Friday, 14 October 2016

Touch-Me-Not Balsam and Netted Carpet Moth Conservation with Windermere School

St. Catherine's is an important site for scarce annual touch me not balsam plants. It is the UK's only native balsam, with the Lake District being its principal stronghold.
One of the rarest moths in the UK, the netted carpet moth, is totally reliant upon touch me not as it is the only food source for its caterpillars.
Unlike its relative, the highly invasive himalayan balsam (see above), touch me not is incredibly...if not... annoyingly fussy about its growing conditions! It likes nutrient rich soil in damp open woodland with just the right mixture of sun and shade. It is also very bad at competing with other plant species so it tends to opportunistically colonise bare or disturbed ground where it is sometimes able to form dense stands.
Nettles, creeping buttercup, and brambles overwhelmed some of the touch me not stands at St. Catherine's last Summer, so to give the plant a boost for next year, hopefully with a corresponding increase in moth numbers, a more intensive conservation programme has been initiated.
Students from Windermere School have been most helpful in pulling up nettles, brambles and disturbing the ground.
Incidentally, in NT Coniston woodlands, cattle have been instrumental in increasing the plant numbers hence moths by poaching the ground most effectively during Autumn and Winter months..sadly not an option at St. Catherine's!
Forks have proved useful in digging over the ground; the aim is for the touch me not seeds to germinate more readily and establish dense stands in Spring with the competition from other plants largely eradicated from this area.
Mrs Julie King, Director of student pathways & careers at Windermere School also helped with the conservation work... seen here getting to grips with a deep rooted bramble!
These images of the netted carpet moth were taken by Richard Dennison during a 'Moth Night' at St. Catherine's... late July 2016; he kindly gave permission for them to be used on this blog-site..
..Excellent images of moths on touch me not Balsam.

More conservation work will be undertaken at St. Catherine's right up until late March or until the first touch me not seedlings are spotted! 

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Meadow Life...Plug Planting at Town Head Grasmere.

"Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone..." Joni Mitchell, 1970.

    Wildflower meadows are in catastrophic decline. It is estimated that 97% were lost, nationally, between the 1930s and 1980s with a corresponding loss of insects and predators that are dependent on them. When, for instance, did you last see a hedgehog!?
With its wildflower rich grassland, open grown mature trees and wetland, the National Trust parkland at St.Catherine's, near Windermere, is a rare glimpse of a habitat that was once much more widespread. 
Bumblebee on betony at St. Catherine's. 
Many acres of perennial rye grass have taken the place of wildflower meadows. This has had a devastating impact on pollinators and especially bumblebee numbers. Two bumblebee species have become extinct recently.
Bumblebee covered in pollen on cats-ear at St.Catherine's.
Wildflowers offer a sustained source of nectar and pollen during the long Summers.
"Bumblebees are key factors in our wildlife. If they disappear many of our plants will not bear fruit." David Attenborough.
The presence of quaking grass is a good indicator of well managed "unimproved" grassland at St.Catherine's.
 Red clover. 
Clover releases nitrogen into the soil which benefits other plants.
Self heal
Harebells, betony and burnet saxifrage.
Black knapweed, birds foot trefoil and thistles.
Young goldfinches eat knapweed seeds. Other small birds predate on invertebrates attracted to the flowers.
Meadow brown.
Even stinging nettles have a place in hay meadows. Peacock butterflies lay their eggs on nettles; these plants are a food source for the caterpillars.
All of the above images were taken one afternoon in July at St. Catherine's with the exception of the damselfly and peacock butterfly.
The benefits and importance of well managed hay meadows to wildlife has become more widely recognised. 

 The Cumbria Wildlife Trust has been working with landowners to restore and manage hay meadows through Meadow Life, a project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
In September, Claire Cornish, Meadow Life Restoration Officer, Cumbria Wildlife Trust, met up with National Trust countryside rangers, volunteers and the tenant farmer of Town Head Farm in Grasmere.
The meadow below Allan Bank had been chosen to be planted up with 2000 wildflower plug plants. These plug plants are young plants raised in individual cells or small pots.
A spade depth of turf is dug out, then inverted...
...and a space is made in the centre...
...for the plug plant, in this instance a wood cranesbill.
This, a close relative, is meadow cranesbill at St. Catherine's in July.
 Eleven different species of wildflowers were planted with the aim to increase plant diversity in this meadow.
Will Benson, National Trust tenant farmer. took time out from his busy schedule to help with the planting.
Claire explained what was going on to interested walkers on the nearby footpath.

Plug planting is just one of many initiatives of Meadow Life.
Below is a quote from  Cumbria Wildlife Trust website:

Welcome to Meadow Life!

"What is Meadow Life Doing?"
"We hope to help reverse the decline of this very special habitat and bring back the stunningly evocative landscape of hay meadows to Cumbria".

For more information, click on the link below.

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.