Thursday, 22 September 2016

Softly, Softly, Catchee Crayfish.

Scout Beck is a stream flowing past High Lickbarrow Farm near Windermere.

Shortly after the National Trust acquired the farm, Storm Desmond hit Cumbria in December, 2015; the ensuing flood caused extensive damage to stone pitching that was built into this stream bed many years ago. 
Damage to the pitching at Scout Beck and the eroded stream bank.

This pitching work was sanctioned by the Environment Agency  to protect neighbouring property from erosion.
The National Trust undertook to repair the damage. But the stream is home to endangered and protected white clawed crayfish so a plan of works was submitted to the Environment Agency; they approved  and granted a licence for the work to proceed.
Work began on Tuesday, September 20th.

The first task was to use nets to catch the crayfish in the vicinity of the work site and then move them away to a safe distance. Above from left to right...Bekka, from South Cumbria Rivers Trust and a licenced crayfish handler, supervised the capture and handling of the crayfish. James, NT Area Ranger and Bruna, NT Academy Ranger. 
While James carefully lifts a large pitching stone, dislodged in the flood, Bekka is using a bathyscope to view any crayfish that may be taking refuge underneath.  
A crayfish is gently deposited into a container ready to be moved away from the work-site to safety. Nearly seventy crayfish were caught in an area of approximately only six square metres!
Little and Large.
The word crayfish is derived from Old French... escrevisse.

 White clawed crayfish (Austropotomobius pallipes) are on the IUCN Red Data List of threatened species. (International Union for The Conservation of Nature). Classified as endangered, they are the UK's only native crayfish.
The UK is the most north westerly limit of their range.

Once widespread, Cumbria is now the last major stronghold for the native white clawed crayfish in England; they are not found north of the border.
Native crayfish numbers have declined drastically since the introduction of the American signal crayfish in the seventies. This alien species carries a fugal plague that is fatal to the white clawed crayfish.
This specimen is an adult male. Their claws are usually larger than the female's. 
Crayfish are capable of a surprising turn of speed.
Bruna,..her reflexes are amazing...scooping up another crayfish!
Numbers, sex, size and condition of the crayfish are noted down for the records.
With the area cleared of crayfish repairs to the pitching work may at last begin!
The scattered pitching stones still had to be carefully lifted up in case any crayfish had escaped the initial search...of course some had and these too were moved to safety!
Straw bales were used to filter out sediment arising from the repair work. Crayfish are intolerant of sediment as it clogs their gills.
Work well underway with just the retaining wall to be completed.
On the day the work was finished (21st September), a thunderstorm broke out during the night. The torrential rain considerably increased the flow of Scout Beck giving the repaired stone work a stern test; this image was taken on the morning of the 22nd September.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Working Holiday

A variety of tasks were tackled by a Working Holiday Group who were with us for a week from Sunday 4th of September until Friday 9th.
Some of the group started on Sunday by taking a hedge line fence  down at Cockshott Point, on the East  shore of Windermere, and loading the posts and wire onto trailers (seen here listening to instructions from James, Area Ranger)
A smaller group dug out a rectangular shape in front of a bench in order... place a wooden frame work within which to position...
...stone setts.
 This is an effective hard wearing surface. (The area in front of the bench was prone to get boggy in wet weather!)
On Sunday work stopped briefly to watch a low flying Lancaster bomber over Windermere on its way to an air show.
At Millerground, on Monday, a small group set to work on more stone pitching in order to safeguard the immensely popular lake shore footpath from being undermined by high water levels. (A walker can be seen using the path above). 
A quantity of small stone was gathered in trugs to infill behind the stone work. 
Impressive looking job.
Another task was to rip out and replace the old worn out wooden steps leading down to Millerground.
Taking shape.
Great team work!
On a very wet Monday time out was taken to watch the second stage of the Tour of Britain flash past Queen Adelaide's Hill.
A well earned break on Wednesday...
...with the Windermere Outdoor Adventure Centre.
Steady as she goes.
The completed steps were filled with a mixture of crushed stone (aggregate) from the local quarry and lake shore gravel. A job to be justifiably proud of!
Visitors to Millerground using the new steps.
Yet another job was to totally upgrade a section of the lake shore footpath at the Southern end of Millerground. Large stones were 'barred' out of the path and used as edging can be seen bottom right of this image.
The path was levelled and finally resurfaced with approximately seven tonnes of aggregate brought in by...the power barrows.
 From being by far the most difficult to negotiate section of path, it is now arguably the easiest...such is the transformation!

In addition to the work described above, the group also worked in the walled garden at St. Catherine's and on scrub clearance at Millerground.

This Working Holiday Group can be proud of what they have achieved in just six days; it was a pleasure to have worked with them on six (!) different tasks that they so willingly and ably accomplished through admirable teamwork.   

With special thanks to Maureen, Group Leader, and Assistant Leader Andy who, incidentally, supplied many of the images for this post.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Hedgehog Encounter

With hedgehog numbers in steep decline, I considered myself lucky to see this one in the St. Catherine's car-park at dusk. The hedgehog was lucky I saw it, too, as I was driving and just spotted it in time!

 The hedgehog paused long enough, after unrolling itself, to have its image taken before scuttling for cover! 
Hedgehog populations were estimated to be over thirty-six million in the Fifties; however, according to several recent surveys, numbers have now dropped to below one million and are continuing to fall at the rate of 5% per annum.

Many websites go into some detail as to why hedgehog numbers are in such catastrophic decline throughout the UK. An increase in badger numbers is considered to be a factor in combination with many other issues.

The time before I saw a hedgehog was on the A592 at night three years ago. Driving back to the Lakes, after a Carlisle home match, I had to brake hard to avoid an adult hedgehog. It had rolled itself into a ball in the middle of the road. I picked it up and took it some distance away to comparative safety. 

Sadly, thousands of hedgehogs are killed on UK roads every year. 
Hopefully St Catherine's has a thriving hedgehog population. We have tried to help hedgehogs by maintaining a suitable habitat for them.
For instance, you may have seen a recent post on this site where brash from a fallen oak branch was piled up as potentially good cover for the increasingly rare hedgehog. It will also be a good habitat for important food source for hedgehogs. 

The hedgehog is seen as an indicator species. A good population of hedgehogs in a given area shows that the landscape is in good shape with an abundance of insects and invertebrates.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Shiver Me Timbers!

The historic yeoman farmer's house Townend, in the village of Troutbeck, was recently extensively restored after wet rot was discovered in the structural timbers.
Under instruction from Stephen Haigh, Buildings Archaeologist, we cut out sections from the old timber so that a dendrochronologist could analyse them at a later date.
Simply put, Dendrochronology is the scientific method of dating wood through the analysis of the patterns of tree rings aka growth rings.

Hopefully it can be determined in which year the timber was felled... thus giving a valuable insight into the history of this wonderful house.

In the images above Stephen Haigh has chalked the sections of wood to be cut out for the dendrochronologist to examine.
The timbers removed from Townend have been labelled  to indicate in which part of the house they were used for during its construction.
A cut through a comparatively sound section of wood... contrast this one is rotten for much of its length!
'Chain Saw Carnage'!
Stephen Haigh's liaison with the dendrochronologist has resulted in these samples being cut from the timber. Meticulously labelled, they are to be sent away for analysis.

This was one of the more unusual jobs we have been involved with!

Any updates will appear here.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

New Bench for Holme Crag, Jenkyn's Field.

 National Trust Jenkyn's Field provides a rare public access point to Windermere's North Eastern shore. It's entire Western flank is bounded by the lake.
 In stark contrast the busy A591 runs alongside the full length of its Eastern side.
An image of Jenkyn's Field shore as seen from the lake in Winter.
Above can be seen the record breaking conifers of Skelghyll Woods.
Many years ago there used to be a bench on Holme Crag, a rocky outcrop  of Jenkyn's Field,  jutting into the north east side of  Windermere near to Waterhead.

Holme Crag as seen from the lake.

Thanks to a National Trust supporter, who chose to celebrate the birth of his grandson with a generous donation to our work in this area, we were able to commission a local blacksmith to fabricate a new bench.
To give the new bench a firm foundation an oak sleeper was cut in half. Two parallel trenches were dug, at a set distance, within which the sleepers were placed...see below.
A certain amount of landscaping was needed to get the bench as level as possible on its newly positioned supports. 
The base of the bench was drilled back at St. Catherine's to allow it to be firmly attached to the two sections of sleepers... using coach screws.
Approaching the bench (after a brief steep walk) you'll be rewarded with...
...a splendid view of the North West shore of Windermere... somewhere to sit and enjoy it... and forget about the busy A591 so close and yet, seemingly, so far away.
Subsequently the area around the bench has had lake-shore gravel spread around its base.