2019 and 2020 Winter meeting reports

January 2020

"Working for nature with Swaledale Farmers"

On 24 January a presentation, given by Emily Coates of the Tees/Swale Project, focused on farmers and conservationists working together. It drew our attention to the excellent conservation work that many farmers undertake. Their understanding of the countryside is of immense value in efforts to protect our environment. Many different habitats need protection: from the Pennine peat bogs to woodlands, pastures, hay meadows and even areas of rush. Integrated enhancement and protection of river quality is also important.

Part of Emily's role is to enable farmers to receive funding for their conservation work and to open discourse between farmers, conservationists and government bodies. She hopes that continued lottery funding will allow farmers to farm in less intense ways, thereby encouraging wildlife to thrive. A grant may also fund educational projects, including school visits to local farms. Maintenance of rights of way and methods of safe waste disposal are also important further developments.

All these measures contribute towards the general public good and a love of the countryside.

November 2019

Wensleydale's peat is blanket bog, supporting many different species of wildlife and plants, especially sphagnum moss. By slowing water flow this valuable landscape reduces flood risk. But 80 % of peatland has been degraded by drainage, overgrazing or fire damage. After World War II 7,000 kilometres of grips were cut in Yorkshire's peat causing faster water run-off, lowering the water table.

Bare peat is fragile and vulnerable to wind and rain erosion and is difficult to recolonise. The YPP program restores peatland by grip and gully blocking, along with small dams to trap the eroding peat, to raise the water table. Re-profiling areas of uneven damaged peat enables regeneration of vegetation. Heather brush and seed have been used on the bare patches and thousands of cotton grass plug plants have been planted. Seventeen areas in Wensleydale have been completed: 6 more are planned for next year, and 2 are to be surveyed.

Afterwards Matthew answered questions on this well-received presentation on a topical and important subject.

October 2019

Due to flooding in the area our October meeting had to be cancelled.

September 2019

Drear dank weather didn't put off the thirty attending Brian Morland's talk, opening the Yoredale Natural History Society's 2019/2020 lecture series: such is his popularity. We weren't disappointed. Brian rises early year round, so we began with glorious slides of January sunrise: followed by splendid new illustrations of his life natural during the next nine months.

If "Let Nature sort itself out" is his motto, then 2019 is the year of the Bittern. Bellflask now has eleven (more than many "actively managed" Nature Reserves), and they aren't shy. Bitterns need food, shelter and little disturbance: then they'll come. His photos (no hide or telephoto lens: one female came to see why Brian was just sitting outside his house) were amazing: adults and the five babies. Little Ringed Plover also major at Bellflask, with almost one percent of the total British breeding population.

This is the first year without gravel extraction, so insect-loved "weeds" like Weld and Viper's Bugloss are colonising the bare expanses - insects love it: and 2020 should be even better, when all this year's seeds germinate. Butterflies have been splendid (this is a bumper butterfly year anyway), but moths have been sparse. There was much more. Watch this space.


March 2019

Farming guests joined us to share Chris Clark's vision for future of Dales Farming. On his 500-acre farm high-up in Wharfedale he has restored meadows, woodland, bogs and riverside, with an increase in wildlife, regularly monitored.
Sustainable (eco-) farming was the way to make a profit given the altitude, rainfall and soils, typical of upland farms. The Clarks run holiday accommodation and wildlife visitor centre, both sustainably, with solar panels and a massive wood-burning boiler. Visitors enjoy the upland wading birds, the occasional black grouse and hen harrier, flower- and insect-rich meadows, and even a rare sphagnum moss.
Recently Chris visited 25 other local upland farms ascertaining their Brexit preparations, with astonishing findings. Their accounts made clear that none were profitable, and that "more livestock more profit" was simply wrong. After reduced livestock numbers eliminated the costs of expensive fertiliser and bought-in animal feed, these farms could be profitable.
At Nethergill, when Chris reduced stock numbers, using breeds suited to the landscape, he no longer had expensive vets' bills; and, most importantly, he made a profit.
After long discussion members agreed that farm livestock maintain both landscape and wildlife, but that farms need profit: so methods must change.

February 2019

On Friday 22nd February Rosie Holdsworth gave a talk "Back to the Future with Beavers in Britain". After being extinct in Britain for over 3 hundred years a controlled re-introduction began in Knapdale in Scotland in 2004. There is now also a small number on the River Otter in Devon and  plans to perhaps be able to introduce them in Yorkshire near Pickering.
Beavers are aquatic mammals with thick fur keeping their skin dry. They are herbivores eating only the bark and cambium layer of trees such as aspen, willow ,birch and riverside vegetation and are no threat to fish. They leave the wood in the middle and sometimes fell the trees . They always stay close to water living in social family groups of parents and kits in lodges built into river banks or in ponds.The trees are not killed and over a short time new growth appears. They have few predators though foxes and otters will take the kits. However in the past humans have caused their extinction for their pelts for hats, perfume and other by products.
They are excellent environmental engineers building dams which cause pools to form and slow the flow of water providing habitat for fish, insects and birds and helping prevent flooding down stream.

January 2019

Yoredale Natural History Society's meeting on January 25th took us through the seasons in Swaledale and the Scottish Highlands with photographer Ian Short and his camera. Ian introduced himself by telling us of his beginnings and his love of photography. He reminded us of times most of us could recall, of a camera and film and no idea what the pictures would look like until they had been developed. So we began and the sequence was enhanced by black and white as well as coloured photographs and added interest with details of photographic techniques.
Our journey through the seasons began in the Temple Gardens in Richmond in winter with snow on the ground and trees and a great variety of birds. Then photos of snow covered Swaledale and the Scottish Highlands.
Spring came and the same views led us into summer. The hay meadows in Swaledale and in Scotland the birds and the wildlife through the lens of Ian's camera, as he said he was never alone as the eyes of the wildlife were always watching him.

We came to a close with the glories of autumn and finally a full moon on a winter landscape brought us back to winter.


September 2018

Aimée Harrison of the RSPB gave us an excellent presentation on Hen Harriers. She showed us two videos of the spectacle of a male hen harrier sky dancing and of a male passing food to a female in mid-air, so that she could then take this food back to the nest.
Great efforts are being made to conserve the hen harrier since it is in serious decline and many birds have been radio tagged, so that their movements can be understood and monitored.
Persecution by some gamekeepers on heather moorland continues, even though this is now illegal. The hen harriers are perceived as a threat to the number of grouse on the estates managed for driven grouse shooting. Aimée talked of the need not only to prosecute in such cases but also for the concept of vicarious responsibility, whereby the landowner is also considered responsible if his gamekeeper poisons or kills these beautiful birds. However, Aimée also stressed the need to find a solution by negotiating with landowners, rather than simply demonizing them. Not all of the landowners of estates managed for grouse shooting are culpable: in fact there are examples of good co-operation between the bird conservation groups and landowners on a few estates.