Thursday, 20 December 2012

Orchids of the Underworld

I love waxcap fungi. Their many bright colours – from brilliant red to pure white – and the variety in shapes – toadstools, coral shaped, club shaped and even tongue shaped mean they brighten up a walk at the time of year when everything else is dying back and the colour is slowly fading out of the countryside.

Waxcap fungi like this are easy to spot.

Seeing waxcaps (and associated club, coral, earth-tongue and spindles fungi) shows us that we are managing the land correctly without pollution or under-grazing.  Naturally we want to preserve this ancient habitat in the same way we’d look after ancient woodland and so the best way to do this is to look for them every autumn, or more specifically – survey them.

The National Trust’s Mislet Farm near Windermere is one such place where management of the land has remained unaltered for a long time and is therefore abundant with waxcap fungi.  The fields on this farm are made even more important because they form part of the catchment area of the river Kent which is very special for its native crayfish.

The author on a field at Mislet Farm, getting up close to a meadow waxcap. 
Photo by John Malley.

The perfect opportunity to get help surveying waxcaps came when the Flora of the Fells group organised a Fell Care day on the 25th October.  The aim was to get local volunteers involved in projects all around Windermere to help with protecting the water quality of the lake.

Six willing and able volunteers signed up to my request to help survey the waxcaps and after a short training session they too were hooked by their colourful beauty.  Soon after that we headed out, clipboards in hand, to Mislet Farm and specifically to a field where I have seen them before.

A volunteer helps with the survey, recording the numbers of fungi found.

What we didn’t expect was a ‘red-letter’ day for the numbers we found – 2,045 to be exact!  The bits we counted above ground were in fact the fruit of the fungi, the actual fungi is really a mass of minute threads called mycelium which spread underground and absorb water and food.  Just like a fruit tree, there can be years with poor yields or there can be bumper crops depending on the weather, and today certainly showed that it had been an excellent year for these multicoloured gems.

Parrot waxcap found on the survey, photo by David Benham

This good news spread quickly within the NT and resident fungi expert John Malley had this to say: 
“We didn’t realise we had such a ‘hotspot’ and as a result of this volunteer survey a detailed assessment must be done to find the scale of importance for the site.  It is regionally important, and could even be nationally or internationally important - from the high numbers found it is certainly ‘up there’. 
The value of these colourful ‘jelly babies of the grassland’ are often overlooked and yet are just as important as your orchid species if not more so.

The NT already looks after one of the best sites in Europe for waxcaps at the Longshaw Estate in the Peak District.  I will be enlisting the help of experts and volunteers next Autumn to get the NT farms around Windermere ‘on the map’ for their national importance too.

To find out more here are some good internet links:

Ben Knipe
Woodland Ranger
Central & East Lakes

Monday, 12 November 2012

How to Make a Brand New Footpath

How easy is it to make a footpath where there has never been one before?

A few simple steps:

  1. Find out what people want
  2. Make it happen

So how did we know what people wanted? 

The answer came from the Troutbeck Village Association who first suggested the idea of a new footpath taking walkers off the busy A592 road and across fields instead.  This would not only make the road safer for all users but also create new circular routes around the village of Troutbeck.

So the community wanted it, for their benefit and for the visiting walkers.

How did we make it happen?

To our advantage the best route was entirely across NT fields, and the tenant farmer was happy for the path to be made, so we were halfway there already.

The route of the off-road path can be seen to the right of the road, closely following the hedge.  The first gate is opposite the car on the bottom left, and the last gate is opposite the hotel car park on the top right.

We decided that the path was best left un-fenced and un-surfaced because this didn’t impact visually on the landscape and would then be quicker and cheaper to install.

Roland and Ray with their experience of installing gates started the work in mid September and had all the gates, steps and fence improvements completed by the end of October.

The first gateway and the only metal one used as this was within existing railings.

The path was opened unofficially for a few weeks to see if any small adjustments needed to be made before the grand opening.

Naturally we invited members of the Troutbeck Village Association to the opening ceremony, along with the rangers and volunteers who helped make the path and a photographer from the local press.  The ribbon was cut at 12noon on the 1st November by a local resident, marking the official opening of the Troutbeck off-road path.

The opening ceremony attended by members of the Troutbeck Village Association and rangers.

The last step:

     3. Tell everyone about it!

This has been one of the many ways I have done just that. 

I have also spread the word via newspaper and radio station coverage, through local businesses benefiting from the path, by incorporating the opening into the Great British Walk festival held nationally by the NT, and finally, it will go on the latest Ordnance Survey map.

Ben Knipe
Area Ranger, Windermere & Troutbeck

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

FREE guided walks from Sticklebarn Great Langdale 29th Oct to 2nd Nov

Come along for a walk with National Trust Rangers James and Neil and Mountain Guide, Malcolm.

All Walks start & finish from the Sticklebarn in Langdale LA22 9JU
GR NY295 065.

Meet from 9am for a 10am start. Coffees & teas available (pack Lunches vailable for purchase).

A wet weather walk option that takes us around the valley will be available if the weather is not suitable for the high level routes on Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday.

Monday 29 October
Stickle Tarn and Tarn Crag via Stickle Ghyll

Distance 3.3km, total ascent 399m, total descent 399m, total walking time 2 hours. Grade: Medium. Walking mainly on footpaths.

Join us for a great little walk that packs a big punch.

We’ll chat about Langdale’s history, geology and archaeology along the way and ranger James might even point out a few hidden gems for you to explore if you’re lucky.

We will walk up alongside Stickle Ghyll to picturesque Stickle Tarn where we can view the valley far below, and the lofty pikes of Pavey Ark and Harrison Stickle above. From here we will cross Stickle Ghyll and walk around the tarn until we start our route back via Tarn Crag down to Sticklebarn for well earned refreshments. 

Tuesday 30 October
Langdale Pikes
Distance 6.8km, total ascent 723m, total descent 725m, total walking time 3.5 hours. Grade: Hard. Steep walking in places but no exposure.

Join us as we conquer the iconic Langdale Pikes.

We’ll chat about Langdale’s history, geology and archaeology along the way and ranger James might even point out a few hidden gems for you to explore if you’re lucky.

Following a route up to Stickle Tarn we will skirt the eastern edge of the tarn before climbing the east side of Pavey Ark. We will then visit Harrison Stickle and Pike of Stickle before crossing Loft Crag and ticking off our 4th Wainwright of the day. We descend via Pike Howe past a couple of peat houses on the way back to Sticklebarn.

Wednesday 31st October
Pike O’ Blisco

Distance 7.2km, total ascent  619, total descent 623m , total walking time 4 hours. Grade Hard steep walking in places but no exposure.

Join us as we venture to the summit of the lonely Langdale Pike.

We’ll chat about Langdale’s history, geology and archaeology along the way and ranger James might even point out a few hidden gems for you to explore if you’re lucky.

Set apart from its neighbours Pike O’ Blisco offers arguably the best views of all the Pikes.
This walk will take us up the valley of Oxendale and up to Red Tarn via the Browney Ghyll path. From here we will make for the wonderfully rocky summit of Pike O’ Blisco before descending down the path via Red Acre Gill.

Thursday 1st of November
Langdale Pikes  ( As Tuesday)

Friday 2nd November
Stickle Tarn and Tarn Crag via Stickle Ghyll (as Monday).

Wet Weather Option
Cumbria way to Elterwater.
Distance 8km, 3hours walking time (approx) mainly level walking on Public Rights of Way (but can be wet and rough). Taking in Farming, Quarries and Woodlands.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Cumbria National Trust Volunteers. WHAT A DIFFERENCE A...VOLUNTEER...DAY MAKES!

On Sunday 2nd of September The Cumbria National Trust Volunteers met the National Trust Rangers at St Catherine's in order to help with some much needed path work at Millerground; sections of this popular path along Windermere's shore requires revetment work. High lake levels and Winter storms are eroding and undercutting some stretches. A path leading down to Millergrond was also in need of resurfacing and the cutting back of encroaching vegetation.            

The following images show just how much the Cumbria National Trust Volunteers achieved on the day.
cutting back some of the vegetation to improve access to the path
the trench ready to receive the foundation stones

working out how to incorporate the exposed tree roots into the pitching. Not easy!
digging out a trench for the foundation or base stones before starting revetment or pitching work
The path leading down to Millerground before commencing work. Note trip hazards, and how narrow it is!
Use of a bar to get some of the large stones out prior to resurfacing. (The stones come in handy for path edging)
The finished path. Quite a contrast to how it looked before work started.
Another section of revetment work completed. A great result after a lot of hard work.   

Friday, 12 October 2012

Ullswater Fell Care Day

On 27 September, a mass volunteering effort around Ullswater saw 210 people from 19 organisations come together to give more than 1000 hours of their time to conservation activities in the valley in just one day.
Organised by Friends of the Lake District's Flora of the Fells project, the Fell Care Day saw volunteers take part in a range of tasks. Together with our Rangers the volunteers made massive improvements around Aira Force in such a short amount of time. School children from Patterdale and Penruddock cut lots of scrub and low limbs amongst the trees in the arboretum, tidying it up and making way for people to explore the magnificent Conifers. They also helped to built a red squirrel hide from willow, learned about water and conservation and planted 1000 native daffodil bulbs in the Glade.
They also made 30 new bird boxes and ten bat boxes to be used to encourage roosting birds and bats around the area and also put up squirrel and bird feeders which were donated to us by a local company called The Birds Bistro.

Here a group of students from Newton Rigg College managed to rebuild 40yds of footpath above High Force.

 Below our farm tenant from Glencoyne "Sam Hodgson" helps a team rebuild a dry stone wall above Glencoyne wood.

Overall the day was a huge success; highlighting the huge role that volunteering plays in conserving and managing the fells. More than 19 organizations took part, including volunteer groups from Friends of the Lake District, Fix the Fells, the Lake District National Park, the National Trust, Penrith and District Red Squirrel Group and visiting schoolchildren from the Ullswater Outward Bound Trust.
Sue Manson, Flora of the Fells Project Officer said: 'The Fell Care Day was awesome - a conservation Glastonbury with so many individuals, groups and organisations contributing their time so freely! The volunteer army achieved so much in one day they really felt they'd put something back into caring for the Ullswater valley.'
We are now gearing up for another Fell Care Day, scheduled to take place at St Catherine's in Windermere on Thursday 25 October.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Halloween fun at our properties this half term

Sticklebarn-Great Langdale
27 Oct – 4 Nov
Celebrate autumn with Pumpkinfest at our pub in Langdale.
We’ll have pumpkin carving, ghoulish face painting, live music, fiendishly funny comedians and on Saturday 3 Nov were rounding it all off with a great big BBQ. 

Halloween Trail
Weds 31 Oct to Sun 4 Nov   
1 – 4pm
Find the pumpkins in the garden and complete the trail to win a prize.
£1.50 per trail.
Booking not necessary – just turn up

Allan Bank-Grasmere
Autumn Crafts
October, all day every day, Free
Get crafty at Allan Bank in the run up to Halloween. Make yourself a witch’s hat and broomstick or a horrifying Halloween mask.

Pumpkin Trail
27 Oct – 4 Nov, Free
The Allan Bank woodland has been taken over by spooky pumpkins, venture into the woods and see how many you can find… don’t forget to check inside the spine tingling tunnel. Draw the faces as you go and spot 6 or more to win a prize.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Summer round up from Ullswater

I say summer, it doesn't feel like we have had one this year the weather has been terrible. We had a really good spring and folk were saying what a good summer we were going to have but they could not have been any further away from the truth. Still we have work to do and we just have to get on with it, rain or shine. Back in May we used a helicopter to lift some materials into High Force for some major footpath repairs, this is the only way to get the materials in due to the lay of the land. It’s a pretty expensive operation, £1100 per hour just for the helicopter but the work needs to be done. The helicopter was in the area being used by the National Trust to fly stone for other upland footpath projects.

Firstly we have to get the bags filled a few days before; here the fell rangers are filling 25 bags with stone to build some steps, the materials were brought in by wagon to this car park which was ideal to have the lift from. They have to pick out the best stone by hand and put it in the bags which was hard work.

As well as the 25 bags of stone we filled 75 bags with gravel to resurface the paths, luckily we could do this with a mini digger which speeds the job up a bit. Neil, our Ranger from Langdale has the ticket to use one so he came and helped us. 

Luckily the day of the lift was perfect, clear blue sky and not a breath of wind. All the Central and East lakes Rangers came to help marshal the footpaths and the road around the site, as you can imagine health and safety was a major concern with lots of walkers about and a helicopter carrying nearly a ton of stone above.
As planned every thing went perfectly, it took about 5 hours to get all the bags flown in on site ready for us to get on and maintain the footpaths.

Working Holiday 
During July we had our working holiday, 11 volunteers signed up to come and help us with our conservation work for a week. They stay at High Wray base camp and travel by mini bus to Ullswater.

This year as previous years we got stuck into Himalayan Balsam pulling, this is an invasive plant that was introduced into Britain in 1839, it escaped from gardens and quickly colonised river banks and wet areas. It is an annual plant and can grow up to 3m tall and each flower can produce hundreds of seeds and when the seed pods mature they explode scattering the seed for up to 7m away.
Pulling the plant out and breaking it up is a good way of controlling it, it will only grow from seed so if we can stop it seeding we should be able to eradicate it.

The volunteers also helped us carry out some footpath resurfacing at High Force; we used some of the gravel that the helicopter flew in earlier in the year.
Firstly we had to put an edge in along the side of the path; it had been eroded away over the years from all feet that had walked along it. Then we could lay the gravel on the path.
Here the volunteers are loading the tracked barrows ready to take the gravel to the path; these mechanical barrows are a life saver, it would be impossible to push a normal barrow.  
This is a finished section of path ready for the thousands of visitors we get here.  

Aira Force
Other work we did this summer was replacing a wooden gate entrance into Aira Force with an iron one. Over the years we have been replacing wooden gates and handrails with iron which will enhance the feel of this Victorian landscape also they will last for a long time with less maintenance. Richard Airey our local black smith has done all our iron work in Aira Force including the iron seats in the glade area.
Here is the wooden gateway before we changed it.

We thought while we were changing it we would widen the gateway a bit to help get machinery in so we took the wall down and moved the stone stoop back. It wasn't as easy as we thought it went a long way into the ground!
Once the stoop was moved and the wall put back we hung the new iron gate and put in a new slamming post, this is the post the gate closes too. We have made this removable by cementing a sleeve in the ground that the post will slide in and out of so if we need to get any wider machinery in we can lift it out.
The finished job, I think it looks a lot better. While Richard was here we altered some railings and replaced a wooden rail with iron.
The wooden hand rail before

This is the man himself, he does all the welding on site. He does a good job and likes things to be perfect just like us.

The iron hand rail after.
We've had a busy summer so far, lets hope we get a good dry Autumn.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Romans by the Rivers

It’s July and national archaeology month so it’s back to Galava for a bit more consolidation, to preserve the site for future archaeologists and everyone else. This year the plan is to finish the consolidation of the Roman walls and upgrade the presentation of some previous work for a consistent look to the site. 

The site before work.

And the bit to be grassed over.

First remove the turf…

Then clear the soil away…

A Find!

Using the soil and turf to improve the presentation of some earlier consolidation.

A wall ready for consolidation.

Stone and lime mortar are introduced to the wall to preserve the roman work for the future.

A nice bit of consolidation.

All Done (for this year)

Ray Gregory
Windermere & Troutbeck