22 July 2016

Beatrix Potter's Legacy in the Lakes - video

There was a lot more to Beatrix Potter than just the famous storybooks. Her legacy and influence extends far beyond these and is still important to the National Trust today. This month we are celebrating her 150th anniversary right across the Lake District and the whole country. 

Find out more about what she left the National Trust and how we are continuing her work today in this video, produced by Rangers on the South Lakes team. 



Join in the big birthday celebrations on 28 July at our places across the Lakes...there will be cake! Beatrix Potter 150th Celebrations

14 July 2016

Burning Ambitions at Basecamp!




Here at High Wray Basecamp we’re continually striving to offer our visiting groups and volunteers a more rewarding and memorable stay. One of the ways that we do this is by looking at our infrastructure and seeing what improvements we can make that will add to people’s experience. What needs modernising? What need’s chucking out?  That’s why we’ve recently installed a new macerator in our Longland dormitory, and a new cistern and flush control system in our Acland block. ‘Oh, the glamorous world of Basecamp!’, I hear you cry.
Getting started: Footprint for the fire pit laid out and materials on site for the wall.
But don’t worry, I’m not going to wax lyrical about the waste disposal measures in place here, fascinating though they are. No. I want to tell you all about something far more exciting, something to stir the soul and connect us with our primordial past…I want to tell you about…our new fire pit…

Outer walls going up: It was a challenge here to marry the appearance of a 'drystone' wall with the strength of a bonded one.
For many years groups at Basecamp have enjoyed a good camp fire - sitting around late into the evening, telling stories, gazing wistfully into the flames. It’s one of the simplest of life’s pleasures, and a way of reconnecting with the less complicated lives of our ancestors, of eschewing for a moment the capricious frenzy of modern life. It’s part of what Basecamp’s all about.

Laying the inner firebricks and fireproof screed: These fellas can withstand temperatures in excess of 1350c - that's one hot potato!

But there’s been a problem. With no formal, defined space in which to have a fire there’s been no limit on their size. Conflagrations have spread over a larger area than perhaps we would have liked, leaving an ugly pile of ash and cinders in the middle of the Basecamp grounds. There’s the additional concern that during dry spells the fire could ignite surrounding vegetation, with potentially disastrous consequences, or that rocks within it could explode, throwing dangerous shrapnel outwards.
Pointing up the firebricks and slate seating: The holes are for ventilation and drainage.



And, there’s the issue of dead wood.  If you’re ever fortunate enough to visit forests in remoter parts of the world, out of the reach of human influence, you’ll notice an awful lot of dead wood. This plays an important part in the health and vitality of woods. It’s a home and food source for all sorts of animals, plants, and fungi, and as it rots it replenishes the soil with vital nutrients. Decades of camp fires have stripped the Basecamp grounds of most of its dead wood, leaving a depauperate environment. Of course, we’re not suggesting that we can turn our grounds into a pristine ecosystem, and we certainly don’t want to stop people enjoying a good burn up, but by managing what is used for campfires we’ll hopefully be able to give nature a helping hand and keep Basecamp lovely for future generations.



Our finished fire pit! We had to have an inaugural burn to cure the fireproof bricks and screed, and bring it slowly up to a working temperature. Here's to many happy future camp fires at Basecamp!



1 July 2016

Hi from Ben


Hello There! My name is Ben and I am VERY excited to say that I’ve recently joined the South Lakes upland footpath team. I have a passion for the fells as they’ve been a great source of enjoyment for me and I’m looking forward to contributing to their conservation and maintaining the footpaths whatever the weather.

For the past 4 years I have been down in sunny Kent working as a ranger for the National Trust in the countryside at Toys Hill and the Chartwell estate. Originally being from Cumbria it’s only natural that I felt the pull of the Lake District and recently moved back north.
Not a bad day up Grisedale Tarn.
 
It is exactly one month since I started with the team and what a month it’s been! I’ve had the pleasure of working with Joe, Sarah and Nick, with them I’ve been learning some of the techniques involved in upland path work including rock pitching, Drain building and landscaping. These techniques are all used as ways to encourage the many keen fell wanderers to use the paths and to help us prevent erosion.
A small section of pitching Joe and I have been working on.



A view from Helvellyn.

Between a rock and a......large sheet of ice

The picture above is the view from the summit of Helvellyn (950m), in the middle is the famous/infamous Striding Edge, to the left is the cove containing Red Tarn, and furthest left Swirral edge. The cove is a fantastic place to sit and have your sandwich and take in the dramatic views. How ever if you happened to be sitting having your sandwich in the same spot 13 – 20,000 years ago you would be knee deep or potentially hundreds of feet deep in a glacier. Red Tarn cove is good example of a ‘glacial cirque’, at the start of an ice age these ‘glacial cirques’ are the locations where glaciers first develop and then spread down through the valleys below where they gouge and deepen the valley floors. When Glaciers retreat they do so back up to the Cirques where they began. Its also worth noting that if/when/how?!/really?? another Ice age were to begin these beautiful mountain tarns would again be the first places to form new glaciers. You have been warned!



Our fell work season is now in full swing and we will certainly be busy. Over the next few weeks the South Lakes team will be working on projects across the park with the ‘Fix the Fells’ lengthsmen, working holiday groups and the West Lakes footpath team. If you’re out in the Hills and you happen to see us feel free to come and say hi!

 Have  a great summer!
 




24 June 2016

Rhody Bashing on the west shore of Windermere



The woodlands of High Furness have had a long history of charcoal production dating back at least to the 13th century. The 17th century saw an increase in demand for charcoal from the Iron Industry and much of the woodland along the west shore of Windermere was managed for its production up to the mid 19th century.

Charcoal was burned on site in turf mounds situated on charcoal burning platforms or 'pitsteads'.  These were large flat clearings made within the woods, either earthen or stone built. Over 250 of these pitsteads, along with 'collier paths' -  tracks for the transportation of the underwood and charcoal to and from production sites, can still be seen throughout the woods around Claife.

One such wood, Pate Crag Coppice, was a working coppice from at least the 17th century through to the early early 20th. In the years since its coppice stools have grown into impressive multi-stemmed trees. But the woods have also suffered an invasion of rhododendron which now threaten this historic woodland.

A non-native invasive species, rhododendron prevents native flora from growing due to its dense evergreen shade. It colonises an area through stem layering and by producing millions of seeds, and is difficult to remove thanks to its 'tenacity of life', making it the bane of conservationists. 

Much work has been done by the rangers in recent years to remove rhododendron and improve woodland flora and bio-diversity. But the successful eradication of rhododendron requires a programme of managed removal, monitoring and control over a number years - aka Rhody Bashing.
Rhododendron in Pate Crag Coppice.
No rhododendron in Pate Crag Coppice.

As part of Volunteers' Week (1-12 June) a group of 8 members from the South Lakes Volunteer Group joined us on a bright, hot Tuesday morning for a day of Rhody Bashing at Pate Crag Coppice. Led by Richard, our Woodland Ranger, and armed with bow saws, loppers, flapjack and lots of water we set off from the lakeside track over the steep and sometimes slippery terrain of the woods to one of the pitsteads that would serve as our base for the day.

There are several ways to tackle rhododendron. You can pull up the seedlings by the roots, dry the roots and snap the stem; saw off branches at the base and treat the stump with herbicide; spray the leaves with herbicide where there is no risk of over-spray effecting surrounding flora or contaminating a watercourse; or use mechanical flailing.

Given our number and the size of the near by rhodies, plus the steepness of the terrain and potential risk of over-spray, our method of choice was to cut and saw the branches down to the stump. We left about a foot standing with a few leaves sticking up to act as a flag. This is to help locate the stump and treat it with herbicide at a later date. The cut branches were then piled up ready to be burned. Yes, just what you need on a hot, sweaty day with no breeze. A fire. Luckily one of our number was an ex-fireman more than happy to get the fire going.

Volunteer tackling a large rhody stump.

Rhody stump with 'flag' of leaves.

In a manner one can only imagine was similar to those who worked these woods for charcoal in years gone by we formed an effective production line from shrub to fire. One or two small groups where based up slope cutting off branches then lobbing or dragging them down slope to the charcoal platform. Another group cut up the pile of branches into smaller manageable stacks while the final group fed and managed the fire. In this fashion we cleared all the rhody sites we hoped to in good time. 

Where the rhododendron once stood was now an expanse of bare ground. A reminder of just how damaging to the habitat it can be. 

Bare ground where rhododendron once stood.
The fire can be seen down slope in the background.
 
An area of Pate Crag Coppice where the rhody has previously been removed.

Light gets through and new life grows again.

~

Rhododendron ponticum was present in Britain in previous interglacials but didn't re-colonise here in the post-glacial. Native to parts of southern Europe it was (re)introduced to Britain in 1763 and became abundant throughout the 18th and 19th centuries as an ornamental plant and as game cover. It has now widely naturalised. Particularly on acid soils and in shaded woodland.

It damages the habitat it invades by dominating the area. It spreads laterally through branch layering creating its dense, impenetrable growth which prevents light from getting to other species. Its leaves and buds contain toxic chemicals making it unpalatable to grazing animals. These chemicals may also act as an inhibitor to the growth of competing species further adding to its domination. Its honey is poisonous to humans and bees. It can be a host for fungal pathogen Phytophthora.

Where the native flora ceases to be so too do the animals which live off the flora and hence the animals that live of those animals and so on leaving the area virtually barren of all life except the rhododendron. Even in woodland, where trees can exist above its dense shade, no new saplings can seed. So as the existing trees die off only the rhododendron will remain.

Such tenacity makes eradication costly, labour intensive and time consuming. Even after removing existing growth and treating with herbicides the millions of tiny seeds that are produced each year are easily spread far and wide by the wind making regrowth highly likely. A site needs to to be revisited over successive years to repeatedly control the regrowth before the site can be declared free of rhododendron.

Yet, despite all this, in its exotic form the bright flowers and twisted branches can look quite spectacular.

Rhododendron Wood at Leith Hill.

But back to the bashing...

~


A new day, a new site and a new volunteer group.

Volunteers from a group formed by the Windermere Reflections project joined us at Wray Castle. Ornamental rhododendron can be seen lining the edge of woodland around the Wray estate, however, invasions further into the woods once again threaten the habitat.

There's rhody in there somewhere.

The rhody here were smaller and more dispersed than at Pate Crag. The difficulty, however, was in getting to them through the overgrown ferns and brambles.

The site had recently seen some rhody bashing and piles of dried branches were lying waiting for us to put them on the fire. Again, luckily, we had a retired fireman amongst us to help manage the fire. This was important as we had no 'ready made' fire site like the charcoal burning platforms. Instead we cleared a suitable area of ferns, with paths to and from the site, where a small controlled fire could be set and managed.

Piles of branches from previous visit.

Dragging branches though pathways to the fire.

Retired fireman Steve managing the fire.
 
Like the day before the team worked efficiently cutting, treating, dragging and burning, despite the hot weather, until the thunder storm came and we all retreated to the castle for a well earned cup of tea.

Rain stops play.

As the rain subsided we returned to tidy up and pile the un-burned branches ready for the next visit.

Stumps treated with pesticide.
The blue dye helps identify which stumps have been treated.
 
Both sites will need to be revisited on several more occasions over the coming years before the work is complete. Such is the ongoing task of Rhody Bashing.

A huge thanks to all the volunteers from South Lakes Volunteer Group and Windermere Reflections for all their hard work in taking us one step closer to having rhody-free woodland.


17 June 2016

A big HELLO from Eve

Hello! My name is Eve and I am the new friendly face you will see here around Tarn Hows. I have recently finished university at Liverpool and have moved back up north to join the team, here at Boon Crag, as an Assistant Ranger at Tarn Hows for the next few months. Having been here for a grand total of 7 days now, I have already been involved in a range of work including assisting on guided walks, ending with free tea and cake, visiting our property’s sites in the sun and doing a variety of practical work around Tarn Hows- not too bad ey?!
A lovely view over Tarn hows early in the morning.


Born and bred in Cumbria, I love the outdoors and have a passion for nature. Therefore, I see myself very lucky to have landed a job in such a beautiful place and a great location as to Tarn Hows.  I will be here to ensure a very warm welcome to many of the 300,000 visitors that come to Tarns Hows each year, and I will be helping to maintain and conserve this incredible site. I will be helping to manage our off-road mobility vehicles as well as keeping the area looking at its best. 



Me at my new office!
Tarn Hows has bags of history and it is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The tarn is fed by a series of valley and basin mires, a nationally rare and protected habitat, which supports rare aquatic plant species and invites a diverse range of wildlife to the area. Future management work may involve removing some trees to encourage growth of aquatic plants.  Ancient woodland, also a nationally protected habitat, can be found of the south-west side of the tarn, rich with bryophytes and lichens. The tarn is also surrounded by old larch plantations, acid grasslands and areas of heathland. It’s a very diverse place with lots to see! I will be leading enjoyable walks around the tarn and surrounding area, (hopefully) filling your heads with lots of knowledge about the management, history and wildlife that can be found here and I am very much looking forward to it.

Yellow Flag Iris currently in bloom by the side of the tarn.

 Orchid found at the edge of the basin mere by the tarn. You may be lucky to see one!
I hope to develop visitor experience by offering a range of new public activities for everyone to get involved in to learn about wildlife,  biodiversity conservation and the specific work the National Trust does. This may include mini-beast hunts and bird watching. But it’s all early days yet!!

Eve


10 June 2016

Musings on the 8th World Ranger Congress

Back in April, in my previous blog I'd written about how I was heading to the World Ranger Congress in Estes Park, Colorado. What a fantastic experience. I couldn't possibly describe everything I did, all the inspirational people I met or all the things I learnt in one blog so I hope I've managed to capture the essence of the congress for you.
Estes Park YMCA was to be our home for the week. A beautiful backdrop of the Rocky Mountains.
I was honoured and inspired to have been chosen to represent the National Trust and the UK while learning about the war on poaching in Africa, how to connect the disconnected in the US national parks, how much of our terrestrial and oceanic environments has some form of protected area status and how we should protect much more, fire management in Australia and the campaign for better funding and health and safety standards in Asia.
Multi-nation flag parade including Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Norway and Kyrgyzstan.
On day one, all the countries represented paraded their uniforms and flags (there were 65 countries in all!). This culminated in a reading of the names of the 60 rangers to have died in service since the last World Ranger Day. A moment to be proud of the ranger profession but also to reflect on the dangers that some rangers face in the course of their work.
Reading out the names of the 60 rangers who have died since the last World Ranger Day, July 31st 2015
The congress was a strong reminder of why the work we do is so important, not just for nature but also for the human race. It was also a reminder of how small the problems are we face here in the UK can seem in comparison to protecting endangered species from poaching or communities from crocodiles. Some of the rangers I met are working in far less fortunate situations than my own. Some don’t receive the regular pay we all receive or even have a basic uniform or safety gear (There was a ranger relief collection to donate old bullet proof vests, uniforms and outdoor gear to those in need). However different it all seems, we are all fighting the same fight – protecting special places.

All 320 delegates with the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop
Sean Wilmore, the (newly re-elected) president of the International Ranger Federation highlighted how the 320+ rangers at the congress each represented 1000 rangers across the world. I really felt part of a big ranger family, especially now I have so many contacts around the world. Can you spot the National Trust rangers in red in the group shot? Chris Wood (from the North York Moors) and myself represented the National Trust's North region.

The Countryside Management Association Delegates - including 5 National Trust representatives from around England and Wales
The congress contained a series of very interesting talks, thought-provoking presentations and plenty of time to get to know our fellow rangers. Many of these talks would take a blog each to describe. One particularly inspiring talk was by ranger Christian Mbina of Gabon: "It is not a fight to save Africa. It is a fight to save the world." National Park Service director, Jonathan Jarvis, also gave a frank and heartfelt talk about the American National Park System - 'How do we engage the disconnected in our National Parks?' They are the future. Conservationist Harvey Locke, gave a talk thanking rangers for their important work and described his nature needs half theory - how we should protect more of planet earth.


Ranger Christian Mbina of Gabon. He said his name badge should not say he is from Gabon, but from the world.
National Park Service director, Jonathan Jarvis
Obviously a gathering of rangers would not be complete without plenty of fun too. Everyone brought parts of their cultures with them, the Brazilians brought their amazing dancing, the Russian's brought some interesting spirits, the British brought Yorkshire Tea....There was plenty of live music, a swap shop for patches and pins (I've now got quite a collection!) as well as daily raffles with prizes donated from ranger's protected areas (I wasn't lucky this time). I took part in a field trip to Gem Lake in the Rocky Mountains National Park with the local rangers. It was great to get out of a conference room for a day!

This was my first protected area gathering and I really hope it won’t be my last. The next WRC9 is in Nepal in 2019. I have started saving already.

Please check out the 8th World Ranger Congress YouTube channel to hear some of these inspirational talks, I particularly recommend the ones by Shelton Johnson, Harvey Locke and Jonathan Jarvis.

The Association of National Park Rangers in the US did a fantastic job of organizing and hosting the congress. This was in collaboration with the 100 year centennial of the US National Park Service.
Trees and mountains, rather like home!
Clair Payne
Ranger 
Hawkshead and Claife 

27 May 2016

In praise of bluebells



In praise of bluebells

A fine and subtle spirit dwells
In every little flower,
Each one its own sweet feeling breathes
With more or less of power.
There is a silent eloquence
In every wild bluebell
That fills my softened heart with bliss
That words could never tell.

Anne Bronte, 1840.

 They’re on the wane now, those carpets of frosted blue, melting back into the woodland floor as the mercury rises and the canopy closes over. Yet for an all-too-brief window every spring, bluebells bring woods all over Britain bursting into life. To many these azure seas of flowers are as emblematic of the returning sun and lengthening days as the call of cuckoos or the sight of swallows. It’s little wonder that our native hyacinthoides non-scripta is amongst the favourite of the nation’s wildflowers. This charismatic, ‘eloquent’ little flower is rich in folklore and history too, and perhaps because they are found in ‘ancient’ woodland, or perhaps because they contain poisonous glycoside compounds, bluebells have long been associated with fairies. Legend has it that the ‘bells’ were rung to summon fairies to gatherings deep in the woods, but should the ringing fall upon a human ear, alas death would soon come upon that unfortunate soul. 
 
A meeting place for fairies?

To witness the spectacle of a bluebell wood in full bloom, whilst hopefully avoiding an untimely demise, there are few better places than here in the Lake District. Bluebells have a preference for oceanic climates, so the UK, and the west coast in particular, with our prevailing weather bringing mild and wet fronts off the Atlantic, creates the perfect growing conditions. In fact, so well suited are they to our climate that the UK is home to around half the world’s population of hyacinthoides non-scripta.

Bluebells also grow best in undisturbed soil, in ground that has remained free from the plough or other intrusions for as long as possible. They tend to take a long time to become established in new habitat, yet this apparent torpidity also means that they can linger long after conditions have changed. Like organic archaeology, to come across an open field of bluebells is to bear witness to a changing landscape, a persisting footprint of a now-vanished habitat. They, along with a handful of other plants, are an indicator of ancient woodland. Ancient in this sense meaning pre- 1600 AD, before maps became widely available and woodland management became commonplace, though some may have lineage that traces all the way back to the most recent ice-age, 10,000 years ago. It’s a rare and shrinking habitat, covering just 2% of the UK’s land surface, though unfortunately it’s rarity often doesn’t equate to value, and many sites remain unprotected in law, at the mercy of human development and exploitation.
Bluebells in open habitat are an indicator of ancient woodland.

Bluebells themselves however, do enjoy a certain level of protection. Although not officially endangered, since 1998 it has been illegal to collect them for sale, and they are further safeguarded from intentional uprooting under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981. The major threats to our native flowers however, come in rather more subtle guises than unscrupulous plant collectors. They first started to appear in the 1960’s, immigrants from Spain escaping from confinement in gardens and parks. Over the following decades increasing amounts of this modern-day Spanish armada has appeared in our woodlands. More robust, more adaptable, and more vigorous than UK bluebells, hyacinthoides hispanica will out-compete native flowers wherever they gain a foothold. To further cloud the picture the two species will readily interbreed, producing a hybridized variety with characteristics of both, and which could ultimately lead to the loss of the genetically distinct non-scripta species. Ominously, in a recent survey by the charity Plantlife, it was found that one in six bluebell woods contained either Spanish or hybrid bluebells alongside native UK plants.

Recognising the three varieties of bluebell now encountered in the UK woodlands (image reproduced courtesy of Cumbria Wildlife.org).

Yet it is it is a different threat which represents the most uncertain future for our beloved bluebells. Native seeds can and are being banked. Spanish invaders can to an extent be eradicated (though it is illegal to uproot any plant without landowner consent). A changing climate however, could see bluebell carpets disappear into memory as the ecological niche to which they are so superbly adapted is swallowed up by shifting patterns and seasons.  If the trend for earlier springs continues, the advancing overhead canopy and competition from other plants on the woodland floor could close the window on bluebells forever.
Could sights like this become a thing of the past?

I for one hope not. I hope that the spectacle of a bluebell wood in full bloom, surely one of the most delightful and uplifting treasures of the British countryside, is around for many years to come. I hope that future generations can experience and wonder at their subtle majesty, and fill their own softened hearts with bliss as they do so.