Friday, 10 November 2017

Giant Hogweed. (inspiration for the 1971 song by progressive rock band Genesis...Return of the Giant Hogweed)

Back in July 2017 it was widely reported that Giant Hogweed was spreading across the UK. Mike Duddy...Mersey Basin Rivers Trust... described it as "the most dangerous plant in Britain" and that it was a "massive issue" that needed tackling.

 Thankfully there have been no more reported sightings of this invasive plant since 2013 in the Central East Lakes region.

This post from three years ago has been updated to celebrate the continued absence of Giant Hogweed on or near National Trust land at Cockshott, Windermere, and Bridge House, Stock Ghyll, Ambleside after two years of eradication work!

Giant Hogweed is probably the most feared of all the invasive plants. Its sap is phototoxic; it contains furanocoumarins, a toxic glucoside that photosenisitises the skin causing phytophotodermatitis...a serious skin inflammation. Exposure to sunlight causes severe and painful blistering that sometimes requires hospitalisation.

Even many years after the initial contact, the victim's skin is likely to remain highly sensitised to sunlight. A small amount of sap in the eyes may possibly cause blindness.

Giant Hogweed is the only invasive plant I am aware of that has had a song written about it...and an apocalyptic one at that! Below are some exerpts.....

"Long ago in the Russian hills a Victorian explorer found the Regal Hogweed by a marsh; he captured it and brought it home..."

"Fashionable country gentlemen had some cultivated wild gardens in which they innocently planted the Giant Hogweed throughout the land..."

"Soon they escaped spreading their seed preparing for an onslaught threatening the Human Race..."

"Around every river and canal their power is growing..."

"Stamp them out, we must destroy them...!"

© GENESIS. Return of the Giant Hogweed. From the 1971 album 'Nursery Cryme.'

Giant Hogweed (Heracleum Mantegazzianum) is a spectacular and exotic plant that is native to the Caucasus region. It is in the umbelliferous family Apiaceae. Superficially it resembles Common Hogweed or Cow Parsley (Heracleum Sphondylium)....but on steroids!

Victorian explorers introduced the plants to the UK. Since then Giant Hogweed has become highly invasive in the UK and will shade out native plants because it grows so fast and so tall. 

Without adequate controls, Giant Hogweed will spread and become dominant very quickly especially along watercourses restricting access and in some cases blocking footpaths.

It often contributes to river bank erosion. When the plants die back in Winter only bare ground remains that in flood conditions may easily be washed away.

Giant Hogweed plants were found growing alongside the small watercourse by the National Trust/SLDC Cockshott and Ferrry Nab footpath, Windermere in June 2011. The one above measured about fifteen feet tall! (The large trenching spade is completely dwarfed!)

Even more appeared the following year and these also were dug up and burnt.

Giant Hogweed is classed as a biennial, or monocarpic perennial living up to seven years. In its final year it produces the massive, hugely impressive flower heads, seeding in late August.
Bridge House, National Trust, Ambleside.

More recently in June 2013, Giant Hogweed was discovered twenty yards downstream of Bridge House, Ambleside. These were dug up well before the flower heads could seed. So far there has been no recurrence of the plants here.

If you see Giant Hogweed please contact the landowner, if known, or the appropriate authority.
 Digging up Giant Hogweed alongside footpath linking Cockshott to Ferry Nab. Protective clothing, goggles, gloves and face mask essential!
One less Giant Hogweed at Ferry Nab. This specimen measured 10 feet but many grow much taller.

Image of Giant Hogweed only 3 yards from Trust land. This plant would have needed another growing season at least before it could develop the flower stem; one plant is capable of producing fifty thousand seeds. These may remain viable for up to fifteen years! 

"Turn and run...nothing can stop them!"...© Genesis 1971.
This is the top half of the flower stem of a Giant Hogweed dug up from the side of Stock Ghyll just a few yards from Bridge House. June 2013)

A message from  South Cumbria Rivers Trust...

South Cumbria Rivers trust are aiming to locate and eradicate invasive non-native species throughout the catchments of South Cumbria stretching from the River Duddon to the River Lune. Any sightings of the following species below would help us to focus our efforts over the coming seasons with priority within the Windermere, Coniston, and River Kent catchments:
Giant hogweed
Japanese knotweed
Himlayan balsam
American skunk cabbage
American signal crayfish
Killer shrimp

You can record a sighting via the CFINNS website: 
or email Jen on

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Until the cows come home....a mooving story.

The National Trust Scout Beck herd of the rare Albion breed were brought in today, Sunday 15th, from their grazing land to High Lickbarrow Farm. From here they were transported to their Winter quarters. Along with the cows there were 17 calves born earlier this year in May.

The remnants of Hurricane Ophelia are due to hit on Monday 16th so the timing was just about perfect!

Six helpers, including three National Trust staff, herded the cattle on a kilometre long route to the farm. It all went pretty smoothly with only the occasional break away attempt to have a sustaining snack. See above. John and James use their powers of persuasion to move 'em on! 

In this image the cattle are approaching the entrance to High Lickbarrow in an orderly procession.

These "first" heifers (about  18 months old) were brought in a week earlier from their grazing allotment at Moor How, near Newby Bridge.

Here are three of them back in June 2016 at just a few weeks old. This image
shows the Albions in all their different colourings. The breed has a dominant white gene which is the "true breeding". True bred Albions may be blue-roan, white, or black with some white as evidenced by the image above.

An image of one of the 18 month old heifers at Moor How with a glimpse of Windermere and Grizedale Forest in the background....

...and here she is at High Lickbarrow on her birthday, May 2016. Just a few hours old!

The herd will return to their High Lickbarrow 'home' in May ready for a new season. 

Some animals have been sold to farms in Cornwall and Derbyshire which will contribute to improving the bloodline, and increase the numbers of this rare breed.

To find out more about the Albion breed...The Albion Cattle Society have a website that is very informative. 

The Albion Cattle Society are "dedicated to raising public awareness of this dying breed and help save it from extinction" and to show the Rare Breeds Survival Trust
"Albion Cattle are a breed worth fighting for".



Monday, 2 October 2017

Red Squirrel walk at Aira Force

On Wednesday 27th of September a trial Red Squirrel walk and talk was held at Aira Force.

The event was held in partnership between the National Trust, Ullswater Steamers and Penrith and District Red Squirrel Group (PDRSG)

43 eager and excited years 1 & 2 children from Stainton Primary school arrived at Aira Force, where they were treated to an interesting and informative talk by Andrew and Julie from the PDRSG.

Once the children’s brains had been filled with all sorts of exciting squirrel facts they were taken on a tour of Aira Force by the National Trust Rangers, in hope of seeing one of our little furry friends.

We looked high; we looked low but sadly we did not see one. We believe we have about 6 pairs in Aira Force; unfortunately they didn’t want to come and play that sunny Wednesday morning. The best time to catch a sighting of a red is often at dusk or dawn when it is quieter and there are less people around.

All the children had fun though filling in their Red Squirrel trails as they walked around the path ways of Aira Force.

Once we had completed the tour, the children were then treated to a ride on the Ullswater Steamer from Aira Force to Glenridding, where they were each given a goody bag packed full of Red Squirrel memorabilia.

These talks will hopefully become a more regular event next year.


Thursday, 21 September 2017

Bridge Over Troubled Waters....

The low stone wall on the bridge to St. Catherine's...over Wynlass Beck...was regularly clipped by vehicles and required frequent repairs. 

We had some 'sleepers' left over after constructing wooden raised beds at St. Catherine's.

The sleepers were cut to shape and used to replace the vulnerable stone work and after several months are still in place and undamaged.

Mission accomplished!

Thursday, 14 September 2017

St. Catherine's 'Moth Night'/Caterpillar Survey.

A 'Moth Night' was held at St. Catherine's in late July. Among other species the rare netted carpet Moth was seen.

An excellent image of the moth seen on its food plant... Touch-Me-Not Balsam....courtesy of Guy Broome.

The moth lays its eggs on the plant, during its life span, in July and August.   

Image of the moth's caterpillar/larvae photographed during the annual survey that takes place in late August or early September. This caterpillar is probably fully grown and ready to pupate soon.

In this instance the caterpillar is forming a triangle between the plant stem and leaf. The caterpillars invariably face 'down hill'... particularly when at rest.

An image of a smaller caterpillar. The caterpillars out-grow and shed their skin 5 times...called instars...before they reach full size.

The above image shows a caterpillar feeding on a Touch-Me-Not seed pod...the most nutritious part of its food plant.

Note how well camouflaged the caterpillars are, making it difficult for predators and surveyors alike to spot them!

Up to 50 caterpillars per 100 plants were recorded in some areas whereas in less densely populated areas only 1 or 2 were found per 100 plants.

For more information on the moth and its food plant, including the conservation work involved,  please click on the link below.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

It's an ill wind....

The path at the back of Bridge House regularly needs resurfacing with so many visitors using it. 

Some drainage work was also needed as can be seen in this image taken after heavy rainfall.

After several successive storms, tons of lake-shore gravel was dumped on Jenkyn's Field, on the eastern shore of Windermere, well above the normal shoreline. 
This lake gravel looked ideal to re-surface the path at Bridge House, less than a mile away, as well as clearing the field to some extent.

In this image the power barrow, probably our most useful "bit of kit" was loaded up.

It was a tight fit between the wall and the hedge.



after a couple of power barrow loads...

... some after shots.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Wetheral Woods Balsam Bash.

Owned by the National Trust since the late 1940s, Wetheral Woods (the most northerly of the Central and East Lakes properties) cover an area of around 9 hectares.

The woods are about three and a half miles east of Carlisle, on the west side of the River Eden. They form part of the ancient woodlands surrounding the river here.

A footpath runs through the woods along the banks of the River Eden...known to be one of the cleanest rivers in England. 
This river is one of the very few large rivers in England that flows northwards.

The woodlands have become increasingly inundated with invasive Himalayan balsam, the seeds of which are brought in by the River Eden from infested areas upstream.

Days have been set aside for rangers and volunteers to deal with this invasive plant. 

On the way to the worst of the infested sites, time was taken to have a quick look at the mysterious St.Constantine Cells, also known as Safe Guards.

These cave dwellings are early Medieval in origin and probably used by the nearby Priory of Wetheral as a refuge during border raids...hence the name Safe Guards.
However, legend would have it that St.Constantine stayed here when he was a hermit.

Three large square chambers were cut into the sandstone cliff face about forty
 feet above the River Eden with a protective masonry front wall into which
three windows and a fireplace were incorporated. 

...The fireplace...

...A spectacular view of the River Eden from one of the windows...

Originally access would have been by ladder from below.
 It would then have been drawn up.
Now access is from above down a flight of stone cut steps.

Back to business...slashing back the balsam before it has a chance to set seed.
It is a race against time!

A native fern, all but smothered by balsam.

Balsam in this instance is pulled up by hand to prevent harming the fern.

The fern now free of its "shroud" of balsam.

The balsam is snapped below the bottom node to prevent it from re-rooting itself.

In some areas a strimmer was used to good effect.

A large area of balsam cleared but much more work is needed elsewhere.
Very little can grow under such dense stands of Himalayan balsam.

Roger, foreground, and Martin. Two willing and able volunteers!

This stone on the riverbank is believed to have been used by prehistoric people
to sharpen their spears or axes.

A lot of balsam has been cleared, but it is an ongoing battle; more work on balsam bashing at Wetheral Woods will be written into the work programme for next season!