Each year, special ‘Authority Days’ give staff the chance to get involved in practical tasks that help care for the National Park, and to gain a better understanding of other departments’ work at the same time.
This year, the range of important conservation and education jobs included flag laying, path repairs, creating native woodland and a wildlife pond, archaeology test pitting, scrub management and vegetation clearance.
Last Tuesday, I took part in my first Authority Day, so I would love to tell you about what we got up to…
We were based at Gryll’s Cottage in Thorlby for the day, visiting Dales Volunteer and farmer, Caroline Moorhouse. The aim was to showcase the Parish Wildlife Project and Tree Sparrow Recovery Project by demonstrating bird ringing.
Mist nets were put out to catch the birds and allow the licensed and fully trained members of the Wildlife Conservation Team to put rings on them. This gave the rest of us the opportunity to both see the process and have the thrill of holding birds in the hand.
Mark Hewitt and Ian Court from the Authority’s Wildlife Conservation Team – who organised the day – had been ‘early birds’ (excuse the pun) and set up a couple of mist nets in preparation. The nets could only be left out for a limited period of time and were constantly being monitored by Ian throughout the course of the day.
In total, 30 birds were captured, from blue tits, great tits and chaffinches, to a robin, nuthatch and great spotted woodpecker. It was a delight to be able to see them close-up as it was an opportunity that doesn’t come along that often.
A very small, lightweight metal ring was placed on the bird. This has a unique identification number so that it can be tracked wherever it goes. We then determined the bird’s age. For some species this can be extremely difficult to do, as it depends on slight colouration on the ‘coverts’ (feather covering) of the wings to detect whether the bird is an adult or a juvenile from this year.
Some birds can also be sexed, but this is much easier in spring and summer when the colours are bolder. In some species the males are brighter than the females. For example, on a great tit, the underside belly of the male has a large black area while the female has only a small hint of black.
Finally, the bird’s wing measurement was taken.
The British Trust for Ornithology’s Ringing Scheme aims to monitor the breeding success and survival rates of birds and collect information about their movements and migration routes. It also provides vital support for conservation efforts. Without this information, for example, we would have never been able to find out that some birds fly to South Africa in winter.
The second half of the day was a tour of Caroline’s farm and a site walk. We heard about the contribution of the two projects to land management here. Caroline approached the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority for advice on her small area of woodland. It largely consists of ash, sycamore and beech, with some of the ash currently under threat from ash dieback disease.
Caroline uses the woodland to produce high quality charcoal for her personal use. It was interesting to learn about how this process works and to see the charcoal burner in action.
The landscape surrounding the farm has a mosaic of different habitats, including farmland, woodland, scrubland, meadow and hedgerow. These multiple types of land use are extremely beneficial for wildlife diversity and for connectivity between different landscapes, therefore it is vital to manage and maintain them.
As part of our day visit we helped out with some hedgerow maintenance, including planting new sections and tidying recently planted hedge lines to continue to develop robust species-rich hedges on the site. We planted a mixture of hawthorn, rose, field maple and hornbeam saplings. Planting new hedgerows not only acts as a boundary, but is also important to ensure a more joined-up landscape, providing great habitat and wildlife corridors for species to travel through.
Overall, it was a very informative day and it was good to get hands-on and help Caroline with all the hard work and effort that she puts in on her farm.