12 September 2014

Trolls and creatures from the Black Lagoon

One of the best things about being an NT ranger is that we get to hidden places around the Lakes.  

Coldwell Quarry is such a place, hidden in the woods near Outgate its a SSSI important for the exposed geological features in the quarried cliffs. 
Unfortunately sometime in the past the quarry was not so secret and it had been used to dump waste fencing materials and other rubbish so it was up to us to clear it out, we didn't realise we would encounter a prehistoric creature in the process!

 
 
Volunteer John standing next to the dumped waste
 using a pallat to stop sinking into the sludge.

And what of the prehistoric monster??  I won't be cheeky about John, (without help from volunteers we would struggle to complete so much work).
 
On day 2 of the job we found this Southern Hawker dragonfly newly emerged on our pallat (you can see the shed larval skin called an exuvia next to the insect).  Dragonflies have flown the earth for 300 million years, some fossils have a wingspan of 70cm!
We were able to watch the dragonfly take it's first flight into the surrounding woodland after about 20mins where it will feed and mature before returning to the quarry to breed. 
 
 
 Teneral Southern Hawker

Removing the rubbish and cutting back overhanging vegetation should improve the habitat, let more light in and make the geology easier to see if you can find the quarry!
 
Rubbish removed and cutting back completed.

Everyone knows that trolls live under bridges but not everyone knows about the old bridge over Blelham beck near the campsite at Low Wray, I didn't until I was asked to clear some trees growing on the bridge.  They had to be removed as their roots were damaging the structure.
 
 
There's a bridge in there somewhere!

Once again with help from volunteers we were able to clear the trees and ivy and find the old bridge.  The bridge is Grade 2 listed  and dates from the late 19th century when it's thought it was re-modelled as part of changes made to Low Wray farm by the Dawsons who owned Wray castle and it's estate.

More trees removed.

The bridge emerging from the woods.
 
All bridges have trolls its just a matter of finding them!  After a couple of hours of graft our troll emerged from his leafy hiding place and stands ready to scare anyone who dares to cross his bridge!

 Wray the troll uncovered.

Richard Tanner
Woodland Ranger

29 August 2014

Salmon songs

Inspired by gardener Pete’s themed musical offerings on the Hill Top blog, the South Lakes rangers have spent an unhealthy amount of time discussing ranger-themed music, and we’ve come up with some pretty good (and eclectic) Lake District playlists for our journeys in the truck – from Ain’t No Mountain High Enough by Diana Ross to Into the Valley by The Skids, and from Travis’ Why Does It Always Rain On Me? to Bob Marley’s Hammer (the perfect accompaniment to a fencing job).  


I've been on my usual hobby horse, scouring my music collection for songs that reflect ecology as well as landscape, and sadly, haven’t found much.  Strangely, the only two I came up with are about the same species: salmon.   


                                                                      Atlantic salmon - image wikipedia

Neil Young’s Will to Love and The Chemical Brothers’ Salmon Dance couldn’t be more different in terms of style; the former was recorded on acoustic guitar on a tape deck  in front of an open fire, while the latter is a techno/hip-hop mash up (and features the odd bit of typically hip-hop language, so please be aware that it may not be suitable for work, children or sensitive ears if you choose to search for it).  They’re similar, though, in that they’re both bizarre pieces of music in which the salmon has a voice – Neil Young sings verses from the salmon’s imagined perspective through an underwatery vocoder effect, and ‘Sammy the Salmon’ provides guest vocals for The Chemical Brothers. 

                                           Will to Love by Neil Young on Youtube - external link

So, what is it about salmon that inspired these major musicians to write about them?  Well, as the songs show, they’re pretty incredible fish.  Sammy the Salmon tells his rapper friend that ‘all my peeps spend part of their life in fresh water, and part of their life in salt water;’ they have an intricate and awe-inspiring life-cycle, spending anything from one to eight years as juveniles (or ‘parr’ ) in the rivers where they're born – such as the Crake and Leven locally, and the becks above Coniston Water and Windermere.   (On a slight tangent, it's been suggested that symptoms of loneliness have been observed in salmon parr, giving a whole new dimension to Will to Love, which as well as featuring the thoughts of a salmon, develops into Young's meditations on love and relationships and finally seems to consolidate the two in a surreal last verse as the salmon looks for a companion with whom to 'sway together, our tails together, and our fins and minds.'  Maybe it's best to just listen to it.)

When salmon mature they head out to sea, changing their physiology in the estuary to cope with seawater and to become better camouflaged for the ocean, and spend a few years in the seas around Greenland.  Finally, they head back to the river of their birth – their ‘natal river’ – using senses beyond our comprehension.  Sammy says: ‘Most of our friends find their home waters by sense of smell, which is even more keen than that of a dog or a bear.  My family also rely on ocean currents, tides, and the gravitational pull of the moon.’  

               
                                    Atlantic salmon heading back upriver. Image - animalspot.net                                         


Neil Young takes over the story with his much more poetic imagining of the salmon’s thoughts:

When the water grew less deep
My fins were aching
from the strain
I'm swimming in my sleep
I know I can't go back again.

They re-adapt to freshwater and struggle upstream to lay their eggs before most die, although some will complete two of these huge cycles.  As Young observes ( And now my fins are in the air, and my belly's scraping on the rocks / And I'll keep swimming till I stop), the huge fish (up to 75cm long) swim literally as far as they can upstream in to tiny becks, before laying their eggs in gravel beds.  It’s during this epic journey that salmon perform their famous ‘leaps’ up waterfalls, powering out of the water over and over again in their attempts to get up to their spawning grounds.

                              Atlantic salmon leaping a waterfall.  Image - atlanticsalmontrust.org

The past few decades have seen huge declines in salmon and their fellow migrant, the sea-trout, due to overfishing at sea, and pollution and changes in river management inland.  In the south Lakes, the National Trust works in partnership with organisations that are doing great work to improve catchments for migrating fish and other wildlife.  The South Cumbria Rivers Trust and the Coniston and Crake Catchment Partnership promote land management practices that reduce pollution in our local becks, lakes and rivers, and carry out practical work to ‘de-canalise’ waterways that have been straightened and homogenised in the past, in order to allow the development of gravel beds and other natural niches for salmon and all sorts of aquatic life to use. 

Weirs and dams have also blocked some migration routes so fish passes are now a common sight on the region’s rivers, allowing salmon and sea trout to bypass the man-made blockages and access their home waters.  Adult salmon undertake their epic migration back to their spawning grounds in the autumn, so if you head to the region’s low waterfalls on the right becks, you might be lucky enough to see salmon on the last leg of their huge journey – you’ll have to do a bit of research and get off the beaten track to pick the right spot!

For a better chance of spotting them, fish passes on the River Kent in Staveley and near Sizergh are hot spots for salmon viewing.  Don’t forget to put some Neil Young or Chemical Brothers on the stereo to learn even more about these amazing fish – you might even find yourself doing the salmon dance…

If you’d like to know more about Lake Windermere and especially the history and ecology of the Claife woodlands, why not join ranger Paul on one of his guided walks as part of the Great British Walk festival? Meet at Ferry House (where the ferry docks) at 2pm on Sunday 14 September, Friday 26 September, Sunday 12 October, or Friday 17 October.

8 August 2014

Peppa Pig and 'Dig the City'!

This week the South Lakes Rangers were sent to Dig the City......sounds dramatic doesn't it?  Almost sounds a little dangerous too.  I mean, lets  be honest it's not very often we're let loose beyond Wray Castle.  So to let 6 Rangers loose in the City Centre of Manchester, armed with nothing more than some enthusiasm, kite kits, a bit of moss and armfuls of '50 things to do' booklets....Could be either a stroke of genius or a potential front page of The Westmorland Gazette!

Rangers love to dig.......
The good news is we've done it all before, the Lead Ranger offered ice cream to keep us going throughout the day and Peppa Pig was once more going to be around.  What more could we need?!

Sarah gave Peppa Pig a kite last year


But what actually is Dig the City?  Their website tells us it's 'nine days of gardens galore, pop up picnics, and masses to do and dig for kids', in short Manchester's urban gardening festival!  For us at the National Trust it's a great opportunity to get out of where we know, to share what we know.   For us Lake District Rangers it's certainly a little bit different to what we're used to!

National Trust stand, busy busy!
Focusing mainly on our '50 Things To Do Before You're 11 3/4' we gave kids the opportunity to make mud pies, make and fly a kite, walk barefoot, play a grass trumpet and create a home for some bugs.  With Peppa Pig being around there were plenty of eager little people and we were all kept busy throughout the day.  So much so we ran out of kite kits, the material for bug houses was running low and ice cream wasn't purchased (plenty of coffee however!).  Luke didn't seem to mind as he was having lots of fun making mud pies!

Mud pie fun!
Never fear however there was one thing that was not forgotten, with a wee nod from security, Sarah once more headed off to meet Peppa Pig, hurrah!  Last year was kites, this year Peppa got a bug house, seems she slowly but surely ticking off the 50 things herself!

PEPPA
Now although the South Lakes staff have done there turn, never fear there is still time left to Dig the City, and there is definitely plenty to see.  If you've got kids there will still be 50 things activities on the Trust stand over the weekend and is a great place to start your day.  Meanwhile we're safe back in the Lakes, the Westmorland Gazette weren't called and we're well and truly back to digging what we know and where we know it!

South Lakes staff digging it! 

Back to what we're used to...!
By Sarah
Follow us on twitter @ntlakesfells and @ntsouthlakes

Ps Thanks to the Wooly Rug Company for donating some materials!


Nine days of gardens galore, pop-up picnics and masses to do and dig for kids – join us for Manchester’s urban gardening festival. - See more at: http://www.digthecity.co.uk/about/#sthash.tSwGccLg.dpuf
 

25 July 2014

Improving the lakeshore



If you have been down to the lakeshore recently, you may have been wondering why there have been rangers scratching their heads, diggers digging and fences being erected. The reason for this new development has been baffling many passers-by.

The first stages of development, what a great spot to have the office for a few days!
 As the days go by, more and more features keep appearing, such as hedge banks, gravel road ways and fencing.


Even the cows are interested in the new development!

This development is the result of a partnership project between the National Trust and Windermere Reflections. Up and down the lakeshore are many small tender boats. These are used by those lucky few with moorings on the lake bed and are their means of transport out to these beautiful boats on the lake. These are currently chained and tied up to trees, roots and whatever else, scattered along the whole of the West Shore from Ash Landing through to Strawberry Gardens.

The tenders being stored on the lakeshore.
Whilst these tenders do not do harm in themselves, owners edging steadily down steep wooded banks often found it rather precarious to do so. There is also the erosion caused to the sensitive lake shore, through the physical erosion of boats being dragged across young unestablished vegetation and the reed beds which are a fast disappearing habitat.

Since the 19th century, there has been a rapid decline in the number of reedbeds along the shores of Windermere. Reedbeds are a succession of young reeds which colonise open water. As the reedbed ages, the successive layers of vegetation build up the water level gradually turning it into increasingly drier ground. This allows scrub and woodland to develop.

Reedbeds reduce the erosion of the lakeshore banks by absorbing the impact of waves from passing boats and high winds, giving the vegetation on the lake shore some protection. Reedbeds are important places for invertebrates and bird species, with those in Windermere being particularly important for overwintering birds and breeding birds in the spring and summer. These have been all but lost along the Harrowslack lakeshore. 


Works in progress.
This decline has not just been caused by people hauling their tenders through the reeds into the lake of course. These are also caused by bow waves from boats, grazing by geese, ducks, farm animals and changing nutrient levels in the water.

So the plan is to place all of these tender boats into 3 compounds spread equally along the lakeshore. This will give the lakeshore vegetation chance to get re-established, make access to the boats safer and hopefully improve the visual look along the length of the lakeshore. Once the hedgerows have established and the compounds weather a bit, it will look great.

Of course, it will take more than just moving the tenders into one place to allow the reedbeds to re-establish. Windermere Reflections have started by mapping the existing reedbeds along the lake shore and will in the future, along with South Cumbria Rivers Trust, look at ways to artificially propagate and reseed the reedbeds to give them the best chance to establish as well as educating boat users about the best places to land their boats. Check out the Windermere Reflections website for more information about this and their other projects: http://www.windermere-reflections.org.uk/


Hedges will be planted into these raised banks to screen off the boats.
 Pop down and watch our progress. Constructing the tender storage is just another way of improving our lake shore. We hope to have the first compound built by the end of August and in use by the beginning of next year.



13 July 2014

Upland Tarns.

The word ‘tarn’ is derived from the Old Norse ‘tjorn’, which was used to describe any small body of water. It means ‘a small lake’ or more poetically ‘a teardrop’.

Tarn is a regional term used largely, but not exclusively in the Lake District, which along with many other local names, originated with the Viking invaders who settled in Cumbria in the tenth century.
The tarns in Cumbria were formed as a result of glacial action, when the glaciers and ice sheets finally receded some 10,000 years ago, scouring the landscape, allowing water  to be trapped and contained. Many of the highest and most spectacular tarns occupy corries (from Scottish Gaelic coire meaning a pot or cauldron) scooped from the fells by ice, some are surprisingly deep.


Bleaberry Tarn.
Bleaberry tarn and Buttermere looking down from Red pike.

Lying south-west of lake Buttermere, Bleaberry Tarn (meaning blueberry tarn) is a fine example of hanging valley and corrie glacial scenery. The tarn lies between Chapel Crags, Red Pike and the tough scree of The Saddle. The outflow of the tarn flows into Buttermere via the quirkily-named Sour Milk Gill.






Grisedale Tarn.

Grisedale Tarn is surrounded by the high ground of the summit of Fairfield itself, Dollywaggon Pike and Seat Sandal. In the past, the tarn was a welcome watering hole for traders on the packhorse routes that used to move goods through the Lake District.
Grisedale tarn looking towards raise beck from Fairfield path, can you spot the shed!
There are a few other historical stories associated with it. Legend has it that the last king of Cumbria, King Dunmail, was killed in battle at Dunmail Raise and buried under the large stone pile at the top of the pass. The kings’s surviving warriors are said to have threw his crown into the waters of Grisedale Tarn.



Red Tarn.
Red tarn and striding edge looking down from Swirral edge.
A textbook glacial corrie tarn with surrounding back wall, lying beneath the summit of Helvellyn and surrounded by the southerly ridge of Striding Edge, the northerly Swirral Edge and Catstye Cam. Red Tarn is fed by a number of streams running down its back wall into the corrie and it flows outward down into Glenridding Beck. In the 1800s the Tarn was dammed with boulders, raising the level of water some eight or nine feet in order to supply power to the lead mines in Glenridding.
                                                                                         


Blea Water reflecting the back wall.
Blea Water.
Remote Blea Water is one of two corrie tarns that lie beneath the eastern crags of High Street, the other being Small Water. Circular in shape, Blea Water bears the distinction of being the deepest tarn in the Lake District. In 1948 its depth was ascertained to be 63 metres, which is exceeded only by Windermere and Wastwater in the Lake District. The tarn occupies a dramatic setting, edged on three of its sides by an amphitheatre of towering cliffs and slopes of Riggindale Crag, Pilot Crag and High Street.