Rare visitors cause a stir

The Wildlife Conservation Team at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority often receive a number of interesting reports of both common and, occasionally, more interesting wildlife sightings each year. 

This one, however, turned out to be something pretty special. 

Wildlife Conservation Officer Mark Hewitt received an email on the evening of 30 August from a visitor who reported seeing a chough above Settle.  Mark works part-time and I was away on leave, so it wasn’t until 6 September that we could actually get up and check out the report.      

As we walked up through the limestone grassland towards Victoria Cave (above Settle along the western fringe of the National Park), every corvid was carefully scrutinised. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, all turned out to be jackdaws. 

Attermire Scar viewed from the south

As we headed up the valley and the wind and rain picked up, two birds flew up in front of us: the first was a jackdaw, but the other called twice giving the distinctive ‘chow’ ‘chow’ call of a chough…

Before we could get anything on the bird it dropped out of sight behind a large knoll of exposed rock. We dashed over and then carefully inched around the rock until we could see the bird feeding on the ground. We could clearly see the red legs and down-curved bill of a chough, but couldn’t believe that we were watching one in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.   

Our first chough spotted at Attermire Scar

As we started to photograph the bird we were staggered to see it had landed next to another – so there were not one but two choughs present! 

Watching the birds feed, we could make out that both had colour rings on their legs, but they soon flicked up onto a wall and then dropped out of site just over the skyline. We sat down to double and triple check the photographs to convince ourselves that we had actually been watching two choughs. 

We zoomed in on the different coloured rings, to try and determine the combinations. While some captive birds will be ringed – we wanted to make sure that they hadn’t escaped from a collection – there are a number of projects that are looking to colour-ring wild birds, so their movements and life histories can be studied. 

…and our second chough! A very rare sighting indeed (Image: Mike Clarke)

The chough is a very rare bird away from coastal sites in Wales, the Isle of Man, Cornwall and South West Scotland. In Yorkshire, there are historical records suggesting they may have bred on coastal cliffs in the 19th century. We subsequently determined that there had been only a further four records in the county, the most recent reported in 1994. 

We knew that these birds would be very popular with Yorkshire birders in particular and, as they were showing well from a public footpath in an area of Open Access and nearby roadside parking shouldn’t be too problematic, we immediately put the news out.  Well, not quite immediately as I had to wander around to find somewhere with sufficient mobile signal to tweet out the location and a photo of the birds.   

Behind the scenes, several of Yorkshire’s keenest birders were trying to track down the location where the birds had been ringed, and it wasn’t that long before we got a message that they had come from one of the study areas in Wales. As we knew that a number of people were heading to the site, we settled down to keep a watch on the birds. 

A small number of local birders arrived and, by mid-afternoon, several had arrived from much further afield. By this time, the birds had moved further down the valley and, at one point during a heavy shower, flew up on to the crag, enabling the inscription on the rings to be read and for their identity to be determined.   

The Cross & Stratford Welsh Chough Project has been undertaking a long-running study of choughs in mid and North Wales. They’ve marked over 6,000 individual birds during the past 28 years, providing key information on their movements and nesting behaviour.  Thanks to their prompt response we found out that ‘our’ two birds were juvenile siblings ringed out of a brood of three on the north east coast of Anglesey in late May this year.

Although the project has had several birds cross the border from its Welsh study area – including one seen on the Lancashire coast and a few on the Isle of Man – the c. 150km movement of these birds to Yorkshire is unprecedented. There must be something in the family genes as the same nest produced young in 2016 that moved around 220km from Anglesey to Porthcawl, Kenfig and Ogmore, all on the south coast of Wales, the longest movements of any birds studied in the project.    

A steady stream of birdwatchers has now enjoyed watched these rare visitors in this spectacular area of Yorkshire Dales limestone landscape.

I think that everyone who has been up to see them would like to thank the person who took the time to report the sighting, enabling many enthusiasts to see two truly remarkable visitors to the National Park.   

For more on the rare – and common, but equally fascinating – wildlife of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, visit our website www.natureinthedales.org.uk

Following the work of our building conservation officers

As the National Park Authority’s Member Champion for Cultural Heritage, part of my role is to follow that area of work – so that I can understand the issues and challenges it presents and influence the National Park’s policies and approach accordingly.  Archaeology, building conservation and historic landscape features all fall within the cultural heritage remit. 

Continue reading “Following the work of our building conservation officers”

How are ‘priority habitats’ assessed in the Yorkshire Dales National Park?

Ecologist Robyn Guppy of Haycock & Jay Associates in Hodgehill Wood near Sedbergh, inputting survey data into a tablet

From where I’m sitting at a desk in Bainbridge, gazing out of the window (hard life), the Yorkshire Dales National Park is looking mighty fine.  But is it as lovely as it looks?  Just what is the state of nature in the Park?  Do we even know?

It was these questions which prompted me to take a look at a piece of work our wildlife conservation team has been conducting since the start of the decade.

Continue reading “How are ‘priority habitats’ assessed in the Yorkshire Dales National Park?”

Mud pies for grown ups!

This spring, I was tasked with some soil sampling to support a farmer’s agri-environment scheme. As support officer for the Farm Conservation team, this is a straightforward but enjoyable task that allows me to practise the skills I need to progress in my job – talking to farmers, map reading, species and habitat identification, and taking photos in the sunshine! Continue reading “Mud pies for grown ups!”

So quick? The unstoppable spread of ash dieback disease

It started with a chance conversation with a workmate who commutes to our offices in Bainbridge from Sedbergh.   Had I seen the young ash trees dying on the Garsdale road verges?  I confessed I hadn’t.

A week or so later I was driving that way and my eyes were opened.  It was true. All along the Garsdale road there were young ash trees in a bad state.  It was mid-summer, but their branches were bare.  Continue reading “So quick? The unstoppable spread of ash dieback disease”

Trees for the future

My dreams of having a smallholding recently came true when my family took on a few acres of pasture near our home in the Yorkshire Dales. Long-term plans include hens, bee-keeping, an allotment, a couple of donkeys and maybe some pigs – but the thing I wanted to do straight away was plant some native trees and establish an orchard. Continue reading “Trees for the future”

Have your say: What needs doing in the National Park?

Muker village

Perhaps more than ever before, there are many challenges facing our National Park as we look ahead over the next five years:

  • Support for our farmers after Brexit
  • Inspiring young people to discover, explore and enhance their environment
  • The illegal persecution of birds of prey
  • Rail haulage of crushed rock from the quarries
  • The provision of fast broadband to our communities
  • New housing and the retention of access to crucial services like primary schools and GPs

Plans for all of these and many, many more are included in the new draft National Park Management Plan 2019-2024. Now is your opportunity to have your say on what’s included and what’s not. Continue reading “Have your say: What needs doing in the National Park?”

We want our birds of prey back

Peregrine in flight at Malham Cove. Credit: Phil Smith.

Never has it been easier to identify the biggest, most important issue for the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority. No, it is not the impact of empty second homes on community life.  It is the future of upland farming post-Brexit.  Decisions made in the next few years on a new, England-only agricultural policy could shape the landscape of the Dales – and its communities – for the next fifty years.

Continue reading “We want our birds of prey back”