River webcam at Wensley bridge.

The variability of the River Ure is part of its charm, but there are few things more frustrating than having your plans spoiled by the weather conditions.

Together the Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust and Bolton Estates have installed a webcam at Wensley bridge to allow everyone to view live images of the river. The webcam will give early warnings of potential flooding and road closures, as well as allowing anglers and other river users to view the river remotely before making a trip out.

The Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust is a local charity working to improve water quality and enhance river habitats for the benefit of everyone. Project Officer Caitlin Pearson said “We are really pleased to have been able to install this camera with Bolton Estate. We are currently monitoring the condition of the River Ure and having constant imagery will allow us to see how the river responds to varying weather conditions and activities in the Dale.”

The Ure through Bolton Estate is a top-quality river for both salmon and sea trout.  The Estate actively supports the Ure group of the Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust (formerly the Ure Salmon Trust) and in return has seen excellent recovery of salmon. Upcounts on the fish counter suggest further increases in both number of salmon in the river and the fishing season length.

Tom Orde-Powlett of Bolton Estate said “I am delighted with the installation. I hope it will enable anglers from far afield to keep an eye on the river and come when conditions are best. As well as supporting jobs, fishing revenues enable us to re-invest in the sustainable management of the river.”

The images of the river can be seen at: www.farsondigitalwatercams.com/locations/wensley

Day 3 on the farm – A little bit of everything!

We started the day by shepherding; driving up onto the fell to check on the stock. A large area of the estate is moorland. This area is used for raising beef cattle and for grazing sheep. One cow had a large wart on her udder, which James sprayed to reduce the chance of infection. She jumped at the spray and the wart fell off, it was as big and as dense as a cricket ball! The lambs are sprayed with the same number as their mother so the shepherd can quickly tell if the lambs have been abandoned.

Recently, the estate bought the entitlements to the fell land and are now working, under the guidance of Natural England, to control the bracken and restore the heather moorland. Grazing is part of this, but the bracken is also controlled by contractors.

A water pipe was leaking on the moor and we had to dig it up to repair the leak. This made me realise the huge extent of water infrastructure required to water all the animals and the costs associated with it, even before any payment for water. Here, the livestock are watered from borehole water which has the dual advantage of being free but keeping livestock away from streams and ponds.

Some of the cattle were drinking from two natural ponds in a woodland area. We went to have a look at the extent of poaching. There was evidence of cattle having been there but the banks had ben reinforced with wood chippings and the damage was minimal. The natural depressions around the ponds had the capacity to hold a lot of rain water, a couple of leaky dams in the woodland could have made these effective Natural Flood Management features.

Further downstream, a retention pond has been constructed in one of the fields as part of the “Mitigation options for Phosphorus and Sediment” scheme, funded by DEFRA with Lancaster University, ADAS consultancy, the University of Reading and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust. A lot of runoff is coming down off the A6 and through neighbours field where it is picking up sediment so the two stage pond acts as a sediment trap and also strips out nutrients. James was quite positive about it but is perhaps quite unique in his willingness to give up such a large area. The pond is part of a large scientific trial and I will be interested in the results about the practicalities of building and maintaining these features and whether smaller ponds can be equally as effective (http://mops2.diffusepollution.info).

In the afternoon I joined Andrew the tractor man for potato spraying. There are two large fields of potatoes under a rental agreement with a potato producer. The equipment needed to planting and harvesting potatoes is very specific so this is done by a specialised firm that rent fields from lots of different landowners. As part of the agreement, the potatoes are sprayed by the landowner.

The programme of fertiliser and insecticide application will be determined by the advice given by Steven the agronomist, after regular crop walks. In general, the potatoes are sprayed with insecticide once per week, which is what we were doing today. Insecticides can only be sprayed on very still days due to the damage it can cause to headlands, hedgerows and verges if it is blown out of the field.

A precision farming system is used for spraying which has great environmental and economic benefits but is a very costly piece of kit. A GPS system within the tractor tracks the location during spraying. Because most of the damage to soil is done in the first pass it is important to keep the tractor on the same tracks each time. The computer knows the extent of the boom and colours in the areas that have already been sprayed; if you are retracing steps or overlapping with an area that has already been sprayed then the overlapping nozzles will switch off so that the area isn’t getting a double spray. Obviously this is more economical as pesticide is not being wasted but also better for the environment as it is the extra that will not be absorbed and will be lost into the wider environment.  For fertiliser the differences in requirements within a field, based on soil testing, can be programmed in so that each area of the field is sprayed with the correct proportions of phosphate and potash. Too much of a nutrient can actually inhibit uptake or growth of other essential nutrients. It was very satisfying to watch the field get coloured in green on the computer screen as we passed over each new area!

I’ve had a fantastic few days on the farm and am very grateful to James Turner and all the staff at Brackenburgh for taking the time to give me an insight into farming. I have a much better appreciation of how farming operations work and the number of factors farmers have to take into account to manage their business effectively.

Heritage Lottery Fund support for ‘Ure River’.

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The Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust has received £24,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for an exciting project to celebrate and protect the River Ure in Wensleydale.

The river is a central part of Wensleydale, enjoyed by locals and tourists alike, but in recent years it has come under increasing pressures, including climate change, pollution and invasive species.

The ‘Ure River’ project will train local volunteers to monitor the river, gathering data that is needed to pinpoint the issues and ensure the Ure remains  a healthy environment for both people and wildlife.

A programme of family events, walks, schools visits and youth groups activities will provide people of all ages with opportunities to get their feet wet and learn about the river environment.

The grant will also allow the Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust to install river webcams in the dale to give early warnings of floods and road closures.

Project Officer Caitlin Pearson said “We are delighted to have received the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, and think this project will be an important step in safeguarding the future of this beautiful river.”

Explaining the importance of the HLF support, the head of the HLF in Yorkshire, said: “Thanks to National Lottery players this project will help to people to learn and develop skills to ensure the Ure River remains a healthy river. Its wealth of natural heritage can then be shared  with the local communities and visitors to the area now and in the future.”

This project forms part of a wider environmental programme in Wensleydale coordinated by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority and Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust.

Day 2 on the Farm – Managing risk

Apart from some newly hatched chicks and James’ pet wallabies the focus today was on crops rather than livestock.

We walked several of the crop fields with Steven, a contracted agronomist. The farm has a rotation of barley, feed wheat, oats, potatoes and grass. Steven was looking at the condition, growth stage and threats (weeds or pests) to each of the crops and would make a recommendation for spraying pesticides, fungicides or fertilisers. Of course, the balance is minimising the amount spent on these inputs whilst maximising the amount of output. The risk of pests, weeds and poor growth will be very dependent on the weather so trying to predict what the best course of action is a very tricky skill to master.

This felt a bit like playing the stock market…which is another thing James has to deal with. With the impending Brexit vote there was suggestion that the fertilisers imported from Poland would rapidly increase in price, so James had to quickly make a decision whether to buy today, ensuring that there was adequate storage (in hindsight, he made a very good choice!).

All the crops looked in good condition, and again I was amazed at the level of organisation required. Each field is planned so that the current crop will be harvested at the correct time for the sowing of the next crop and follow a rotation pattern that will ensure maximum nutrients are kept in the soil, James appeared to be thinking several years ahead. On top of this, certain fields are only suitable for some crops. This issue was discussed at the lunch time Catchment Sensitive Farming meeting that we attended.

The unprecedented flooding in Cumbria this winter meant that lots of farms had a lot of runoff and soil erosion in areas where is hadn’t previously been an issue. Most farmers will know which fields need cover crops, which need contour ploughing, which need particularly dry conditions for fertiliser application etc. based on slope, soil type and proximity to a watercourse, but with the amount and intensity of rainfall we are now getting this risk map might need updating.

SHADY CHARACTERS NEEDED TO COOL OUR RIVERS

Fish in Britain’s rivers are under threat from warmer waters. Cold-water species such as Atlantic salmon and brown trout, are struggling to cope as climate change brings significant increases in temperature.

Today there’s a call for urgent action to Keep Rivers Cool by planting broadleaf native trees alongside river banks, creating dappled shading and stopping water from warming up.

 Shade can reduce temperatures in small rivers by on average 2- 3C compared to un-shaded streams; and by more on hot summer days.

 Now Keeping Rivers Cool is calling for action. Speaking on behalf of the KRC partnership (1) Diane Millis, from the Woodland Trust said:

 “We’re asking people who value our rivers to survey their local river bank, and look at specific areas which may need shade. Landowners, Rivers Trusts, anglers, farmers and ecological groups can all help. “

 The KRC partnership is asking groups working in catchment areas to take up the challenge using  a practical guide for planting along river margins, available on the Woodland Trust website.

 The manual gives step by step instructions for planting, species selection and location, ensuring the right balance of shade for fragile river ecosystems.

 The Keeping Rivers Cool partnership can provide landowners and groups working in catchment areas with first hand specialist advice; and the Woodland Trust can also offer generously   subsidised trees.    Shade maps showing locations along English rivers which are at risk from direct sun and may need more riparian shade can be accessed here via The Rivers Trusts    

 Brown trout start to die when water temperature hits between 22C – 25C for more than 7 consecutive days.  In hot summers, a small number of sites in the New Forest, have recorded maximum water temperatures over 31 C – warmer than many heated swimming pools. 

Some climate predictions indicate water temperatures will exceed the safe thresholds for river fish; and trees alongside riverbanks are a crucial part of the biodiversity of our waterways. 

The Trust’s Diane Millis warned: “Figures show that stocks are already decreasing and if we don’t start taking the temperature threat seriously, iconic fish like salmon, will face even more serious decline. Rivers, and the ecosystems they support, are one of our most valuable natural resources.”

 Salmon are already under pressure, from sediment and pollution run-off, barriers to swimming up-river, lower flows and changes in habitat.  The annual fisheries report from the Environment Agency show a continued decline in salmon populations, with over 90 % of stocks in England’s principal salmon rivers assessed as being at risk, or probably at risk.

At sea, marine survival of salmon has nearly halved over the last 20 years; making it more important that their freshwater habitat is improved, and protected.

Already Keeping Rivers Cool schemes are underway in Northumberland, Hampshire, the South east and the North West of England.

It’s not only shade that’s important; woody debris which drops into streams creates cooler patches under the water, which protect fish, invertebrates and plants.

 Trees planted alongside rivers also bring other benefits to the natural environment, they help stabilise banks, reduce and slow the flow of flood waters downstream, and improve water quality by filtering agricultural run-off from nearby land. Currently only 17 % of English rivers meet good ecological water quality standards.   

 

trees and stream

Day 1 on the farm: Sheep Shuttering and Milking

I started the day by helping to herd sheep through a foot bath. I’d thought sheep farmers basically left sheep alone in the fields, but I was very wrong!

The sheep get brought into the pens regularly, for worming, foot baths, vet checks, clipping and weighing. The process starts in September, ewes are brought in and their condition checked. Any old sheep with broken teeth, or those in poorer condition are put to the tupp (male sheep) early in the autumn. They will lamb in February and this will be their last. Younger healthier ewes are put to the tupp a few months later so they will lamb later in the spring. This system allows the shepherd to  give greater attention to sheep that might experience difficulties and ensures a supply of lamb to the market for a longer period.

Ewes are scanned during pregnancy to determine how many young they are carrying. Twins are optimal as lambs only have two teats and so the shepherd rearranges the young at birth, swapping triplets to ewes that have only had one lamb. After an overnight observation they are put back out into the field at a density of around 8 ewes and her lambs per hectare. Ensuring that lambs born at different times are getting all the veterinary care they need and maintaining an optimal grazing density requires a lot of organisation and the lambs are frequently moved around the paddocks.

Today, some of the lambs will be taken to market, at around 12 weeks old. They’ve been brought in and weighed and their condition checked for an optimal meat:fat ratio. Lambs of around 39 kg are been taken to market, others are left to fatten up. A later born group of lambs are been weaned, separated from their mothers, in a process called ‘shuttering’.

In the afternoon I joined Richard, the dairyman. He’d been up since 4.30 am for morning milking and was just about to start the afternoon round. Richard explained that rearing a female calf (heifer) to deliver her first calf, at about two and a half years old, costs £1,500. For this reason they cross black and white cows (Holstein) with Danish red. Holsteins have better milk production but tend not to be as strong so the cross ensures healthy, longer living cows that are overall more productive.

Richard is milking 200 cows with another 50 ‘dried off’ while they get ready to calve. Even though the parlour is modern and has automatic milking machines, milking 200 cows takes a long time! 14 cows can be milked at a time. They have electronic tags so that they are recognised as they enter the parlour. They are then given the correct amount of dry feed, which has been calculated for their age, condition and stage of lactation. The system can also recognise if the cow is on any medication, such as antibiotics for mastitis and therefore the milk shouldn’t go into the main system. Richard also has coloured tape on the tails of these cows as a failsafe.

Each cow gets its teats wiped down to ensure no dirt gets into the milk and to stimulate them. This gets hormones working and makes them give their milk more quickly, it takes a couple of minutes but overall is a time saver. After milking the teats remain open for about half an hour and are subject to bacteria and infection getting in. Therefore the teats are sprayed all round with an antibacterial spray to protect them.

Each cow is producing between 7,000 and 10,000 litres of milk per year. But to produce this they need to eat 52kg of food and drink 70-80L of water per day! This has made me appreciate how valuable access to free drinking water is to the farm; here a borehole supplies drinking troughs in each field. They get complete feed with  barley, oats and soya for protein pretty much the whole year round although they graze outside from mid-April to beginning of October. As with sheep, there is a tremendous amount of organisation to ensure that the grazing is optimal for the cattle and for the pasture. Richard has split the grass into 5 ha paddocks and leaves cows there for one or two millings (ie. 12 hours or 24 hours) depending on the condition of the grass sward.

With this much food intake you’d imagine there’d be a lot of waste but I was still astounded by the amount of manure left in the parlour after milking. Richard washes down with a high pressure hose and although he is very conscious of minimising the water use it still takes a lot to get the parlour clean. All of this will go straight into the slurry tank and can only be spread in dry conditions, at certain times of year to minimises water pollution, especially as the farm is within a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone. The need to make sure that there isn’t rainwater or unnecessary run-off filling up the slurry tank is really obvious when you see how much slurry it actually has to store.

We finish at around 6.30 pm, a very long day for Richard. He will be milking again at 5am. Although I’ve really enjoyed milking and learnt a lot, I’m very thankful that I won’t be!

Down on the Farm

Much of the work of the Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust involves working with farmers to integrate simple measures to improve water quality and stream habitat into farming practices. As a YDRT Project Officer I have a good understanding of how the river and its wildlife work, but having grown up in the suburbs of Middlesbrough I have a limited knowledge of how farms operate. So I’m off to spend three days on a Cumbrian farm to find out.

James Turner manages a large estate near Penrith. With dairy, sheep and arable its the perfect place to have a crash course in farming practices. I’ve been promised hard work, good food and baby animals but I’ll be there with the following questions in mind:

  • What does the day-to-day operation of a farm business involve, for dairy, beef cows, sheep and arable?
  • What challenges do farmers face?
  • What are the barriers to adopting the measures that YDRT recommend?
  • How can environmentally-sensitive practices benefit the farm business?

Yore Past, Ure Future… We need Your views.

An exciting new project to enhance the River Ure is being launched in Upper Wensleydale by a partnership of local farmers and interested organisations.

Come and tell us why the River Ure is special to you and find out more about the project and how you can help to shape it.

22nd Feb, Old School House, Leyburn

9th March, Dales Countryside Museum, Hawes,

FREE refreshments! All welcome

https://www.facebook.com/events/576962002472482/

Newsletter 10

Our latest Newsletter is now available.

This tenth edition of the newsletter has looks of fantastic and interesting articles including; Life of a Project Officer, New stocking regulations, The Wharfe SSSI Project, Dales To Vales River Network (our CaBA project) and Walkover Surveys with volunteers.

Also find out more about our new trustees.

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