested in helping but may need some support or mentoring, the Project Officer would love to hear from you. *Volunteers’ travel expenses are reimbursed so you are not left out of pocket.

drop a line to Richard Baines, North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project using the email below conservation@northyorkmoors.org.uk