It was a pleasure to meet two members of the Yorkshire Naturalists’ Union, who were full of fascinating information.
Jill Warwick explained how her husband was involved in creating Nosterfield Nature Reserve from a disused quarry: “When Nosterfield Reserve was set up in 1996, there were two target species: shoveler duck, and redshank. They were both recorded breeding within a year – because we did our research before we set it up. As a gravel pit, it was a square lake, and we had the land profiled to create islands, and a variety of depths of water. In 2009, we had a second lake excavated, to make more water edge, which attracts wading birds.”
“Even when it was a working quarry, it was a top place for birdwatching. Now it’s managed as lowland wetland grassland – a rare habitat. It’s rare due to the drainage for agricultural improvements after the second World War. As a country, we aimed to become to more self-sufficient in food, and marginal land was improved for agriculture. It was understandable at the time, but it led to a decline in natural habitats.”
Living nearby, Jill often nips down to do a spot of birdwatching, but she is also expert in identifying moths. She said, “For a long time, moths weren’t much recorded. I had a book dating from 1910. Then in 2004, a new book came out with photos of moths in their natural resting postitions, rather than pinned. It led to an explosion of moth recording – it fuels interest when you can actually identify things.”
“Now there’s active moth trapping throughout the county, and we’ve mapped the distribution of moths far better than it used to be- the mapping lists are rising each year,” she said.
The Union exists to share knowledge, and Jill said, “There are regular field meetings, held all over the County. On field trips, people with experience show less experienced members how to identify things. It’s a gathering of knowledgeable people and those wanting to know more – and visitors are welcome. For instance, we trapped moths at Keld, and local people came to see what we were doing.”
Fellow member Craig Thomas – who also edits the annual bird report, detailing sightings of all birds seen in the county, details some of the changes he’s noticed.: “Red list species are deemed to be in danger, either due to low numbers or rapidly declining. A lot of these are farmland related. Also woodland species are declining, despite the increase in tree planting. It’s thought to be due to lack of management – there’s more tree cover, but less quality woodland. Perversely, it can mean chopping trees down to let new ones grow, to create an understorey.”
Craig said, “Some species have increased over the last 30 years. The succession of mild winters (excepting the last one) and targeting species such as Barn owl has increased numbers. But the growing list of species on the red list is, sadly, tipping the balance into the negative.”
Some of the biggest changes, said Craig, are seen in sea and migratory birds. A survey of birds on Bempton cliffs, said Craig, “Gave an indication of what’s happening in the north Sea. It’s extremely important, as climate change seems to be affecting distribution of the food chain in the North Sea and Atlantic faster than in any other habitat. Birds such as kittiwakes, that feed on sand eels, are declining, while birds such as guillemots, that feed at a depth, are doing well at Bempton”
“Herring gulls are declining quicker than any other species on the cliffs,. It’s thought to be due to the decline in the fishing industry, and the declining discards from boats.”
A reduction in birds wintering in Africa,said Craig, “Is thought to be largely due to climate change, and deforestation in Africa. Also, Asian and Siberian birds are breeding further west. Young birds that normally winter in South East Asia are going into reverse migration – migrating in the opposite direction, and coming to North West Europe.“
“The reason is unknown, but they turn up in autumn on the East winds, and birders hit the East Coast, looking for them.”
Yorkshire is so large that, to aid the studying and recording of all the wildlife, the YNU divides Yorkshire into 5 ‘sub-counties’, each with its own data recorders. This organisation has enabled the Union to collect years’ worth of information on Yorkshire’s wildlife. Jill comments, “A lot of European countries are envious of the huge volunteer network we have in the UK. Down through the last 150 to 200 years, there has been a wealth of volunteers going out birding.”
Therefore, it seems apt that the YNU will celebrate its 150th anniversary with a conference entitled ‘The ever-changing flora and fauna of Yorkshire’.
To learn more about, or join the Yorshire Naturalists’ Union, see http://www.ynu.org.uk/about
Read the full article in Dalesman Magazine, http://www.dalesman.co.uk/