17 April 2015

The Great British Migration

Spring is finally here. As most of us contemplate what and where we are going on our summer holidays this year, the mass summer migration has begun for Britain’s wildlife.

Could you imagine having to travel half way around the world to get to your destination, only to then repeat the same journey four months later? No nor can I but that’s exactly what hundreds of millions of our summer migrants do every year.



Bird species such as Wood Warbler, Redstart, Cuckoo (arrive early April and leave by end of June) Swallow, House Martin, Sand Martin, and Swift (last to arrive and first to go) arrive in the spring and have traveled for thousands of miles from either North-West or Sub-Saharan Africa. These species come to Britain to breed because the further North they go, the greater the abundance of food and more light in which to search for it.

Wood Warbler
Sand Martin
House Martin

Butterflies & Moths


Would you believe that some of our butterflies and day flying moths migrate to the UK too?

Take the Painted Lady for instance; this migrates from North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, which is somewhere in the region of 9000 miles and at altitudes of over 1,000m.

For a tiny creature weighing less than a gram, with a brain the size of a pin head, and no opportunity to learn from older, experienced individuals, undertake an epic journey. It’s estimated that 11 million arrive in Britain each year, with around 25 million migrating back by the end of the summer.

The Red Admiral like the Painted Lady is another migrant to Britain, flying from North Africa and Continental Europe in there millions and covering similar distances as their counterparts.

The Humming-Bird Hawkmoth is a day flying moth that also migrants to Britain. These arrive in there thousands every year. Historically these were usually frequenting the South and East of the Country, However due to changes in our climate and hence warmer summers; they are being seen in Cumbria in larger numbers.

The Silver Y moth is our most common immigrant moth from Southern Europe, North Africa and parts of South East Asia, which can arrive in numbers up to 250 million in a good year (yes that’s correct you read it right!), with a staggering four times as many leaving as arrived.

10 April 2015

Neolithic axe factory.

The Borrowdale Volcanic Group underlies the highest and craggiest central part of the Lake District including the Langdale and Scarfell Pikes. These igneous rocks are volcanic lavas and ash flows erupted during a phase of cataclysmic volcanism 450 million years ago. Ash exploded out of a volcano, may fall through the air and settle in beds, when compacted and cemented these are called tuffs. 

The fine grain tuff located in a band of outcrop rock which extends around the summits of Langdale, Bow Fell, Scafell and Glaramara is the source of material for the Langdale axe production sites. This band has been eroded by glacial action and detached blocks of the tuffs are present within the morainal mounds and scree slopes below.

The majority of axe production sites were directly associated with the outcropping of this source material on either the face of Pike of Stickle and Harrison Stickle or the South scree gully. Debris and hundreds of "reject" axes have been found on the scree slopes of Pike o' Stickle.

Pike of Stickle and scree gully.

The initial identification of axe production in the Langdale area was on Mart Crag Moor between Stake pass and Pike of Stickle. 

Below is a more resent discovery in 2008 on the moraines on Mart Crag Moor. A footpath over Mart Crag Moor had formed a large erosion scar due to inadequate drainage. Consequently this exposed a previously unknown Neolithic axe manufacturing site.

Mart Crag Moor axe production site.
The Neolithic axe factory Sites in the Langdales and Scarfell are where the rough outs of axes were manufactured. There is evidence that sandstone grinding slabs found on the Cumbrian coast were used to polish or finish these greenstone axes. 

Polishing the rough surfaces will have improved the mechanical strength of the axe as well as lowering friction when used against wood. Of all the Neolithic polished stone axes that have been examined in the UK, around 27% come from the Langdale region. 

Neolithic axe factory sites of Langdale and Scarfell Pike in Cumbrian, together with Grimes Grave in Norfolk represent the earliest industry of true mass production in Britain.

Polished greenstone hand axe, found at Troutbeck Bridge, 1899

3 April 2015

Happy Chinese New Year

Happy Chinese new year.

I know it’s a bit late but happy Chinese NewYear , it’s the year of the sheep lucky numbers 2 and 7 lucky colours brown , red and purple.

Of course every year is the year of the sheep in the Lake District , sheep have been an important part of the culture, economy and landscape here  for over a thousand years.


Herdwick ewe and 'black' lambs

 One breed of sheep has a particularly strong connection to the area,  reportedly brought over here by the Norse Vikings , Herdwick sheep have been grazing on the Lake District Fells  ever since . They are a hardy breed , stocky, short legged and with thick wiry wool , at home in the mountains they live up there almost  year round at altitudes of up to 3000ft, without needing any supplementary feeding , their ‘ low maintenance’ has made them popular with generations of Cumbrian farmers.

Kendal Green

 The significance of sheep farming and Herdwicks in particular to this area  is hard to overstate not only have sheep been the backbone of almost every Lake District farm since the time of the Vikings,  providing a livelihood for generations of farmers and their families,  but  the trade in sheep , lamb, mutton and wool has helped to establish important market towns like Kendal, Hawkshead and Ulverston. The wool trade supported the wealth of the Abbeys at Furness and Fountains Abbey that owned land in the Lake District in the 15th and 16th centuries, and traded as far afield as Italy !  ‘Kendal Green’ was a hardwearing woollen cloth popular in medieval England and even mentioned by Shakespeare  in Henry iv ( part 1 )

Sheep farming and the wool trade has quite literally changed the face of the Lake District , old pack horse routes are now our main roads, we still  have narrow pack horse bridges over the becks and  the flagstone and drystone wall boundaries that we see today,  were built to keep sheep in the fields .

Herdwick sheep sale

The Herdwick sheep are unique in many ways ,  the ewes , because they are a mountain breed usually lamb later in the year when the weather is kinder and the grass has started growing . The higher fell farms will  start lambing in April when other lowland farms lamb in February . The purebred ewes usually have only one lamb , the  lambs are born black and  their fleece gets lighter and greyer as they get older. As I get older I find my fleece is  getting greyer as well !

Sheep or Goat ?

Herdwicks are definitely part sheep part goat, they are agile climbers , helpful when you have to graze on rocky crags. I have seen herdwicks climb high walls with ease and on one occasion saw a herdwick jump straight over a stock fence with barb wire on the top , just because there was the prospect of a better meal on the other side !
Much of our South Lakes property came from Beatrix Potter, the famous  writer and illustrator of childrens books what is less well known is that she was an active farmer,  Champion Herdwick sheep breeder and later in life the President of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders Association. Everything she turned her hand to,  she did to the very best of her ability and sheep breeding was no different . Why she had such a passion for sheep breeding and Herdwcks in particular we don’t really know , I personally think that part of the reason was the uncanny  resemblance of the Herdwick to her father Rupert , who was always the favourite of her two parents .

Beatrix's father Rupert is the one on the right !

Good n ..ewes  Bad n…ewes

So sheep have,  and will continue  to play an important role in the story of the Lake District , the National Trust even has a ‘ landlords flock ‘ of herdwicks to ensure that this happens,  but like  all things it is a question of balance .

 In recent decades the number of sheep on the fells, encouraged by  subsidieshas increased to a level that has had a negative impact . Sheep are not very selective in their grazing habits and will eat anything that is in front of them . Sweet fresh grass is preferred , but if that is not available they will eat other shrubs, flowers and young trees. Sheep in woodlands and gardens can wreak havoc in a short period of time , making it important that we maintain our woodland boundaries to a high standard and at some cost .

Heavily grazed grassland  on the fells and the valley sides  means that there can be a very short grass sward a lack of diversity in terms of wild flowers and insects and a tendency for soil erosion  to occur with tonnes of soil washed into our becks during heavy rain . Over a long period of time this means a massive loss of habitat and a loss of carbon stored in peat .

Sheep numbers in recent years  are starting to fall again but there is still much to do to minimise further damage and ensure more sustainable land management in the future , this will be  a real focus of our work in the Trust in the Lake District in the coming years.

27 March 2015

Views, Brews & Loo's

If you are a regular visitor to our blog you will have noticed that being a National Trust Ranger has many varying different tasks and responsibilities, for instance.

The Upland Ranger, fix miles upon miles of the Lake Districts Fell top paths, their skin hardened by the elements and suntans any antique dealing TV presenter would be proud of.
The Estate Team, endlessly & tirelessly mending broken fences and wall gaps, ensuring lost or misguided wanderlusters continue safely on their quest for the ultimate 'WOW' by simply pointing them in the right direction!
The Woodland Ranger, rarely seen without his trusty tail wagging companion, will have a dangerous path side tree felled and tidied away in the time it takes you to consider if anyone was around to hear it fall?

All of them take great pride in what they do! I am no different, I am ....

Claife viewing station
The Car Park Ranger! ... Before you swiftly scroll away to a story of epic endeavour I want you to know that I am going somewhere with this story. My main role is managing the presentation of the car parks (5 in total for the South Lakes), filling in potholes, fixing drains etc etc. I also assist the team with the maintenance and upkeep of certain areas the car parks are attached to such as Tarn Hows, Blea Tarn and so on. This means I have the pleasure of traveling around our property the most. This encompasses the sleepy village of Little Langdale, the rugged landscape of Coniston, the beautifully picturesque market village of Hawksead and the wild wild western shore of Windermere, in particularly what is known as Claife Heights, and what is a personal favourite of mine.

welcome to Claife viewing station
Claife is steeped in folklore, legend and history, most noticeably at Claife viewing station. Originally built in the 1790's by Rev William Braithwaite, to entertain wealthy visitors to the area. Legend has it that the windows were varied in colours to create a 'WOW' effect to the views over Windermere deemed so amazing that female visitors were given mirrors to witness the views in reverse for fear of swooning. The Viewing Station (not the Cottage & Courtyard) passed to the National Trust in 1962 as part of a 1000 acre estate. Sadly the building which once stood as a grandiose beacon for the picturesque movement had become quite derelict, and beyond repair.

With the help from donations, legacies and various project funding (such as Windermere reflections) the station once again stands proud as a beacon of artistic movement. You can now discover this amazing structures colourful past and enjoy the Panoramic views of Windermere as they were enjoyed over 200 years ago (N.B. mirrors are not supplied just yet). The station challenges all your senses, from textures of the building, the views over lake Windermere and the slightly chilling sound of the Aolean wind harp.

Preparing for the big day
No National Trust property worth its salt should come without it's very own Cafe and, Claife is no exception. So after you've absorbed the views of the Lake you should wander down and grab yourself some freshly made cake, a coffee or a pot of freshly made tea from local, family-owned tea specialists 'the New Leaf Tea tasters' (located just 5 minutes away).

The Cottages are a very recent addition to the National Trust family. They came into our possession in 2010 and were built c1800. From the early 20th century to the 1960's these cottages served as a tea garden. South Cumbria Construction, along with the National Trust labour teams have done a fantastic job of bringing these cottages to their former glory, and are in effect an attraction in their own right. Sit in, or sit outside in the young gardens underneath the wooden gazebo.

It may only be a toilet, but we're proud of it!Now, before you set off! I have something very important to tell you! there aren't any public toilets on site. Before you reel away in outrage there was very little we could do about this, mainly due to lack of facilities. HOWEVER! this does not mean we have left you lumbered in the middle of no where with your legs crossed. Saved from closure in 2011 the National Trust took on the mantel of managing the toilets at Ferry Nab from the National Park. We've given them a fresh lick of paint and a full makeover in line with the rest of the development ...

We hope you will come and visit us at Claife, it's testament to the hard work everyone has put in over the last year or so, and it's particularly warming to see this almost unrecoverable building standing proud once more.

cup of tea anyone?
standing proud
aolean harp
Viewing station interior
we look forward to seeing you soon
Craig in his natural habitat