Posts Tagged ‘humberhead levels’

Humberhead Levels; handkerchief sites and natural history gems?

August 16, 2016

The Humberhead Levels has some great sites in terms of natural history interest.  The two principle lowland raised mires are gems, but much altered by industry and more recently through the implementation of Water Level Management Plans and the LIFE+ Project.

There still remain some pocket handkerchief size sites, some managed by county Wildlife Trusts and local authorities and these are coming under increased pressure as open access areas and playgrounds for people.  There are two sides to any coin and if we don’t explain to the casual visitor why they are nature reserves or protected areas then we risk their future because these days we are told everything has to have a monetary value, eco-system services have to be evaluated in order to be able to present a case for fresh air and clean water and such.

Some sites remain in private ownership, as was the case with Inkle Moor on the western periphery of Thorne Moors.  If it had not been so then the chances are it would have been ‘improved’ or managed and consequently probably lost much of its special biodiversity interest.  There are others and we have been looking recently at one such site, another SSSI which has historic data indicating quality.  Surveying has not been helped by the amount of precipitation standing on the site.  Bare peat has been waterlogged which may not help rare species such as Curimopsis nigrita which has a very specific micro-habitat requirement.

Undeterred, intrepid naturalists donned wellington boots after applying a liberal lathering of insect repellent as a precaution as it was very warm in the open, reaching 29 degrees at one point in the early afternoon.

Despite the lateness of the season, Diptera were targeted alongside coleoptera that it had not been possible to search for when particular areas were waterlogged.

160815 3 H pendulus 284 hrk web

The sunshine certainly fueled invertebrate passions, count the pairs of wings in this Helophilus pendulus …. something of a natural ‘menage a trois’ perhaps?  H pendulus is separated from H hybridus by the black band preventing the yellow merging on segments T2 and T3 (as seen in the above image).  Other features to check include the amount of frons dusting the colour of the hind tibia (H pendulus has apical third black as opposed to half in H hybridus)  and these features are best checked with the benefit of a hand lens. A common and widespread species and these were observed after their very vocal buzzing drew attention to their presence.

Also present in good numbers were a number of species of Araneidae, including the HHL special Araneus marmoreus var. pyramidatus.  See

160815 A m pyramidatus hrk 253

Of good HHL records it is also worth mentioning that a new micro moth has been added to the Thorne Moors list, regular visitor and able photographer Martin Warne noticed this specimen of Apodia bifractella on a Fleabane flower-head.

Apodia bifractella  10082016 mw

This dainty moth was first recorded in Yorkshire in 1994, so a relative newcomer.  Previously known from 13 sites, with the new Thorne Moors record a fourteenth site for the county and a sixth site for Vice County 63.

‘Ideal’ moth nights in terms of weather have been few but perseverance can pay dividends, as was the case when I added Black Arches to a site list.  Patient observation and a knowledge of the more common can also reap reward as can quick reaction and a steady hand to capture images of sufficient quality to provide evidence to validate the identification.  So, two examples of what can be achieved with effort?

A pleasant six hours or so in the field, countless ahead in determining the material …. watch this space for updates.

 

 

 

 

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Nature’s cure?

July 14, 2016

There’s nothing like a day in the field to recharge batteries.  After the last couple of weeks of political pantomime, or would it be better described as a farce, fresh air, a pleasant landscape and stunning wildlife were a refreshing change.

160630 Banded Damoiselle IS mw

This stunning male Banded Demoiselle was just one of perhaps forty or so of the species present along a relatively short stretch of the River Idle.  No sooner had you got your camera focused on them than they flew off just a short tantelising distance away.  This species is reasonably common in the Humberhead Levels where they can be found along clean water courses and a few remaining ‘hidden’ ponds where they have not been absorbed into the expanse of monoculture.  I’ve even had one in my garden!

The Humberhead Levels has a number of pocket handkerchief gems, sites where time seems to have stood still.  These sites are few and far between and not always well known, they are often in private ownership which can be either a blessing (as in the case of Inkle Moor) or a curse.  There are some farmers as opposed to agri-industrialists who turn a blind eye and let nature alone.    The issue might then be if they change hands and the new land owner or next more business minded, profit orientated generation seeks return from investment.  Perhaps with Brexit the review of agricultural subsidies, or agri-welfare payments call them what you like (ex CAP), we might see payments made to farmers who are able to evidence tangible public benefit from receipt of public funds?

Drainage to benefit agricultural intensification can be detrimental to wildlife. We reported infill of a pond in the HHL recently, one where we understand there had been Great Crested Newts in the vicinity, likewise Water Voles.  Both these species are protected by legislation.  But, it seems that the public are now expected to provide evidence of presence rather than those with a duty?

The Biodiversity Duty: Section 40 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006 places a duty on Local Authorities to consider biodiversity in the full range of their activities. It is a legal requirement that:
“Every public body must, in exercising its functions, have regard, so far as
is consistent with the proper exercise of those functions, to the purpose of
conserving biodiversity”.

Note that there have been some changes to primary legislation around biodiversity duty.  However, much still remains.

Some species of ‘dragons and damsels’ are quite sensitive and have particular habitat requirements.  Such species need land management practices which take account of ecological requirements.  Where water courses are managed by the Environment Agency there seems to be a better understanding and a willingness to work with others to achieve biodiversity benefit.  Local Internal Drainage Boards, despite being Public Bodies and in receipt of substantive public funds appear to have little knowledge or regard for relic populations in their districts.  Biodiversity Action Plans seem to favour easy quick wins such as a few Barn Owl boxes along deep trapezoidal drains.  How many have a biodiversity inventory for their catchment areas?  How many undertake collaborative projects with third parties?

160512 4SC mw

Four Spot Chaser is another commonly encountered species in the right habitat.  This and the Broad-bodied Chaser below are both recorded from Thorne Moors.

160622 Broad-bodied Chaser BWDE mw

Images courtesy of Martin Warne.

 

 

Objectionable?

May 6, 2016

Could we encourage readers to visit Standing up for Nature, and look at the issues raised by Avery in his synopsis of the case for objecting to a retrospective planning application to continue damaging upland moorland at Midhope Moor to the north west of Sheffield?

The application seeks to secure retrospective planning permission for a temporary track to a line of grouse butts.  There are some 30 objections to the application, although Avery points out that there are none from any conservation organisation, why one might wonder is that?  It is interesting that the applicant is supported by Natural England.  See the downloadable pdf available via the planning portal.

PEAK DISTRICT MOORS SPA/SOUTH PENNINE MOORS SAC/THE DARK PEAK SSSI  Application ref.:  NP/S/0316/0214

Natural England write in support of the retrospective planning application for the lightweight access matting laid over the soil and vegetation along the route from Lost Lad to Mickleden Grouse Butts within the above named designated sites. 

If this was a legitimate restoration activity and had discussions taken place ahead of this infrastructure being laid then one could perhaps understand Natural England’s position, but it appears that the works had been undertaken to provide access grouse butts rather than facilitate conservation management?  More than one commentator questions why NE have supported retrospectively, considering they should have better advised the landowner in the first instance given the public funding relating to the site.

Note also that the Screening Opinion recognises that the application falls with Schedule 2 of the Regulations but it is not considered by the Planning Manager to have a significant impact on the environment.  The creation of easy access to facilitate transport of shooters and their entourage is surely part of the plan or project, not merely the placing of matting?

One interesting aspect to note is that the PDNP make public commentators personal details available, this is clearly stated and obvious when opening consultees correspondence.  It appears that different public bodies adopt different policies and there is no consistency across such matters.  Another example would be that a number of Internal Drainage Boards operating in the Humberhead Levels, particularly associated with the Doncaster area have redacted some personal details from correspondence and on other occasions have published them.

Anyone wishing to make representation has until Monday 9 May to do so.  That is this coming Monday, so the weekend to consider and compose some correspondence to the Peak District National Park Planning Team.    The link to the page provides the array of material documents and there is a form to submit comments.  Remember if you wish to object to the application then you need to ensure that you indicate (by ticking the relevant box) that your comment is an objection, in support, or simply a general comment.

Did you hear a ‘gabble ratchet’ on All Fool’s Day?

April 2, 2016

Or a Goatsucker or Fern Owl perhaps?

Nightjar (PP)

“Bog birds and bugs” was the title of a talk given by Lucy Ryan, a masters student at the University of York to an enthralled audience at the Annual Meeting of the Thorne & Hatfield Moors Conservation Forum held on 1 April 2016.

Lucy’s presentation which was supported by some superb images explained about the monitoring of the nightjar population on Thorne and Hatfield Moors.  This study had a pilot year on Hatfield Moors in 2015, but this coming season will see the study scaled up and undertaken on both Thorne and Hatfield Moors.  The three year study, funded for its first year by Natural England LIFE+ Project will look at the impact the management works undertaken by Natural England on the key species and interest feature of the European Natura 2000 Site.  The Water Level Management Plan being implemented by Doncaster East Internal Drainage Board is not undertaking any monitoring of impact post implementation, instead handing responsibility to Natural England?  These two major engineering projects costing in the region of £5.2m are currently being carried out on Thorne Moors are it is hoped will safeguard the site for its carbon sequestration capacity as well as its wildlife interest and as a natural wilderness for people to study and enjoy.

A second talk “Who started the drainage?  Iron Age & Roman Landscapes in the Humberhead Levels” was given by Dr Paul Buckland who offered options as to the man-made and natural influences upon our local landscape.  With the aid of aerial photographs showing crop marks and more recent LIDAR images Dr Buckland took the audience through time to the present day and to a very different landscape to that historic wetland once present across the Humberhead Levels.

THMCF GM 2 pk

After an excellent lunch provided by the Moorends Miners Welfare and Community Development Centre, intrepid explorers braved the dull weather and headed out along Broadbent Gate Moor, also known as Jones’ Cable to reach the tilting weir along the Southern Boundary Drain.

P1050482

As if on cue a Marsh Harrier flew overhead offering evidence of the wildlife interest of the site.  The number of sightings of this species has increased over recent years and this Natural England attribute to the wetter conditions they are creating across the site.  The cessation of industrial scale peat extraction at Thorne Moors also reduced disturbance for a period but increasing visitor numbers encouraged through Open Access has also seen new threats to rare breeding species and NE have had to close down parts of the site to protect them in recent years.

160401 AM to Tilting Weir hrk 486

To those who attended for the first time, after a series of great talks amidst great company about a great site …. see you again next year?

Conservation matters? “No net loss”?

September 20, 2014

140920 Sykehouse late Scabious hrk 567

Grey and grizzly might have been an apt description for today’s weather but not to be deterred I went to check out the aftermath of some local haymeadows.  The pastoral landscape of the Humberhead Levels, in quiet secluded corners is like stepping back into the past.  There are fragments, which because of the their inaccessibility to large machinery or their physical station amidst river courses and highways make their survival more likely.  With the realisation of the decline in natural grasslands and haymeadows the last few have been acquired by conservation charities and are managed in keeping with the traditions which created them.

140920 SM Scabious hrk 569 - Copy

Despite the damp there were hoverflies and bees making the most of late nectar on offer.  Knautia arvensis (above) is a plant of grasslands and meadows and a tail end charlie in terms of summer flowers.  Interestingly where the reaper had left uncut there were a number of white speciemns and a single pink bloom.

 

CONSERVATION MATTERS …. ?

EU consultation on biodiversity: ‘No net loss’.

The European Commission have published an online consultation seeking the public’s view on a future EU initiative (known as ‘No net loss’) to halt biodiversity loss.  Although the EU and its member states  already  have various conservation measures already in place, such as the designation of protected Natura 2000 areas, almost 25% of European animal species are thought to be at risk of extinction.

Can we encourage readers to submit their views on the consultation here,  biodiversity and a healthy environment are not an option but a necessity?

 

Belatedly to draw to readers attention the ‘red carding’ of the “greenest government ever” .  The Environmental Audit Committee recently published its findings Environmental Scorecard, and whilst one might be tempted to describe them as damming they will hardly come as a surprise to anyone active in conservation campaigning?

Members of the committee (16)

Joan Walley MP  Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North) (Chair)    Peter Aldous MP  (Conservative, Waveney)    Neil Carmichael MP  (Conservative, Stroud)    Martin Caton MP  (Labour, Gower)

Katy Clark MP  (Labour, North Ayrshire and Arran)    Zac Goldsmith MP  (Conservative, Richmond Park)    Mike Kane MP  (Labour, Wythenshawe and Sale East)    Mark Lazarowicz MP  (Labour/Co-operative, Edinburgh North and Leith)

Caroline Lucas MP  (Green, Brighton Pavilion)    Caroline Nokes MP  (Conservative, Romsey and Southampton North)    Dr Matthew Offord MP  (Conservative, Hendon)    Dan Rogerson MP  Liberal Democrat, North Cornwall) [ex-officio]

Mr Mark Spencer MP  (Conservative, Sherwood)    Rt Hon Mrs Caroline Spelman MP  (Conservative, Meriden)    Dr Alan Whitehead MP  (Labour, Southampton, Test)    Simon Wright MP  (Liberal Democrat, Norwich South)

 

Emissions and climate change  AMBER

Air pollution  RED

Biodiversity  RED

Forests  AMBER

Soils  AMBER

Flooding and coastal protection  RED

Resource efficiency and waste  AMBER

Freshwater environment  AMBER

Water availability  AMBER

Marine environment  AMBER

Its recommendations were that:

The Government should set up an independent body—an ‘office for environmental responsibility’—to (i) review the Environment Strategy we advocate; (ii) advise Government on appropriate targets; (iii) advise Government on policies, both those in Government programmes and new ones that could be brought forward to support the environment; (iv) advise Government about the adequacy of the resources (in both central and local government) made available for delivering the Strategy; and (v) monitor and publish performance against the Strategy and its targets.

Whilst these are to be applauded, we would wish to secure reasurance that the ‘independent body’ must be just that otherwise Government credibility is again, even more damaged?  Any ‘independent body’ needs to be drawn, not from the usual suspects or party patronage, but from candidates with a proven track record and the confidence of rank and file activists.

READ THE FULL REPORT HERE.

Whatever it is they [DMBC] know about the Danvm Drainage Commissioners, they don’t want to tell the public?

August 20, 2014

Readers were reminded on Monday about our Freedom of Information request to Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council about an Internal Audit undertaken on the Danvm Drainage Commissioners.

P1020692Fishlake Mining Subsidence Remediation Scheme: an example a project promoted by the Dun Drainage Commissioners and later their successors the Danvm DC.

DMBC had failed to comply with its own procedures.  Its own initial acknowledgement indicated a reply would be provided by 15 August, so five days overdue (or three if you accept the WhatDoTheyKnow website advice) and as there was no request for additional time we submitted a request for an Internal Review yesterday ….  today we receive an email update and a response was provided.

The FoI was made 19 July and it has taken until 20 August to “Refusal to Disclose Information” and then the reply describes it as the Danum Drainage Board.  It is now Danvm (note the spelling, a Board decision and one which DMBC were a party to) and they are the Drainage Commissioners, minor points maybe but this kind of inspection and performance is surely about attention to detail?

Notice under Section 17(1) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 – REFUSAL TO DISCLOSE INFORMATION

Decision:

After carefully considering your request, the Council has decided to refuse to disclose the information you have asked for under Section 22 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Basis for decision:

This law allows us to refuse to disclose information through the Freedom of Information Act process which is “information intended for future publication”. This is called an “exemption”.

Anyway, in short they are not prepared to release the information funded through the public purse until the Clerks to the DDC have seen it first.  The local IDBs including the two ‘super-boards’ are serviced by the Shire-Group of IDBs.  Read the rest of the letter via the WhatDoTheyKnow website here.

Why they cannot also release it to enquirers on the same day is not clear, a sceptic might then be forgiven for thinking  that perhaps then the Clerk and Administrator to the DDC will elect to apply their procedure and to take a further 20 days to provide it – this is open and transparent government?

Internal Drainage Boards have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, and some organisations involved in attempting to hold them to account would consider this to be long overdue.  Many receive substantive amounts of public funding by way of Special Levy.  It is only recently that all the Local Authority nominated appointees have begun to attend and take an active part in scrutinising the business and conduct of local IDBs.  The Audit of Accounts 2010 – 2011 of the Caldicot and Wentlooge Levels IDB Report In the Public Interest makes quite astonishing reading …. is that of the Danvm Drainage Commissioners going to be a variation?

What would, in our opinion, have been prudent ahead of the amalgamations of the smaller localised IDBs in the area would have been thorough audits and appraisals in the public interest, but for some reason there does not appear to be rigorous application of best practice governance in this area.  If we revisit the analysis of the Defra encouraged amalgamations which created two large ‘super-boards’ in this area (Humberhead Levels) then we might be forgiven for asking why Defra the government agency responsible for Land Drainage did not require independent audit of each of the local boards as they were subsumed into the new arrangement?

So, will this DDC Audit Report see the light of day, will it be made available to the public?  Who will be found to be wanting?  Will there be any action if there is found to be any ‘issue(s)’?

Readers might recall the incident where a landowners lawful tenant caused damage to a SSSI on the periphery of Thorne Moors SSSI, neither the Rural Paymants Agency nor Natural England acted to either recover public funds or investigate the impact on the special feature of the SSSI.  Austerity measures introduced across many public services and yet no recovery of public funds where there was clear breach of cross compliance &c.?

 

Does the current planning system deliver for the public benefit?

March 1, 2014

We enjoyed a lovely day on Thorne Moors yesterday.  The weather was kind, the wildlife relatively obliging.  A majestic Marsh Harrier dodged the turbine blades whilst delightful Reed Buntings fed on seeds heads floating on bog pools.

The downside when you are out in the open is that no matter what direction you look out across you see massive metal structures.  For me they destroy that sense of wilderness.  It is said by some that they are beautiful and each to their own, but they are not a natural feature and for me that is why people visit the moors.  They seek to be at peace with and experience the enjoyment nature offers.  Majestic Marsh Harriers float effortlessly, but for how much longer as more and more wind turbines become a feature of the farmed landscape on the Humberhead Levels We hear constantly about food security, land needed to allieviate floods (to act as flood plains) but here we are industrialising the countryside and depositing hundreds of thousands of tons of CO2 emitting cement into land already saturated with recent precipitation.  As well as loss of soak away, there is potential risk to the hydrological integrity of the nearby peat body, 1900 hectares or 4695 acres in ‘old money’ of stored carbon.  As the bog continues to regenerate it builds capacity to sequester more carbon, but foundations so close in hot dry summers risks potential lateral damage?

130705 RoS Thorne TM 100

The Forum is not oppossed to renewable energy, it recognises the need for a mix if we are to have energy sustainability.  It believes that we should harness nature’s bounty but to do so there must be a balance and a level playing field and the politics of renewables does not appear to be good for climate change with some types favoured more than others?  In the interim, read a recent Guardian article relating to Drax.  This clearly illustrates the issues facing energy generation and the impact that politics and their preferences can cause.  Whilst the blades turn subsidies for the agricultural industry, nearby Drax on spinning reserve is guilty of inefficient production to accommodate renewable provision?

In around 2006-7 we were aware that there were 367 turbines at various stages of application planned for the Humberhead Levels.  The metaphoric storm arrived when Tween Bridge was signed off along with Keadby at a Public Inquiry held in Goole!   Airmyn, Goole Fields I and Goole Fields II soon followed.  You only have to look at the October 2009 map produced by Natural England which illustrates wind farms and biomass schemes to see the scale of industrialisation.  Fill in the gaps created in the intervening five years and there’s no wonder you get a feeling of monsters marching across the moors and marshes of the Humberhead Levels.

140228 TM hrk 716Local feeling appears to believe that enough is enough, in the background a turbine on the northern periphery of Thorne Moors SSSI.

Recent schemes being worked up include seven turbines for the Old River Don at Crowle.  There are another five being applied for near Rawcliffe Bridge (north western periphery of Thorne Moors) details can accessed via ERYC 13 / 04183 / STPLFE  The East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s planning portal can be accessed and details of the application read, along with the supporting documentation and comments received and submitted by neighbours, councillors etc.  Please note that the closing date for comments (supporting or objections) must be made by 5 March 2014.

Erection of five wind turbines with a maximum blade tip height of up to 131 metres together with a substation and control building, upgraded access track, connecting internal tracks, associated hardstanding and infrastructure.  Land East Of Bank House, Bridge Lane, Rawcliffe Bridge, East Riding Of Yorkshire.   

The towers proposed at this site will be the largest yet constructed around Thorne Moors SSSI.  To date Natural England have failed to make any comment on the proposal.  But, have they been consulted?  By law they are a statutory consultee.

What is clear is that the planning system remains something of a piece meal system and because the Humberhead Levels is a natural area and administered by Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council, East Riding of Yorkshire Council and North Lincolnshire Council and it also has near neighbours in Nottinghamshire County Council and Selby District Council.  What a mire of planning complexities to wrestle with, if like the Forum you take an interest in the countryside, the landscape and environmental conservation?  Then factor in what is within the remit of the Local Planning Authority (LPA) or what developments fall to centralised Government Departments to approve.  Then there’s a system which allows developers whose applications are refused to appeal.  In the current financial climate is there any wonder that Local Councils approve commercial developments for fear of Public Inquiry costs?  Conversely, if the development is approved the public have NO right of appeal, there is no local community challenge unless the LPA process is flawed and ONLY then can the local community challenge the decision through a Judicial Review (JR).  If they are deemed in the High Court to have grounds, then they need very deep pockets to fund any challenge.  They need nerves of steel and tenacity and there are very few groups who have successfully challenged developers set upon commercial paths.  If a JR is successful, then it does not refuse the application it only returns the application to the start of the application process.

But …. take heart anyone considering wrestling the planning system, a consortium have recently challenged Derby CC over a development and they have been granted a Judicial Review.  If we go back sometime then there were some pretty historic and important landmark challenges which we would do well to remember when the long day seems never ending, the Flamborough Hedgerow case was one such case when principle won the day.  Colin Seymour was the locus standi in this case and subsequently he went on to become something of a local hero if you believe in the rights of local people to challenge authority when it is in error based on historic legal evidence and extant law.  See also the Protection of Field Boundaries.  Another very important High Court judgement involved a quarrying development at Preston under Scar (North Yorkshire).  Richard Buxton was the lawyer representing the locus standi applicants in 1999 and he is involved in the above detailed Derby CC case, so watch this space for updates!

Without strategic planning and the application of sound common sense, then how much longer before a 360 degree ring of steel strangles Thorne Moors SSSI and the wilderness many of us grew up with will be no ‘moor’?   As a colleague remarked …. we knew the moors at their best, before anthromorphic greed and ‘muzzled watchdogs’ abandoned them.   Are politics about people or are they primarily about profit for particular people?   Can a phoenix rise from the ashes, will a community challenge?

Beetling about

February 1, 2014

C americana ts 7978

A recent enquiry has added the third record of a species to the Lincolnshire coleoptera list.  This Rosemary beetle Chrysolina americana was located in a sub-urban garden in the Humberhead Levels.

Chrysolina americana has established itself in the UK.  It appears to have been first recorded in 1963 (Johnson) in Cheshire and was considered to have been a possible introduction from Portugal where it is common.  It has attracted the attention of the Central Science Laboratory who have written a Pest Risk Analysis for the species.  It provides a useful insight into occurrence and likely mode of arrival in the UK.  The Royal Horticultural Society also provides detail.

They overwinter in leaf litter below the foodplant (rosemary and thyme).  They have also been recorded as being active during the winter months, which is interesting considering they originate from the mediterranean!

It just goes to show that it pays to keep your eyes peeled for interesting invertebrates even in winter!  Let us know if you find one in your garden ….

Thanks to Ted Sabin for providing the image.

Challenges & opportunities, which is fracking?

January 1, 2014

Happy New Year to all and let’s hope it’s a good year for the natural environment ….

The year started  well enough here, two kestrels on my metaphoric doorstep or backyard if you prefer.  I was reminded of a piece on a news programme that reported Kestrels in decline and appealed to people to submit sightings, so if one of your new year resolutions is to submit data to recording schemes, then look here at the Hawk Conserevancy Trust’s Kestrel Count and make your observation count?  I tried but experienced ‘technical issues’, hopefully other readers will do better?

Add to that Great Spotted Woodpecker at the nuts and home-made bird cake, a pair of House Sparrows amongst the eight or so Tree Sparrows.

Tree Sparrow 0018a_lowrespcrTree Sparrow, more numerous than House Sparrows around the periphery of Hatfield Moors

Up to c.20 Goldfinch, smaller numbers of Chaffinch and just a pair of Greenfinch but no sign yet of any of the ‘winter finches’ i.e. Brambling or Siskin yet.  Otherwise the usual two dozen or so species for a rural garden with the resident pair of Moorhen becoming braver with the advent of colder weather but no sign of the Weasel which graced us with its antics on Boxing Day!  Wonder if the Tawny Owl is vocal again tonight?

So, challenges and opportunities …. which is fracking, or is it both?  I suppose much depends on which side of the fence you sit, or perhaps you’ve not yet decided which side you’re likely to fall off the fence into ….

I don’t propose to try to explain the details of the process, nor the risks or benefits as there are many far more authoratative sites able to do that.  As yet, the Forum have still to analyse the risks to the environment and form a view, so to date we are still adopting an agnostic approach.  Is there any independant science out there?  Or is it all funded through industry think tanks etc.?

What I am doing is simply sharing with readers snippets I’ve discovered which may have the potential to impact on our lives in our bits of the Humberhead Levels.  What we’d appreciate is any reader coming across interesting or useful material to pass details across to us.

The Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) have just issued a press release “Next steps for shale gas production”, further to that I’d strongly recommend that readers respond to the DECC  consultation.  Interestingly the same webpage does not offer a direct link to that consultation, but if you look in the Notes to Editors and then try The Strategic Environmental Assessment, voila!   You have until 11:45pm on 28 March 2014, so go on make a start now!  Let’s begin to make the critical mass of conservation heard in the corridors of Government ….

Potentially useful reference sources:

DECC Report The Unconventional Hydrocarbon Resources of Britain’s Onshore Basins – Shale Gas  Promote UK 2013

BGS newsletter (through Dept Communities & Local Government) http://www.bgs.ac.uk/downloads/start.cfm?id=1366

Potentially useful maps:

http://www.bgs.ac.uk/downloads/start.cfm?id=2631

Cash for communities impacted by operations?

In August 2013, a joint letter was submitted by a number of ‘influential’ NGOs calling upon the Government “to put the brakes on fracking”

The National Trust have issued a statement on fracking, for more detail see here.

Information made available to MPs offers an insight into Government position?  www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/sn06073.pdf 

However, The Telegraph reports changes to a government-commissioned report to more accurately reflect the negative aspects.  The Guardian reports a number of stories, see here.  Who can we trust in such matters?  Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas was recently charged over the right to peaceful protest, now how’s that’s for a principled stance?

Is anyone able to locate Natural Englan’s position statement on fracking?  If you can, please drop us an email execsec@thmcf.org

Similarly if readers notice any planning applications for exploration in the HHLs then please, drop us an email execsec@thmcf.org  ‎

Season’s greetings to all & random ramblings ….

December 24, 2013

As I travelled about earlier today the winds building up were quite noticeable.  The winter plover flocks were buffeted by them, the finch flocks foraging in the few fields still offering stubble were carried further by them whilst the thrushes struggled to find hedgerows amidst the local prairescape.  Later on the news reported in excess of 100 flood warnings and around 160 flood alerts across the country, power failures are also reported so it looks like it could be a cold and wet festive season for many.

Here in the Humberhead Levels, of which much is flood plain, we seem to escape the worst of the ravages that places like York experience.  If we head a little further north into the Lower Derwent Valley, where the rivers flood regularly it really can be a picture to behold.  The farming practice however is well used to these occurences and manage the cropping regime accordingly.

Derwent

A spectacular aerial view across Wheldrake Ings in the Spring of 2012.

The turmoil suffered by many is tragic, but the fact that Government insist that local authorities build 20% of new housing in flood plains fails to make any sense to me, clearly a difficult policy to understand?

Government and its statutory agencies and authorities have often conducted business which appears to contradict their published aims and objectives.  Science seems to have been abandoned when our natural environment is under threat, instead developers are ‘advised’ or encouraged to mitigate for loss.  I suppose the resultant column inches from such gardening projects makes for nice political PR?  Guardians no longer seem able or willing to risk political displeasure by ensuring strict adherence to relevant legislation.

Thankfully though I’m not a lone voice, other well read bloggers such as Mark Avery whose excellent Standing up for Nature blog seeks to encourage, to motivate and to provoke,  Miles King’s a new nature blog is another thought provoking example.   These and others have and sadly continue to report horrendous shortfalls in action to halt decline of species and habitats.  ‘Twitcher in the swamp’ and ‘Naturally opinionated’ are both regular pieces in British Wildlife and they too are well worth the read.  I recall the 1997 masterpiece: “A muzzled watchdog” I sense there is an opportunity for a revised edition given the many and varied reports published by collaborations of NGOs, which read like obituaries rather than government marketing spin.  The conference at which the bold State of Nature report was launched brought the prospect of hope?  Nature Check 2013 and others followed, as Iolo said words …. I’m an agnostic, so await their update but fear that it will be variation.  Activism is what’s needed, so who will call conservation to arms?  Will Andrew Sells herald a new beginning for nature’s guardians, Owen Paterson introduces the Government’s preferred candidate …. but it seems George Monbiot is not too sure, nor is Miles King.  Ever our agnostic approach, we will observe evolution in action.

A plea that if you’ve not already done so, to consider signing the petition STOP & RETHINK   & just to re-iterate (again) that we’re NOT oppossed to the principle of open access, simply that we seek open and transparent process which adheres to legislation.

Spare a thought tomorrow when you ‘pull the wishbone’ with family and friends, what do we all really need?  Fundamental to human well being is surely a healthy planet, a functioning ecosytem (not a fractured one, fixed with financial ‘fiddling’) in which we play a part, albeit a major part.

So, here’s wishing all our readers a happy and healthy Christmas and on the morrow a determination to promote, to encourage, to persuade, to advocate, whatever it takes to repair decades of damage to sensitive and fragile habitats.

So, a big thank you to all the Forum’s volunteers and to our extensive network for the help and support provided throughout 2013, particularly to the many ecologists who have made significant contributions to our understanding of the biodiversity of Thorne and Hatfield Moors SSSI.  Here’s to 2014 and to ‘moor’ firsts for the UK!

IMG_7656

Moody and evocative, therapeutic and energising – all these emotions are out there so please join us in seeking to champion the cause for nature conservation wherever you live!

Thanks to Ted Sabin for sharing this autumnal image of Crowle Moors. 

Democracy, accountability and Internal Drainage Boards ….

November 8, 2013

For over three hours this morning ‘democracy in action’ was observed.  The Danvm Drainage Commissioners held their annual meeting.

The public contribution in terms of funding this board’s operation is around 87%, but …. elected members have 12 seats and local authority appointments 13.

Quite a few of the nominated council representatives were missing despite the significance of the meeting.   The chair was appointed from the elected members and the vice chair is a Selby councillor.

It is astonishing to witness the conduct of business, people can nominate themselves and they can vote for themselves!  Only recently have conflicts of interest been recognised and members do now occasionally ‘declare an interest’ however they very rarely explain what that amounts to.  Today witnessed a worrying lack of understanding of legaslative requirements and a reluctance by some to comply with them particularly the environmental regulations.

The Danvm Drainage Commissioners like other local boards operating in the Humberhead Levels has been the subject of amalgamation (four smaller boards into a single one).  Representatives from the four local authorities of Doncaster, Selby, Barnsley and Wakefield attend.  Other members include individuals from the agri-industry sector and as large landowners beneficiaries from the pump drainage of the low lying lands in the district.

Numerous governments in recent times have sought to modernise these archaic institutions and whose rules by which they operate seem steeped in feudal and manorial history and tradition.  It is only in the last year or so that the minutes of some of the meetings have been made available.  Previously special arrangements had to be made to inspect documents in IDB offices which was not always easy.  On a positive note, the public are also now allowed to observe proceedings.  There were three members of the public at the DDC meeting, so here’s to more people taking a close interest in the activities of such Public Bodies.

Ahead of the normal business members were treated to a presentation by the Deputy Director of Doncaster MBCs Legal Services.  He explained that whilst he had not investigated the complaints made against the DDC in detail he did consider them to have some substance particularly in terms of board governance and quality of decisions.  In terms of effective governance it seemed that there might have been a situation where accusations of ultra vires had been levelled and this had yet to be resolved?  The officer took the members present through the Nolan Principles as they are the rules by which Public Bodies are expected to operate.  Members were also reminded of the outcome of investigations into the Caldicot and Wentloodge Levels IDB (audit of accounts 2010-11).  An astonishing state of affairs and almost unbelivable in the 21st Century?  See the BBC reporting of proceedings here via Democracy Live.  We understand that the C&WLIDB is no more, instead its functions and responsibilities have been transferred to Natural Resources Wales.

Has the time come for a variation to be conducted across the English boards?

It is clear that the land owners around the Humberhead Levels favour regular heavy maintenance of the smaller dikes to prevent local ponding or standing water whilst the local authorities and coal board representatives have concerns about flood allieviation and the protection of property function.

With limited income there has to be prioritisation and a balance between people, flood risk and farmland has to be achieved particularly as the public through the taxation system are by far the largest contributor.  Transparency in the public interest and open conduct of business unless good reason was called for was sought by the legal services officer.  A review of the complaints system, production of policies oustanding or missing should be undertaken.

There has been a degree of ‘modernisation’ over the last year or so but there is still a way to go.

The other IDBs who  operate in the Humberhead Levels and who the Forum observe the operations of are Black Drain (a small group retaining independence and not having amalgamated), the Doncaster East IDB (another relatively recent amalgamation of six smaller boards), Goole Fields and Reedness and Swinefleet IDBs.

Tween Bridge and Hatfield Chase board areas abut the peat bodies of Thorne & Hatfield Moors SSSI and their operations have the potential to impact upon the integrity of the Natura 2000 sites and these two boards were amalgamated into the Doncaster East IDB.

DDC are the supporting drainage board for the Fishlake Mining Subsidence Remediation Scheme which is now being implemented, the images shown illustrate the major engineering works currently being undertaken.  This scheme (previously reported in earlier posts) initially sought to remove nearly 1 km of ancient hedgerow and a number of mature trees.  Neither the Environment  Agency nor Natural England objected to that substantive loss of biodiversity.  However the Inspector found that the Forum’s argument had merit and we understand only 150m is now scheduled to be removed ….

P1020691

P1020692

A length of new drain cut alongside a biodiversity rich hedgerow and in an area of Fishlake known to support populations of rare and uncommon plants.  Despite assurances that drains would be engineered in such a way to benefit wildlife, these clearly followed the tradition of deep, steep with no shelf.  ADA and NE collaborated to produce The Drainage Channel Biodiversity Manual, (2008) but there seems no evidence of take up in the Fishlake drainage board area despite the area being flagged as an important biodiversity and landscape area by DMBC.  Another documents which assists understanding in terms of biodiversity duties include Guidance for Public Authorities on Implementing the Biodiversity Duty.  (2007)  Another succinct resume of duty has been produced by the Water Management Alliance and IDB members would do well to read the two page summary Nature Conservation Responsibilities of Internal Drainage Boards. 

IDBs derive their powers from the Land Drainage Act 1991 (as amended 1994) and where is clear in that it requires IDBs to “further the conservation” …. and this applies to land immaterial of any conservation designation attached to it.

P1020695

It is unclear why hedgerow has been removed from this stretch alongside the road.  The new drain can be seen at the back and the layer of sand with clay beneath is clearly visible.

As energy costs rise substantially the pumped drainage of this low lying area will become increasingly expensive (an estimate of 15% was mentioned at the meeting) then tax payers through the local authority representatives might begin to question who should receive the benefit.  Clearly there is a responsibility in regard of flood alleviation and protection of property but should agriculture receive additional funds through ‘subsidised’ drainage where there is no demonstrable public benefit?

Black Drain and Doncaster East IDBs are both scheduled to hold meetings next week, so …. watch this space?

Observations of late lepidoptera on the Humberhead Levels.

September 28, 2013

Recent autumnal weather has been such that it has seen Red Admiral, Speckled Wood and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies enjoying the last of the nectar available to them and this supplemented with fallen fermenting apples and juice from blackberries.  Nettle-tap moths too have been observed feeding on ivy flowers.

I’ve been doing a little more investigation into the occurence of Dryobotodes eremita Brindled Green since my last post. One correspondent reminded me that I was at a moth night on Hatfield Moors in September 2011 when 2 came to light, so effectively these were the first for Hatfield Moors, if Skidmore (2006) accurately records previous observations.  The species was known from Thorne Moors in 1962, unless anyone else can update any later dates?

Thanks also to John for sharing his images which feature in tonight’s post.  If you compare them with the specimen shown on 20 September post, they illustrate well the variation in ground colouring of the species which can occur.  Interestingly the two specimens shown here are from the same area.  Reminiscent of relatively recent occasions when I have observed two and three colour variations of Peppered Moth at the same site, the black, white and an intermediate.

 

130922 Brinded Green brown variant jh 3980

 

That above shows a brown ‘background’ colour, below shows a green base.  Interestingly these specimens are Humberhead Level ones, suggesting that the species is another under recorded one.

Brindled Green 2 jh 3884

 

The stunning image below, illustrates another uncommon species to Yorkshire, although it is recorded more frequently in Lincolnshire.   Again the specimen is a Humberhead Levels record so ‘eligible’ for inclusion on the blog and thanks to Phil Lee for submitting it.  Acleris  cristana is a delightful little moth, it is another species which is variable in colouration but the forewing hair tufts, clearly visible in the image below and they are the give away and clinch the identification.  Described on the UK Moths website as a scarce but distinctive tortricid, occuring mainly in southern England.  Another record subsequent to determined effort, keep them coming!

 

1054 Acleris cristana 1 Langholme Wood 21.9.13

 

Click on the images to enlarge them and see the detail referred to in the text of the post.

Images by John Hartley & Phil Lee.

Moth matters ….

September 15, 2013

 

IMG_3707 copy

 

How many people (in the Humberhead Levels) can boast a garden moth list which has seven species of hawk-moth, so far this season?

Well, one contributor to the blog can and these latest images illustrate his most recent ‘tick’.

 

IMG_1432 copy

 

Sphinx ligustri (L.) or named for one of its food plants, the Privet Hawk-moth (above) can be recorded in June and July.  It is also recorded from young woodland Ash saplings, lilac and guelder rose and occasionally holly and honeysuckle.   Overwintering underground as a pupa, sometimes to a depth of a foot or more!  The larval image at the top of this post, illustrates the quite stunning colouration and the distinctive ‘horn’ characteristic of hawk-moths.

Mimas tiliae (L.), another species named for its food plant is the Lime Hawk-moth illustrated below.   This species, a smaller one to the previous ‘giant’, is recorded from May to early July and larval food plants also include elms, downy and silver birch and alder.

130615 Lime Hawk Moth jh

 

The final image, is that of Laothoe populi (L.), Poplar Hawkmoth another relatively common species recorded locally.  This larvae illustrated here is about to pupate after which it will drop to the ground to overwinter, note the orientation by the ‘horn’.  Generally single brooded flying from May to July or early August.

 

0709 PK Pop hawk moth larvae m1

 

The British list contains some 26 species as having occurred in the UK (some of which are vagrants or adventives), so to get seven in a garden in a single season is, I offer, pretty good!  Factor in that that Skidmore (2006) listed eight species recorded from the Humberhead Levels (including one historic record), so that makes the local garden season an excellent vintage – can anyone better that?  Let me know, the only eligibility is the requirement that the data is from a Humberhead Levels garden, or other ‘regular patch’ ….

An excellent resource for aspiring lepidopterists is Butterfly Conservation’s website of the Moths Count project.  Although the project has concluded the website still offers useful advice for anyone wishing to further their interest in lepidoptera.  The legacy of the HLF funded project was the mammoth undertaking which delivered the Provisional Atlas of the UK’s Larger Moths (2010).  Other useful publications include “the state of britain’s larger moths” (2006) and the more recent edition of “The State of Britain’s Larger Moths 2013”. 

Butterfly Conservation are encouraging membership and are offering half price membership to anyone signing up by direct debit before 31 October 2013 (if you join after reading this, then please let them know it was through this blog).  BC make available a great deal of useful material, much of which is designed to encourage newcomers to the delights of lepidoptera and despite its name it also takes a very active interest in the moths!  Before anyone contacts me to tell me that the offer is out of date, quote MC5013 as that offer is until 31.10.13 and detailed in the Moths Count Newsletter 2013 I received a while back.

Images by John Hartley & Peter Kendall.

Iolo for PM?

July 3, 2013
Species rich haymeadows - a thing of the past, a declining habitat?

Species rich haymeadows – a thing of the past, a declining habitat?

 

Rarely do we hear such eloquent music plead for the environment as has recently been sung by the ‘Welsh bard’ Iolo Williams and posted on u-Tube following his appearance at the launch of the State of Nature launch.

I don’t know who uploaded the film but a big thank you!  It has had an incredible number of viewers and comments and I’d certainly recommend watching or just listening to the clarity of purpose resonating in his voice, music to campaigners ears.  A call to arms.

Iolo rightly points out that the failure thus far is a disgrace.  One could be forgiven for wondering what ever happened to the much heralded 2010 “Making Space for Nature” Report?   Where are all the promised improvements?

Conversely, in an open and refreshingly honest way  The State of Nature Report certainly appears to evidence ever diminishing space that is left for nature, it is a catalogue of decline of habitats and species.  He’d get my vote to to organise a ‘cull’ of inefficiencies and surplus fat cats more bothered about their pensions than the legacy for our grandchildren.  His merciless lambasting of the politicians and the inactivity of organisations who have failed to stem the tide is sheer music.  He certainly didn’t mince his words with his interpretation of the new name given to the organisation which is pedalled as being the agency which will be looking after the countryside in Wales.  Honesty – absolutely wonderful, delightfully refreshing!

The self confessed unashamedly proud Welshman laments the loss of haymeadows and moors and being of that same era I too can recount similar losses here in the Humberhead Levels and across the wider Yorkshire.  There have been campaigners fight to conserve our precious countryside, the likes of the late Wm Bunting and the late Stephen Warburton but they are sadly no longer amongst our number and the natural regeneration is in decline.  Real campaigning conservationists are also a rare species now, these days it seems that too many are happy to take mitigation crumbs and ‘build biodiversity’ instead of conserving it.

Haymeadows with their luxuriant hedgerows – yes I’ve seen them disappear and what precious few are left here in South Yorkshire and the Humberhead Levels we’ve had to fight for, the image above is evidence of a small success.

Then take the ‘battle for the bogs’ or lowland raised mires to give them their correct name at Thorne and Hatfield Moors are another example of beleagured habitats abandoned by those charged with statutory responsibilities for their conservation.  Instead it’s been down to local communities to challenge, and like Iolo I wonder where the next generation are and what they will be left with consequential of the continual erosion and degradation of our natural environment.  Thank you Iolo for the timely clarion call reminding us of so many things that we should be doing ….

Well said cariad bach as my Grandfather used to say, and thank you too from a Yorkshire lass!

Some might be common but they’re still ‘gems’

June 28, 2013

The two images taken by Steve Hiner (Natural England) illustrate the beauty particularly when viewed in close up of Common Spotted Orchid, a species showing well out on Thorne Moors at the moment. The species common or vernacular name is derived from the spots on the leaves of the plant. Generally found in grassy places and associated with lime.

Dactylorhiza fuschsii

Dactylorhiza fuchsii

Dactylorhiza fuchsii

Dactylorhiza fuchsii

Compare the above spike to those of the previous post to see the difference and salient features which distinguish the two species.  Get to grips with the common species then start to wrestle with the complexities of the many hybrid orchid species.

 

The image below taken by Peter Kendall, illustrates a very uncommon species: Burnt Tip Orchid.   Uncommon and very localised in Yorkshire, this specimen is a Humberhead Levels one.

 

Burnt Tip Orchid pk

 

An excellent paper by M J Y Folley (1992)  The current distribution and abundance of Orchis ustulata L. (Orchidaceae) in the British Isles – an updated summary which featured in Watsonia 19: 121-26 provides a historic indication of its status.  Since the publication of the paper it has undergone a name change and is now recognised as Neotinea ustulata.

Some of the images featured in the blog posts will feature in the publication which reports on the three year Botanical Survey of Thorne Moors, a project initiated by Ian McDonald with the field work completed in 2012 (although species continue to be added in the current 2013 season).  The project will publish the findings as a local site Flora and this will be the first time ever that a baseline species list will be available as an easily accessible publication.  Despite several centuries of interest by naturalists there is not a site flora or comprehensive list available and this project will remedy that void.  It is however recognised that as soon as the publication is in print that it will be immediately out of date as more species will inevitably be added to the local database but there will at least be a species list for the next cohort of field botanists to start to build upon and update in due course.  Species lost consequential of agricultural drainage and peat exploitation can be ‘discovered’ and lamented over in ‘obituaries’ in obscure and difficult to obtain journals.

Keep sharing those images and data with us.  Contact us via execsec@thmcf.org

‘Moor’ invertebrate activity on the peatlands of the Humberhead Levels

June 21, 2013

With the arrival of warmer weather there has been a noticable increase in insect activity.  Good numbers of odonata have been seen on both Thorne and Crowle Moors.  Butterflies too are more numerous with Brimstone and Orange-tips still around, Small Copper and Speckled Wood in reasonable numbers and recently Large Skipper added to the year list.

Moth activity too has increased.  Two recent sessions have seen some 42 macro species recorded on Thorne and around 40 on nearby Epworth Turbary, neither count included micros although two common species are illustrated below.

Highlights have included good numbers of hawkmoths alongside other useful updates for the Humberhead Levels including Green Silver-lines, Peach Blossom and Birch Mocha to name just a few.  The Pale Prominent and female Fox Moth below are two other species from the Thorne list. Both sessions logged Peppered Moth, interestingly black and pale as well as intermediate were present at Epworth Turbary.

Scoparia ambigualis

Scoparia ambigualis

Coleophora albicosta

Coleophora albicosta

Pterostoma palpina

Pterostoma palpina

Macrothylacia rubi

Macrothylacia rubi

Ochlodes venata

Ochlodes venata

 

The stunning image below depicts a Red-breasted Carrion Beetle photographed by Steve Hiner on Thorne Moors recently. It is regarded as a common species of woodland feeding on carrion and rotting fungi and also found under dung and feeding mainly on other insect larvae.  If you click on the image to enlarge it, the three longitudinal ridges can clearly be seen on the elytra.

 

Oiceoptoma thoracicum

Oiceoptoma thoracicum

 

Thanks to Phil Lee, John Hartley and Steve Hiner for sharing their images.

Entomological gems

June 18, 2013

Whilst not of the peatlands per se, the images show three species recently observed in the northern aspect of the Humberhead Levels.

The wonderfully iridescent Necklace Ground Beetle Carabus monilis  shown below is an aberrant specimen, compare the elytral markings on the two images (click on the images to enlarge).

 

130611 Carabus monilis tbc WF

 

The second image of the same species illustrates perfectly the metallic hue of the species as well as the indicative rows of granules seperated by three regular and equal-sized ridges on the elytra.

 

monilis8

 

The beetle is a UK BAP Priority Species which JNCC consider to have declined due to the widespread use of pesticides, the shift from spring to autumn cultivation and habitat fragmentation may all have contributed to the species decline.

 

The much studied Chrysolina graminis or Tansy Beetle (below) aka the ‘Jewel of York’, featured here on the ubiquitous nettle is a delightful species whose ecology is not particularly well understood. It’s ecological requirements have yet to be fully understood in order to secure its future. It retains a precarious foothold along the Ouse floodplain where there are stands of Tansy alongside the riverbank and in old unimproved grasslands. Fortunately it is the subject of a long term and on going study and it can breed well in captivity.

 

130611 Chrysolina graminis WF hrk 400

 

This aptly named Rhinocerus Beetle Sinadendron cylindricus was found in deadwood.

 

130611 Sinodendron cylindricus WF 406

 

Images Martin Hammond & Helen Kirk.


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Mark Avery

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

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I write about politics, nature + the environment. Some posts are serious, some not. These are my views, I don't do any promotional stuff and these views are not being expressed for anyone who employs me.

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