Thursday, 2 July 2015

Silver DofE Qualifying Expedition!

From last Friday till the Tuesday just gone I have been in the Yorkshire Dales completing my Silver DofE Qualifying Expedition. To meet the criteria we had to walk for 3 days and camp self-sufficiently for 2 nights, with water being the only thing provided for us each day. Our 6 person group walked around 20km each day of the expedition, navigating the various footpaths and trails meandering through the national park. Our practise expedition was in the Brecon Beacons in Wales which is a much harsher environment with very steep climbs. However the Dales were much more comfortable allowing our group to spend sufficient time exploring and completing our expedition aim - 'To investigate the wildlife of the Yorkshire Dales with the aim to compare it with the Brecon Beacon's wildlife'

Even though the terrain was much flatter than the practise we still had to maintain a relatively quick pace to complete out days route with extra time to set up our tents, and to prepare our meals which were cooked on stoves that we carried with us in our backpacks. Despite the quick pace I still managed to set some pleasing shots of the Dales in all it's glory! I carried a notepad and pen around with me all the time so I could scribble down any sightings throughout the day. 

The Dales aren't as diverse as the Beacons but we still walked through very diverse habitats including Farmland, wild-flower meadows, woodland and villages. As the habitats changed so did the type of wildlife we saw. There was one common denominator throughout the whole expedition though…midges! They were everywhere, and at one point we all had to "batten down the hatches" of our tents and wait for the buzzing cloud to pass over. The cows were very friendly but we did have a slightly precarious encounter with a group of bullocks at one point! 

For some reason we saw lots of dead moles along the route…maybe due to the hot weather. Thankfully we found this one before it was too late and we managed to move it off the path and into the shaded grassy verges where it probably stood a better chance of survival. Lots of roadkill was also sighted but I suppose that's inevitable when you have a road running though a national park. In some ways roadkill is a good things as it indicated a healthy population. 

Other mammals which we saw: field mouse, hare & rabbit, and of course all the farm animals.

Here are just a selection of the birdlife we saw along the trip: oystercatcher, tree-creeper, lapwing, curlew, reed bunting, goldfinch, pied wagtail, song thrush, sand martin and many more! 

Along the route we crossed lots and lots of water courses which were wonderful locations to take a rest at and observe the wetland species, such as this cormorant above! Soon after this picture above was taken the cormorant bent it's neck and fired it's beak into the water presumably trying to catch a fish. I got very excited when I saw the pile of remains of this crab/crayfish? I didn't really have any idea of what could have predated on it apart from a large bird, an otter or another larger mammal…any ideas? 

There is nothing better than observing the big four all parading around the sky together: swallows, swifts, house martins and sand martins! That is exactly the sight we saw most days. The river banks were ideal for sand martins and the old fashioned houses likewise for house martins. I wish I had had my Canon camera with me as I reckon I could have got some lovely shots of the swallows skimming over the wild-flower meadows whilst plucking insects out of the air. Hopefully I'll return to the Dales in the future with my proper camera… I've got a question: If not too long ago the UK was solely a woodland habitat then how has UK wildlife evolved so fast to become so diverse (moorland species, farmland species, town species etc)? If anyone knows please comment! The weather was on our side for most of the trip excluding the morning of the second day when it rained non-stop! But it could have been worse. In many ways the rain was good as it made us stop taking so many breaks meaning we could press on and arrive at the campsite early! 

The Comparisons
The red bars represent the Brecon Beacons wildlife and the blue bars represent the Yorkshire Dales wildlife. I have roughly categorised the species into groups including mammals, amphibians, birds of prey, common garden species, migratory species, corvids and wetland species. Some of the species didn't only fit into one category but I've done my best to put them in a category to best represent them. 

In the graph above you can see that there was more spawn in the Brecon Beacons than in the Dales, but this was because of a third factor…time. As we visited the Dales a month of so later than the Beacons it was inevitable that things would have changed. This problem is also prominent in the migratory section as some of the species wouldn't have arrived from Africa (or other southern locations) yet.

As you can see in the graph above there were no birds of prey spotted in the Yorkshire Dales. My prediction for this is that BOP such as the red kite like moorland to hunt on as thats where most of its prey live. I would have expected to see at least a kestrel in the Dales but as we were only there for 3 days it wasn't a definite. 

In the graph below you can see the comparison of wetland species between the two national parks. I am currently looking into why the Dales had a higher wetland population but my guess is that the Dales simply has more water sources. It also has a less harsh climate so water won't freeze over/run dry…it's more stable.

I am currently doing some research as to why these changes in species are. You also have to remember that I only spent 3 days recording the wildlife so the results aren't as representative as they should be, but it's a good start! For the latest news keep up to date with my Twitter page…click here.