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Our work in the Yorkshire Dales

Honey bee on heather at Carding Mill Valley and Long Mynd, Shropshire
Honey bee on heather | © National Trust Images/PJ Howsam

Find out how we’ve been doing all we can to protect wildlife and nature throughout the Yorkshire Dales. Our work encompasses managing grasslands to protect pollinating insects which are in significant decline, introducing Exmoor ponies and water voles at Malham Tarn and managing ash dieback.

Protecting the pollinators

A significant decline

Insects pollinate 80% of plants. We rely on this for the food we eat and the air we breathe. Yet pollinating insects are in trouble, with population crashes being reported in two thirds of our insect pollinator species.

Much of our work across the Yorkshire Dales recognises the importance of pollinating insects, not only the role they play in pollinating plants but also how they contribute to food webs (ie. by being eaten by birds, bats, fish, amphibians, reptiles etc). Healthy numbers of pollinators are critical to the health of our habitats and the natural environment.

The decline in pollinators has been driven by agricultural intensification and loss of habitat through infrastructure development, housing and industry. Since the 1940s a drive to increase agricultural productivity has resulted in the loss of 97% of our flower-rich grasslands and this loss of habitat has driven serious declines in butterflies, bees, and other insects.

This can be difficult to visualise but if you are old enough to remember back to the 1970s and 80s or even further back you might recall that a long road journey would cover the front of your car in dead insects. How often is that the case now? By comparison it rarely happens.

Tackling the trend at Yorkshire Dales

In the Dales we are doing our bit to try to reverse this trend, although on some workdays we are still eaten alive by midges! At Hudswell Woods we’ve been working with the charity Buglife under their ‘B-lines’ initiative that aims to rejuvenate and link the remaining fragments of grassland that survive and create a network of pollinator-friendly habitat across the UK.

As you can imagine some of the insect species that thrive in grasslands are not able to travel long distances and we’ve realised that certain populations of insect need to be linked to each other to maximise their chances of survival, not only in terms of genetic viability but also because climate change is forcing populations to move and find new habitats.

Managing grassland

Across the Dales we are working with our tenant farmers to find ways we can optimise habitat for pollinators. At Hudswell Woods this involves managing grassland so that there is an abundance and diversity of wildflowers and grasses, especially as many pollinators have preferred food plants and their survival may be linked to one or two particular species.

Leaving areas of grassland and scrub undisturbed is also important so that insects can nest and have suitable habitat to overwinter. Scrubby field corners, wide hedgerows and woodland edges are excellent for this as they combine high levels of sunshine with sheltered conditions and are often rich in brambles, ivy and thistle, all of which are beneficial to insects.

Where possible grassland is lightly grazed and if cut it is often managed as a hay crop. In the Dales we have some of the best surviving hay meadows in the UK and on a warm summer’s day these are alive with the sound and movement of pollinators at work.

Exmoor pony at Foxbury Down, Kent
Exmoor pony grazing | © National Trust Images/H Broughton

Exmoor ponies introduced at Malham Tarn

Four Exmoor ponies have been introduced to Malham Tarn Fen and Moss to help manage plants that are threatening one of the most protected habitats in the UK.

The Dales landscape is perhaps more famed for its green fields, dry stone walls and large population of sheep and cattle, but the new additions will manage the land and encourage wildlife to flourish in this part of the National Park. 

Habitat condition assessments were carried out by our rangers, working together with Natural England. We found the site to be in good condition but agreed there was a growing concern that invasive plants could have a detrimental effect if left unchecked.

The land is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and also holds Special Area of Conservation status, meaning it is protected under law and considered among the most precious homes to wildlife in the country. 

‘Our vision for managing land in the Dales follows consultation with farmers and partners over the last four years. We are working towards a more natural landscape, which does more things for more people, that works for the long-term, and yet remains unmistakably the Yorkshire Dales.’

- Ecologist in the Yorkshire Dales

The Exmoor Pony is Britain’s oldest breed of native pony and thought to be little different from the original wild ponies that colonised Britain thousands of years ago. Whilst there is only two ponies to start with, they’ll have 43 hectares to roam and plenty of food to choose from.

Juliet Rogers, of the Moorland Mousie Trust which provided the ponies, said: ‘The breed is ideally suited for conservation grazing, as the ponies are tough, low maintenance, and cope well with harsh weather.  

‘We are delighted to be partnering with the National Trust at a great site like Malham Tarn National Nature Reserve which is perfect for Exmoor ponies and will show how good they are as conservation grazers.’

Water vole by a river bank
Water vole by a river bank | © National Trust Images / Richard Bradshaw

Water vole revival at Malham Tarn

Rare water voles are flourishing against the odds in England’s highest freshwater lake following a reintroduction programme.

More than 100 water voles, which were the inspiration for Wind in the Willows’ Ratty, were released into streams around Malham Tarn in the Yorkshire Dales in 2016 – the first time water voles had been seen on the lake in 50 years.

And, in an adventure worthy of Ratty, Mole and Toad from the Kenneth Grahame classic, they then spread across the lake – in ways that our rangers could never have dreamed.

Survey work has shown that the water voles – which are the UK’s fastest declining land mammal – have spread up to a kilometre from the original release site.

After a mild, wet winter in 2016/17, we were worried that the water levels around the tarn may rise too high and flood the burrows. But it turns out that the voles have spread out across one side of the tarn.

More voles released

In 2017 a further 100 of these rare mammals were released by the rangers at Malham Tarn. The water voles, which have been specially bred by expert ecologists at Derek Gow Consultancy, were released in sibling groups and breeding pairs. The release was staggered over seven days, due to the different needs of the groups and pairs.

Wildlife benefits

The water voles are helping to restore Malham Tarn’s sensitive lowland fen fringe – one of 50 ‘priority’ habitats handpicked by the government as in need of support. We have committed to create 25,000 hectares of new ‘priority’ nature habitats across England, Wales and Northern Ireland by 2025.

They are already changing the look of the tarn-side streams. The banks used to be straight-sided, almost like canals. But by burrowing into the banks, the voles have created much more natural-looking streams with shady pools that should be really good for invertebrates and small fish.

Ash dieback project at Dovedale, Derbyshire
Ash dieback project | © National Trust Images/Adam Kirkland

Ash dieback in the Dales

The ash tree is an iconic part of our woodlands and landscape and we're very concerned about ash dieback. We continually observe and survey our ash for signs of the disease and are working closely with other organisations, such as the Forestry Commission, Woodland Trust and Defra, on the best ways to tackle the disease and manage trees and woodlands infected by it.

As part of our annual tree safety checks we now look at ash trees very differently as they are much more unpredictable. We will conduct further surveys throughout the year to track changes through the seasons which will give us a better idea about the extent of dieback in this area.

Although we will not take out ash trees unnecessarily, our surveys may necessitate appropriate action, such as tree felling or crown reduction, in areas where safety issues arise. Ensuring the safety of our visitors, the public and our workers is of paramount importance.

However, where appropriate, by allowing diseased ash trees to decline and regrow naturally it is hoped dieback-resistant ash trees will regenerate. Furthermore, by allowing nature to take its path the ash trees can continue, for a time, to provide a habitat for the species that depend on them.

We will ensure that any lost ash trees are replaced through planting (using native species) and natural regeneration, to provide woodland habitat for the thousands of species that rely on it and ensure carbon storage is maintained.

People walking on the Malham Tarn Estate in the Yorkshire Dales


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