3 July 2015

Bits 'n' bobs

Although I've been busy (I always am) I'm not sure with what.  I had a look in my calendar to find what I've been doing but it was no clearer.
With nothing in particular to write about I thought I'd go through the most recent pictures from my camera and find some inspiration.........

Boundary works - it's important to keep stock out of woods as they damage the ground flora and prevent tree regeneration by grazing.  Repairing our boundaries keeps sheep in the fields where they belong!
Local contractor repairing a woodland boundary wall.

Volunteer Ian repairing a fence after a tree fell and damaged it.

 Another gap repaired by contractor near Coniston.

Dad dens - you may have read in an earlier blog about an event at Wray Castle on fathers day, guess who helped collect the den building material?

Truck loaded with brash for the Dad dens event at the Castle.

Claife Station - with the help of a sure footed group of volunteers we have finished removing the laurel from round Claife station to open up the historic views.

The view south restored.

Charcoal - again helped by more volunteers I have made some charcoal form wood cut to restore the designed landscape around Boon Crag farm near Coniston.

A kiln full of charcoal.

I love how you can still see the growth rings in the charcoal.

Tree planting - although our tree planting is done in the winter its always good to see them start to emerge from the protection of their tree tubes.

Cherry  tree planted in 2012 growing out of its tree tube.

An oak with a little way to go!

26 June 2015

Faffin around in Northern Ireland...

Working for the National Trust has many great benefits, one of the main being you are a part of a national organisation and you have colleagues in loads of interesting and beautiful places, including over in Northern Ireland (which can be easy to forget...sorry NI).  As such Rangers across the Trust have the opportunity (thanks to the generosity of the Mayled family, in memory of Andy Mayled), to link up with other Rangers allowing them to learn, discover and experience somewhere new.  So what greater contrast than the high fells of the Lakes to the hustle and bustle of Northern Ireland's capital Belfast!

From here.....
....to here!
This was the choice I (Upland Ranger Sarah!) made and over 3 days in June I swopped the 14 strong Ranger team in the South Lakes for the some what smaller 3 Ranger team in Belfast... 

The Belfast crew, the green helps them blend in...
Why Belfast I hear you ask?!  Well, I've done a wee bit of traveling, but hadn't yet made it to any part of Ireland, so when I heard about the Ranger link, heading over to Belfast seem a good way to kill two birds with one stone.  It also helped that I knew the Ranger, Craig, from the work I do as a rep with Prospect, the NT's union.  As such it wasn't long before we had dates in the diary, ferries booked and I was getting excited to be somewhere new and completely different.  Only as it turned out it was different...yet the same!

Same old fencing job, different location!
Let me explain.  You see, although the South Lakes has a 13 strong Ranger team, that team is broken down into more specialist teams and day to day I mainly work with the 3 other guys that make up the Upland team.  So rocking up to the Ranger office at Minnowburn and meeting Colin, Mick and Craig felt like a temporary exchange of the usual faces.  Accompanying them was a friendly bustle of volunteers, and lets not forget Bella!

The South Lakes massif
Over the 3 days I got to see some of the main bits of work the guys get up to in Belfast.  From working with school groups pond dipping and in the forest school, to practical work on one of their coastal sites in Port Muck, to the intricacy of project planning a car park development at Minnowburn where they can annually receive over 150,000 visitors.  It's what we as Rangers would expect to be involved in, it's just the balance of jobs or the habitats that may be slightly different. 

Irish language school group
Pond dipping

A very Ranger suitable totem pole, all about cake!
 For example in Belfast the large majority of their volunteer input is from large groups, whether those are corporate groups wanting to get out and do something different, or school groups looking to have a mix of education and conservation.  Partnership working is also key, Minnowburn itself is only 120 acres within the much larger Lagan Valley, covering 3500 acres in total and welcoming between 2-3million visitors a year.  Being on the doorstep to a population of over 300,000 people living in Belfast the opportunities to work with communities are well taken, a great example being the community garden that sits just behind the Ranger office and comes complete with a wood fired pizza oven for those long summer evenings!

Community garden, a great space

All in all it was a really interesting week that I would recommend to all Rangers.  It makes a refreshing change for both sides of the link and allows for plenty of learning, even if to start with you don't know how to articulate what that learning is!  For me though its back to the grind stone and back to home sweet home.

Home...literally- i can see my house!
By Upland Ranger Sarah
Follow us @ntlakesfells

12 June 2015

Dens and treehouses!

Remember those long summer days during the BIG 6 week holidays which seemed to go on FOREVER (well perhaps it did to our parents…)… When the weather was great and there was fun to be found around every corner?

I, for one, remember those days fondly - getting stung by nettles, grazing my knees through repeated unsuccessful attempts to ride my bike without holding onto the handlebars, finding little hide-aways to build secret hangouts, playing around in the local park looking for the perfect twigs to build a survival den. Usually arguing over who had the best or strongest design… 

The dictionary tells me that a den is: an informal room or hideout; or a wild animals’ hidden home. Thinking back to my childhood and those long summers, we were rather like wild animals creating dens that no one would be able to find (or so we thought!). Scouting out the best spots for hidden hide-outs, in the pre-smartphone days when time had to be filled with fun found in the great outdoors (or sometimes the living room when the weather was particularly poor!)

The rangers absolutely love building dens! Who says you have to grow up?
Dens don’t always have to be your traditional sticks propped up against a main stem. I recently learnt about the concept of ‘made versus invade’ dens – this is the idea that dens can be ‘made’ from scratch using the more traditional materials such as twigs, sticks and leaves (like in the photo above) or they can be ‘invaded’ such as finding little nooks and crannys that might not otherwise be seen as so. Try finding a hollowed out tree, putting a sheet over an A-frame picnic bench or behind the sofa when the weather is too wet out! Do you remember that feeling of excitement as you inadvertently lose your whole day to developing and perfecting  your own hideaway?

Happy den-builders at Wray Castle
The best news is, you can come build the biggest, the best, the most complex dens at Wray Castle anytime as part of the National Trusts’ 50 Things to do before you are 11 and 3/4. Why not see how small you can build your den (for your favourite toy or an ant?) or see how many rooms you can build within your den. 

Calling all Dads - this is your time to shine!

We often find that parents, Dads in particular, and older siblings are the real den building aficionados. Keen to step up and show the younger members of the family how dens are really built; even without being invited to! So we are putting on a day aimed especially at the big kids! Come down to Wray Castle on Father’s Day for ‘Dens for Dads’ – The rangers are busy gathering plenty of fresh den building material behind the scenes to really get you into the competitive spirit… What will you come up with?

On the 21st  June from 10-5pm; normal admission applies but the event is free. Check out the Wray Castle Facebook Page for more information or call 015394 33250.

In need of some inspiration?

The best thing about den building is making it up, the possibilities are endless… but just in case you wanted some inspiration to get you started, here are some top tips!
      1) First, you need to decide on a basic structure. Here are a few to think about:

The classic 'tipi' - often build around a main stem, like this one, offering the most strength. Find yourself a well-appointed tree with a view and balance the other twigs around it

The ultimate classic 'tipi' - It takes quite some skill and balance to construct this type of den with no middle support. Can you manage it without using rope?

The 'bivi' den - made by balancing a long main stem between two v-shaped branches or nobbles in a tree. The walls are then made by balancing twigs up and down the length of the main stem.
There is also the 'whatever you have lying around den' - never underestimate the value of sofas, clothing racks, cushions and duvets in the living room! 

      2) All dens need walls – so you have decided on your basic structure, what about adding some walls? If your den is in the woods, you can add moss, leaves or brash (or perhaps some old sheets if it is not raining) to make it water tight and more secretive!

All dens need walls - the material from a branch that fell from the Blue Atlas Cedar in the Wray Castle grounds makes great wall material!
          3) All dens need a floor – if you are building your den in the woods, perhaps you can find some leaves to carpet your floor. Beware using of bracken though, you don’t want to get tics!

      4) Your hide-out needs some furniture… hunt around for logs and branches that will make your den fit for a king!

Logs make great seats!

      5) Where can you go to build your ultimate den? There are lots of great places to go build dens - local woodlands and parks, National Trust properties such as Wray Castle, Allan Bank and Sizergh, local parks, your back garden (ask your parents if you can sleep out?!), your front room?

Building the ultimate den in the Wray Castle Play Trail..

You may have read my previous blogs about the play trail describing the new developments in the past few months. Or perhaps you have seen rangers and volunteers busy hard at work constructing more balance beams, log stilts and a giant spiders’ web… if you haven’t been down this year yet, come on down!! 

Testing your balancing skills on the new balance beams?
Jed, the dog, modeling the new spiders' web!
Log stilts
We have an even bigger plan for this year - to build the ultimate hide-out den, A TREEHOUSE!! 

And we want your help to design it… come visit the castle and draw or build your perfect treehouse in the craft room – or if you can't come to the castle, why not send us a photo to the Wray Castle Facebook Page? Get thinking and designing and the rangers will combine the best ones to build the treehouse in the play trail this summer! We can’t wait to see your ideas!

Let your imagination go wild!!

5 June 2015

South Lakes on Screen

Rangers are fairly accustomed to strange requests, and we pride ourselves on our can-do attitude - but it still came as something of a shock when we were asked, ‘Can we do a high speed car crash in Tilberthwaite?’ This isn’t the only unusual one we’ve had over the past eighteen months – there’s also been ‘Can we take plaster casts of the quarry walls?’ ‘Can we build an enormous waterslide that chucks people into Tarn Hows?’ and ‘Can we zoom a huge drone above your woods?’ Contrary to what you might expect, we only said no to one of these requests (guess which one!), and they all came from one group of people – film-makers. With such a spectacular and characterful patch, it’s perhaps no surprise that lots of people making film and TV want to shoot here, and you can spot South Lakes in big budget feature films like Miss Potter and Snow White and the Huntsman, TV dramas like Safe House, the opening credits of Countryfile, and even a toilet paper advert!

Blea Tarn Film Location
A scene from Snow White and the Huntsman in Little Langdale - Universal Pictures
Paying our way

This summer we’re busy working with a film company making a new adaptation of Swallows and Amazons, another TV drama, and lots of smaller documentaries. Sometimes it’s almost a full time job. So why do we do it? The simple answer is that, as a charity, the money the film makers pay is absolutely essential to the National Trust, and allows us to do even more of our important conservation work. Every day film-makers spend using our land and buildings pays for woodland management, watercourse protection, visitor access routes, and all the other work we do to protect and look after South Lakes ‘forever, for everyone’. Filming is also a really important source of income for the Trust on a national scale – find out more here. These films also create great publicity - sometimes globally - and attract more visitors to experience our inspirational places.

Accommodation Traditional Lake District
Renee Zellweger at Yewtree Farm in Miss Potter - Phoenix Pictures
 Protecting our patch

We work closely with our tenant farmers and the films' location managers to ensure that nothing the film units do damages the land or buildings – sometimes this means placing restrictions on where they can work, or asking that they lay temporary tracks before driving vehicles across fields. For Swallows and Amazons, the crew will have to leave their trucks at the road and carry their gear by hand into woodlands, in order to protect and preserve these special places. We usually supervise filming to ensure all the conditions are being met, sometimes long into the night, and places are often left better than when filming began because of repairs to walls or improvements to farm infrastructure. 

And naturally, we’re not afraid to say no to those requests that we think are going to cause damage or degradation, or are otherwise inappropriate. So if you haven’t guessed already, the one we refused recently was the giant waterslide at Tarn Hows – although it did look like fun!

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!