Butterflies Saved and Planning Concerns

29 January 2016

IMG_0932Dingy Skipper Butterfly

Butterflies Saved?

It’s not all bad news however, those of you who used to read my column in the local papers may recall last spring I mentioned a site for (the appropriately named) Dingy Skipper butterflies rediscovered in Thruscross on land owned by Yorkshire Water. The Dingy Skipper is a very rare butterfly in our district and urgently needs our help. In fact it’s a Harrogate District Biodiversity priority species under the Magnesian limestone grassland habitat. Well just after the site was rediscovered and before any protective measures could be taken, aggregate was tipped on part of the site for use to reconstruct footpaths. Well after discussion and meetings from those involved (stakeholders, but not the butterflies?) I am pleased to announce from Paul Millard, Wharfedale Naturalists’ Society, “I had a very positive site meeting today with David Bradshaw, the Fountains Forestry contractor, and his team who are repairing the footpaths at Thruscross Reservoir. This was arranged with the help of Geoff Lomas from Yorkshire Water, who are the site owners. You will recall last spring that a colony of Dingy Skipper was discovered on the fishermen’s car park. Later in the year unfortunately, a large amount of aggregate was deposited on part of the site, this was destined for footpath repairs. The repair work has now started. We have agreed to cordon off the best areas to avoid vehicles driving on the over-wintering larvae. We have also devised a plan to utilise unused aggregate to create two areas of future butterfly habitat, scalloped to be south facing in order to trap the spring sun, this will be both where it was deposited and at another suitable location near the old boat launching site. Hopefully in the long term when the Birds-foot Trefoil colonises these new areas there will be a better range of suitable habitat and we can improve the colony’s resilience. I am pleased that we have a chance of improving the long term prospects for the Dingy Skipper, and that both Yorkshire Water and Fountains Forestry have been so receptive to ideas to help conserve this threatened butterfly.” So that’s great news and our gratitude, as well as the butterflies’, should go out to everyone involved, thanks guys.

You Can Also help Butterflies

Butterfly Conservation (BC) tell us that “more than three-quarters of the UK’s butterfly species suffered losses over the last four decades. Ten species, including the Essex Skipper, Marsh Fritillary and Wall, have seen drastic population drops of more than 50%. It’s not all bad news though. Where we have got enough funding to tackle declines head on, our intervention is making a positive difference. Duke of Burgundy butterflies have bounced back with a 67% increase in abundance as a direct result of our targeted conservation work.” Like the RSPB (don’t forget the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch this weekend) and BTO, Butterfly Conservation have numerous ways in which you can help by recording butterflies, donating or undertaking conservation work. One way of helping is the Garden Butterfly Survey which all of us with gardens can undertake, another is to download the free irecord butterfly app which helps with identification and records your sightings. Please note if your smart phone is as wrinkly as mine, you may not be able to use it.

S1035983Endangered Embankment – Edna Barker

Trees and Embankment in Danger!

I have had an email from Edna Barker who is concerned about the loss of trees and a wildlife corridor near Morrison’s in Harrogate. Edna writes, “A year ago a woodland tree preservation order was placed on the old railway embankment which runs up the side of Panhandle Park, opposite “Morrisons” roundabout in order to prevent its removal for residential development. The Topseal factory own all the embankment bordering their site and all the way up to the cut through into Stonefall Park. It is an important wildlife corridor in this area with a good diversity of species. Topseal have applied for outline permission to build on their factory site but what is not immediately obvious from their plans is how much they intend to reduce the embankment. They say the development will involve removal of 9% of the trees on the embankment, but when you take into account the total length and that they will only be dealing with the side next to the development, this will in fact be around 50% of the trees in this section. The embankment is at least 15-20 feet high and they intend cutting back to within a few feet of the top and then having a retaining wall. This will have a significant impact on wildlife and visual amenities and may also affect drainage. Comments are to be received by the Planning Department of Harrogate Council by 5 February.” What do you think, this is already a very small and dangerous roundabout and extra traffic will not help. Is nowhere safe for our rapidly diminishing wildlife?

Bilton On TV

Make a note in your diary to watch Country File on 31 January 2016 for a short clip featuring the roe deer, tawny owls, buzzards etc found in the Nidd Gorge in Bilton, Harrogate.


Janice Scott writes, “Another barn owl sighting for your blog. I saw one late afternoon Friday, 22 January, just as I turned off from the Pateley Bridge to Fountains Abbey road, to head down to Brimham Rocks. There is a small plantation of conifers at the junction and the barn owl was sitting on a post at the edge. I drew up and we studied one another for a few minutes before the owl decided to head for pastures new. A lovely sighting at the end of a bleak day.”

Fox - Chris ShoveltonFox – Chris Shovelton

Max Hamilton, “went to the One Stop shop on Crab Lane, Bilton, Harrogate today and apparently, according to a lady standing in the shop, she had just had to avoid a beautiful fox nosing around outside the shop doorway. This would be about 2.30 pm. Very strange.” Very strange, so strange I wouldn’t believe it unless I was able to substantiate it. Foxes are clever enough to realise that humans are not their friends. The only exception would be if it was ill, which may make it dangerous, which seems not to be the case, or very hungry. Can anyone tell me more about this fascinating sighting, please?

Edna Barker also tells me, see top story, that, “In 2014 I heard that there was a white crow around and I saw it on one occasion. At the end of December (2015) I saw it on three occasions close to Morrison’s roundabout. I attach a photo but as it is on full zoom to a tree across the road it is not very good quality.” Interestingly according to the BTO, and they know, the average life span of a crow is four years, so this may well be the same bird, although I recall it being seen before 2014 and wonder if it is the same bird or an offspring. Do you know?

Steve Kempson reports, “It’s taken multiple attempts but I’ve finally got a half-way decent photo of our visiting woodpecker – it’s a bit grainy but at least you can see what it is! Just back from a walk round RHS Harlow Carr Gardens where it was nice to see groups of snowdrops, aconites and the odd narcissus out.”

Thanks for all your questions, sightings and support, much appreciated. Why not visit my other blog at How Stean Gorge? February’s issue is about otters.


Red Kites, Hen Harriers and Nidderdale

19 January 2016

Red Kite - John Herrington2Red Kite – John Herrington

Red Kites

Richard Wells, responding to my blog on 10 December regarding kamikaze red kites writes, “The best red kite players of “chicken” I have come across were above the M1 near its junction with the A63 south-east of Leeds. Two took it turns to swoop down on the middle lane. I was doing 70 (honest) on the inside lane and heaven knows what the guy on the outer was doing. But the red kites didn’t bat an eyelid. At the third time of asking one got its morsel and they both flew off unscathed.” Talking of red kites Doug Simpson sent me the latest red kite newsletter (17) with the following breeding figures for 2015, 2014 in brackets.






West Yorkshire

65 (63)

61 (61)

54 (53)

102 (93)

North Yorkshire

44 (40)

40 (37)

36 (31)

68 (63)

East Yorkshire

14 (9)

11 (8)

9 (7)

16 (15)


123 (112)

112 (106)

99 (91)

186 (171)

Average young raised per successful pair = 1.88 (1.86).

Doug tells me, “Red Kites are renowned for their habit of collecting a wide variety of items to decorate their nests. Our first Yorkshire nest in 2000 had a tea-towel and a teddy bear’s head in it. Since then, soft toys have featured regularly. An England flag was found in a nest in 1996, a Football World Cup year, together with a map showing the location of the G-Mex Centre in Manchester. More recently, an East Yorkshire pair had collected an order of service for a funeral at the nearby village church. Doug also says that sightings of kites seen to be regularly frequenting new areas are particularly welcome. This helps to confirm new breeding pairs and monitor the progress of the expanding population. They can be reported through the website or to one of the following contacts:

Doug Simpson MBE. Email: doug@milvus.me.uk
Nigel Puckrin (East Yorkshire). Email: n.puckrin@btinternet.com
Simon Bassindale (North York Moors). Email: s.bassindale@northyorkmoors.org.uk

Tawny Owl - Raymond RumboldTawny Owl – Raymond Rumbold

Your Sightings

Contact me with your questions and Sightings

Phil Roberts contacted me, “Idly looking out of the bathroom window recently upon another gloomy day when a small flock of Feral Pigeons flew across my line of sight above the houses on Woodlands Avenue, Harrogate, about 300 metres away. Then, at twice their speed, an unidentified bird flew into the back of the Pigeon flock then dropped down out of the flock and landed out of my sight. The only bird that I can think of that has the speed and interest in Pigeons is the Peregrine Falcon. What do you think! If it was a Peregrine, then it’s the first sighting for me in Harrogate. However, I’ve seen many of them on the big coal-fired power stations, particularly in the Midlands, where they are encouraged. Crude nests built from welding wire and bits of electrical cable in niches in the cooling towers or on high points on the boiler house.” It seems that Phil encountered this bird at a height, certainly not sparrowhawk behaviour, which are sneaky hunters relying upon stealth rather than speed, so I reckon peregrine is the most likely culprit, especially as peregrines are seen in Harrogate town centre and reasonably regularly at local nature reserves such as Harrogate Naturalist Society’s private Farnham Reserve.

Gwen Turner tells me that she has recently heard owls hooting late evening and early morning on Duchy Road, Harrogate and asks, “Is this normal for this time of the year or is the warmth suggesting spring? I am used to hearing them but usually around midnight.” The BTO tells us, “Tawny Owls are very early nesters and are busy establishing breeding territories from November onwards.” I reckon that these birds are establishing territory and courting and responding to more direct urges than the weather.

More owls and Richard Simmons spotted a barn owl flying across the road at Keld Houses on the Greenhow to Stump Cross road. Richard writes, “I wouldn’t expect them so high up.” I reckon they’ll go anywhere where food is available. I am a little concerned however because it probably isn’t their preferred hunting ground and may indicate a lack of food, forcing them to roam further. The BTO suggest that the summer weather has hit barn owls hard, I suspect locally they are still faring reasonably well but would love to know for sure. There have also been numerous sightings of barn owls in Upper Nidderdale according to Stan Beer, the proprietor of How Stean Gorge.

The East Dales Ringing Group on January 13 have ringed 290 redpoll over autumn 2015 and of these they have already recovered three. The birds have moved to Suffolk, West Yorkshire and Surrey. You can follow EDRG on Twitter at @EDRInging.

RSPB Fairburn Ings – recent sightings include male red-crested pochard daily and little egret, whilst at Nosterfield marsh harrier, peregrine and white-fronted geese have been reported.

Gouthwaite ReservoirGouthwaite Reservoir – Nidderdale

Reconnecting Nature and People in Nidderdale

As Nidderdale folk we all know how great the valley is in both aesthetic and historical terms. Well now The Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) has received initial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for a new project called Reconnecting Nature and People in Nidderdale. This means that Nidderdale folk will have the chance to reconnect with the natural heritage on their doorstep, and to make a more meaningful and more useful contribution to conserving the world around them, thanks to National Lottery players. This will be a citizen science project and data will be gathered relating to the habitats and wildlife of Nidderdale, engaging people with nature, and creating natural heritage action plans for nationally threatened wildlife species, flora and fauna. The data collected will help the team to understand how they can take targeted conservation action to best effect, and help protect the future of much-loved species, once a common sight but now increasingly threatened and rare. The Nidderdale AONB contact is Sarah Kettlewell on: sarah.kettlewell@harrogate.gov.uk.

Hen Harrier Action Plan

A joint plan has been launched to try to save the hen harrier from extinction. The aim or at least success criteria are:

1. The hen harrier has a self-sustaining and well dispersed breeding population in England across a range of habitats including a viable population present in the Special Protected Areas designated for hen harrier.
2. The harrier population coexists with local business interests and its presence contributes to a thriving rural economy.

This will be achieved by the following six actions:

1. Monitoring of hen harrier populations in England and the UK.
2. Diversionary feeding of hen harriers on grouse moors.
3. Analyse monitoring data and build intelligence picture.
4. Nest and winter roost site protection.
5. Reintroduce hen harriers to southern England.
6. Trial a brood management scheme.

I have always argued that there are too many folk on both sides with entrenched views which has failed the hen harrier, perhaps even contributed to their demise so some dialogue has long been needed and hopefully this is the first stage. This plan has been realised by Defra, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Moorland Association, National Gamekeepers Organisation, National Parks UK, Natural England and the RSPB. An unholy alliance you may say, especially as no place was found for Raptor Protection Groups. Last year there were six successful harrier nests fledging 18 new chicks (Natural England). A seventh nest was very close to fledging, but failed due to natural causes. Rob Cooke, Natural England’s Director of Terrestrial Biodiversity, said: “Six nests is a small number, but it is actually more than we have seen in total over the past three years, which is a significant and positive step forward. Obviously we need to see many more pairs of these iconic birds nesting successfully and we are actively looking at how we and our partners can build on this positive outcome in the future.” To put this in context the RSPB claim, “There is enough habitat for 300 breeding pairs of hen harriers in England.” The reason we haven’t got so many hen harriers is persecution, probably by or encouraged by some folk who are members of the organisations responsible for the action plan. But surely this must help the hen harriers although no account is made for the other birds of prey which disappear each year especially on our moorlands. I have always believed that what is needed to protect our raptor heritage is licensing of grouse and pheasant shoots. To get and keep a licence those taking part must demonstrate they are protecting and encouraging our wildlife and that means ensuring we have a viable population of raptor species on the shooting grounds.


Resolve to Help Wildlife

Bullfinch - Nigel Heptinstall.JPG

Male Bullfinch at a well-stocked feeder

After Christmas and seeing New Year in in Keswick I managed to catch either bronchitis or pneumonia, hence the delay in writing this. Jackie’s description of my illness fails to realise the gravity of the situation and therefore I won’t mention what she calls it. The floods have been dreadful for folk in Keswick and throughout Britain, including Knaresborough and other local places and our thoughts go out to them.

Have you made any New Year Resolutions? How many have you broken already? If you are concerned about wildlife then they certainly need your help. The BTO published a report in December entitled, “The north bears the brunt of a bad breeding season.” The spells of cool, wet weather that much of Britain and Ireland experienced in late spring and summer 2015 left many birds struggling to breed, with more northerly populations faring particularly badly. This followed on a good breeding season the previous year and a mild winter but the poor breeding conditions in spring 2015 meant the numbers of chicks reared were below average for many of our common resident birds. It also seems that a lack of voles this year affected barn owl numbers with their brood sizes the lowest on records. I still reckon locally in Nidderdale we still seem to have good numbers of these lovely birds but time will tell how well they fare. I suspect that when the birds suffer so do the rest of our wildlife, I wonder how our mammals are faring?

So what can we do to help? Well make sure your feeders are well stocked, especially as the seasonal berries now seem to be exhausted and what about helping to monitor these numbers? The BTO have a number of surveys which get you out into the countryside whilst at the same time providing valuable scientific information. Visit BTO Volunteer Surveys for more info and discover whether you have the appropriate skills to help, you may be surprised. For example get the free Bird Track app and log the birds you see in 2016 or if you check up on what’s visiting your well-stocked feeders then why not pass that information on to the BTO through their Garden Birdwatch scheme. Your weekly observations of birds (or indeed other garden wildlife) can prove very valuable for researchers.

This also the time of year when the RSPB looks for their citizen scientists. This year the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch takes place over the weekend of 30-31 January 2016. Record what you see and get the kids involved. You need to start planning now so request a FREE pack or simply register your details to save time on the weekend and get £5 off your next purchase in the RSPB shop. (Must be 18 or over. Terms and conditions apply.) More than half a million people from across the UK are set to take part, the more the merrier and the more relevant the information is.

cropped-banner-no-frack-allianceNidderdale is at Risk from Fracking?

Frack or Fiction – Bill Rigby, Knaresborough Town Councillor and Chair of the Harrogate and District Alliance Against Fracking (HADAAF), will be addressing a meeting of Nidderdale Environmental Group on Monday, 8 February, 7.30pm, at the Broadbelt Hall, Glasshouses. The next tranche of licences will be released in early 2016, and is likely to include our Nidderdale in the drive to frack in the North. Will we become a sacrificial zone to satisfy the pursuit of polluting fossil fuel energy production? Experiences from the USA have been ignored, and expert opinion discounted. To find out more make a note in your diary and go to the meeting. Tea will be served from 7.00pm.

Early Spring

Roger Litton wrote, “We went for a walk at Fewston reservoir on New Year’s Day and were amazed to find this red campion in flower. There were two others on a nearby stem but they weren’t fully open – presumably late survivors from the autumn. We also have roses still flowering on two bushes in the garden. We have recently seen snowdrops in flower at Harlow Carr and pictures of daffodils in flower in December. We have also been surprised by an invasion of blackbirds – at one point eight males and one female together under one feeder. They were at their peak in the third week of December but we are still seeing them, albeit in smaller numbers. As one would expect (and as the photo shows) they are after the seed which the smaller birds drop from the feeders. We have plenty of blue tits, great tits and goldfinches, plus the odd chaffinch and occasional nuthatch, on the feeders but haven’t seen a single thrush so far this winter.” I would think the red campion is responding to the unseasonal weather rather than persisting since autumn. The number of blackbirds suggests that Roger has had an influx of winter migrants, possibly from Scandinavia. I believe the fact that they are sociable separates them from our resident birds, which could also have migrated further south or abroad. Our blackbirds tend to be very territorial.

Phil Atkins sent some very recent images “Firstly, a silver birch tree close to the public footpath on the Harewood Estate, showing an unusual growth pattern (mid-Dec 2015). Secondly, daffodils in bloom on 1 January just inside the main entrance to the Valley Gardens, Harrogate. Yesterday, I also saw two or three in flower at the bottom of Forest Lane, Knaresborough, which are always early, but not usually as early as this. Before Christmas there were widespread reports of daffodils in bloom en masse in various parts of the UK, but these are the first I’ve seen.” It’s a strange growth pattern on the tree, do you know what might have caused it? It’s a strange year also for early flowering plants, I’m concerned because the spring heather in my garden is already flowering and that may mean no nectar for the early bees and other insects. Let me know what early flowering plants you have seen.


Joy Hartley asked, “Can you suggest what we do to a peacock butterfly which we have found in our house. It’s still alive and I’ve put it in a small cardboard box, would shredded paper be good and perhaps leave it in a cool place perhaps in the cellar?” Butterfly Conservation advise “The best solution is to rehouse the butterfly into a suitable location. Catch the butterfly carefully and place it into a cardboard box or similar in a cool place for half an hour or so to see if it will calm down. Once calmed down you might be able to gently encourage the sleepy butterfly out onto the wall or ceiling of an unheated room or building such as a shed, porch, garage or outhouse. Just remember that the butterfly will need to be able to escape when it awakens in early spring. If you have no options at all for suitable hibernation places, then it would be best to keep the butterfly as cool as possible, to minimise activity, and then to release it outside during a spell of nice weather.” I suspect unless the weather gets much colder we might find this problem reappearing so follow the experts.

Steve Kempson contacted me, “I went out to Swinsty reservoir yesterday with my wife and younger daughter for our usual New Year’s Day walk, and near to Swinsty Hall got a good look at what I’m pretty sure was a Firecrest. At first I thought it was a Goldcrest, but it came within a few feet of us and clearly had a dark line running through the eye – having checked my reference books and the RSPB guide on the internet, I can’t see that it could have been anything else (and the woodland location / ‘passage’ distribution on the RSPB map all seem to fit). What do you think? Have you had any other reports of Firecrest sightings? I’m also pleased to say that recently we’ve had regular visits to our peanut holder from a Greater Spotted Woodpecker (possibly the same one I first reported to you a few weeks ago): I still haven’t managed to get a decent photo of it (it’s very shy and flies off at the slightest disturbance) but hopefully I’ll get another chance soon.” Firecrest are a very rare bird locally, however after saying that Steve’s description of a dark line running through the eye is diagnostic. This video from the BTO may help with separating the two species. I have to confess I cannot recall ever having had any local sightings myself, or reported to me in the past 20 years. I do wonder if they are overlooked because of the close similarity with goldcrest so I wouldn’t dismiss Steve’s sightings. In fact it seems likely. Glad to hear the great-spotted woodpecker is still visiting.

Blackcap - Judith Fawcett

Blackcap – Judith Fawcett

Through The Window

Judith Fawcett, (@FawcettJudith) from Jennyfields, Harrogate has had some interesting local sightings, including siskin, sparrowhawk, redpoll, blackcap, long-tailed tit, a male blackcap. Judith also tells me about a pair of Green Parakeets, seen near Yarrow Drive, by a resident and by Saltergate roundabout. Follow Judith on twitter for her amazing ‘Through The Window’ sightings.