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Annual Newsletter 1998



The Society’s 1998 Newsletter, issued to Members, included:


This issue maintains the timing of the 1997 edition, in that it describes our summer excursions and includes the recorders' reports for the last calendar year. We can look back and consider the effect of the events of the year on the wildlife of Ryedale. It would be nice if it could be ready with the programme for 1998/99 at the first meeting of the new year - the Editor will do his best.

Readers will note that Jack Watson's report on birds is the only one available - the Society still lacks a Botany recorder, and the hand-over from Gordon Woodroffe to Michael Thompson has meant a gap in the mammal reports. We are indebted once again to Colin Stephenson for leading our annual fungus foray and for letting us have a record of what was found.

We are not the only organisation which feels the absence of young recruits - other organisations to which I belong are in the same situation. But the absence of young field naturalists is a cause for concern, even apprehension. Where is our young Botany recorder, for instance? Yet concern for the environment, and general interest in wildlife, seems to be stronger than ever, especially among younger generations. One difference between 'us' and 'them' is that many more of them have had a university education and have become professional rather then amateur naturalists. Or it may be that a focused interest in collecting or recording in a small specialised area was a passing fashion: the Victorian country parson is an extinct species, as perhaps is the amateur prepared to make the considerable investment in time and study needed to become expert. What do members think about this? Are there people 'out there' who would join and make a contribution? How do we find out? Help to fill the next edition with your ideas.

Very best wishes for an interesting and enjoyable 1998 from your Editor.

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Field Guide to the Dragonflies & Damselflies of Great Britain and Ireland
Don Smith writes: "I am sure that most of our members buy nature recognition books for this group or that in order to become more proficient in the field. May I recommend a new book just out, Field Guide to the Dragonflies & Damselflies of Great Britain and Ireland.

There have been many dragonfly books published over the last 30 or 40 years and I already have three. For me, when considering purchase of an illustrated recognition book, the quality of the plates is the most important aspect. This dragonfly book has such superb coloured plates that I could just sit and mentally drool over them. Every species has a dorsal view (including all the colour varieties) and a side view and in some cases a front view of the head where markings are significant. A distribution map accompanies each species, and larvae photographs and key are also included. Even the plates in the Naturalists Handbook No.7 pale into insignificance by comparison.

The price is £18.95 + £2.50 pp (£3.50 for 2 copies, £4.50 for 3 etc.) from Dragonfly Guide, British Wildlife Publishing, Lower Barn, Rooks Farm, Rotherwick, Hook, Hampshire, RG27 9BG.

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Summer Outings 1997

Wildfowl and Wetland Trust’s Centre at Washington

The first trip of the year was to the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust's centre at Washington, on May 19th. The twelve participants fitted into a minibus so that we saved on coach hire. The group split up and enjoyed the large collection of wildfowl from all over the world. The centre is on a hillside, and the various ponds and enclosures are terraced down the slope, and at the bottom there are semi-natural ponds alongside the river Wear which attract migrating birds. 6 Bar-tailed Godwits, several Greenshanks and a very visible and audible Reed Warbler in the fringing reed bed were the highlights.

Mulgrave Woods

On June 14th we made a joint excursion to Mulgrave Woods, inland from Sandsend, with the Hemsley Archaeological Society. In the event 'we' were rather heavily out-numbered by archaeologists. This might have been due to the weather - we hit one of the worst days of an abominable June. A bitterly cold wind blew in off a stormy sea, and it was fortunate that we were walking inland up a fairly sheltered valley. Mulgrave Woods contain some very fine large spruce and Douglas fir, and we were surprised to be told that the whole estate had been cleared of timber during WWII - this is clearly a fertile valley.

The ridge which forms the north side of the valley is narrow and steep-sided, and easy to defend. The very first fortification, established soon after the Norman Conquest, is now no more than a mound. It was replaced by another castle about a mile along the ridge, which was extensively rebuilt as a residence in Elizabethan times, rather like Helmsley castle. The Earl and Countess now occupy a Georgian house further to the north.

The National Park and English Heritage are engaged in 'stabilising' the ruins: removing ivy and brambles, shoring up unstable walls, and generally making the ruin accessible - and safe - for visitors. Graham Lee, the National Park archaeologist, explained all this to us, and pointed out the successive stages of building. It is a place well worth re-visiting on a warmer day.

Moor Gate, Hawnby

The walk on July 21st was led by Don Buckle of Forest Enterprise, and started at Moor Gate on the edge of the moorland north of Hawnby. There we were shown one of the only three sites of the White Beaked Sedge by Nan Sykes - remarkably only just off the road. In the woods several species of fungi were found and tracks of deer were seen. Chaffinch, Blackcap and several species of Tit were seen, and Goldcrest and Coal Tit could be heard in the tree tops while we were eating our lunch.

We then continued into Low Wood, a natural oak wood carpeted with ferns in the wetter areas and a shrub layer in several parts. Open areas regenerate naturally, as the wood is not 'managed' - that is to say that Nature is left without interference. None of the party had been here before, and all were impressed...It is good to see that despite the financial targets set for it Forest Enterprise can still preserve these small remnants of the woodland which once covered the moors.

Fungus Foray, Cawthorne

The Fungus Foray this year took place on the 14th September at Cawthorne, in the woods around the Roman Camps, and it was possible to compare the fungi found under pine to those under birch. Those who had not previously experienced Colin Stephenson's skill in finding fungi were amazed to see how much variety existed under their feet. Colin has very kindly sent us a list of the day's finds.

MYXOMYCOTA (Slime Mould Fungi)
Fuligo septica on conifer stump

FASCOMYCOTINA (Spore Shooters)
Pyrenomycetes and Plectomycetes (Flask fungi and Mildews)

Erysiphe heraclei on Hogweed
Microsphaera alphitoides on Oak leaves

Discomycetes (Cup fungi)
Lachnellula subtilissima on fallen Larch
Mollisia cinerella on debarked birch

Agaricales etc.

Amanita fulva under Birch (Tawny Grisette)
Bolbitius vitellinus on dung
Boletus subtomentosus under Birch
Clitocybe odora under Birch
Collybia dryophila under Birch
Collybia maculata under Birch
Coprinus comatus - path side (Shaggy Inkcap or Lawyer's wig)
Coprinus micaceus on Birch stump
Galerina hyprorum in moss
Gymnopilus penetrans on fallen conifer
Hebeloma mesophaeum - path side grass
Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca under pine (False Chanterelle)
Hypholoma fasciculare on fallen Birch (Sulphur Tufts)
Inocybe lacera under conifer
Laccaria laccata under Birch (Deceiver)
Laccaria proxima under conifer
Leccinum scabrum under Birch
Leccinum varicolor under Birch
Laccinum versipella under Birch
Lepista sordida - path side grass
Paxillus involutus under Larch and Pine
Russula emetica under Pine (Sickener)
Russula nitida under Birch
Russula ochroleuca under Birch and Pine
Suillus grevillei under Larch (Larch Bolete)
Suillus varigatus under Birch and Pine

Aphyllophorales (Brackets)
Coriolus versicolor on Birch stump (Turkey Tails)
Fomes fomentarius on Birch
Piptoporus betulinus on Birch (Birch Bracket)
Stereum rogosum on Birch stump

Hymenomycetous heterobasidiae (Jelly Fungi)
Calocera pallidospathulata

Gasteromycetes (Puff Balls)
Calvatia exipuliformis under Birch
Lycoperdon foetidum under Pine
Lycoperdon perlatum under Birch
Lycoperdon pyriforme on Birch stump

Uredinomycetes (Rusts)
Melampsoridium betulinum on Birch leaves
Phragmidium violaceum on Bramble leaves

DEUTEROMYCONINA (Fungi Imperfecta)

Ovularia obliqua on Dock leaves

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Disaster at Bempton

Those of us who went to Mulgrave Woods were not the only sufferers from the cold wet north-easterlies which blew so frequently in June last year. The seabirds at Bempton and Speeton and Flamborough lost most of their chicks - the RSPB estimate that over 100,000 died from exposure. Only a few kittiwake chicks survived on the highest and most sheltered ledges, and puffins, razorbills and guillemots seem to have been no more successful in rearing their young. Fulmars and gannets suffered least.

These seabirds are long-lived, and raise several broods during their lifetime, so that one bad year like 1997 will not have a marked impact on numbers. More serious was the devastation of the small colony of Little Terns at Easington on the Holderness coast, where only 4 out of 34 chicks survived the cold, the wet and the driven sand. The consequences for this much less common seabird could be serious.

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Bird Report for 1997

A severe cold spell during the first two weeks of 1997, a mild and damp February, warm days in March and April, same again in May, but with cool nights towards the end of the month. Then a wet and dull June with severe easterly gales during the last week and into July. How did this affect our resident and migrant birds?

Resident birds coped reasonably well, with many reports of early nesting, though the late spring frosts led to some loss of clutches. Summer migrants suffered from lack of insect life during late June: swallows and swifts during the late summer months appeared to be in smaller numbers than usual. The sand martin colony at Helmsley had a poor year with many first broods "washed out" by heavy rain during June. My own observations of house martins indicated that they had a good breeding season. Incidentally ground-nesting birds in some areas suffered during the unseasonable June weather: merlins on the North Yorkshire moors had a disastrous year in our area with only one fledged young reported. In the lower-lying areas a number of partridge nests were washed out and instances of brooding females dying on the nest were reported.

The following is a brief month by month summary of some of the highlights observed during the year.

January/February. Flocks of fieldfares and redwings in many areas, 200+ in the Gilling district. A mistle thrush singing mid-January. A flock of 26 siskins in Kirkbymoorside was the largest reported, but fewer coming to garden bird feeders than in the previous year. The usual pairs of coal tits and marsh tits made use of feeders in Gilling on a regular basis, greatly outnumbered by up to 20 blue tits at a time on occasions. Great spotted woodpeckers were also consistent visitors. A party of 12 redpolls in Kirkbymoorside on 12th February and 12 goosanders remaining on Pond Head (Yearsley) reservoir for up to three weeks during February.

March/April. Large flocks of common gulls reported in the Kirkbymoorside district - 460 on 30th March and 150 on 23rd April. The first summer visitors began to arrive - chiff-chaff, Gilling, 10th March; willow warbler, Gilling and Cropton, 8th/10th April; wheatear, Kirkbymoorside, 5th April; blackcap, Gilling, 10th April; house martin, a pair in Gilling 13th April; and the main influx of swallows during the third week of April. Cuckoo calling in Brandsby on 26th April (and Lastingham on 14th May) but very few reports from other areas during this period. Barn owls reported from West Ness.

May/June. Whitethroat, Gilling, 9th May; swifts, Gilling, 14th May; osprey, Ampleforth area, 24th May; garden warbler, Kirkbymoorside, 1st June.

July/August. Woodcock "roding" regularly at dusk in the Gilling area during July. Green woodpecker, Pry Rigg (Ampleforth) and Gilling; redstart in Kirkbymoorside mid-August. By the middle of August house martins had already raised two broods on my house gable end. An interesting record for our area was Savi's warbler ringed and released at Marton during August. I watched a pair of spotted flycatchers stting on overhead wires in Gilling regularly darting down in an attempt to remove butterflies from my Buddleia bush - occasionally successfully!! Their technique must have been observed in the adjacent bird world as two or three days later a chiff-chaff repeated the performance.

September/October. Returning flocks of fieldfares began to appear. Swifts were observed as late as September with a group as late as the 25th in Kirkbymoorside. Little owls reported from Ampleforth and Beadlam in early October. Goldfinch apparently had a very good breeding season: flocks of 25 noted feeding on dandelion seeds in West Pasture, 50/60 on the remains of thistleheads on "set-aside" land in Gilling. Up to 30 siskins on larch cones in Gilling Woods at the end of October. Goldcrests were seen singly during the month at Gilling and Keldholme.

November/December. A party of 43 blackbirds - possibly some migratory birds - in Kirkbymoorside on 15th November. Redwing in my locality (Gilling) were not seen until mid-November. Bullfinch seen and heard calling in November - more numerous than in previous years, a party of 6 in Kirkbymoorside. Rough-legged buzzard in Bransdale 15th/16th November: a late (very late) sighting of the last of our summer visitors returning to a warmer climate flying west over Gilling on 2nd November. A woodcock was flushed from cleared woodland in Gilling Woods in early December. Two whooper swans were heard calling and seen flying in an easterly direction over Slingsby in early December. Towards the latter half of December several flocks of fieldfares were noted moving around the area, amongst them also smaller groups of redwings. Was this a portent of the stormy weather we were to experience on Christmas Eve?

Jack Watson, Bird Reporter

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Protecting Ryedale’s Wildlife

Ryedale District Council has just issued the "Deposit Draft" of the new District Plan: there is a short period in which objections or statements of support may be submitted, and then an Inspector from the Department of the Environment will conduct a public hearing before the final version is adopted. Those of us who are concerned about the natural environment and the wildlife of Ryedale have been very pleased to read that the Council takes this very seriously and is proposing policies which will ensure that sensitive habitats and rare species are not damaged by development.

Ryedale contains no less than 40 SSSIs, of which 28 are in the area covered by the Plan (the National Park, where the rest are situated, has its own Plan) but in addition the District Council has carried out extensive surveys and has identified, with the help of English Nature and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, 82 "Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation" which will also be protected from damage.

Many of these sites come within that part of Ryedale which is included in the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). This is controlled by a Joint Advisory Committee which includes councillors from the County, and from Hambleton and Ryedale Districts, as well as representatives of farmers and landowners, and others concerned with the countryside. It too has just published its Plan for the 'management' of the AONB, which is intended to co-ordinate the activities of bodies such as the Countryside Commission, the Forestry Authority, the Ministry of Agriculture and other bodies with programmes and grants to offer. Paul Jackson has been appointed to be the 'man on the ground', and we hope that he will show us something of his work this coming summer. Perhaps I may be excused a little 'plug' for the Council for the Protection of Rural England, whose members keep an eye on all planning applications and who would object if they felt that wildlife were threatened by proposed development. CPRE Ryedale has strongly supported the wildlife policies in both of these plans.

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Not Proven?

As you know under Scots Law a court can bring in a verdict of 'Not proven', so it seems appropriate that the major study of the impact of hen harriers on grouse moors was carried out on Scottish moors. The evidence is now in, and it seems to show two things: first that illegal killing of harriers and other 6 raptors has been intense and widespread; and second that harriers can reduce the number of grouse surviving to be shot in the autumn, and so reduce the profitability of a moor.

At Langhorn, one of the estates taking part in the study, the number of female hen harriers increased from 2 in 1990 to 14 in 1996 and the number of breeding peregrines doubled. This did have an impact on grouse - adult grouse were killed by raptors in spring, and the breeding harriers killed grouse chicks to feed their young in summer, so that there was a marked drop in the number of grouse shot in the autumn. Guilty as charged?

The case is not so clear cut, because on another moor increased numbers of harriers co-existed with good bags of grouse. It is also true that there has been a long-term decline in grouse numbers on all the moors in the study, even though for most of this time raptors have been shot and trapped and poisoned almost to extinction.The study has shown that loss of heather and increase in rough grassland has led to a decline in grouse numbers, since grouse love heather: and that these changes in vegetation are caused by heavy grazing by sheep. At the same time more grassland has meant more voles and more pipits, and this attracts the harriers.

More harriers, fewer grouse: they must be guilty. Many people have jumped to this conclusion and are arguing that raptors must be 'moved off' grouse moors. Others are equally clear that the real culprits are the sheep: overgrazing encouraged by subsidies, and the consequent loss of heather, has resulted in falling bags of grouse. Dr. Simon Lyster, Director-General of the Wildlife Trusts, has no doubts: "Overgrazing, promoted by mis-directed subsidies, has been the bane of the uplands for decades....we need urgent reform of grazing subsidies, not manipulation of raptor numbers, to tackle the root cause of this conflict."

BBC Wildlife, December 1997

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Over There

Friends in the United States give me a subscription to National Wildlife and International Wildlife as a Christmas present, and I find it interesting to compare what is happening here in our small island with events in the wide open spaces over there. Two items in recent issues caught my eye.

The first was a letter about the alleged transmission of brucellosis from wild bison in the Yellowstone National Park to the cattle of local ranchers - they, needless to say, wanted the bison culled, but the Secretary of the Interior has said "No". Does this remind you of badgers and tuberculosis in the South-West of England? The similarity actually goes deeper, because in neither case is there any convincing proof that the wild animals transmit the disease to the domestic ones.

The second story is also about Yellowstone: the centerfold (there's an Americanism for you!) is a painting of thefirst litter of wolf cubs to be born in the wild in the USA since the 1920s. In 1995 wolves from Canada were re-introduced in the hope of controlling the deer population, and last year female No.9 produced a litter of eight. Soon after they were born the father was shot by a poacher, and mother and pups were rescued by Park staff: the plan was to keep them in a compound until the pups had grown large enough to fend for themselves. But Nature took a hand when a violent summer storm wrecked the fences. Two of the cubs escaped, and found a foster father: the other six were recaptured and returned to mother, and released in the fall. One was run over, and another killed in a scuffle with another wolf, but mother paired off with the adopted father and the family is now one of the eight wolf packs in the Park. As the scientist in charge of the programme said: "This is one story that clearly has a happy ending." There is talk of re-introducing wolves to the Scottish Highlands - but do we have that kind of space?

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What Area Do We Cover?

The boundaries of our area are formed by grid lines, so that the corner points can be readily identified. Many wildlife surveys (such as the current survey of hares) are organised on the basis of kilometre squares - we have 800 of them within our purview.

So there is merit in sticking to this rectangular framework, but "on the ground" we could think of our area as being defined by the northern watershed running from Black Hambleton round to Saltersgate; the Whitby - Thornton Dale road, or perhaps Newtondale, on the east; and the Drove Road along the edge of the Hambleton Hills on the west. The southern boundary is less easy - do we take in the Howardian Hills as far as Malton and the Kirkham Gorge? Or do we think of the Gilling Gap and Caukleys Bank, and then the edge of the high ground to Pickering and Thornton Dale, as a better southern boundary?

One thing is sure: no-one will ask to see your passport.

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