Friday, 26 June 2015

The Triple Threat to Millerground.

Notional Trust land at Millerground is a very special place to so many; it is one of the few public access points to Windermere's eastern shore and a popular lakeside walk... but it is under ever increasing threat from... invasive plants.

Wynlass Beck flows through Millerground and then into Windermere. Unfortunately, just a short distance upstream there is a large area of disused land, surrounding Wynlass Beck, where non native invasive plants have been allowed to run riot. 

The sheer number and density of invasive plants on this land is overwhelming. Immense stands of Japanese Knotweed and Himalayan Balsam predominate; it is appalling. The images above and below do not do justice to this; you really need to see it for yourself.

Invasive plants are adept at working their way downstream spreading into and colonising new areas with ruthless efficiency. Biodiversity is lost through the crowding out of native species and riverbanks are at great risk of being destabilised.

Millerground, being such a close neighbour, is highly vulnerable and susceptible to being overrun; to combat this, an intensive eradication programme is carried out each year.

Time and effort is needed to stop these rampant space invaders conquering Millerground.

(1) Himalayan Balsam. Each plant may produce upwards of 800 seeds or 30,000 seeds per square metre from a dense stand! Many of these seeds are carried downstream and this is how Himalayan Balsam is able to spread so rapidly particularly alongside watercourses.

(2) Japanese Knotweed. The hardest invasive plant of all to eradicate as it develops a gigantic, incredibly extensive root system deep in the ground; It reproduces vegetatively; if even small pieces of its root system or rhizomes are able to find their way downstream* new stands will quickly become established. *This is likely to occur during floods or heavy rainfall when river banks erode allowing chunks of rhizomes or plant material to break free. Despite knotweed's extensive network of rhizomes... roots that can offers little in the way of erosion control.

Images from last July upstream from Millerground show the encroachment of Himalayan Balsam and Japanese Knotweed, overhanging and almost obscuring Wynlass Beck.

Horrendous! A tragic loss of biodiversity along this stretch of Wynlass Beck...overrun by Himalayan Balsam and Japanese Knotweed.

(3) Skunk Cabbage is a comparatively new invasive on this watercourse but if left can soon spread very quickly. When  Skunk Cabbage is found at Millerground it is sprayed.

Invasive plant species proliferate in several areas along Wynlass Beck. Millerground, being the furthest point downstream, tends to receive the brunt of the seeds washed down in Autumn.

This is how bad it can get when invasives are left to spread unchecked. Wynlass Beck on its approach to Millerground....The river banks are eroding badly here.

 A huge area has been taken over by these 'invasives'. They outcompete native species with the greatest of ease which is a worry because Millerground is an important site for the nationally scarce Touch-Me-Not Balsam... Reintroduced in 2009 after many years absence.  

(Most of the Images above were taken at 6pm. June 26th 2015. Sorry about the image quality. Only had a cheap camera phone with me!

Not only is Japanese Knotweed a huge threat to our native species and has a devastating effect on riparian eco is able to spread at more than a metre a can be a nightmare for home owners and developers. It causes immense damage to drains and other buried services, boundary/retaining walls, paths, driveways, gardens and of course property. ...NOT A PLANT THAT SHOULD BE IGNORED OR UNDERESTIMATED... Wouldn't you agree!? 

£70 million!! This was the Royal Horticultural Society estimate for the cost of removing and disposing of Japanese Knotweed during preparation work for the Olympic Park, East London. Just from one ten acre site.....What would it cost to eradicate it from the UK!?

A stand of Touch-me-not balsam, a quarter of a mile from Millerground  (not on Trust land) is under threat from Japanese Knotweed. (shovel shaped leaves.) the Touch-me-not stand used to be far larger but has over time been shaded out by the Knotweed. 
The private landlord once he was made aware of the rarity of Touch-me-not is keen to start the eradication process of knotweed in the Autumn....very encouraging news!

Himalayan balsam flower.
Touch-Me-Not balsam flower.
Himalayan Balsam leaf, more elliptical in shape...
...than Touch-Me-Not leaf which is more rounded with less serrations.
Himalayan Balsam encroaching on Touch-Me-Not stand. Pulled out shortly after.
A Touch-Me-Not stand free of Himalayan Balsam at Millerground after eradication work.

Monday, 15 June 2015

The Netted Carpet Moth and the BBC at St. Catherine's.

The BBC Natural History Unit plan to film and tell the story of the rare netted carpet moth and its reliance on touch-me-not balsam, a 'nationally scarce' annual plant.

The Lake District is a stronghold for the moth and the balsam, albeit at just a few sites.

The BBC have chosen one such site at National Trust St. Catherine's to do some filming.

The moth is on the wing in July and August. Females lay eggs singly on the balsam.
Netted carpet moth
(Eustroma reticulatum)

The yellow flowers are followed by pods that burst with explosive force when ripe...scattering seeds far and wide!
Touch-me-not balsam
( Impatiens noli-tangere)

Conservation work at St. Catherine's, East Windermere, has resulted in many touch-me-not balsam plants growing annually in the wooded area just south of the Footprint building; there has been a corresponding increase in the annual moth populations.

Emma, the BBC producer and Tom, the cameraman, are setting up the camera on a post for time lapse photography of the balsam plants. (Thursday evening, 11th June).

The camera in action.

An image of the balsam taken from The Footprint. (June 12th)

The balsam, The Footprint and the camera post seen from the wooded side. The dappled shade that the balsam thrives on is apparent in this image. The Footprint by contrast is in the full glare of the sun! (June 12th)

The Footprint seen from a point further back in the wooded area.

To give a measure of protection to the touch-me-not-balsam, James, N.T  Area Ranger, is erecting a rope barrier.

The netted carpet moth. (Late July) on the loo wall
at St.Catherine's!

The caterpillar, the flower and seed pod. By October the caterpillars will have pupated, emerging as  moths in  July.
The image above was taken in late August just six metres from the  Footprint steps!

Other posts relating to the netted carpet moth and touch-me-not balsam are on this blog site.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Images from the National Trust Grasmere Gallop 2015.

Helm Crag overlooking Grasmere sports field
where the annual Grasmere Gallop event is held.
Susie and Lizzie warming up before the run.
 Iain Gray, (National Trust, Western Lakes) piping the competitors to the start.
Ready for the off!
And they are under starter's orders from
Dave Almond, Event Organiser.
 (National Trust Central and East Lakes). 
N.T Drinks Marshals at Station D.
Part of the 10k course around Rydal Water.

Not far to go now.
Approaching the finish.
Made it!
Robin, 17k competitor, with his 'Runner's Medal'.
A well supported event. Here's to the next one
....4th June 2016....

Thursday, 4 June 2015

The National Trust Ranger Academy

National Trust Ranger Academy
My name is Pete and I work as an academy ranger for the Trust in the Lake District. The academy scheme provides training, both theoretical and practical, to those with passion but without the background skills or knowledge. Myself and Bruna – an academy ranger based in Snowdonia – have recently spent a week at Blakeney Point in North Norfolk to help the team monitor a variety of sea birds and learn from them.
The A-team: from left Josh, Paul, Sarah, Bruna, Pete and Ajay

The ability to work between sites is one of the key strengths of the academy programme. Sharing best practice not only saves the time of wheels being reinvented, but is also a great way to be re-inspired and share time with like-minded people. Preserving areas for the next generation is not always an easy task, especially when it can mean change for the current generation, and the challenges that this change brings. However, we share the belief that conservation is worthwhile. We have been gifted with a glorious planet and so of course we want to share it with others – a little compassion goes a long way.

The ability to engage, educate and inspire is just as important as practical skills, as we need future supporters, members and volunteers to continue our work indefinitely. It turns out meeting our core target of “for ever, for everyone” is quite a task! Education and engagement can prevent misunderstandings occurring. For example, the site of a tree being cut down can easily evoke mental images of mass deforestation. But with vast timber imports from Europe and further afield a sustainable wood industry is vital to stop deforestation elsewhere, especially in countries with less stringent controls. Conservation is a truly global concern and so it is important not to become too fixated on making our grass green if that comes at the expense of the metaphorical grass elsewhere. Wood is often a bi-product of our core woodland aims of habitat management, visitor safety and access. Having a varied age structure, different light levels and allowing some trees to reach maturity of a large girth (providing nesting holes/deadwood habitat) are important for a valuable habitat, and as such some trees are removed.

Good communication is key. With such a large organisation this can occasionally be difficult but staff and volunteers are committed to sharing our passion, knowledge and expertise. Here at Blakeney, coastal ranger Ajay Tegala and the team do a fantastic job, speaking to almost every visitor to the point. This not only helps to educate and inspire the visitors but enables the rangers to point out safety concerns and help protect the vulnerable ground-nesting birds and fragile sand dune, salt marsh and shingle habitats. String fencing and signage deters boats from mooring in the tern colony (sandwich, common, little and arctic) and near other ground-nesting birds.

Our time at Blakeney 
We were extremely lucky to be greeted on our very first evening by a friendly visiting Bluethroat (Luscinia svecia).The Bluethroat was once a regular migrant to Blakeney Point, sometimes in numbers up to 25, but declined in the 60's and by the 80's were rare visitors. There is now just one Bluethroat spotted almost annually, and rarely two, so this was a great site to see. Another interesting sighting during beach patrols and nest surveys was several Garden Tiger (Arctia caja) and Brown Tail (Euproctis chrysorrhoea) moth caterpillars.
Bruna looking out for the Bluethroat
Bluethroat (Luscinia svecia), a rare migrant

Brown hare (Lepus europaeus), fairly common on the Point
Caterpillar of the Brown-tail moth (Euproctis chrysorrhoea)
Birds-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), one of many Spring flowers brightening up the dunes
Pied wagtail (Motacilla alba) chicks using one of the nest boxes - they have since fledged

The only access to Blakeney Point is by the seal boats (externally run boat tours) or via a three-mile shingle walk from Cley beach – suffice to say, the ridge between the boat landing and the Lifeboat house (pictured at top of blog) is the busiest part of the Point! This also happens to be where several Oystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus) choose to “nest”. I use the inverted comma's because their idea of a nest is simply laying eggs on the floor into a small scrape in sand, grass or shingle. They lay one egg a day to a total of four – however, females will sometimes share nests, hence the five eggs we found in one nest! This means they can share incubating duties and have extra defence against gulls (particularly common and herring) and other predators. In order to protect the eggs from accidental damage, and minimise stress to the female, we erected temporary fences around each new nest.

Bruna enjoys spotting her first (of many) Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) nest

A rare five-egg osytercatcher nest, the result of two females sharing a nest

On Wednesday we were joined by two ecology consultants from ECON to survey the local fish population in relation to the food supply for little terns (Sternula albifrons) and sandwich terns (Thalasseus sandvicensis). We used a 50m net in Pinchen's creek, using smaller nets and buckets to remove the fish and crabs, take measurements and then return them to the water. Species found included Bass, Herring, Lesser and Greater sand eels, Flounder, Crangon and plenty of crabs. The plan is to return to survey at different tide levels and build more robust figures.

Pulling the net across to sample the local fish population
Measuring the fish before returning them swiftly to the water

Over at Blakeney Freshes, ranger George took us out to monitor a variety of nesting birds. George was himself an academy ranger at Blakeney before securing his permanent role. There were a few Oystercatchers and lapwing still on nests but the avocets and a pair of lapwing already had chicks, who seemed to be doing well. Large drainage channels and sluices were dug out last year with the help of the RSPB to help regulate water on the freshes, and new scrapes dug out by digger with small islands. The avocets in particular took well to this improved habitat. The spot of the day was a pair of little ringed plovers with three chicks in tow, with a third adult being chased away by the pair. This may mean there is a second breeding pair – fantastic news for this schedule one species, which has just 1,200-1,300 nesting pairs in the UK.
Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) male on grassland Norfolk, England
The stunning Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus), which has had breeding successes on Blakeney Freshes
We both had a fantastic time and have learnt a huge amount - not least how to live for a week without running water or mains power - some of which we will be able to take back to our properties and use again in the future. Ten academy ranger positions are advertised near to the start of each year across England, Wales and Northern Ireland - please visit National Trust jobs for this and more. 

To read more about the work of the National Trust at Blakeney Point and across the North Norfolk coast please visit their blog at