15 May 2015

A Reluctant Rock


The Upland Footpath team returned to the fells at the start of April to commence this year's projects. This coincided nicely with a stretch of good weather.

Our first project of 2015 has been on the path up Tongue Gill to Grisedale Tarn, near to the village of Grasmere.
View up Tongue Gill during our commute one sunny April day
This path is on the Coast to Coast route devised by Alfred Wainright. This long distance route, of around 190 miles, goes between St Bees in Cumbria on the Irish Sea to Robin Hood's Bay on the Yorkshire Coast.  The Coast to Coast route is one of the most popular long distance routes in the UK. It is also well known worldwide and the number of international visitors we have met seems to reflect this.

The team were able to start this project immediately as rock we were using had been flown into position during last year's helicopter lifts. This rock was donated to "Fix the Fells" by a private land owner who last year completed a hydro-electric scheme on Tongue Gill. This surplus rock was a by-product of the excavations during construction. We always try to use rock that is local to an area for our work so this donation was gratefully received.
Rock donated from Tongue Gill Hydro bagged up & ready to be moved

Rock being moved to site along Tongue Gill last May 
As a popular route lots of work has been carried out on the Tongue Gill path over the years to tackle the problem of erosion.  Path work is then monitored as new erosion can develop and previous work sometimes needs "fettling". This year's project involves a typical range of remedial work including drainage, stone "pitching" (both repairs and new) and landscaping work to stabilise erosion and remove side routes.
Recently completed stepping stones and a causeway through a wet section
Drainage work in progress
(University of Cumbria students, Jake & Theo, who volunteered for a couple of weeks)
A memorable part of this project for the author of this blog led to the title "A Reluctant Rock".  Whilst working on a new section of stone pitching a suitable rock was identified. This rock was on the large side but was manageable and had several good faces making it an ideal step for walkers to plant their feet on as they follow the path.

Towards the end of the first day, as time was running out, a slightly rushed decision to move the rock into position was made. Unfortunately the rock dropped into the hole at an awkward angle and refused to be manoeuvred into the desired position.
The hole around the rock then had to be filled to leave it safe until the next time.
The "reluctant rock" at the end of the first day
On the return it proved very difficult to get the desired leverage on this rock with a metal bar and bedrock kept getting in the way. Lots of digging, levering and chipping away at the bedrock followed but still the rock remained largely uncooperative.

Lunchtime on the second day fast approaching & rock is in a "new" position... 

Determination and patience were needed plus a reluctance to be "beaten" by a rock and it was eventually coaxed into position by lunchtime (albeit a slightly later lunch than normal).

The saga of this rock did provide a talking point and possibly some amusement to passing walkers. Comments to a colleague working further down the path mentioned the size of the rock and one couple commented on their return journey that "He's still working with the same rock....".

After lengthy negotiations a compromise has been reached
This reluctant rock was used for part of a longer section of work. Some side route erosion was developing next to some bedrock between two sections of stone pitching.  This is because some walkers have a tendency to avoid bedrock.

To solve this we decided to add more stone pitching to join up the two current sections and to use landscaping techniques to stabilise and remove the side route. This can be seen from the before and after images below:
BEFORE: Side route erosion developing to the right of a bedrock section 

AFTER: New stone pitching section built & side route removed
At the time of writing this blog our time on Tongue Gill is nearly finished.  This is ahead of schedule largely due to the volunteer help we have had. 
We have several other projects this season including a return to Striding and Swirral Edges to continue work we have been doing there. We also have a project near the summit of Coniston Old Man where significant erosion problems have been developing. 

Moving rock to the summit of Coniston Old Man in April
(Project due to start in August)
If you would like to know more about the daily work of the South Lakes Upland Ranger team they can be found on Twitter @NTLakesFells.

Posted by: Nick, Upland Ranger

11 May 2015

Reedbed Restoration on the West Shore of Windermere



Last summer, I wrote a blog about the tender storage areas that we constructed along the West Shore of Windermere [Improving the lakeshore]. We built these areas to store all the tender boats in a few places along the lakeshore. Not only did this tidy up the lakeshore visually, but it also has the added benefit of reducing erosion to the lakeshore – including damage to tree roots and bark from having boats chained to them as well as the damage to the very fragile reedbeds from people launching their boats through them. 


New Tender Storage Area being constructed down at Harrowslack

 But of course, tender boats are not the only cause of erosion to the lake shore/reedbeds on Windermere lake. These sensitive environments are also damaged by the waves created by swash from boats and strong winds. The reedbeds are also sensitive to shading from encroaching woodland and vegetation. Over-grazing and nutrient enrichment also plays a part in the decline of reedbeds (Canada Geese, ducks and farm animals).

What are reedbeds I hear you ask? Reedbeds are a succession of young reeds (common reeds; phragmites australis) 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, allowing scrub and woodland to develop. In themselves, reedbeds are excellent habitats for coots, moorhens and other breeding birds. Research carried out by the South Cumbria Rivers Trust (SCRT) has shown that since the 1870s, Windermere has lost 90% of its reedbed habitat. Through a series of historical and more recent GPS mapping they have been able to map the loss across the whole of the lake [Reedbed loss since the 1870s]. 

Reedbeds being restored down at Ferry House, West Shore of Windermere
Well now we have some great news for the West Shore. Our role as National Trust Rangers is to look after our special places, and this is one of those very special projects where we see something change from start to finish. We are working with the South Cumbria Rivers Trust to restore the reedbeds on the west shore as part of a wider project across the whole of Windermere. SCRT have been very lucky to get funding from the Waste Recycling Environmental Network (WREN) to potentially transplant young reedbeds from an RSPB site at Leighton Moss to try to rehabilitate historical areas of reedbeds, removing encroaching vegetation and cutting back trees that are shading these sensitive habitats. Newly planted areas will require the installation of fences and wave barriers to protect them as they get established. Quite what this will involve is still to be decided but I can see waders, lots of water and some great fun to be had with other rangers and volunteers! Watch this space.

If you want to go and look at some fantastic examples of reedbeds, head to Esthwaite North Fen National Nature Reserve. Just at the north of the Lake, this Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) is an excellent site to see successional reedbeds. It is so good that the Freshwater Biological Association (based down at Ferry House) have been studying the succession of the plant community from open water, fen and grassland for the last 45 years. Key species along the lake bed/shore include stonewort, Canadian pondweed, lobelia and shore weed, as well as yellow and white water-lilies along the lake edge. Common reeds (phragmites australis), common bulrush and reed canary grass are prolific in the reedbeds themselves. The reeds succeed to wonderful carr woodland with species such as birch, crack willow, and ash. The area supports breeding birds (including great crested grebe, teal, tufted duck, red breasted merganser, pochard and sedge warbler) as well as mammals, invertebrates and microscopic life. Go down on a sunny day and see what you can find!

Excellent example of healthy reedbeds at the Esthwaite North Fen National Nature Reserve

Look out for the work we’ll be doing over the summer on the west shore of Windermere!

30 April 2015

Beyond the bluebells



Spring in the woods means only one thing to lots of people: bluebells! Vibrant carpets of the delicate cyan flowers are a quintessential British experience at this time of year.   

And it’s not just a spectacle; Britain is home to fifty percent of the world population of this species of bluebell. As plants recolonized the northern latitudes after the last Ice Age, bluebells reached Britain just before the sea level rose and cut us off from the continent, so lots of other plant species never arrived here.  In the rest of Europe, bluebells are out-competed by some of these species, whereas in the UK they are free to thrive.




But I’d like to take you beyond the bluebell. Although bluebells are spectacular, my favourite time of the woodland year is actually a couple of weeks earlier, when some of the other woodland wildflowers are the real first sign that spring’s on its way.  Like bluebells, these plants have adapted to life in the woods by flowering before the trees are in leaf, so they make the most of the sun.  They don’t always form such a dramatic carpet on the woodland floor as bluebells, but often the fact that a number of different species are clustered together - with their diversity of colour - makes for a sight to gladden the soul.

Wood anenome


Wood anenomes Anenome nemosa are one of the most important indicators of ancient woodland.  They reproduce through rhizomes (root-like structures) that only spread about six inches a year – this means they don’t colonise new sites easily, and the presence of a large population means that a wood has been undisturbed for a very long time.  They can also provide an interesting clue to previous land uses, as they're sometimes found on open ground – but this is a strong clue that the area has been wooded previously.

Lesser celandine


Like wood anenomes, lesser celandines Ranunculus ficaria can be found in a variety of habitats, but usually give us a clue that the area has been wooded at one point.  It is sometimes known as ‘the spring messenger’ as one of the earliest flowers, and William Wordsworth was inspired to write three poems about the plant – famously, however, the celandine carved on his gravestone is the wrong species, the greater celandine.  It is also sometimes known as pilewort because there is an old folk belief that the crushed roots could make a lotion for piles when mixed with wine or urine!

Wood sorrel


Wood sorrel Oxalis acetosella is probably my favourite woodland wildflower despite its ubiquity.  It particularly thrives in cool, shady woods  - of which there's no shortage round here - and can tolerate shade much darker than other plants. In the Lakes, it often grows out of the mossy carpet on the woodland floor or even from moss growing on tree branches, creating lush hanging gardens in the canopy.  The leaves are delicious and taste of apple peel, but don’t eat too many as they also contain Oxalic acid.  Wood sorrel is one of the more widespread flowers globally and is native as far north as Iceland, south down to Greece, and east as far as Japan!

Wild garlic 

Wild garlic Allium ursinum is another very common flower of damp woodlands and lends the woods their distinctive garlicky aroma in early spring.  The latin name means ‘Bear’s garlic’ and is so-named because where they still exist in Europe, brown bears love to truffle up the roots! Both the leaves and flowers are edible and have a more gentle taste than culinary garlic – wild garlic risotto is a personal favourite.

Primrose


Primrose Primula vulgaris has been under threat in England over the last few decades because of people digging plants up to put them in their garden – fortunately attitudes have changed and this sort of thing is much less common now.  Primroses can be seen anywhere that’s undisturbed, cool and slightly shady, so our Lake District oakwoods are great places to find the lemon yellow rosettes. 

Get out and see 'em!

The South Lakes is home to lots of fantastic native woodland so it’s the perfect place to get out and see woodland wildflowers in the spring.  The woodlands on Windermere’s west shore, along the Yewdale bridleway, above Glen Mary car park, or along Coniston’s east shore are particularly special places with rich flora and incredible atmosphere – make sure you don’t miss the spectacle, it changes day by day at this time of year! 

24 April 2015

Same nest, different tenants - squatter's rights for birds!



Everyone know it’s good to recycle or if possible re-use, but it’s not just us that does this.Two summers ago we noticed Swallows taking a great deal of interest in the toilet block at the volunteer centre here at High Wray. We always keep the door shut, to stop them flying in and getting stuck, but in this instance they were interested in the alcove above the door – an ideal nesting spot it would appear. Over the course of a couple of weeks we watched the nests build up, with both adults bringing in mud and plant material to make a lovely firm construction.

Soon after completion we were delighted to spot the female sat on the nest. We were worried at first that she’d be put off by people heading in and out of the loo, but she’d briefly exit the nest whenever anyone passed before quickly returning. A couple of weeks later we noticed she was exiting the nest a little more often and spotted tiny fluffly feathers poking out over the rim of the nest – they’d hatched!


Young and virtually featherless, the young not long hatched
It took about another 3 weeks for them to steadily grow to the point where they were hanging out over the sides and it seemed a wonder they didn’t force each other out of the nest! Shortly after that, we checked one morning to find they’d all gone (without so much as a thank you).

Shove over! The considerably bigger young almost ready to go

The next year we hoped they would return as Swallows will often repair and re-use old nests, but were disappointed to see no sign of action. By the end of the summer the nest above the gents loo door was starting to look very run down, with the ladies one holding together much better.

New tenants move in!

So we had our fingers crossed for this year but it looks like someone beat the swallows to it. It appears that a Wren has decided the ‘ladies  nest’ would make a perfect base for its own construction and has built an exquisite (and very snug looking) extra layer on top of the original base. It looks like it had a go at the ‘gents nest’ as well, judging by the tatters of moss poked into some of the holes, but obviously agreed with us on the state of it and must have given it up as too much hard work.

The 'gents nest' - not sure about that .....

Much better! The 'Ladies nest' with cosy adaptation

We’re not sure if this adapted nest has ended up being chosen by the female Wren (males normally build several nests, from which the females chose their favourite), but we’ll keep an eye on it over the coming weeks. One things for sure, with the swallows having just reappeared on the scene here (see last week’s entry on migration) they’re likely to get a big surprise if they decide to return to this particular site!

By Rob Clarke, High Wray Basecamp community ranger

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.

Birds

 

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
Redstart
Cuckoo
Swallow
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.