Rawcliffe Meadows Work Party Report 15th December 2019

Rawcliffe Meadows Copse North to South

Rawcliffe Meadows Copse North to South

Rawcliffe Meadows Copse South to North

Rawcliffe Meadows Copse South to North

The weather forecast appears to have been wrong again as three of us (Mick, Pete and Masha) spent a pleasant couple of hours tidying up the Copse at the north of the site with a break for mince pies and coffee courtesy of Judi.

Most of the trees planted in the Copse were planted by ourselves in the early days to replace the diseased elms that had once lived there. We also planted the eastern hedge that once separated us from the arable fields before the Park & Ride appeared ten years later. The trees we planted are now maturing side-by-side with the few originals and the more recent elms saplings planted five or six years ago. Managing the encroaching self-seeded saplings that appear annually and clearing the brash will hopefully allow light onto the copse floor for the flora like Giant Bellflower to return and the range of heights and habitats produce a mosaic to encourage biodiversity.

Elm sapling

Elm sapling

There were plenty of fungi about on the rotting wood that had been left in place and all the elm saplings appeared to be flourishing. Another 20 or 30 nest boxes wouldn’t come amiss to replace the ones (more than a hundred erected) now rotten with age, that we have also erected over the years but we’ll leave that as a job for whoever takes on the management when we depart.

Wood Ear Fungus on Elder stump

Wood Ear fungus on Elder stump

The next work party will be on Sunday 5th January 2020 from 10:30 onward in the Reservoir Basin cutting back the blackthorn encroaching on the orchids and ponds.

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Rawcliffe Meadows Work Party 17th November 2019

Despite the dark cloud of the Environment Agency’s planned upheaval and the forecast rain we managed a splendid seven volunteers to help with our annual spruce up of the Water Vole Scrape (now also home to Great Crested Newts, Greater Water Parsnips and many more rare and wonderful creatures. It also didn’t rain.

The Phragmites was soon cut back to encourage fresh growth in the spring and the Reed Bunting returned when the chopping stopped and we moved on, after a coffee and biscuit break (thanks, as usual, to Judi) to repairing the fencing that had started to rot in the damp ground.Phragmites before

Phragmites beforeWith its new posts the area should be protected for the next year or two.

Phragmites after

Phragmites after

The Water Vole Scrape is one of the many ponds in the Reservoir Basin that make the site one of the Freshwater Habitats Trust’s Flagship Sites and so we’ll care for it until our commitment is removed by force majeure and the EA’s bulldozers.

The Water Vole Scrape after its clean up

The Water Vole Scrape after its clean up

The site was looking well despite the bags of dog poo still flung habitually into its corners – probably by those who complain about the grazing cattle. The next work party is on Sunday 15th December from 10:30 in the Copse to the north of the site. It doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves but as we strive to maintain those areas like the Reservoir Basin, Copse Meadow and the Cornfield ignored in the EA’s plans and the Natural England and City of York planning mitigation, we can check the stakes and collars on the Elm saplings, clear up the brash and prepare it for a future without TLC. Thanks to Judi, Mark & Julie, Mark A, Kevin, Fiona and Pete for all their help in the mud!

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Friends of Rawcliffe Meadows – Policy Statement, October 2019


Rawcliffe Meadows 2013 (c) Whitfield Benson

Rawcliffe Meadows 2013 (c) Whitfield Benson

Those Friends of Rawcliffe Meadows present at a meeting in November 2018 agreed that “we do not wish to be involved in any mitigation where we consider the proposals inadequate, inappropriate or under-funded.”

As the approved planning application stands the proposals are exactly that and there is nothing in any of the documents about how the remaining parts of the site will be managed and funded into the future.

On that basis the Friends again met in October 2019, following the Planning Committee approval, and knowing that the Environment Agency (EA) cost/benefit analysis is barely viable (that being given as the reason why they have ignored alternative construction methodologies and routes) we are confirmed in the view that the EA are not to be trusted in the delivery of a full and long-term mitigation as they have neither the will, ability, knowledge or budget to deliver it after damaging what will be hectares of historic SSSI.

We will not engage with substandard mitigation in order to burnish the EA’s public image. We made a clear offer to work with them on the mitigation if we were satisfied with the method and they chose to ignore this.

The Friends will carry on superficially maintaining, as necessary, those parts of the site presumed to be unaffected by works until such time as the EA commence work and the Environmental Stewardship is cancelled under force majeure. There was no wish to ask volunteers to expend further effort after the EA had ignored nearly 30 years of work.

It was also agreed that the Friends were unwilling to take any part in the ‘advisory’ board as this would have no control over ensuring the site was mitigated, restored to previous condition or looked after until such time as it was.


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Rawcliffe Meadows Work Party 13th October 2019 – Tree Sparrow Nest Boxes

An outcome from the Rawcliffe Meadows Breeding Bird Survey of 2015 had been to place some Tree Sparrow nest boxes on the eastern bank of the Reservoir Basin (just below the allotments) as there was identified to be a paucity of suitable trees for them to nest in, it being mainly scrub there. The suggestion had been to hammer in some tall posts among the scrub, with suitable baffles to protect the boxes from Weasels or other similar predators.

Thanks to the York Ornithological Club we were provided with a grant earlier in the year and ordered boxes, hole plates along with steel sheet to make the baffles.

Despite the wet weather Julie, Mark, Judi and Mick got the materials to a suitable location and, after cutting a few tiny Blackthorn saplings, erected the posts adjacent to some Tansy and Elm planting.

The next job was to fix two boxes to each post at which point Kevin and Masha joined us. The scrub will soon hide the posts but some management may be needed to ensure there are no jumping off points for squirrels to attack the boxes.

It is not expected that the Environment Agency’s works will affect that area but who knows as there plans are so vague, but at least the small birds that frequent the Meadows will have somewhere to retreat to when the large sections and hedgerow and numbers of trees are eliminated forever.

Thanks to the six for braving the damp and the YOC for their financial assistance.

Next work party is Sunday 17th November 2019 when we will probably be repairing the fence around the Water Vole Scrape as the cattle have started making inroads. As well as Water Voles, this is now Great Crested Newt habitat and also of the Greater Water Parsnip, so the less trampling the better!

If there is now some juggling of work party tasks it is to avoid areas that the EA’s contractors are likely to damage when they come on.

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Goodbye Rawcliffe Meadows – update Friday 13th September

The planning committee meeting to decide upon the EA application occurred last night (12th September 2019) and is available to watch here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vh5Y8-u3Ws&feature=youtu.be (after 10 minutes). It ended up taking until almost 19:30 to get a decision as around half the committee (Independent, Labour & Green) wanted refusal or deferment, whilst the Conservative and LibDem councillors were for the development without any further conditions or consideration. We must thank the Labour, Green and Independent councillors for their regard for the environment and the thirty years of hard work by the Friends. The application was approved by a small majority with an additional condition added. We now await whether the Secretary of State will as for a public inquiry.

The EA had wheeled in a consulting engineer from Jacobs to read out a statement from the Reservoir Supervising Engineer to the effect that if it wasn’t approved and the scheme didn’t go forward the bank might fail and repairs would have to be carried out under Section 10 which wouldn’t improve the defences to a 1 in 100 standard as the current application was doing. The legal and planning advice also suggested that members couldn’t ask for all the missing strategies to be brought following a deferment as that would be asking too much of the EA.

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Goodbye Rawcliffe Meadows

Rawcliffe Meadows Floodbank

Rawcliffe Meadows Floodbank (c) FoRM & Whitfield Benson

Officers recommend approval of the Environment Agency’s plans.


Planning Committee 12th September 2019 4:30 pm

“The role of the Friends of Rawcliffe in managing the area will be in jeopardy and their funding will be lost; however this cannot be avoided through the planning process (we cannot specify that a certain 3rd party be required to manage the site). Officers are content that planning conditions can secure a reasonable level of mitigation over time; the
responsibility of which will lie with the applicants/developer; the EA. ”

Bye-bye thirty years of volunteer effort and £300,000 of public funding…

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The Ups and Downs of Tansy Beetle Numbers at Rawcliffe Meadows (Revised August 2021)

TB Pond South 6 (1024x949)

The Pond at Rawcliffe Meadows was excavated in May 1991, and the mounds and funnel that surround it were created from the spoil. Although Tansy Beetles had been seen along the Ings Dyke, that runs between Rawcliffe Meadows and Clifton Ings, and Blue Beck, that runs across the top of the site into the Ings Dyke,  previously and one copulating pair was found by Pond in 1993. These beetles had disappeared in 1994 but instead some were found that year in the New Meadow, just north of Blue Beck.  In 1994 some Tansy Beetles were found in the Blue Beck Copse ( a rough patch planted with saplings in 1993 between Blue Beck and the New Meadow) and alongside the hedge at southern end of Rawcliffe Meadows. The populations appeared to remain small from then onward.

There were sightings by the Pond in early 2000 but beetles were not seen later that year probably due to the severe flooding of the River Ouse that summer, although beetles were noted by the Blue Beck and Ings Dyke in 2000.

Beetles were sighted by the Pond again in June 2001 and in 2002 they were noted again by Blue Beck (on 8 April), plus at the Pond and by the New Meadow. The  2004 record was 100 by the Pond, a further 36 on the Ings Dyke bank (at the north by the old oak tree) and 101 on the Blue Beck bank with an additional 3 seen on the New Meadow and  4 near cattle grid leading the Copse.

In 2006 121 were counted at the Pond, with several on the New Meadow. Unfortunately in the previous year the Blue Beck verge was massacred by the Internal Drainage Board and that expanding population of plants and beetles were wiped out. Beetles continued to be sighted at the Pond and New Meadow during 2007.

By 2010 the Pond mounds were noted as a major habitat, and planting of tansy was extended further over  them. Unfortunately there were none recorded that year in the New Meadow

In 2012 the western edge of the New Meadow was fenced off to protect tansy and beetles from grazing and eight beetles were introduced from the Pond in June of that year and the count in late August had a total of 175. By that year we had recognized the significant effect that shading had on tansy plants, and hence beetles so that with the assistance of funding from Yorkshire Water which we received in 2013 we began cutting back and coppicing trees shading the Pond mounds, along with pollarding the trees overlooking the western edge of New Meadow (winter 2013/spring 2014). We also introduced cutting around  the tansy patches at the Pond, New Meadow and plants that started to reappear alongside Blue Beck. The count for 2013 was 208, which jumped to 368 in 2014 with all the care and attention to surroundings (with 60 on western edge of New Meadow and a single one to the south).

Following discussion with Geoff and Roma Oxford of the Tansy Beetle Action Group (TBAG) we decided in 2013 to manage the area to the south of New Meadow for tansy, along with the area near the cattle grid, and those adjacent to Blue Beck and the Ings Dyke where there were existing records of beetles. This has been started by regular cuts of the competing vegetation, and then fencing where practical. Other actions will be considered as we learn more about tansy, the beetles and their habitat needs.

With Rawcliffe Meadows being home to between 10% and 20% of the UK population of Tansy Beetles we feel it is important to try and increase our own stock of beetles in a manner that will leave many protected in the event of the unseasonable floods or other environmental issues that might wipe out an isolated population. The graph below should demonstrate the variations to the populations, whilst the Blue Beck, Ings Dyke and Cattle Grid are areas that once supported plants and beetles but being reinstated. During 2014 we put additional plants in the New Meadow, further around the Pond, by the cattle grid at the north, in the Reservoir Basin, and by Blue Beck. Whilst some of the areas were better prepared than others and may take years to establish properly, some are fenced off from grazing/public access, others are not. Only time will tell where the beetles  and plants best prosper, and perhaps answer some questions as to why. In 2019 we have a volunteer regularly observing the Tansy Beetle population at New Meadow – we hope that might give shed some light on the variations.

A graph showing the TB populations over time


It must be noted that the numbers are a snapshot from the day of the survey. Additional Tansy Beetles may be discovered at the other locations on sunnier days later in August or early September. As in the case of September 2015 when Tansy Beetles were found in large numbers at the south of the Pond (where there had been none a few weeks before), along with being on plants by Blue Beck and over the Barrier Bank along the Cricket Field fence. The 2018 figures on 21st August are disappointing in that the 35 counted on New Meadow is well down on the 206 on 4th May 2018, whilst the 147 counted in August by the Pond is less than half the 363 quickly counted in May.Perhaps the exceedingly hot, dry summer had an effect. The leaves of the plants were noticeably well eaten, and for the first time we sighted galls on the tansy flowers, whilst the browning off (blight) was reduced from 2017.

A further 720 tansy plants were nurtured from seed provided by us into 9 cm pots by Brunswick Organic Nursery during 2015. These were being used to extend tansy coverage through the existing areas as well as on the banks of the Reservoir Basin. These plants were funded jointly by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and Yorkshire Water . The increasing number of tansy clumps can be seen on the graph below. The existing clumps are also spreading, seeding and in some cases disappearing. The dip in 2018 is a mixture of the cattle eating and trampling the tansy due to the reduced herb growth from the dry summer, along with the developing clumps merging together into bigger ones. The cattle had a similar effect in 2019 many of the cattle-accessible clumps flourishing only at ground level.


However, the count team when they went out on 29th August 2016, a relatively sunny day, we disappointed to see numbers had dramatically fallen from the previous year, and even a fortnight before when the clumps at the Pond had been managed – might this be as a result of the flooding and standing water on their habitat for almost all of the winter? The numbers at New Meadow had slightly increased, although it had been more days earlier, as were the new population along the Ings Dyke. In 2017, despite seeing large numbers of Tansy Beetles over an extended period in the Spring and Summer, and the tansy foliage being voraciously attacked by beetles and larvae, the numbers have still only gently risen at the time of counting.

The count team in 2018 (c) Ian Smith

The count team in 2018 (c) Ian Smith

We now have an established population of tansy plants and the challenge is to get the newer clumps inhabited by Tansy Beetles and expanding in the new locations to ensure that areas like the Pond, which was under water for a lengthy period of the winter of 2015/2016 are not the only expanding populations. However, whilst cattle trampling the plants may be beneficial for their spread, it doesn’t do a lot for counting them in late summer! The August heatwave of 2019 also appears to have had a disastrous on count numbers as there were many more in earlier weeks, despite many of the enclosed plants appearing to be in excellent condition!

We also need to understand why some tansy clumps ‘brown off’ before flowering as can be seen in the picture below, which is a drastic occurrence in this instance but then seemingly recover in subsequent years


A 'blue' Tansy Beetle

A ‘blue’ Tansy Beetl

Tansy clump in 2019

Tansy clump in 2019

[2021 update] Given that the Environment Agency had succeeded in their planning application to damage the Ings in the name of flood defences we stopped actively managing Rawcliffe Meadows and related sites, however in the name of continuity we carried out a count in August 2020 but the area looked bedraggled due to the grazing and lack of pro-active work. The TB areas were very trampled or where fenced off the plants had been dragged to the ground. 2021 was similar and we didn’t even attempt to count in areas in the Reservoir Basin due to vegetation. The good news was that “browning off” was much reduced in 2021 and an active population was maintained along the Ings Dyke, and number were slowly increasing. According to conversations with ecologists from Jacobs in 2021 the numbers when we both counted on the 24th August were similar to their counts a fortnight earlier. We can be sure by the amount of tansy eaten in the Pond compound that numbers are actually much higher there but disguised by the horizontal Tansy plants.

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Rawcliffe Meadows Work Party Report 11th August 2019

We’d ignored the Bee Bank for a few months but now was time to cut back encroaching vegetation.

Fortunately for Mick the three people who had said they couldn’t make it did and so he wasn’t on his own. Whilst deciding on a plan of action we got a good view of young Roe Deer buck who made his way down the fallow, across the track and into the Reservoir Basin away from us. Our first job was pulling the Field Horsetail growing among the now establishing Sedum of the green roof above the bank, then cutting off the encroaching grasses whilst avoiding any pollinating plants.

In addition holes were drilled in the oak sleeping shoring up the bank to encourage further use of the bank by solitary bees or wasps. Whilst rooting around the sleepers two White Ermine Moth caterpillars were sighted, along with a largish toad. The wire netting installed without our consent by the Environment Agency to keep out Badgers is a nuisance to maintenance and probably to the Hymenoptera we are seeking, we also may have a leak in the liner beneath the bank.

White Ermine moth caterpillar

White Ermine moth caterpillar

Following on from the bank we went over to the New Meadow to clear up some hay and remove encroaching vegetation from the hedge. There are numbers of Tansy Beetles on the New Meadow verge.

Thanks to Judi, Julie and Mark, and Mark T for their efforts and energy.

The next work party is planned for Sunday September 1st when we’ll be again venturing into the Water Vole Scrape to pull out any Reed Mace and cut back half of the Phragmites. Waders or wellies advisable. Shears and glove provided.

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Friends of Rawcliffe Meadows – What may the Future Hold?

Friends of Rawcliffe Meadows logo

York Natural Environment Trust (YNET) took over the management of what is now Rawcliffe Meadows at the request of the then National Rivers Authority (NRA) in 1990, so almost 3 decades of work have gone into transforming the once poached pasture covered in Creeping Thistle into a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), a Freshwater Habitats Trust Flagship Site and a Buglife Urban Buzz Flagship Site. This approximates to around £300,000 worth of volunteer hours over the last 28 years. Unfortunately the NRA ended up as a part of the Environment Agency a few years later and much support disappeared.

What the two planning applications by the Environment Agency affecting Rawcliffe Meadows are noticeable for is not the amount of content but the lack of information upon which to base a decision. How many people have taken the time to consider the supposed option appraisal provided? Not many I must believe because if they had they would have found it to be rigged with little consideration to avoiding dry side development. We carried out FoI requests to determine what consultation the EA had done with landowners on the dry side – none! So the intention has always been to develop on the rare SSSI grassland.

Natural England are still awaiting two key documents before they give consent to development “A Habitat and Landscape Management Plan” and a “A Tansy Beetle mitigation strategy” – why were these not provided when asked for by NE initially. Can the EA be trusted to provide them, or more importantly deliver on them?

The Council’s ecologist has similarly requested a Clifton Ings and Rawcliffe Meadows SSSI Mitigation Strategy, a Clifton Ings and Rawcliffe Meadows SSSI Restoration and Compensatory Habitat Management Plan, a  Clifton Ings and Rawcliffe Meadows SSSI and Rawcliffe Ings Biodiversity monitoring strategy (and remedial measures), a Tansy Beetle Mitigation Strategy, a Construction Environmental Management Plan (Biodiversity), a Habitat and Landscape Mitigation and Management Plan (non-SSSI features), a Great Crested Newt European Protected Species Licence and Mitigation Strategy, all of which should be part of the application you are being asked to consider, not add-ons, possibly provided, after permission has been granted.

The Council’s ecologist has also had to remind the EA that “under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, as amended (section 1), it is an offence to remove, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while that nest is in use or being built.” The EA having carried out such acts already without planning consent, and similarly netted off the large bee bank constructed by the Friends without their consent, or the landowners!

The EA has had the missing information from its EIA pointed out repeatedly in the last eight months, why have they not acted sooner? Probably because they believe that the flood defence card will trump any objections.

The so-called Environment Agency in this region appears to have little understanding or respect for nature, so how is this work going to be controlled not just for the construction period but for the many decades of mitigation required after, and will they have the budget? In mid-May this year the EA carried out unprecedented cutting of the flood banks along the Ouse in complete ignorance of their own department’s National Pollinator Strategy and wasting tons of what might have been excellent hay. The applicant appears to only look after the environment when they are forced to and in this instance that force appears to be absent.

If councillors approve these applications they are undermining guidance that is there to protect SSSI’s nationally and will likely open the proverbial floodgates to SSSI destruction elsewhere and on this basis we have asked for the Minister to call in the application should Members approve it.

Another key element that is missing from ALL these reports, and that includes the Council and Natural England is the very existence of the Friends of Rawcliffe Meadows (FoRM) – where do FoRM fit into all this after the decision has been made as we aren’t considered anywhere? We coordinated those £300,000 hours of work that people gave voluntarily that made the site what it is. There is no consideration of future funding or whether there is even a role for FoRM.

Those present at the meeting in November 2018 that “Friends of Rawcliffe Meadows do not wish to be involved in any mitigation where we consider the proposals inadequate, inappropriate or under-funded.” As the planning application stands the proposals are inadequate, inappropriate and (probably) underfunded and there is nothing in any of the documents about how the remaining parts of the site will be managed and funded into the future, which as it is FoRM whose management has restored and expanded the Tansy Beetle population and maintained New Meadow, Copse Meadow and the Reservoir Basin, who will pay, and perhaps most importantly given the dire treatment, should FoRM carry on?

We are saying all this when we have yet to see the Council planners proposal and the decision of the Councillors but they’re not being fully informed. Do FoRM wish to have a further meeting before or after the next timetabled planning meeting (12th September) as any work by FoRM after a decision is made in the light that we have no funding promised and presumably zero status in the eyes of all concerned seems worthless? Let us know!


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Rawcliffe Meadows Work Party Report 1st August 2019

Don’t know if it was the leaden skies or the fact that it was Yorkshire Day but Mick felt like a lonely bunny as he took control of the thistle, docks and brambles making their way out of the Cricket Field Copse at the southern end of the Meadows. However, before long Evie (our Tansy Beetle monitor at New Meadow) and her dad Kevin appeared to take away the isolation.

As it is difficult to cut with modern, large equipment this section between the Barrier Bank and Cricket Field Copse often needs manual intervention, especially as the Environment Agency messed everything up this year. However, the cows, bullocks and little calves have been doing their best and the area wasn’t as bad as it might have been but the weeds and brambles still needed tackling.

Between the three of us we made a good stab at cutting them back and relocating under the Hazel copse to mulch down. More hands would have done more but it was not to be.

The next session is on Sunday 11th August at the Bee Bank in the Cornfield Reserve arable. The hay cut will have left some standing vegetation and there will be some fine weeding required. Following a suggestion we will also drill some additional holes in the Oak sleepers that surround the bank to make potential nests for solitary bees.

The 2019 generation of Tansy Beetles are rising up now so keep your eyes peeled.

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