Tag Archives: Vale of Pickering

A Bounty on the Brow

Jan14 011

Some mornings on the way over the Yorkshire Wolds to Scarborough I like to take in the back roads. One such route crosses East Heslerton Wold to arrive at the top of Sherburn Brow, where it encounters the Wolds Way long distance trail, which follows the road downhill towards Sherburn before regaining the crest of the brow. Now this un-sung viewpoint offers a cracking view across the Vale of Pickering any day of the year*, but the added bonus on this occasion was a mixed flock of finches alighting in a skeletal hedgerow.  The birds were enjoying the bounty of a stewardship crop planted as a winter food source for farmland birds. These wild bird mixtures can be a vital crutch to the survival of some of our smaller seed-eating birds in the winter countryside and I stopped briefly to appreciate the crop and the flighty flock of winged seed-seekers.

A wild bird seed crop (sometimes called WBS mix by those in the know) is a tailored mix of arable crop plants left unharvested over one or two winters. Typically they include a mix of starchy cereals and oil-rich brassicas. Wheat, barley or triticale, a forbear of modern wheat, could provide the cereal element for instance. Providing seeds with high lipid content could be oil-seed rape, fodder radish or kale. Such brassicas left to seed will provide seed pods for a couple of seasons and the sought after seeds will be held tightly by the plant until a prying beak makes good its entry. Other seed bearing crops like millet are sometimes are included in the mix to increase the variety. The whole lot grows together and additionally provides cover and shelter for game birds in the barren months of winter and spring.

stewardship

Wild Bird Seed crop on Sherburn Brow

One of the advantages of a sacrificial crop like this is that the seeds remain attached to upright stalks, safe from the rot and mould they would quickly succumb to if scattered on the ground. It can produce quite a wildlife spectacle if carefully located, by a thick hedge or a woodland for safety and warmth. This particular location, on my visit, had attracted 40 or more Bramblings, among dozens of Goldfinches and Chaffinches, with a few Greenfinch, Linnet and Bullfinch for good measure. While we enjoy our garden bird visitors attracted to seed feeders and bird tables it is worth thinking about the feast we might have in the countryside if a few more hectares of wild bird seed mix were sown on every farm. To recover their dwindling populations our farmland birds need not only to survive through the winters but emerge fit enough to breed the following spring. It made my week to see Bramblings and Linnets in double figures. Will future generations enjoy such treats I wonder?

* Footnote: The spot I refer to is one of my favourite routes to descend into the Vale of Pickering. While a sunny morning view is a joy, there is a phenomenon I long to capture on camera: that magical meteorological situation when a thermal inversion holds a thick grey fog pooled in the Vale while the Moors and the Wolds are bathed in golden sunshine. One can almost imagine Lake Pickering once more filling the Vale.

The Higher Carr

sunrise landfill

Daybreak over Seamer Carr

While Scarborough’s ‘carr’ land is mostly flat, expansive and low-lying, occupying that wedge of little-explored terrain between the Yorkshire Wolds and the rising ground towards The North York Moors, there is one notably elevated ‘carr’ which stands out from the Vale of Pickering, above other carrs, in a very literal sense. Were it open to public access, one would break quite a sweat to get to the top. That place, the Higher Carr I refer to, with topographic elevation to set the pulse racing, is Seamer Carr.

Jul09 reseeded landfill

Southern part of Seamer Carr in 2009 after re-seeding

Seamer Carr was not always a hill though. It too was once low and gently undulating like its neighbouring floodplain. Indeed it has yielded its fair share of Mesolithic secrets in its time, being close to the reknowned stone age site of Star Carr and part of the associated landscape of Palaeolake Flixton – marked today by the seam of dark peaty soils between Flixton and Cayton.

Seamer Carr today is a landfill site which served Scarborough and district for some decades, under the management of Yorwaste Ltd. It presents itself as a prominent hill occupying a triangular patch of land to the south of the Scarborough Business Park and visible on your right approaching the town on the A64 trunk road. The landfill site at Seamer Carr was recently closed to general waste  but the resource recovery centre remains in operation, recycling and reclaiming value from modern waste streams arriving by wagon or via the household waste site skips. Activity on this artificial hill today is focussed on shaping the land contours into their final geometry and capping the site with inert material.

One day, in the not-too-distant future, we hope it may be possible to gain public access onto this man-made-mount. When landscaping works are finished and the site is safely capped in a green blanket of living habitat once more it will be safe to open up some public access routes on the site. I count myself among the priviledged few who have been escorted to the top, clad head to toe in safety gear to admire the potential of this vista across the vale. It offers a rare vantage from the north side of the Hertford floodplain, directly adjacent to Star Carr. For the time being though, we must wait and anticipate and even, perhaps, salivate at the thought of the delicious panoramas that could reward future visitors to this man-made mound – a testament to the mark of human settlement on this landscape which first began around twelve thousand years ago…

litter issues

Seamer Carr landfill in July 2009

Covering part of the site with protective membrane, 2009

Covering part of the site with protective membrane

May 2013 Seamer Carr HLF visit

HLF visit to Seamer Carr, May 2013

excavators, dusty diggers

Landscaping on Seamer Carr,  May 2013

Reporting from Star Carr, a Peek in the Peat…

It was a windy day in the Vale of Pickering when archaeologists Michael Bamforth and Becky Knight from the University of York and Ian Panter from the York Archaeological Trust were interviewed by Sue Nelson for BBC Radio 4 . The team walked along the River Hertford to view the field that harbours the Palaeo Lake Flixton under its turf, and visualise what the site would have looked back in the Stone Age.

Image

Archaeology has become an interdisciplinary field of research which has benefited greatly in recent decades by utilising scientific methods such as chemical isotope analyses and radiocarbon dating. This short interview was conducted in the field and followed up in the chemistry labs at York. It focuses on  the interaction of science and archaeology, and the impact of Star Carr in terms of Mesolithic discoveries.

The 8-minute interview is destined for broadcast on Radio 4’s Inside Science programme, so tune in to hear more about the challenges facing Star Carr’s buried artefacts.

by Fevziye Hasan

Managing ditches for farming and conservation

Reed-fringed ditch near Seamer Carr

Reed-fringed ditch near Seamer Carr

The open-ness of The Carrs floodplain near Scarborough is what attracts many of our farmland bird species to nest here, but boundary features are important habitats too, none less so than the network of drainage ditches which form a distinctive element of the Vale of Pickering landscape.  These wet ditches are an important heritage feature in their own right and have been managed routinely since they were dug over two hundred years ago.

Ditch management, by which we mean the regular maintenance regime, carried out in autumn, winter or early spring, consists of cleaning out accumulations of silt, weed and vegetation in order to keep the water flowing. This is not merely a necessary operation for ditches which carry water from the land to the river system but it also performs a valuable role in managing them as wildlife habitats.

Some, which are important drainage arteries, may need to be maintained frequently – sometimes every year if the silation, debris or vegetation build-up is rapid. Those that are best for wildlife are managed on a rotational basis every few years, perhaps one in five or one in eight. Diversity and timing are key. Ideally a farm area would have a range of ditch habitats at different stages of succession – some just freshly cleaned and others at various stages of re-growth – hence diversity of habitats. Sometimes even longer rotations can be accommodated. In this way species which prefer clear, open sites and those which need choked well vegetated ditches will always have somewhere to thrive. Management in the winter has less impact upon ecology as a lot of wildlife is dormant. It is also helpful to wildlife if ditches which are immediately adjacent are not all done at once, potentially removing food plants and shelter. Cutting the banks or cleaning out only one side of a ditch one year and the other side the next, leaves undisturbed refuges.

Some of the best ditches for plants and invertebrates on The Carrs though are those which have an unusual origin – and the clue may be in the shape of the ditch. look on a map of The Carrs and you will readily identify lots of straight blue lines where artificial drainage ditches were cut when the large scale land drainage began after the 1800 Muston and Yedingham Drainage Act. This is the act of Parliament which paved the way for ‘the draining of the low grounds’ and the straightening of the Hertford and the part of The Derwent. At that time many subsidiary ditches were cut, draining into the New Cuts of the rivers. However in a few places there can still be found sinuous ditches which are relics of the former natural course of the Hertford. These older watercourses harbour some of the more notable wild plants and animals and may have greater ecological variety. Plants such as Water Violet, Water Whorl Grass and the primitive stoneworts are found in such places.

An Internal Drainage Board oversees the water level management of The Carrs including The Hertford Cut. Currently there are three IDBs in the Vale of Pickering (with Muston & Yedingham IDB being our local one) but they are preparing to amalgamate

Vanishing peat

At this time of year arable farmers in the Vale of Pickering can be found cultivating for spring crops. This is often on the land that sits too wet to plough it in autumn when modern cereal and oilseed crops are planted. After an exceptionally wet year many areas remain too soggy to drive machinery over without damaging the soil or getting bogged.

Let us not forget however that at critical growth stages a shortage of water can be equally damaging to crop yields. We had official drought orders in place in Yorkshire only a year ago. Lighter soils, such as sands and peats, both found in quantity in the Vale of Pickering are very prone to blowing away when dry. If strong winds coincide with dry conditions just after cultivation this can cause mass wasting of soils by wind erosion. It is not uncommon for farmers to have to re-drill crops on blow-away soils if rain fails at the critical time. Scenes like the one here near Killerby Carr, emphasise the vulnerability of peat soils not only to land drainage and subsequent shrinkage but also to wind erosion.

Soil is  a precious and limited commodity. Peat soils on The Carrs are especially precious, due to the carbon they hold, the heritage record within and their biodiversity potential. Yet how many of us give soils a second thought? Are they another aspect of our overlooked heritage in Yorkshire’s Hidden Vale?

A dust cloud of peat  tells a dramatic story of peatland erosion during a dry spring on The Carrs

A dust cloud of peat tells a dramatic story of peatland erosion during a dry spring on The Carrs

Rivers in the Vale of Pickering

The Vale of Pickering is a place of many watercourses. Some are ‘proper’ rivers, in name and in habit – all wiggly meanders, pools and riffles, natural banks. Others rather blur the distinction between a river and a drainage channel. A cursory glance at a map will reveal there are many alternative names for watercourses and drainage ditches in the Vale, including Becks, Dykes, Cuts, Drains and Delphs. In Yorkshire a beck is another name for a river or stream. Many of the settlements peripheral to the Vale of Pickering have their own beck, indeed it may have played a defining role in the formation of settlements in ancient times. How many rivers do you know in the Vale? Can you name any of the becks? What about the drainage channels? Some carry as much flow as a river and are just as important for drainage.

Here are a few examples:

‘Rivers’ – River Hertford, River Derwent, River Rye, River Seven, River Dove, River Riccal…

‘Becks’ – Pickering Beck, Costa Beck, Thornton Beck, Scampston Beck, Rillington Beck, Wintringham Beck, Holbeck, Hodgebeck, Brompton Beck, Ruston Beck, Beedale Beck, Weldale Beck, Cripple Beck, Difford Beck, Ellis Beck, Marrs Beck…

‘Drainage ditches’ – Loder’s Carr Drain, Pry End Drain, Black, Dike, New Dike, Double Dikes, Red Bridge Sewer, Sherburn Cut, Twelve Foot Cut, South Delph…

I suspect that whilst many people are aware that the Vale of Pickering is a floodplain, few are aware just how many watercourses there are, natural and made by human hand.