Category Archives: Nature

Have you seen Willow Tits?

Willow tits have been found in recent years on some farm holdings straddling the boundary of Ryedale / Scarborough local authority areas, amidst HLS wetland schemes under the Carrs Wetland Project banner. Parts of the Derwent riparian corridor support occasional breeding pairs and some isolated farm woodlands which are quite wet and scrubby. This species featured on the old Ryedale BAP (and Wet Woodland, a classic setting for nesting Willow Tits, was a named habitat for Ryedale too).
The bird excavates nest holes typically in rotten trees or stumps such as willow, alder and birch. It is known from research on the species’ habitat preferences that as scrub matures and larger-trunked trees establish, they become attractive to a key predator of Willow Tits – the Great Spotted Woodpecker. Thus keeping a suitable site free of mature trees could help.

Willow Tit © Francis C. Franklin / CC-BY-SA-3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Willow Tit © Francis C. Franklin / CC-BY-SA-3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

In places HLS woodland management options were agreed on Carrs Wetland farms, mindful that Willow Tits might benefit in the longer term by maintaining suitable nesting habitat. Some areas were thus earmarked for rotational coppicing to keep a younger age structure to the scrubby wet woodland. On Willerby Carr even some woodshaving-filled nestboxes were put in place in the hope that they could be used by Willow Tits.

Do you know of any good Willow Tit sites in the Ryedale or Scarborough patch? (or sites where they used to be?) Following a discussion with Chris Bradshaw, a local ornithologist and member of Scarborough Birders group, we wondered whether an attempt to track down breeding Willow Tits would be a good idea this year, to assess local populations. In many parts of the UK this species is in serious decline, hanging on in parts of its range. Given that it is present in the Scarborough area and Ryedale too it would be valuable to hear of recent records. We should take care to not to give precise locations in the public domain, however, considering the scarcity and sensitivity of this species. Many sites will be on private land anyway, but if you have helpful ‘intelligence’ on their whereabouts, such as recent sightings in the last 5 years or sites that you know used to have them but may no longer, then please contact Tim on tim.burkinshaw@scarborough.gov.uk

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Winter morning on The Carrs

This is why I love The Carrs so much. Morning mist, a sleepy flock of Teal plinking away in the distance on the Hertford Cut, hoar frost on the ground and chacking Fieldfares on the fields down the lane to Flixton Bridge. Several thousand molehills down there too. They love the soft, deep peaty soil of The Carrs. This is neutral fen peat, not the acid blanket bog of the uplands.

Frosty dawn over Flixton Carr, 22/01/16

Frosty dawn over Flixton Carr, 22/01/16

It is a while since I last went down to Flixton Bridge. The lane was bumpy as ever, indicative of the slumping land surface of the peat. The Hertford was quite full but flowing freely. I checked out the fields containing Flixton Island (site of digs in 2014) and No Name Hill, the prehistoric islands in what was then Mesolithic Lake Flixton. A flock of Lapwing rose from wet pasture to the east and flapped in a slow circuit over my head. I tried repeatedly to count them but the shifting shape and direction of the flock presented a challenge. I estimated about 90 plovers in total. Come the spring Lapwing disperse to the breeding grounds on the Moors , the Wolds and across the patchwork of arable and pastoral land in The Vale of Pickering. Their fortunes are not looking too rosy at the moment, (see Hoping for a Lapwing Spring where I discussed this topic before on this blog.)

 

New volunteer joins the Carrs Wetland Project

RachaelHatt 004cCROP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rachael Hatt is the latest volunteer to take part in the work of the Carrs Wetland project. As a recent graduate from Hull University, Scarborough campus with a BSc in Environmental science, she decided to pursue her interests in habitat restoration and biodiversity enhancement.

During her placement, she will be mainly involved with developing the communications side of the project and lending a hand to existing volunteer projects in the Scarborough district through the Scarborough conservation volunteers. Rachael gives a brief biography of her interests:

‘I remember from a young age, being excited to go on seasonal visits to see the grey seal colonies at Donna Nook Nature Reserve in the rural county of Lincolnshire, where I grew up – What a great spectacle! I am a keen nature enthusiast and the vast and open landscapes of Lincolnshire instilled in me a love for the outdoors, and a sense of urgency to protect local habitats and wildlife. My interests in the natural environment were fuelled further during Geography lessons whilst at school, taking a close interest in topics involving physical geography. University has allowed me to develop more specialist skills such as the use of GIS, and environmental and ecological surveying work; I love the chance to don a woolly hat and pair of wellies. Furthermore, being in North Yorkshire for the entirety of my degree programme has given me a fondness for the county, particularly its natural assets, so I was delighted to have the opportunity to volunteer for Carrs wetland.’

Rachael also assumes other various voluntary roles. She is presently a volunteer warden for the North York Moors National Park. She spent the majority of her summer during 2014 on the tiny Scottish Island of Eigg, acting as a shadow warden for the Scottish Wildlife trust. Ultimately, she’d like to work towards becoming a wildlife conservation officer.

Eigg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Web links:                                                                    http://www.scarboroughconservationvolunteers.org.uk/ http://www.northyorkmoors.org.uk/looking-after/volunteering/voluntary-ranger

Meadow Restoration at The Dell

The Dell, Eastfield, Scarborough. A valuable sub-urban greenspace

The Dell, Eastfield. A valuable sub-urban greenspace

Project management experience comes in handy in my job. After several years working with local farmers implementing their wetland HLS schemes on The Carrs, I’ve picked up a thing or two. Thank goodness… for this month I’m applying my particular skillset to a sub-urban green space in Eastfield to the south of Scarborough, barely over a mile from the Hertford floodplain I’ve grown so fond of. This takes a good degree of understanding about habitat restoration, organizing contractors, scheduling volunteers and and local farmers to help carry out the restoration work.

‘The Dell’ is the first Local Nature Reserve in the Borough of Scarborough. This small grassland valley, with the Eastfield Beck trickling quietly along the bottom, forms a wedge of green extending from Deepdale into the housing estates of the Eastfield community.  A few years ago The Dell was an under-appreciated valley of short-mown ‘amenity’ grassland but the ‘Dell’ve into Nature’ project, with funding from an Access to Nature grant and spearheaded by Groundwork North Yorkshire and partners injected new life and interest in this modest 12 acre site. Rangers employed by Groundwork for the Dell project worked with the local community to design improvements such paths and a boardwalk, a small pond and dipping platform. They planted hedgerow trees along the stream and fished discarded mattresses and shopping trolleys out of it. A series of educational and practical events were organized, including volunteer work parties and wildlife surveys of the birds, butterflies and botany of the site. The cessation of regular mowing brought a flush of native wildflowers on the grassy slopes. A botanical survey confirmed the presence of a habitat classed as MG4 and MG5 grassland – essentially lowland meadow, in a quantity that is rarely discovered so close to an urban area.

The Dell’ve into Nature project culminated in the designation of The Dell as an LNR a couple of years ago and the successful application for a 10-year HLS restoration scheme, with management subsidies from Natural England. SBC Parks staff are busy at The Dell over the next few weeks masterminding some hay meadow restoration prescribed under Higher Level Stewardship. The Council do have tractors but not the specialist machinery needed for hay-making, seeding, scarifying etc, so we have roped in a couple of local farmers with experience and the right kit they can deploy for us.

Work scheduled in the coming weeks includes making and baling hay from the site, raking the slopes to open some bare soil and applying a bespoke mix of native wildflower seeds, prescribed by Natural England. The seed mixes include traditional meadow flowers such as Yellow Rattle, Ox-eye Daisy and Field Scabious to boost the existing flora of this unimproved grassland. The meadow species will thrive under a new annual hay-making regime with a late summer cut, after mid August each year when most flowers have set seed.

Meadow species thriving at The Dell include Black Knapweed

Meadow flowers thriving on the east slope of The Dell Local Nature Reserve include Black Knapweed.

The eastern slope is already quite well-populated with meadow species, so we are also orchestrating some hay-strewing. This meadow restoration technique involves taking hay full of ripe seed heads of grasses and flowers and spreading thinly on another site. It can be done entirely by hand, with scythes and hay-forks and wheelbarrows, but to make the process more efficient we are transporting some of the hay bales from the east side and attempting to roll them out on the (scarified and roughed-up) west side. This is where volunteers come in.

We reckon that a big round hay bale needs three to four people to efficiently manhandle and dispense thin layers of the hay across the receiving site. The idea is to space them to create parallel strips across the slope. Using rakes, hay forks, garden forks or even bare hands we can then distribute the strips on the intervening gaps. This is the theory. in practice the more people we have available the easier it will be to cover the whole area. Sounds like fun? Come and join us!  We have a local farmer baling the hay this week, then another farmer will bring a pasture scarifier (think giant rake, pulled by a tractor) preparing the slopes to receive seed.  After this, seed mixes with be broadcast – possibly at the same time as scarifying, but in any case we have some smaller quantities of seed of particular species to broadcast by hand in discrete patches.

Lots going on then! Come and join Scarborough Conservation Volunteers on Weds 10th Sept from 10.30am at the entrance to The Dell off Westway. Meet at the Westway cul de sac. (Nearby post code YO11 3EG.) You may like to bring a rake or a fork!

Born in a Barn

One of the farmers participating in The Carrs Wetland HLS schemes was chatting to me on the ‘phone about Barn Owls this week. A pair using a nesting box in his cattle shed on Ings Lane, Staxton have successfully raised 3 chicks to fledging this summer. This encouraging news has inspired me to write this blog post (for which title I apologise, but it was hard to resist.) The young owls apparently have left the nest and have been seen flying about but are currently still spending time near to the nest. The aforementioned farmer tells me that on another farm in the Vale a pair had a brood of seven chicks (though not all may survive) while on another farm he’d heard of a nest fledging five young. Happy news indeed.

Jul11 Flixton brow quarry 002

Arable and pastoral patchwork on The Carrs, seen from Flixton Brow.

Barn Owls seem to do rather well in The Carrs as the mix of arable and pastoral farming, rough grassland along ditches and beside quiet lanes and hedgerows provide good hunting for small mammals. Rough tussocky grassland is the ideal habitat for their prey, with sufficient dead grass or ‘litter’ layer for voles to create hidden runways through it.

Small mammal populations are famously fickle, undergoing cycles of boom and bust which have a powerful influence of the fortunes of birds of prey which rely heavily upon them for food. Barn Owls have a clever strategy to hedge their bets against the vagaries of the weather and food supply. The eggs are laid at 2-3 day intervals but incubated right away and hence hatch on different dates, resulting in a brood of chicks of descending size. In this way a good year for small mammal prey will enable them to raise more of the chicks to maturity but if food is in short supply then the first -hatched chicks will prevail while the smaller, weaker young will perish, thus the size of the brood will naturally adjust according to conditions. It may seem cruel to let fate intervene, but if they always laid a smaller clutch then the birds could not capitalise on a bonanza of Bank Voles or whatever prey items happen to be in abundance.

The wetland project occasionally receives requests to help source owl pellets for school groups to analyse – by dissecting their contents one can identify the types of prey from the tiny jaw and skull bones in the pellets. With a suitable sample size one can derive some interesting statistics about an owl’s diet and by inference about the populations of different prey species. Analysis of a batch of pellets from the Potter Brompton area a couple of years ago revealed, to my surprise, that Water Shrews and Water Voles figured among the prey items of that particular Barn Owl pair (along with larger numbers of voles, shrews and mice).

Pellet dissections make for a fascinating insight into the lives of these charismatic birds and a great educational opportunity. If readers of this blog have ready access to a supply of Barn Owl pellets and would like to donate some, I would be happy to put you in touch with The Cranedale Centre, which regularly undertakes sessions in pellet dissections with young people from Junior age to sixth-formers and I’m sure would be only too happy to feed back any interesting results.

String ’em up

A grisly line-up of stoats and crows taken out of the equation by a local gamekeeper

A grisly line-up of stoats and crows taken out of the equation by a local gamekeeper

A gamekeepers ‘gibbet’ photographed earlier on this Spring is a gruesome tally of predator control on a Carrs Wetland farm. This one is strung with Stoats and Carrion Crows, both partial to a lapwing chick or two and a reminder of the pressures that ground nesting birds including waders face in the breeding season.
Whether or not active control by keepers is carried out on a farm can be an important factor in wader productivity. It can mean the difference between successful fledging of young or complete failure of nests; even if many other habitat and hydrological aspects are optimised on a wetland site. We must remember that a clutch of lapwing eggs numbers 4 or 5 and conservation managers consider an average of 0.7 chicks raised per pair to be pretty good going. Most of them get ‘knobbled’ in other words. See an earlier post on Lapwing productivity here and another post here from last year on these charismatic waders

We may not like the idea of someone trapping and humanely dispatching predators, but without doubt ground nesting waders can fare better on farms with shooting interests.

It so happens that a diligent keeper controlling foxes, stoats, crows and mink for the benefit of the pheasants and partridge they rear for the shooting season, can also improve the chances of other ground nesting birds, lapwing, curlew and snipe included, during the breeding season.
So now do we think that shooting and conservation can go together in wetlands? Is predator control distasteful to some people? – I’m sure it is, but next time you pass a line of corvids or mustelids hung on a fence, think about chicks that might have been chomped or eggs eaten had those predators been left to raise young of their own. It makes you see it a bit differently, doesn’t it?

Now, it may be an age-old tradition for gamekeepers to display their furred or feathered perpetrators for their employer to verify, no doubt with a tugging of forlock and doffing of cap, but in the old days they were paid at piece rates. Who knows maybe some still are. But it’s a country tradition, so let’s focus on the service they are performing for put-upon wildlife and not the grisly line-up on the gamekeepers gibbet – think of it more like an invoice for services rendered in the name of wetland wildlife.

If you want to learn more about the farm site where I saw this gamekeeper’s handiwork (this is not a spot on public view, if you were wondering) then I recommend the Potter Brompton Farms blog.

Connecting for Nature…online

Dawn of a new partnership - The Vale of Pickering is a landscape connecting Scarborough, Ryedale and the Howardian Hills

Dawn of a new partnership – Morning mists in The Vale of Pickering -a landscape linking Scarborough, Ryedale and The Howardian Hills

The Connecting for Nature Facebook group is open for business. Why not take a look at it here ? Are you a member yet? You maybe live or work in Scarborough or Ryedale or the Howardian Hills and feel passionate about the natural assets of the area.* If you want to be involved in decisions that affect the fortunes of local wildlife and habitats, on land or sea in these places it would be worth your while make yourself known. An e-mail circular to new partnership members is in preparation for end of the month so be quick…

You might work in farming, forestry, or fisheries… you might be in a community group of some sort? You could be an educator, a group leader, a tourism provider…a local resident? Maybe an elected member or a parish ‘mover and shaker’?…A student…a blogger…an artist…? You might even be engaged in biodiversity action already?

“If you’re intrigued, then we probably want to have you on board and the Facebook Group can be a conduit for information or , we hope,  a gateway to more formal participation in the partnership’s work.”

*The geographical scope of the new biodiversity network, will exclude those bits within the North York Moors National Park boundary as they have their own, Biodiversity Plan, recently reviewed. The two local authorities SBC and RDC had their own LBAPs previously, but felt it would be better to join forces; Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty falls mainly in Ryedale District, with a small portion in Hambleton. The whole of the AONB will be fair game for this new collaborative Biodiversity network.

In times past, there was stronger government-led guidance on local biodiversity planning and nowadays this applies more to specially recognised areas such as NIAs, but for intervening areas we are more free to set our own agenda based upon local priorities. What are yours? Leave a comment here on the blog or on the Facebook group. We need to update our email contacts list for the new partnership, so if this is the first you’ve heard of it, get in touch. (We have well over 100 contacts already, 60 attended the summit in March.) A dedicated Connecting for Nature email address is imminent but in the meantime you can contact Tim Burkinshaw, details as per the Carrs Wetland blog.

 

Stone Age Sounds at Flixton

Mesolithic Open Days at Flixton Island, Vale of Pickering
See the latest excavations and finds, experience sounds of the Mesolithic, quiz the experts, walk the landscape, volunteer to dig!

Meet the Star Carr Project Team and Tim Burkinshaw of the Carrs Wetland Project

The Star Carr Mesolithic Project Team are holding an open weekend at their excavations at Flixton Island between 10am and 4pm on Saturday 24 and Sunday 25 August. Please come along and visit them to learn more about the Late Palaeolithic and Mesolithic sites that they are digging.

  • Site tours both Saturday 24-Aug and Sunday 25-Aug:
    >> 10.00, 12.30, 15.30 | tours last about 30 minutes
  • Opportunity to see some of the recent finds
  • Experience the “Mesolithic soundscape” where you can sit in the middle of a circle of speakers and immerse yourself in reconstructed Mesolithic sounds – wild animals, flint knapping, boating across the lake
  • Visit the book stall | Star Carr booklet £2 or the book £13 | profits go towards further public events
  • On the Saturday only, guided walks around the wetland landscape with Tim Burkinshaw of The Carrs Wetland Project – join Tim to look for clues of shrinking peat soils and learn how local farmers are helping to protect the heritage of this floodplain landscape and its wildlife:
    >> 11.00 and 14.00 | walks last about an hour

Directions

The site is located down North Street in Flixton near Scarborough North Yorkshire, YO11 3UA, Grid ref: TA 039 812. You can either park in Flixton and walk down North Street or drive down North Street. North Street is a single track lane with limited passing or turning space. It is possible to drive down to the site and park off-road in the field adjacent to the dig by kind permission of the farmer.

If you choose to drive down the lane please proceed very slowly with great care for pedestrians, dogs, horses, etc.

The pub in Flixton village, The Fox Hound Inn cannot provide parking unless you intend to have lunch there and as it is bank holiday it may be worth booking in | Tel 01723 890301

How to volunteer

Anyone who would still like a chance to volunteer for excavations, please email the Project Manager, Mike Bamforth who is arranging these opportunities. Further info on http://www.starcarr.com

[This post reproduced with permission of Teeside Archaeological Society eNews Archive ]

Listening for Lapwings

As spring approaches and farmers begin tilling the fields and finish their hedge-trimming work we look and listen in anticipation of the first signs of Lapwings selecting breeding sites on The Carrs.

Lapwing in flight

Lapwing in flight      Image: Chris G Bradshaw

Also known as ‘Teeafits’ or ‘Peewits’, the distinctive calls and tumbling display flights of these iconic farmland birds are a sure sign they are interested in nesting on the field below. Ornithologists call this species Vanellus vanellus or Northern Lapwing, while country names in some parts of the UK include ‘Ullat’, ‘Tumbler’ or ‘Green Plover’ . The local Yorkshire dialect name of ‘Teeafit’ is one I have only encountered since working with farmers near Scarborough. Where I grew up in West Yorkshire ‘Peewit’ was the favoured term. What name do you call them by?

Whilst in winter months large flocks of up to several hundred are not unusual on flooded fields in farmland areas, they begin to disperse to seek breeding territories as winter gives way to spring. Grazing pasture on The Carrs or arable land with lingering patches of shallow flooding are some of the areas that attract these charismatic birds. East of Sherburn and Brompton we have approximately 150 pairs breeding on The Carrs. Survey work undertaken in spring 2011 for the Wetland Project found half of these breeding pairs choosing fields in the Higher Level Stewardship wet grassland schemes. As the schemes only cover a selection of sites along the Hertford and Derwent floodplain, there is good potential, with sensitive management, for this population to increase.