Monday, 24 August 2015

New Heck

A new Heck* is to replace the existing one on Troutbeck, logistically its tough being over half an hour from the farm, so the old hanging beam (pipe) was deemed to be OK. Unfortunately the walls that held it were not so had to be repaired and the beam repositioned

The original heck in disrepair.
Repairing the wall on the west side.

New parts arriving.

And old ones leaving.

The finished Heck.

*Heck (dialect) the lower part of a door; a grating,esp in rivers or streams; a rack for animal fodder or drying cheeses. Old English hec/haec  grating, hatch; Dutch hek  a gate.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Wall rebuild on the Dubbs Road.

Dubbs, a popular bridleway.

Part of  the wall - bordering the Dubbs road (bridleway) next to a ladder stile - had become very unstable. The wall is over nine feet high in places and looks much taller as it is built on a steep bank.

  Its height and instability meant it was too dangerous to take the wall down progressively (as is usually the case). To make it safer, the bad section of wall was "allowed"to collapse completely, with just a little help...minimal encouragement was needed!



The wall was built from local Applethwaite Quarry stone. This stone is  notorious for its poor quality. It is prone to frost damage and disintegrates surprisingly quickly. 

Water gets into the cracks of the stones; in a frost the water expands and ice  forces the cracks to become wider and wider over time.

In this close-up image of a wall built from Applethwaite stone, it is clear that some stones are crumbling away; the stones above have sagged and this section of wall, like the one above, is on the brink of collapse.

With the fun bit over, the stones were cleared back in order to dig out for the foundations or footing stones; this image gives some idea of how steep the bank is we had to work on.

The foundations are in place and the wall is now being rebuilt. 

Luckily, we recently put in a new entrance through a woodland wall at St.Catherine's to allow for timber extraction. The surplus stone  was brought in for this rebuild as so much of the original walling stone had disintegrated.

The stones are 'tied into' or overlapped into  the sound part of the wall that is under the ladder stile in this image. 

Once a certain height was reached, stone was carried up the ladder stile and walled 'overhand' from the high to the low side.

The finished wall repair from the high side...

...and the low or track side.

And just a reminder of what it did look like!

A view from the ladder stile, Troutbeck valley and village.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

International Rangers Day

To celebrate International Ranger Day - 31st July, the National Trust gathered its countryside staff alongside colleagues and peers from organisations such as Natural England, Cumbria Rivers Trust and United Utilities for a conference held at University of Cumbria's Ambleside campus.

International Ranger Day is an initiative of the International Union for Conservation (IUCN) and International Ranger Federation (IRF) which invites everyone to acknowledge the work done by Rangers in protecting our precious natural and cultural heritage.

Keynote speaker at the event was Gordon Miller from the IRF, who described the challenges faced by Rangers around the world working in Protected Areas.  He described the ever- increasing threats including poaching, encroachment on protected area and that rangers in the field often pay the ultimate price for their devotion to the task.

Gordon said of the event: “This past 12 months has seen over 50 rangers from 20 countries lose their lives to poachers, from others threatening their parks and accidents. Most losses are from homicide and others from accidents that illustrate the often hazardous environment that they face, particularly in developing countries.

“World Ranger Day gives us an opportunity to pay homage to those who have perished and urge governments to 'protect the protectors'.  The dedication of rangers, particularly in the developing world, deserves our gratitude if our precious protected areas are to remain havens for our diminishing natural and cultural assets.”  

Protected Areas – national parks, wilderness areas, community-conserved areas, nature reserves and so on – are a mainstay of biodiversity conservation, while also contributing to people’s livelihoods, particularly at the local level. Protected areas are at the core of efforts towards conserving nature and the services it provides us – food, clean water supply, medicines and protection from the impacts of natural disasters.

Sam Stalker, Lead Ranger for the National Trust in the western Lake District, and event organiser said:  “Opportunities for Rangers to get together and share their professional knowledge are few and far between – we’re almost always out in the landscape we love. Days like this give us a rare chance to share our conservation knowledge. “

The Ambleside celebration also included the announcement that the National Trust has become a corporate member of the Countryside Management Association. Sam added:

Membership of the Countryside Management Association strengthens the professional Ranger network both within the National Trust and with our colleagues elsewhere. It means we have a whole new network of Ranger colleagues to learn from and share best practice with.  We have chosen International Ranger Day to launch this membership, because it is a day for Rangers to come together as global profession and our membership builds links at a local, national and international level.

For more information about the International Rangers Federation and how you can get involved please visit their website at 

For an interesting look at International Ranger Day in Thailand, please click here to see a blog post from the IUCN

For more information about the Countryside Management association please visit their website at

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

St. Catherine's Parkland...a diverse landscape mosaic.

Big Yellow Taxi, written and sung by Joni Mitchell, and released in 1970, was a song expressing grave concerns for the environment. The chorus goes...

 "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone….." 

Our wildflower meadows are fast disappearing. In just seventy years ninety seven percent have been lost!

With its wildflower rich grassland, open grown mature trees and wetland, the National Trust parkland at St. Catherine's is a rare glimpse of what was once commonplace.

Parkland at St. Catherine's as seen from the wetland area in the South West corner. The ground vegetation is very varied  and colourful at this time of year. (late July)
A young oak planted up in-front of a mature
oak. It will in time take its place.
Parkland consists of open grown trees.
(rich in lichens and beetles)
A limited number of cattle grazing the parkland at St. Catherine's is key to maintaining such a diversity of species.

Cattle do not graze vegetation as close down to the ground as sheep. Unlike sheep, cattle use their tongues to pull tufts of vegetation into their mouths. This often leaves tussocks which  benefit insects and small mammals. As they have such wide mouths, cattle do not overgraze or target certain species of plants. This results in a highly diverse habitat.

Credit must be given to the National Trust tenant farmer for his conscientious management of this land which is under an HLS agreement, (Higher Level Stewardship) a habitat management scheme.

Cattle are excellent at keeping back some of the rank vegetation. In areas where they have broken up the ground, seeds are more easily able to germinate. Here an oak tree seedling is a possible veteran of the future!

Bumblebee on Betony, St. Catherine's. The wildflowers here offer a sustained source of pollen and nectar for the bees during the long Summer months.

Many acres of perennial rye grass have taken the place of  the wildflower meadows. This has had a devastating impact on bumblebee numbers.  At least two bumblebee species are thought to have become extinct recently with others such as the Great yellow bumblebee and the Shrill carder bee on the brink. 

 David Attenborough once said,"Bumblebees are key factors in our wildlife. If they disappear many of our plants will not bear fruit." 

 A bumblebee is covered in pollen on a Cat's Ear flower at St. Catherine's in late July.

 Bees are needed to pollinate plants BUT plants are needed for bees to pollinate!

The presence of Quaking Grass is an indicator that unimproved native grassland is being well managed; it is good to see it at St. Catherine's.

A grass roots level view of Harebells, Betony, and Burnet Saxifrage.

Dead wood is left to rot within the parkland. it is a valuable habitat for many invertebrates, some very rare. Here a fallen tree is surrounded by Birdsfoot Trefoil, Black Knapweed and thistles.

Foxgloves with mature parkland trees and younger trees in tree pens in the background.

Purple loosestrife in the
wetland area.


Self heal.

Just some of the many species of wildflowers to be seen in the parkland at St. Catherine's in July.

Now...any idea what this one is!? Possibly Bog Stitchwort? Lesser Stitchwort?

In the wetland area is a stand of "nationally scarce" Touch-Me-Not Balsam which the rare netted Carpet Moth depends upon for its survival; the UK Biodiversity Action Plan classes the moth as a priority species. It is listed as vulnerable in the Red Data Book.

The Touch-Me-Not is growing up against the dry stone wall in the south west corner of the parkland. Invasive non-native Himalayan Balsam is eradicated every year from this area to stop it encroaching, and ultimately displacing the Touch-Me-Not.

Hopefully this post has given some indication of the rich biodiversity that is contained within this small area of parkland called St. Catherine's. 

If you intend using the public footpath through St. Catherine's, please pause along the way and have a look around!

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Dora's Field. Invasive Control Work.

A concerted effort has recently been made to rid Dora's Field of non native invasive plants, namely Japanese Knotweed and Himalayan Balsam. 

Countryside Rangers from St. Catherine's and High Close with help from volunteers and a work experience student combined forces to deal with this problem.  

Japanese Knotweed has spread alarmingly quickly... indeed have stands of Himalayan Balsam in Dora's Field.
Bees, bumblebees in particular, are highly attracted to Himalayan Balsam because it provides a rich source of pollen and nectar especially in late Summer.

Native plants are often overlooked by the bees in favour of Himalayan Balsam. More Himalayan Balsam gets pollinated at the expense of Native plants. No wonder it has become so prevalent!
A beekeeper told me recently that Himalayan Balsam is akin to fast food for a bee.... "But too much of the same food can be just as bad for  bees as for people!" He pointed out.

By getting rid of Himalayan Balsam, Native plants, which are great providers of pollen and nectar, will be able to flourish instead.  There are much better alternatives to Himalayan Balsam for bees such as...
...Touch-Me-Not Balsam seen here in the foreground or Foxgloves; many more Native plants could also thrive and help the bees maintain a 'balanced diet' at the same time! ..... How about Ragged Robin, Knapweed, Yarrow, Betony, (see image below) White Clover, Red Deadnettle and Purple Loosestrife for starters?
Bumblebee "tucking into" Betony flower on parkland at St. Catherine's.

As an aside Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) is highly invasive, and a massive problem in the United States...just as Knotweed and Himalayan Balsam are here... Away from its natural environment it has run riot, significantly degrading and creating havoc with the ecosystem of the North American wetlands. 

It was introduced by early colonists from Europe to plant in their gardens in the New  World...It is a horribly familiar story the World over.  
Work experience student, Luke with arms full of Himalayan Balsam heading for the fire site.
Academy Ranger, Pete with volunteer, Sue dragging down a bulk bag full of Himalayan Balsam. Laura is in the background dealing with the Knotweed.
Volunteer Coordinator, Greg, who volunteers to do this role, is about to bag up some knotweed ready to be burnt on site.
The cut stems of Knotweed are now ready for...
... an application of  Glyphosphate; it travels down the hollow stems to the rhizomes (sprouting root system) with devastating results. It is a time consuming process but highly effective in eradicating this pernicious weed.

Cutting back the stems will also help to exhaust the rhizomes but it may take several seasons to accomplish this!
Burning up!
There was time to strim the path...
...and 'tidy up' with the leaf blower.

To sum up, a difficult task was made manageable through good team work.