2018 and 2019 Winter meeting reports

 

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.

November 2018 

Our November meeting took place in Leyburn, but the advertised speaker was unable to come.

Christine Whitehead stepped into the breech at very short notice, taking us through the year looking through her camera lens. We were treated to her most magnificent photographs of the dales, through all seasons.

 

Tales from Bellflask. October 2018. 

With notes abandoned Brian Morland took us through his 2017 photographs, starting with sunrises. With suitable food and shelter, wildlife simply comes to Bellflask. Tangled brambles capped by snow afford safe wintering for small animals. Monitoring moths and caterpillars, butterflies and beetles is Brian's passion: many records being only unique, or at their most northerly.

Dog Otter left footprints in the snow. Great-crested Newt appeared in March. 150,000 starlings flew in majestic formations. Long-tailed Tit, nest-building, sewed moss and twigs with teased-out spider-gossamer. April moths and butterflies, drawn by spring flowers, flooded into traps. Migrant birds arrived. Brian claimed to converse with a Fox cub. Tadpoles and frogs abounded. Stag Beetle was sighted, then a micro-moth recorded only 3 times since first discovery (1883), then amazing pink and purple grasshoppers, then cloud formations. An Oystercatcher chick emerged from its egg. Ragwort, deadly to horses, is a feast for insects. In July/August flowers and more moths and butterflies came and went: and Egrets, Double-kidney Moth, the blood moon, Kingfisher, the bugs, the beetles. Lastly a 30lb Pike was anaesthetised, weighed and measured, and put back. After autumn's glorious colours Bellflask settled back to winter, and the next cycle of life.

Hen Harriers. 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.

 

A Journey through Atlantic Islands via Antarctica. March 2018.

with Tony Hutchinson

This was a tour of discovery. For most of us familiar island names: but where exactly were they: and the mention of Antarctica, what a long way from home! Atlantic Odyssey, with only 60 passengers, was quite small by cruising standards, and liable to be rough in stormy weather. The cruise in 2015 left the southern tip of Argentina, and we were soon introduced to a variety of Albatrosses: huge ones with dramatic wingspans: incredible. So to the Falkland Islands Dependencies, still British, and to a whaling station on Deception Island abandoned in 1960, then to Brown Bluff on the Antarctic mainland, where a some Gentoo penguins still remained after the breeding season. From here we moved to Berkner Island and then on to South Georgia, where some White Egrets boarded the ship! Shackleton died at Grytviken in 1922, and his grave and memorial were visited, before moving on the Tristan da Cunha, with its survey station. These wild and dramatic islands are all volcanic outcrops, usually with very steep sides and difficult landings for both boats and planes, and were serviced by a Royal Mail boat from Cape Town: but now they have airstrips and supplies are flown in. On Gough Island about 250 people live, and grow crops of potatoes.

Next the Atlantic Odyssey sailed to St Helena in the Southeastern Atlantic Basin. Here the house and garden where Napoleon was exiled and died in 1821 was given to the French nation. The Governor's Residency and the biodiversity projects were also prestigious. Ascension Island, a rocky outcrop with only 800 population, also has another Governor's House (are these top civil service appointments!), and its own special biodiversity problems and solutions, but was very important strategically as a staging post for flights during the Falklands War. After invasions by various species of Flying Fish the cruise ended at the Cape Verde Islands. We had plenty to think about as evinced by the number of questions.

 

Nosterfield: a stepping stone in the landscape. February 2018

By Simon Warwick, Lower Ure Conservation Trust

We all knew where Nosterfield is, now we were to learn much more as Simon shared with us the history and development of the Reserve from firstly 70 acres to its current 250 acres.

Twenty-one years ago Tilcon had quarried sand and gravel leaving the area barren and bleak. This forlorn and forgotten landscape had intrigued Simon, who began to think of it's potential to be transformed into a creative wetland. Its potential for nature began by the planting of hedges in 1997. The gravel pits were flooded and willows planted in 1999, when the Swale and Ure Washlands organisation was formed, and more land was bought. The first hide was built from cobbles left from quarrying, with a turf roof and sheepskins laid on planks as seats.

By 2002 the reed beds were established and, in 2003, Durham University began its interest in the project, scientifically studying its Neolithic past when the Henges were built, and ascertaining what the flora and fauna was like then, and has been since: an era of restoration to nature had begun. Soon it was recognised that the fluctuating water levels in the empty quarries fluctuated risking summer droughts and winter inundations. By 2006-8 Avocet started breeding, and there were 76 pairs of Lapwing - though the latter have declined (why?). During 2009-2011 the West Scrapes were expanded, and Bittern began to breed in the expensive reed-beds that had been established for them. During the next 3 years a network of paths around the reserve, many with disabled access, was established, with help from Tarmac. An open day in 2015 attracted much general publicity and an increased number of volunteers. Woodlands were planted and a fen project developed.

A bio-blitz resulted in the discovery of many new species and resulted in more thorough recording. Ariel drones were used for photography and hydrology surveys. Management of the sward by cattle and Rabbit grazing has enhanced the flora, so that 9 species of orchid have appeared, and more birds come to nest and rest. And more of us visit to enjoy and admire this unique and beloved dales corner: a nature stepping stone.