Biodiversity action in Northumberland National Park

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Date waxcaps, maiden pinks and mountain bumblebees increase

The date waxcap, a grassland fungus, was discovered during a waxcap survey carried out in the park in autumn 2010. It is the first time this species of fungus has been found in Northumberland National Park.

Jewel-like waxcap fungi have been described as the orchids of the fungi world. A variety of these fungi in one site indicates an ancient grassland which may date back hundreds of years.

The best time of year to look for waxcaps is from September to November, when park staff and interested members of the public took part in the survey:

Other species on the increase include the maiden pink, a rare plant that has been increasing in areas under Higher Level Scheme (conservation) agreements with the National Park.

There has also been an increase in the number of mountain bumblebees recorded after searches across the park.

Barn Owl Project helps tackle decline

The aim of the Northumberland National Park Barn Owl Project, which began in the Coquet Valley in 2004, was to halt the decline in numbers and stabilise the population of these magnificent birds. It has resulted in:

  • 62 nesting boxes being erected since 2007
  • An increase in the number of boxes occupied from 18 in 2007 to 29 in 2010.
  • The number of chicks hatched has increased from 36 in 2007 to 55 in 2009
  • 44 chicks were hatched in nesting boxes in 2010 (numbers down due to harsh winter)
  • Separate project teams have been set up in the Breamish Valley, Redesdale and along Hadrian’s Wall

How did they increase nesting barn owl numbers?

A local business was employed to make nesting boxes and to work with National Park volunteers to install them. A regular newsletter helped drum up extra support for the project from the community.

There has been a good take up of the nesting boxes by breeding Barn Owls as well as the odd tawny owl!

The importance of this project was seen during the harsh winter of 2010 when 110 barn owls were found dead between Hadrian’s Wall and the Cheviots. This was due to starvation and the cold . Despite these high losses, breeding success only dropped slightly (see table).

YearNest Boxes ErectedNo of Boxes OccupiedNo. Of Chicks
2007401836
200818 (58)3444
20091 (59)2955
20103 (62)2344

Barn owl project work continues

Bird ringing and monitoring work is ongoing and there is a real sense of local pride in this project. Support for the project from farmers increases the chances of long-term habitat improvements that will ensure barn owls remain a feature of Northumberland National Park in the future.

Seeding change: New meadows created

Upland hay meadows are an extremely rare and important habitat. They contain a mix of species that is found only in the uplands in Northumberland, Cumbria, Lancashire and Yorkshire.

The three-year Seeding Change Project, which began in 2005, was designed to increase the number and quality of hay meadows in the park by:

  1. introducing wild flower seed/plants to degraded meadows
  2. maintaining the meadows through positive management practices

The funding for the £90,000 scheme has now come to an end but staff at the park are continuing to carry out regular surveys of new meadows created and those that have had seed and plants added. Under the scheme:

  1. 21 meadows (60 hectares) were treated with seed
  2. 7 new meadows were planted (2,000 plants)
  3. 9,000 wildflowers were grown and planted in fields, school grounds and on road verges by volunteers and trainees
  4. 12 school grounds were planted
  5. 1 business was established to continue seed collection and and distribution