Connecting for Nature

Keeping Yorkshire folk in touch with their local biodiversity news


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Local Wildlife Sites in focus – review of the SINCs network in 2022

This summer saw the first concerted programme of surveys and reviews of our Local Wildlife Sites in many years. Local Wildlife Sites (LWS) are designated by local authorities to reflect the best examples of habitats and nature conservation sites on a local level. A network of 72 such sites is found in the Borough of Scarborough, outside the North York Moors National Park. Similar sites in neighbouring Districts notified by the relevant local council. Throughout North Yorkshire these sites are known as SINCs or Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation.

The River Hertford is a SINC because it is a good quality example of a flowing water habitat. Some SINC sites could qualify for multiple criteria, eg the botanical (habitat) value itself, or an assemblage of species (say dragonflies, or amphibians).

Many people are aware of higher-profile designations for nature areas, offering legal protections under various national and international laws. These include SSSI’s (Sites of Special Scientific Interest), NNR’s (National Nature Reserves), National Parks and SAC’s (Special Areas of Conservation). These reflect the very best of the nation’s habitats, often home to rare and endangered species of plants, animals and fungi.

On a more local geography there are many more places which are important stepping stones for wildlife and examples of good quality habitats on a county level. This is why we have SINCs. There are criteria and decision-making processes to notify SINCs – they are not just labelled on a whim – but once decided it means that they are flagged in searches for planning matters. Any new development, like a road-widening or a proposed housing estate, has to conduct assessments of ecological impacts as a matter of course.

Whilst SINCs are not protected by legislation, their conservation value is highlighted in any ecological record searches for planning applications. Decision-makers must look at how the developer has considered any possible impacts on a SINC and suggested the steps it will take to minimise those impacts (avoid, mitigate or compensate).

Coastal grasslands often have interesting plant species because they have never been farmed or improved. Many stretches of our North Yorkshire coastline are already designated SSSI, but there may be places in between which are also important enough to notify as SINCs.

Before 2022 the SINC network in the Borough of Scarborough had been in stasis. There had been no new SINCs identified for many years and no review of the existing ones to see if they still qualify or require maintenance to keep or restore their wildlife value. A project was started to redress this long hiatus.

The ecology data centre in York (North-East Yorkshire Ecological Data Centre, or NEYEDC) holds all of the information on the SINC network in our region. They are also a repository for records of species across the area, so they are masters of collecting and analysing spatial ecological information. Scarborough Borough Council commissioned the data centre to organise a SINC review project. This entailed tracking down the landowners for as many of the SINCs as possible, contacting them, the seeking permission to send out ecologists to survey the habitats on each site and write up a report.

We should be clear that SINCs are not nature reserves, or places necessarily set aside for wildlife. They simply reflect the habitat on the ground, no matter who owns that site. It could be privately owned, it could be farmed land, it might be a wild, natural place like a river or a coastal cliff, or a woodland. Some are large, some SINCs very small – such as a pond which supports an important range of amphibians.

Our SINCs have been left alone for so long that it was always going to be a hit and miss affair. Were the landowners known? Were they aware that their land had been recognised, maybe over 20 years ago, as an important piece of habitat? Were they amenable to it being surveyed – giving permission for a surveyor to enter the land and map its habitats, record species and comment on its management? These were big unknowns.

By the end of the summer 2022 survey season nearly a quarter of the sites had been visited and surveyed. Many of the 72 could not be progressed as there was no response from landowners, despite follow-up letters, or for some the land registry records did not seem to match, or the SINC site spanned multiple owners and permissions were not resolved for all.

There were only had two refusals for permission, which is encouragingly low, but many others have not replied. Further desk work could be done to track down owners, but meanwhile there are also some possibilities to consider for new sites not previously notified that may meet the criteria.

The next steps for those sites successfully surveyed to write up survey reports, re-assess against the SINC criteria and bring them to the North Yorkshire SINC Panel this autumn. The panel ratifies whether a SINC remains on the list and on what criteria it qualifies. Sometimes boundary changes are made or sites deleted – if for example the habitat is no longer there or degraded.

Designating Local Wildlife Sites is one of the duties of local authorities and in coming years as we focus on the government’s targets for nature recovery, such sites will be important pieces of the jigsaw, so the better we know them, the better our chances of success.

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More birds go into the Red

This month a new Birds of Conservation Concern list has been published. Bird species are assigned to a Red, Amber or Green list based on how worried experts are about their populations. In the latest lists over two-thirds of our regularly occurring birds are now red or amber status.

A surprising addition to the Red list of UK birds, the Greenfinch is now among 70 species of highest conservation concern.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Known in the business as the BOCC list, this is a status check of all our regularly occurring bird species in the UK. The lists are reviewed and updated by an expert panel every few years. This is the 5th version since the first BOCC list in 1996 and some dramatic and worrying changes are evident. The Red list has grown from thirty-six in 1996 to seventy in 2021.

The traffic light colours designate the level of conservation concern. Red or amber relates to those showing rapid declines in UK population or geographical range. 70 species are now Red list, 103 species Amber list and 72 Green list. Eleven species have moved onto the Red list for the first time.

There is usually a bit of movement both ways – up and down the rankings, so it is not all bad news. It is possible for species to move to a lower concern category, for example due to conservation successes or new species expanding northwards from the continent.

In the latest list (BOCC5) there are some changes that made me sit up. Swift and House Martin are now Red-list. We have important colonies of Swifts in a number of our towns and villages. These have become the focus of conservation efforts by voluntary groups in the last few years, with Swift groups in Whitby, Scarborough and Helmsley for example.

Purple Sandpiper is also now Red. The fish quays and harbour breakwaters in both Whitby and Scarborough host small but significant numbers of this diminutive wading bird in high tide roosts in winter.

Other Red-listed species you may be surprised to learn of include Greenfinch, joining the likes of Starling and House Sparrow as embattled garden birds. It is also worth reminding ourselves that both of the urban-nesting gull species Kittiwake and Herring Gull are also on the UK Red List.

There is a handy summary leaflet of the red amber and green bird species. An article from the British Trust for Ornithology gives more discussion and analysis on the link below.

https://www.bto.org/our-science/publications/birds-conservation-concern


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Raincliffe Woods Community Enterprise

Just on the edge of Scarborough, to the west of the town lie the fantastic wooded slopes of Raincliffe and Forge Valley Woods. An extensive area is designated a National Nature Reserve and SSSI for its ancient woodland and riverside habitats, with the upper reaches of the River Derwent adding to the natural beauty of the area.

In 2015 a community interest company (CIC) was formed, called Raincliffe Wood Community Enterprise, a group passionate about looking after and enhancing the woods for nature and for people. A community asset transfer was agreed, on a 30 year lease from Scarborough Borough Council, the landowner, so that RWCE could take on the challenge. In the process it became the largest community-managed woodland in England.

If you are interested in Raincliffe Wood Community Enterprise why not become a member? It is free, for life. Once a member, you can also become a volunteer and get involved in the project. You will get regular updates on what is happening, be able to vote at meetings and the AGM, and even stand for election to the management board if you wish. Becoming a member also means, in effect, that you own the enterprise equally with every other member. How exciting!

The vision and aims of RWCE:

Vision:
To build a strong community enterprise that secures a safe and sustainable future for the woods while enhancing wildlife and community benefits.

Wildlife aims:

  • Gradually restore the woods to predominantly broadleaf ancient woodland
  • Enhance the wildlife value and biodiversity of the woods
  • Act as a model of best practice in sustainable woodland management for others to learn from

People aims:

  • Promote the woods and encourage their greater use and enjoyment
  • Maintain and improve public access for all
  • Increase community involvement in the management of the woods
  • Educate people about woods and their environment

Enterprise aims:

  • Establish a social enterprise to generate income to support only the sustainable management of the woods and associated activities
  • Carry out woodland management, timber extraction and conversion of timber to a variety of products to generate this income
  • Support the wider economic regeneration of the Scarborough area through contributions to tourism, jobs and training

If you would like to become a member please complete the simple form on their website and in doing so register your agreement with the vision and aims of Raincliffe Wood Community Enterprise.

The organisation is interested in people’s views on the future of the woods. They have an online questionnaire asking what Raincliffe Woods, Forge Valley and Rowbrow Woods mean to you, and what opportunities you would like to see in the future. Take the survey

More information

Email: enquiries@raincliffewoods.co.uk

Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/raincliffewoodcommunityenterprise/


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Climate and Carbon – knowing your greens, browns and blues

Forests and woodlands absorb carbon dioxide as they grow and can store it away in their woody biomass.
Photo by mali maeder on Pexels.com

We face a huge challenge in mitigating climate change. Global heating is causing climate disruption and misery all over the world. Removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – and keeping it out – is a paramount objective for science and technology if we are to limit its effects on the planet and human society.

This is not a post about separating your recyclables, but a discussion about helping nature to draw down and store carbon from the atmosphere. Green, brown and blue is a useful shorthand for three principal categories of nature locking away carbon.

No doubt you are familiar with the big role tree planting can play – and this is an example of green carbon sequestration. But what about brown and blue? I’ll tell you more in this post.

Green Carbon

Crops and grasslands are green carbon just as much as forests – helping to draw down carbon from the atmosphere.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Forests and grasslands are examples of green carbon. This is the mode by which carbon dioxide, taken from the atmosphere through the photosynthesis of green plants, is used to form carbon-rich ‘biomass’ in terrestrial ecosystems. Crops are green carbon stores too. The trouble is, much of this gets eaten or decomposed – and the carbon passes on through food chains, ultimately finding its way back to the atmosphere as organisms respire the food they consume.

The important point about trees, or more specifically woody plants is that lignin – the carbon-rich compound that makes wood firm and solid – is a really good way to put carbon out of circulation for a while. In fact it can stay there as long as the tree or timber remains standing. Of course trees can fall and decay – an important natural process in healthy woodland ecosystems, but the key point is that as they grow and accumulate woody biomass they are ‘sequestering’ carbon.

So we should plant the fastest growing trees we can, right? And do it in as many places as we can spare and as fast as possible…? Well… hold on, it’s not so simple. There are some pitfalls but I’ll get to that.

Anyway, an important point to emphasise here is that timber locks up carbon as long as it stands. It doesn’t actually matter if its inside a tree or forming the fabric of a building. So if we use more wood in construction, for example timber-framed homes, the carbon stays out of the way for as long as that building stands. Which could be centuries if you build well.

(Think of the old oak-framed buildings along the streets of York, still standing centuries on. Admittedly a modern softwood-framed house is expected to last 25-30 years, not so long as hardwood. It is worth remembering that the likely alternatives – concrete, steel and brick are very carbon-intensive in their manufacture.)

We definitely need to increase woodland cover and do it as fast as possible, but it has to be in the right place. It is tricky because some places are unsuitable or downright bad places to put woodlands – species-rich grassland for instance, lowland heath or upland moors which are precious threatened habitats in themselves and would be damaged greatly by planting trees upon them. Sadly there are some high profile examples of well-intentioned but poorly-informed woodland planting which destroys a much rarer and finite habitat resource.

There are supply chain challenges (Who is growing all the trees we need? Where do they source the seed? Is the tree stock genetically diverse? Local or imported?)

There are major tree health considerations (New pests and diseases arriving on our shores-like Ash dieback, sudden oak death, processionary moth etc.)

Not least there is a huge skills gap in the people who will tend, manage and monitor these woods in the longer term. They are not a set-and-forget habitat.

Brown Carbon

Farming on lowland peat in the Vale of Pickering. All soils can store carbon. Dark soils hold the most.
Worldwide, soils hold the biggest terrestrial store of carbon, more than all the world’s forests.

Photo by Tim Burkinshaw

If you have not guessed this yet, the organic matter stored away in soils can be called brown carbon. It is hugely important globally. I was blown away to learn this: if you add together all of the world’s forests and terrestrial vegetation, the carbon they hold is surpassed by that in soils. Wow! Soil carbon, on a global scale is more than everything in the rainforests, the tundra, the temperate forests, the prairies, the steppes… in short, all the world’s biomes.

Most soils have some organic matter. The darker the colour, as a general rule, the more the organic content (and hence carbon). The soils with the most are called peatlands. We get peatlands from the tropics to the polar regions, but it is only 3% of the land surface. Nevertheless, peatlands hold 30% of all the soil carbon because they are almost all organic matter and often several metres deep. So peatland soils are precious repositories for carbon and in fact we have significant amounts in the UK.

Blanket peat (the sort on our upland moors and wild places) is one type under particular threat. The UK has 13% of the global blanket habitat type. Phew! That’s pretty impressive for a small kingdom. What are we doing with it? You might well ask….

Since the 1950s and as recently as the 1980s, government subsidies promoted ‘agricultural improvement’ by draining wet areas of Britain’s uplands. Drainage channels called ‘grips’ were constructed on much of our upland peat. Even today thousands of kilometres of grips criss-cross vast tracts of peat bog – drying them out, causing them to erode, oxidise and degrade. Once the air gets in, the organic plant matter accumulated over millenia as soil carbon oxidises and gives off carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

Over half of the UK’s peatlands are categorized as degraded and have become net emitters of carbon dioxide. Furthermore, where the cover of specialist bog mosses and peat-forming plants is lost the erosion is rapid and dramatic, washing downstream sediment and dissolved carbon into rivers (and often drinking water catchments, where ironically water companies spend millions de-colourising the peat-stained water).

Degraded peatlands are bad news – not only rare habitats in their own right with threatened species, but also contributing to our carbon emissions – and yet are not yet fully included in the UK’s greenhouse gases balance sheet. In fact because of our degraded peatlands it is estimated that the UK land area may be emitting more than it is taking up – undoing any benefit from the green carbon captured by vegetation!

Blue Carbon

Blue carbon is absorbed and stored by coastal and marine ecosystems including saltmarsh, seagrass meadows and mangroves.
Photo by John Bryan Gray Agbagala on Pexels.com

The marine realm is our third important route for nature taking up carbon. Ocean and coastal ecosystems have a huge role to play in meeting our challenge for net zero. Because of the rapid cycling in marine food chains the coastal areas are extremely potent. I’ll explain: While tiny planktonic algae floating in the sunlit surface layers of the oceans absorb and contain prodigious quantities of carbon at any one time, there is a constantly cycling through food chains and being respired back to the atmosphere.

Mangroves, Saltmarshes and Seagrass meadows are also blue carbon. Mangrove forests are found in tropical coastal regions, but saltmarsh and seagrass have a wider distribution and we have both in the UK. Coastal erosion, sea level rise and marine pollution have all damaged seagrass and saltmarsh areas, but they are in recovery and in places innovative conservation measures are speeding the process up.

Seagrass can grow and multiply quickly from planted seedling plugs in the low tide mud of estuaries. Crucially and astonishingly it has a capacity to lock away carbon faster than rainforests. A lot faster. Forests are great for standing biomass and timber, but if much of their photosynthesis feeds food chains and decomposition cycles – fallen leaves and branches etc. then the carbon is rapidly cycled back into the atmosphere.

In contrast, seagrass (and saltmarsh) plants collect muddy sediment, itself very carbon rich, around their bases. The grass grows upwards, but the mud encloses dead grass in a watery embrace that excludes much of the oxygen. Very quickly the organic matter is out of the biological loop, trapped in the mud. Its because of this that seagrass can shovel up carbon at twenty-five times the rate of a rainforest. Twenty five times!

Don’t get me wrong here – rainforests are important, valuable, precious. We must stop cutting them down. Just as we must repair our damaged peatlands. But replanted forests or any other green carbon will take time to absorb the CO2. Seagrass restoration has certainly got to be a key part of our programme.

In conclusion, we have a number of tools in our armoury to fight climate change by reducing net emissions of carbon dioxide. We are going to need to push ahead with all speed on each and every front – green carbon, brown carbon and blue carbon.


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Environment Act 2021 becomes law

The Environment Bill was first proposed to Parliament in Dec 2019 and finally received royal assent this week, passing into law as The Environment Act 2021, some 1056 days later. It has been long-anticipated with close interest by many stakeholders from developers to land managers to industry, water companies and of course environmental groups and ecological professions.

In a nutshell it is the first new environmental act in a quarter-century and aims to protect and enhance the UK environment. The Secretary of State for the Environment, George Eustice has described it as “the most ambitious ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth.”

The Environment Bill was passed in Parliament on 9th Nov 2021, receiving royal assent nearly three years after it was drafted.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Through the Act, the government said it will clean up the country’s air, restore natural habitats, increase biodiversity, reduce waste and make better use of resources. It sets a legally binding target to halt the decline in species by 2030, which has been widely applauded by conservation and wildlife groups who have campaigned hard for three years to embed such a commitment.

The act will also make it a legal requirement for new developments to deliver a biodiversity gain of ten per cent. In other words, not only must they demonstrate that their house-building schemes or infrastructure projects result in no net loss, but in fact measurably create or restore habitats for nature. This is the widely-anticipated ‘Biodiversity Net Gain’ principle.

Another element is the new framework for long-term conservation and land management. ‘Local Nature Recovery Strategies’ will be set up, covering the whole country to drive the establishment of ‘Nature Recovery Networks’ These will see a mammoth effort to map and understand the state of natural habitats and set out plans to restore habitats and strengthen the network.

Whilst many in the conservation sector welcome the long-awaited Environment Act and the genuine progress on many urgent issues they point to some ‘gaping holes’ in the legislation. This includes serious concerns about the independence of the new Office of Environmental Protection – which will still have Ministerial oversight and influence and criticism that it does not go far enough on the contentious issue of sewage discharges, with

Some more sound-bites from the announcement by the Environment Secretary George Eustice:

“The Environment Act will deliver the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth.”

“It will halt the decline of species by 2030, clean up our air and protect the health of our rivers, reform the way in which we deal with waste and tackle deforestation overseas.”

“We are setting an example for the rest of the world to follow.”

“The Environment Act includes a new legally binding target on species abundance for 2030, which will help to reverse declines of iconic British species like the hedgehog, red squirrel and water vole.

“The UK will now be able to go further than ever before to clamp down on illegal deforestation and protect rainforests, through a package of measures that will ensure that greater resilience, traceability and sustainability are built into the UK’s supply chains.

“The Act will crack down on water companies that discharge sewage into rivers, waterways and coastlines. It will see a duty enshrined in law to ensure water companies secure a progressive reduction in the adverse impacts of discharges from storm overflows.


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Larpool Cemetery meadow raking

A recent volunteer task at Larpool Cemetery, Whitby coincided with #GreatBigGreenWeek, a celebration of environmental action. A band of committed helpers from the Whitby Naturalists’ Club put in some hard graft to rake and gather up the hay to help the parks department with its trial management regime.

The cemetery has some good areas of unimproved grassland with a promising diversity of native wildflower species. If one can successfully change the management regime from regular short mowing / strimming to a once-a-year cut like a traditional hay meadow, then these flora can better thrive, bloom and provide a valuable habitat and a great resource for pollinators. The tricky bit is collecting up the grass after it is cut.

A good diversity of wildflowers grows in the grassland sward in Whitby Cemetery.

This is the second year of us leaving a portion of the Larpool Cemetery to grow out for the summer – an area of older burials which do not need to be kept accessible to regular visitors to the graves. The relative sparsity of headstones in that section also lends itself to managing in a hay-cut fashion as it gives more options for the machinery one can try using. The parks department at Scarborough Borough Council, which maintains the cemetery has included this meadow management trial in a series of experimental changes to mowing regimes at sites across the borough.

The challenge for the council is that doing this effectively is that the collection and removal of cuttings is central for success. If otherwise left the bulky green material mulches back into the soil, favouring grasses over wildflowers. Unfortunately removing the long cut grass requires specialist machinery or a lot of manual labour.

Without the capability for fully mechanised cut and collect of such long swards it leaves us with a challenge. I’ve written about the complexities of local authority grassland management elsewhere on the blog in some detail and with useful links to further reading.

Huge thanks go to the dedicated volunteers who helped us with managing this wildflower meadow area in Whitby Cemetery by raking and bagging up for the parks vehicles to pick up and take away as green waste. Operatives were able to finish off cutting and clearing the remaining area afterward but 10 dedicated volunteers achieved a tremendous amount in the course of a few hours of toil.

Our parks team leader for the Whitby area was mightily impressed by the thorough job. They filled thirteen rammed-full builders’ dumpy bags with cuttings. We hope the meadow will respond well next season with a good show of flowers among the meadow grasses. The Whitby Nats are planning a wildflower walk for their members and volunteers to inspect it next spring. Fingers crossed.

This is a great example of community input to the council’s conservation management trials across the borough. Once the benefits of the extra effort are apparent – and the longer, less-tidy but more nature-friendly appearance of such sites is demonstrated to borough residents and visitors alike we hope to roll out the approach to more areas.

There are, of course, still challenges (again, as I’ve set out elsewhere). It is my hope that we can make a strong enough business case to invest in specialist cut and collect machines to do this at scale. Maybe with the local government re-organisation on the horizon (LGR announcement on BBC news website), there is a better chance to invest in such tech for the new unitary authority.


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Helping pollinators in the borough

Among wider aims to enhance biodiversity the Parks Department is very keen to support pollinator species in particular. We have to keep parks and green spaces looking their best with the resources we have available. Public opinion and perception always plays a part in the balance between a tidy appearance and allowing areas to develop to enhance biodiversity.

We have projects across the Borough which benefit pollinators and we continue to look for new areas where sympathetic management for pollinators can co-exist with our duty to maintain public realm to a high standard. This is always subject to resources eg staff, expertise and appropriate machinery.

We are increasingly developing community-led projects, eg harnessing expertise of local naturalist groups to survey, monitor and manage the most valuable areas.

The council’s radio-controlled mowing machine tackles a grassland slope in late summer.

Here are some examples of the types of measures: (full list further down)

Formal bedding and planting in parks. At least 25% of our seasonal bedding as pollinator-friendly plants. Across Filey, Whitby and Scarborough numerous examples traditional seasonal bedding replaced with bee and butterfly-friendly perennials. (See appendix).

Informal planting, parks and open spaces. Wildflower areas and tree planting for blossom diversity.

Roundabouts and street plantings. Perennials and wildflowers increasingly used when renovating.

Grass mowing regimes. Numerous places where we have introduced or are trialling reduced cutting regimes, including parks and open spaces, car parks, bankings, verges and cemeteries.

Dedicated wildflower areas and wildflower meadow schemes. Eg Cemeteries and Crematorium.

Cinder Track. Some existing habitat projects since 2018. Numerous opportunities to develop volunteer-led habitat management to benefit pollinators and other wildlife with new Ranger in post.

Yarrow grows on a coastal slope grassland is a great wildflower for pollinating insects

Sites in the Borough managed to benefit pollinators, (as of April 2021)

Filey

  • A decorative dahlia border is now a pollinator bed
  • Ravine Hill is now a pollinator bed
  • Former ‘shield bed’ in Northcliffe Gardens
  • A ‘bee border’ to be planted up 2021 with pollinators
  • Filey Flood Alleviation Scheme – cutting regime for bankings, swales and basins to consider pollinators; dedicated wildflower areas included in the scheme design.

Scarborough

  • Manor Road Roundabout – seasonal bedding replaced with permanent planting of pollinator-friendly perennials
  • Manor Road bankings – reduced mowing regime
  • Valley Road and Valley Gardens trialling reduced mowing regimes
  • A sown wildflower area in Woodlands Cemetery (‘Natural Burial Area’); small areas of wildflower turf trialled
  • Central bed in St. Nicholas Cliff gardens
  • Old rose beds in Woodlands Ravine to be turned over to pollinator friendly planting
  • Dean Road Cemetery beds and cutting regimes of grass areas under review
  • Peasholm Park – pollinator border planned
  • Burr Bank car park, reduced mowing regime of slope above car park
  • Burniston Road bankings – Signage to be installed for unmown area
  • South Cliff – project for enhancing the coastal grassland on Holbeck slope under discussion
  • Eastfield roundabout – trial sowing with wildflowers seed mix
  • Seamer Roundabout – seasonal bedding replaced with perennial planting

Whitby

  • Pannett Park bankings – grass left longer in season
  • New Bridge bankings  – grass left longer in season
  • Larpool cemetery area – trial ‘hay meadow’ management area, late cut and rake off
  • Abbey car park – banks and peripheral areas left long for the season to benefit wildlife

The Cinder Track, old railway line

  • Hawsker Sidings, wildflower grassland, autumn cut. Raked by volunteers.
  • Other areas of wildflower rich verges will be managed to enhance flora, now that we have a ranger to coordinate volunteers for the labour of annual cutting and raking. 
  • Tree planting for pollinators and wildlife, especially to support butterfly species including ‘Buckthorn for Brimstones’ and ‘Greening the Cinder Track’ projects in 2019/20 – both with Whitby Naturalists Club

Robin Hood’s Bay

  • Cliff slope habitat enhancement project in partnership with North York Moors National Park, Whitby Naturalists Club and Robin Hood’s Bay Tourism Association.

Updates to this list

This post is based upon a summary of activities drawn up in April 2021. The list served to inform elected members enquiring about our measures to benefit bees, butterflies and other pollinators. It is not exhaustive and new sites are being suggested all the time. I will make efforts to update the list periodically and indicate the date at the top of the post. For more information or to enquire about new sites please contact me.


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Call for Turtle Dove records

Submit your sightings

Have you seen Turtle Doves while out in the countryside this summer? Passing on the record to the right people can directly help with their conservation.

These summer visitors are very scarce nowadays, so it’s a red letter day if you have seen one. They can be mistaken for the much more ubiquitous Collared Dove, so I’ve included below some useful resources on identifying them.

Turtle Doves are usually very reclusive birds. You are more likely to hear one than see it. Their distinctive purring call is heard in the very early morning or sometimes evenings as well. If you are fortunate to live near one of the hotspots for these birds you may have been lucky enough to hear one in the quiet of dawn or dusk.

If you think you have encountered one, the North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project would love to know when and where. Email conservation@northyorkmoors.org.uk to share any potential records, giving as much information as you can to help verify the record. It will help them to target future surveys and conservation efforts.

This Turtle Dove frequenting a rural garden was bolder than most. You are far more likely to hear one purring distantly in dense scrub than encounter one on a TV aerial! Image credit Alison Tubbs.

Summer visitors

Turtle Doves fly from Africa each spring to breed in and on the edge of the North Yorkshire Forests. Places covered by dawn surveys by dedicated volunteers include Dalby, Cropton and Harwood Dale Forests as well as parts of the Howardian Hills. A coordinated national survey has been taking place in summer 2021 too.

The species used to be more widespread in the UK in years gone by but nowadays is mainly confined to southern and eastern England. North Yorkshire supports a northern stronghold of around 50-100 birds

Some wildlife-lovers living in villages like Burniston, Lockton and Sawdon have reported them. Indeed there seem to be some individual birds or pairs which are more accustomed to gardens than your average Turtle Dove, which is normally very secretive.

The birds will be setting off on migration soon, back to sub-Saharan Africa. They are usually gone by the end of August or early September, not to return until May.

Confusion species

Turtle Doves are easily confused with the much more common Collared Dove, an abundant and vocal garden species.

Visually the Turtle Dove has a beautiful ‘tortoiseshell’ plumage on its wings, a striped neck pattern and in flight shows a striking black and white tail. In contrast its more common cousin is a plainer pink-grey with a black ‘collar’.

For recognising the call, listen to this snippet of video with the sound of a calling Turtle Dove. The Collared Dove’s cooing is more rasping and heard at any time of day.

Further resources

A YouTube film about the North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project summarises the project made possible by National Lottery. This is about 7 mins and beautifully-made.

For a more comprehensive masterclass on separating Collared and Turtle Dove see this ID video from the BTO: BTO You Tube -Collared Dove vs Turtle Dove. (Also about 7mins).

Other posts on the blog about the Turtle Dove Project:

Post-Script – Announcing the launch of Year of the Dove

International efforts to raise awareness of the plight of Turtle Doves along their migration routes is the focus of Year of the Dove, a new international awareness and fundraising campaign.

On the continent many countries have a long tradition of hunting migratory birds and it is still legal to shoot Turtle Doves. Some countries, in response to campaigning have introduced moratoria or temporary bans on shooting Turtle Doves, but funds are needed to support European conservation groups with their research and campaigning. Read a blog post about it here: https://www.yorkshirecoastnature.co.uk/blog/461/year-of-the-dove-turtle-dove-international-campaign You can help by sharing the campaign widely on social media or with friends and contacts.


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Chalkshire – progress report

The Yorkshire Wolds is a special landscape, shaped by the chalk rock which underlies it and by the influence of human land use over thousands of years.

The ‘Chalkshire’ landscape initiative focuses on the UK’s most northerly chalk outcrop. Chalk underlies the Yorkshire Wolds and forms the ‘great white cape’ of Flamborough Head, creating special landscapes, habitats, and hydrology. A partnership started coming together in 2019, but has been in abeyance through the pandemic, now looking to pick up the pace again.

In an earlier blog post Talking Chalk I described how the concept came about and reported on about the launch conference for the initiative in 2019. Time has passed and despite a difficult 18mths for everyone some development and research has been taking place in the interim. A summary document on progress so far (report of work funded by Water Environment Improvement Fund) was circulated recently by Jon Traill, (Living Landscapes Manager at the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust). If you wish to receive future information about ‘Chalkshire’ or ask how you can be involved, please contact Jon, and ask to be added to the email circulation. Jon.Traill@ywt.org.uk

Fertile, rolling farmland characterises much of the Yorkshire Wolds, incised by ‘dry valleys’.

Jon is keen to share the Chalkshire report widely and hear from new interested parties. I’ve included a link at the end of this post to download the report . A large number of organisations and individuals are already engaged with the project and Jon hopes to get things moving again in 2021-22 with help from key partners East Riding of Yorkshire Council and The Environment Agency.

There are exciting things to talk about as the Wolds landscape is getting a lot of attention lately – There is also group working towards a Geopark for East Yorkshire and recently an encouraging announcement from Natural England about designating the Yorkshire Wolds as a new Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

These initiatives for recognising, celebrating and securing the future of this under-appreciated landscape will inevitably have some common ground in their aims and will need to work together to make the best of the opportunities each offers.

The most northerly exposure of chalk in Britain forms the spectacular cliffs of Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire.


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Job opportunities

With a host of interesting nature and environmental jobs at the moment, check out the latest Connecting For Nature Opportunities. for a hand-picked selection.

In particular I’m keen to draw interest to the brand new Countryside Apprentice role at Scarborough Council’s Parks Dept, working alongside our recently appointed Cinder Track Maintenance Ranger, Anna Waite. (More on the blog soon.)

Anna has made a great start on the work needed to renovate and look after the old railway line track, but there is huge potential. We hope the new apprentice will not only shadow the Ranger on her maintenance work, but also play a part in us building our volunteering capacity and engaging with the local community and users of the track. There is lots of scope and it will be a rewarding role for an aspiring Countryside Ranger.

Aside from the apprenticeship, check out the other opportunities at SBC, RDC, NYMNP, NE and DWT….If you don’t know the acronyms? Well grab a cuppa and read more about the opportunities 🙂