Biodiversity action in the Yorkshire Dales

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A decade of biodiversity action

In 2010, after the Yorkshire Dales National Park completed its first 10-year Biodiversity Action Plan called Nature In The Dales, work continued on projects such as:

  • the Peatland Project - work has begun on the restoration of large areas of degraded moorland
  • the Hay Time project - seven schemes introducing harvested seed to 24ha of meadows have begun
  • a survey of ancient natural woodland in the National Park has been carried out - results to be used to inform habitat-management work

Highs and lows: Crayfish, butterflies, black grouse and more

  • the highly successful captive breeding program of white-clawed crayfish in Ribblesdale continued and monitoring work is currently being carried out to determine whether the crayfish plague which had been affecting the species has been eradicated
  • early results from butterfly monitoring work suggest it has been a mixed year for species such as northern brown argus and small-pearl bordered fritillary butterfly
  • the cold winter of 2009 to 2010 has impacted on black grouse populations in the Yorkshire Dales but there continues to be a positive trend towards long-term population growth
  • the dormouse re-introduction project has been a huge success with monitoring work showing that there has been a significant spread away from the original release sites
  • the area's population of red squirrels has remained stable
  • the collection of juniper seeds and cuttings has continued as new woodland-planting schemes for this species were developed over the year

Bats under the Dales

Why was the bat project needed?

Caves are important mating and hibernation sites for many temperate bat species and critical to their continued survival. Yorkshire Dales National Park has more caves and kilometres of cave passage than anywhere else in the UK yet, prior to this project, virtually nothing was known about their importance to bats. The aims of the project were to:

  • to survey major caves, determine the bat species present and estimate the number using key sites
  • to understand the behaviour and ecology of cave use in order to prepare better conservation plans
  • to make the importance of the caves known to the widest possible audience

What did the survey find?

More than 60 caves were surveyed. It was found that bats make use of the majority of these, but sometimes in small numbers.

Many of the larger caves are important sites, each attracting thousands of bats in the autumn from summer roosts far beyond the boundaries of the national park. The survey helped explain what makes a cave suitable for bats and how caves fit into the bats’ life cycles.

The team wrote a 'cavers' conservation code', promoted the project through locally and nationally, wrote articles for wildlife and caving magazines and published in international scientific journals. The project featured on BBC television and radio, including a live, underground transmission for Autumnwatch.

Limestone Country Project

Why was the project needed?

Mixed grazing with sheep and upland cattle helped create the wonderful diversity of plants and wildlife in the limestone country of the Yorkshire Dales.

This has declined in the last 50 years due to a move towards more specialised sheep farming, resulting in the loss of species and structural diversity. The aim of the project was to restore diversity on more than 1,500ha of habitat by encouraging farmers to return to mixed livestock farming.

Did they meet their target?

  • grants helped farmers establish 18 traditional breed, upland cattle herds on 1,850ha of land - beating the 1,500ha target
  • two weed-wiping machines helped them manage invasive species on 300ha, as well as reducing rabbit grazing over 6,800ha
  • on land using project cattle, the proportion of recovering calcareous grassland and limestone pavement was higher than elsewhere in the area
  • the amount of alkaline fen in favourable condition was maintained and the amount that was recovering increased
  • the diversity of indicator species was found to be higher on land grazed with cattle rather than with sheep
  • the new Environmental Stewardship Scheme now contains supplementary payments to encourage farmers to use traditional breeds in conservation grazing

Cumbrian red squirrel population spreads to North Yorkshire

The UK's native red squirrel population is in danger of disappearing from our countryside altogether. The main threat comes from the introduced grey squirrel. As well as competing for a limited food supply, greys carry the squirrelpox virus which is fatal to reds.

What were this project’s aims?

To find out about the distribution of red squirrels in the national park, to ensure suitable woodlands were being managed appropriately, to raise awareness of the conservation requirements of reds - and to control greys.

What has it achieved to date?

Sightings from a number of sources and hair-tube surveys by Dales Volunteers have shown that the Cumbrian population of red squirrels has spread into North Yorkshire.

Following the 2005 North of England Red Squirrel Conservation Strategy, 17 reserves have been established where positive woodland management is carried out. These include national park reserves at:

  • Garsdale and Mallerstang
  • Widdale
  • Greenfield - here a ranger has been employed thanks to Forestry Commission funding; his role is to control the grey squirrels here

Also, to raise awareness about the species, a viewpoint has been created at Snaizeholme on a self-guided walk from Hawes in Wensleydale.

Making hay pay biodiversity dividends

Over the last 60 years the number and quality of meadows in the Yorkshire Dales National Park has declined dramatically. Although funding for meadow restoration work was available through agri-environment schemes, a lack of specialist machinery, trained contractors and staff to co-ordinate schemes has prevented much work from being undertaken.

What did the Hay Time project hope to achieve?

To enhance and restore at least 200ha of upland and lowland meadows within, and close to, the national park.

This meant introducing seed to traditionally-managed meadows and to meadows which have declined in quality but which still have some botanical interest.

Results of the project

  • 1000ha has been surveyed and 143ha of meadow has had seed added and/or is in better management
  • Meadow-themed events and activities for residents and visitors - in 2008 the Hay Time Festival was held; in 2009 and 2010 there was the Flowers of the Dales Festival

Crayfish claw back territory in Ribblesdale

The white-clawed crayfish is the UK’s only freshwater native crayfish. North West England is one of the last strongholds of this rapidly declining species. The introduction of the North American signal crayfish into British waters, and the crayfish plague that it carries, is the main cause of decline.

Aims of the project?

  • to attempt the first successful eradication of a crayfish plague outbreak
  • to establish a captive breeding programme
  • to investigate ecological requirements and identify and monitor potential 'ark' or safe sites
  • to raise awareness about conservation and the threat of invasive species
  • to attempt eradication of American signal crayfish

What has it achieved to date?

Specially designed ‘conservation weirs’ have been effective in limiting the downstream movement of white-clawed crayfish into the plague-infected zone. Continued monitoring is assessing whether crayfish plague has been eradicated.

A captive breeding facility – the most successful in the UK - has been established in Ribblesdale. Three generations have been raised, isolated from non native crayfish and crayfish plague.

Trial educational work about the problem has been carried out in the Malham Tarn field studies centre and in schools. A public aquarium has been set up and the project has also featured on the BBC's Countryfile.