17 October 2014

20 tons of stone and plastic carrots

It’s often striking how varied a National Trust ranger’s job can be. For proof of this you need look no further than some of the entries on this blog that cover subjects as diverse as working with volunteers on mountain paths (3rd October) to spending a few days in Manchester city centre (8th August), building storage compounds for tender boats on Windermere (25th July) to researching mysterious natural phenomena (27th June).

A recent couple of days spent editing video footage highlighted this too. Back in May I filmed a great (if noisy) day working with Littledale Hall therapeutic community moving 20 tons of stone 400 metres uphill as part of the Claife Station project, but hadn’t had the chance since then to put it together into a short film.

However, a few weeks ago I was given the chance to film the opening of the new ‘Peter Rabbit adventure’ rooms at Wray Castle. Being new it was much more important to get this film completed as quick as possible, so I set aside a few days to do so and at the same time managed to complete the Claife Station one. Very pleasing!

You can see both of the films here:

Watching them back was what got me thinking not just about the variety of a ranger’s role, but of the amazing contrast between the different people the National Trust can be involved with. These two groups couldn’t have been less like each other; adults taking back control of their lives after struggling with substance abuse problems and primary school children excited to be entering the world of their Cbeebies heroes. Despite their differences it was brilliant to see how much they both got out of their days with us. Try as I might I can think of few organisations that can boast this broad a spread of appeal – makes you proud to be a ranger!

If you fancy checking out both Claife station and Wray Castle then they’re handily at either end of a lovely lakeshore walk. To refer back to the blog again, the entry from 30th May has a description of this. Do bear in mind though that from 2nd November the castle is only open Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

By Rob Clarke, Basecamp community ranger

10 October 2014

Story of a Shed


Perhaps you have unexpectedly seen a shed somewhere in the Lake District fells?
This blog, from the South Lakes Upland Ranger team, explains why you might see one and outlines the story so far of one such shed.

As an Upland Ranger team we spend much of the year up in the fells working on footpaths to protect them from erosion as part of Fix the Fells. This can mean working on the same path for several months in all weathers and some shelter and storage space comes in very handy.
A shed has become the shelter of choice for this upland footpath team.

This year we have had a shed on the Red Tarn to Crinkle Crags footpath, a joint project with the West Lakes Upland Ranger team. It is fair to say that this shed has been around the block a bit having been previously used in a few locations. It started out life lower down on this path and before returning has been to other locations including Pike o' Blisco and Crinkle Crags.


(Fred the) Shed in an earlier location: on Pike o' Blisco
The sheds we use are (usually) moved between sites by helicopter.  The shed is flat packed and flown to location at the same time as rock for the year's projects is moved.
This year it didn't go smoothly and due to weather conditions and priorities we didn't actually get a shed in place during the main helicopter lifts. However a few months into the project a helicopter was in the area for another job and we jumped at the chance to finally get it moved.
"The Shed has Landed"
(Not a bad backdrop too !)
Once the shed was in place the next job was to re-assemble it. There were some concerns that this shed had seen better days and may be partly rotten having spent three years on Crinkle Crags since its last use. We also had some fun trying to find suitable bolts and screws to fix it together and selecting the correct size nuts for the bolts!
Construction in progress.
Weather holding up nicely.

Finishing touches, tethering the shed down.
Weather has taken a turn for the worse.
We needn't have worried about the condition of the shed and it went together nicely.
The weather was also kind to us and held out for almost all of the construction process.

"Bijou": First lunch inside
The shed was built in time for a three day party on this project with the Fix the Fells volunteer lengthsmen.  It proved worthwhile too as we had some poor weather, consistent with our previous work parties. Some volunteers however seemed reluctant to use it as it would have been difficult to fit everyone in and instead sheltered in front of it.

Some volunteers were too polite to use the shed at lunch time

"Supervisor" Hamish was less reluctant to use the shed
We have almost finished work for this year on the the Red Tarn to Crinkle Crags path and very soon it will be time to take the shed down and flat pack it. We have more work on this project next year and plan to construct it again next spring.
Perhaps this shed will makes its home in a new location in 2016 or will it be time to retire it from active service..... ?

If you would like to know more about the daily work of the South Lakes Upland Ranger team they can be found on Twitter @NTLakesFells.

Posted by: Nick, Upland Ranger

3 October 2014

Holiday in the Hills

This week the blog comes from the South Lakes Upland Ranger team.
A Holiday in the Hills probably sounds like a lovely idea, however it is worth noting that this holiday involved 5 days of Upland Footpath work. (Perhaps not everyone's idea of lovely.)
The first working day was a Sunday, the participants having arrived the day before and settled into the bunkhouse at High Wray.  As an introduction to footpath work we took the group on a "drain run". This involves checking an existing footpath route emptying the drains and clearing loose stone from any "stone pitched" sections of path.
The group, including one from Australia and one from Belgium, got stuck into this task and did a thorough job. Unfortunately it was quite a harsh introdution as the weather was not kind with wind and icy rain throughout the day. Although it was a good time to see how the drainage was working.

Grim introduction: A drain run on a cold wet & windy day
After a grim first day we wondered if everyone would return on the Monday as very occasionally participants make an early exit. We needn't have worried as everyone was back bright and early to meet us at the Three Shires Stone on the Wrynose Pass. The group also brought with them much nicer weather.
Early morning warm up by the Three Shires Stone
(Much nicer weather too)
The work for the next two days was on one of the team's main projects for the year, the footpath from Red Tarn to Crinkle Crags.  The group worked on a part where people were spreading out and a widening erosion scar was developing. The plan was to use landscaping techniques to remove any side routes and create a tighter more manageable path line.

Before: Path widening and erosion scar developing 
The landscaping approach used is sometime referred to as "hump & hollow". It involves stripping turf and re-shaping the ground next to the path into humps and hollows.  The idea is to make this area unattractive to walk on so that people don't want to spread out. Once we are happy that the shapes of the humps and hollows are fairly natural looking the turf that was stripped off is re-laid. In addition grass seed (specially mixed for the fells) is used on any bare patches so the landscaping will green over and blend into the fellside.

During: Group working to remove side routes

After: Section of "hump & hollow" landscaping complete  
After a well earned rest day it was a time for a change of scenery and also a change of task. The location was the Tongue Gill path, part of the very popular Coast to Coast route. The work was to build a section of stone path using large rocks that had been lifted to site by helicopter. This type of stone stepped path is known as "stone pitching".
The rock used has an interesting background as it came out of the ground lower down Tongue Gill during excavations for a  hydroelectric power scheme completed this year. The owner of the scheme generously donated the rock to Fix the Fells .

Group get cracking building "Stone Pitching" on the Tongue Gill path


Eight happy volunteers with their completed sections of Stone Pitching
It was a very enjoyable and productive working holiday with lots of good quality work completed !

The National Trust runs a range of Working Holidays all around the country.  An opportunity for like minded people to meet, have a holiday and carry out conservation work with experienced staff.  The costs are fairly modest and cover accommodation in a bunkhouse, food during the holiday and transport between the bunkhouse and work site.  More information on working holidays can be found using the following link: Working Holidays

If you would like to know more about the daily work of the South Lakes Upland Ranger team they can be found on Twitter @NTLakesFells.

Posted by: Nick, Upland Ranger

26 September 2014

A galling discovery


It was whilst saying goodbye to a volunteer group recently that one of the party produced an Oak leaf he’d found, with lots of mysterious round growths on the underside. We had to admit to not knowing what they were, so set out to investigate and found ourselves entering a mysterious and very alien world. The world of Galls.

No, not France, but the abnormal growths found on many plants usually caused by some sort of attack or penetration into the plant’s growing tissues, making it reorganise it’s cells. Galls can be caused by many different agents such as viruses, fungi, bacteria, insects and mites and there is a huge variety of them. They’re often very distinctive though so the causer can easily be identified by the gall.

A good example of the possible variety of the growths can be seen in two galls you may well be familiar with – the so called ‘Oak apple’ caused by a small wasp and the ‘Witches Broom’ seen on Birch trees and caused by a fungus.

Witches Broom - picture from Trees for Life.org
Generally, these growths aren’t just caused for aesthetic reasons, but may provide their inhabitants with food, shelter or protection from predators. It’s often a parasitic relationship, causing harm to the host plant but this isn’t necessarily so. Sometimes it gets very complex too, which is what we found when investigating the aforementioned Oak leaf.

A load of old Galls - the Oak leaf with it's occupants
 The wasp causing the Oak Apple gall was just one of many different species of ‘Cynipid’ wasp –  all causing different types of gall in Oak trees and our leaf was another one of them. If you must know, the wasp in question this time is Neuroterus quercusbaccurum. I feel confident in saying there’s probably not a common name for the wasp, but the flat disc galls produced this time is a common Spangle gall.

Alien worlds! a close up on some of the Galls
However, these flat discs are just part of the story. They contain the developing eggs of the wasp and in autumn will drop to the forest floor where the grubs will develop over winter under the cover of fallen Oak leaves. In Spring an all female generation of ‘agamic’ wasps emerges (meaning they can reproduce without mating) and lays their eggs in oak buds. These in turn produce an entirely different ‘currant’ gall in catkins and leaves, with male and female wasps emerging in June. These mate and fresh eggs are laid on the undersides of leaves, developing into more Spangle galls.

It goes to show that few things in nature are as simple as they first appear and even a pile of fallen leaves can have a lot more to it than meets the eye ….

By Rob Clarke, High Wray Basecamp volunteer centre

12 September 2014

Trolls and creatures from the Black Lagoon

One of the best things about being an NT ranger is that we get to hidden places around the Lakes.  

Coldwell Quarry is such a place, hidden in the woods near Outgate its a SSSI important for the exposed geological features in the quarried cliffs. 
Unfortunately sometime in the past the quarry was not so secret and it had been used to dump waste fencing materials and other rubbish so it was up to us to clear it out, we didn't realise we would encounter a prehistoric creature in the process!

 
 
Volunteer John standing next to the dumped waste
 using a pallat to stop sinking into the sludge.

And what of the prehistoric monster??  I won't be cheeky about John, (without help from volunteers we would struggle to complete so much work).
 
On day 2 of the job we found this Southern Hawker dragonfly newly emerged on our pallat (you can see the shed larval skin called an exuvia next to the insect).  Dragonflies have flown the earth for 300 million years, some fossils have a wingspan of 70cm!
We were able to watch the dragonfly take it's first flight into the surrounding woodland after about 20mins where it will feed and mature before returning to the quarry to breed. 
 
 
 Teneral Southern Hawker

Removing the rubbish and cutting back overhanging vegetation should improve the habitat, let more light in and make the geology easier to see if you can find the quarry!
 
Rubbish removed and cutting back completed.

Everyone knows that trolls live under bridges but not everyone knows about the old bridge over Blelham beck near the campsite at Low Wray, I didn't until I was asked to clear some trees growing on the bridge.  They had to be removed as their roots were damaging the structure.
 
 
There's a bridge in there somewhere!

Once again with help from volunteers we were able to clear the trees and ivy and find the old bridge.  The bridge is Grade 2 listed  and dates from the late 19th century when it's thought it was re-modelled as part of changes made to Low Wray farm by the Dawsons who owned Wray castle and it's estate.

More trees removed.

The bridge emerging from the woods.
 
All bridges have trolls its just a matter of finding them!  After a couple of hours of graft our troll emerged from his leafy hiding place and stands ready to scare anyone who dares to cross his bridge!

 Wray the troll uncovered.

Richard Tanner
Woodland Ranger

29 August 2014

Salmon songs

Inspired by gardener Pete’s themed musical offerings on the Hill Top blog, the South Lakes rangers have spent an unhealthy amount of time discussing ranger-themed music, and we’ve come up with some pretty good (and eclectic) Lake District playlists for our journeys in the truck – from Ain’t No Mountain High Enough by Diana Ross to Into the Valley by The Skids, and from Travis’ Why Does It Always Rain On Me? to Bob Marley’s Hammer (the perfect accompaniment to a fencing job).  


I've been on my usual hobby horse, scouring my music collection for songs that reflect ecology as well as landscape, and sadly, haven’t found much.  Strangely, the only two I came up with are about the same species: salmon.   


                                                                      Atlantic salmon - image wikipedia

Neil Young’s Will to Love and The Chemical Brothers’ Salmon Dance couldn’t be more different in terms of style; the former was recorded on acoustic guitar on a tape deck  in front of an open fire, while the latter is a techno/hip-hop mash up (and features the odd bit of typically hip-hop language, so please be aware that it may not be suitable for work, children or sensitive ears if you choose to search for it).  They’re similar, though, in that they’re both bizarre pieces of music in which the salmon has a voice – Neil Young sings verses from the salmon’s imagined perspective through an underwatery vocoder effect, and ‘Sammy the Salmon’ provides guest vocals for The Chemical Brothers. 

                                           Will to Love by Neil Young on Youtube - external link

So, what is it about salmon that inspired these major musicians to write about them?  Well, as the songs show, they’re pretty incredible fish.  Sammy the Salmon tells his rapper friend that ‘all my peeps spend part of their life in fresh water, and part of their life in salt water;’ they have an intricate and awe-inspiring life-cycle, spending anything from one to eight years as juveniles (or ‘parr’ ) in the rivers where they're born – such as the Crake and Leven locally, and the becks above Coniston Water and Windermere.   (On a slight tangent, it's been suggested that symptoms of loneliness have been observed in salmon parr, giving a whole new dimension to Will to Love, which as well as featuring the thoughts of a salmon, develops into Young's meditations on love and relationships and finally seems to consolidate the two in a surreal last verse as the salmon looks for a companion with whom to 'sway together, our tails together, and our fins and minds.'  Maybe it's best to just listen to it.)

When salmon mature they head out to sea, changing their physiology in the estuary to cope with seawater and to become better camouflaged for the ocean, and spend a few years in the seas around Greenland.  Finally, they head back to the river of their birth – their ‘natal river’ – using senses beyond our comprehension.  Sammy says: ‘Most of our friends find their home waters by sense of smell, which is even more keen than that of a dog or a bear.  My family also rely on ocean currents, tides, and the gravitational pull of the moon.’  

               
                                    Atlantic salmon heading back upriver. Image - animalspot.net                                         


Neil Young takes over the story with his much more poetic imagining of the salmon’s thoughts:

When the water grew less deep
My fins were aching
from the strain
I'm swimming in my sleep
I know I can't go back again.

They re-adapt to freshwater and struggle upstream to lay their eggs before most die, although some will complete two of these huge cycles.  As Young observes ( And now my fins are in the air, and my belly's scraping on the rocks / And I'll keep swimming till I stop), the huge fish (up to 75cm long) swim literally as far as they can upstream in to tiny becks, before laying their eggs in gravel beds.  It’s during this epic journey that salmon perform their famous ‘leaps’ up waterfalls, powering out of the water over and over again in their attempts to get up to their spawning grounds.

                              Atlantic salmon leaping a waterfall.  Image - atlanticsalmontrust.org

The past few decades have seen huge declines in salmon and their fellow migrant, the sea-trout, due to overfishing at sea, and pollution and changes in river management inland.  In the south Lakes, the National Trust works in partnership with organisations that are doing great work to improve catchments for migrating fish and other wildlife.  The South Cumbria Rivers Trust and the Coniston and Crake Catchment Partnership promote land management practices that reduce pollution in our local becks, lakes and rivers, and carry out practical work to ‘de-canalise’ waterways that have been straightened and homogenised in the past, in order to allow the development of gravel beds and other natural niches for salmon and all sorts of aquatic life to use. 

Weirs and dams have also blocked some migration routes so fish passes are now a common sight on the region’s rivers, allowing salmon and sea trout to bypass the man-made blockages and access their home waters.  Adult salmon undertake their epic migration back to their spawning grounds in the autumn, so if you head to the region’s low waterfalls on the right becks, you might be lucky enough to see salmon on the last leg of their huge journey – you’ll have to do a bit of research and get off the beaten track to pick the right spot!

For a better chance of spotting them, fish passes on the River Kent in Staveley and near Sizergh are hot spots for salmon viewing.  Don’t forget to put some Neil Young or Chemical Brothers on the stereo to learn even more about these amazing fish – you might even find yourself doing the salmon dance…

If you’d like to know more about Lake Windermere and especially the history and ecology of the Claife woodlands, why not join ranger Paul on one of his guided walks as part of the Great British Walk festival? Meet at Ferry House (where the ferry docks) at 2pm on Sunday 14 September, Friday 26 September, Sunday 12 October, or Friday 17 October.

8 August 2014

Peppa Pig and 'Dig the City'!

This week the South Lakes Rangers were sent to Dig the City......sounds dramatic doesn't it?  Almost sounds a little dangerous too.  I mean, lets  be honest it's not very often we're let loose beyond Wray Castle.  So to let 6 Rangers loose in the City Centre of Manchester, armed with nothing more than some enthusiasm, kite kits, a bit of moss and armfuls of '50 things to do' booklets....Could be either a stroke of genius or a potential front page of The Westmorland Gazette!

Rangers love to dig.......
The good news is we've done it all before, the Lead Ranger offered ice cream to keep us going throughout the day and Peppa Pig was once more going to be around.  What more could we need?!

Sarah gave Peppa Pig a kite last year


But what actually is Dig the City?  Their website tells us it's 'nine days of gardens galore, pop up picnics, and masses to do and dig for kids', in short Manchester's urban gardening festival!  For us at the National Trust it's a great opportunity to get out of where we know, to share what we know.   For us Lake District Rangers it's certainly a little bit different to what we're used to!

National Trust stand, busy busy!
Focusing mainly on our '50 Things To Do Before You're 11 3/4' we gave kids the opportunity to make mud pies, make and fly a kite, walk barefoot, play a grass trumpet and create a home for some bugs.  With Peppa Pig being around there were plenty of eager little people and we were all kept busy throughout the day.  So much so we ran out of kite kits, the material for bug houses was running low and ice cream wasn't purchased (plenty of coffee however!).  Luke didn't seem to mind as he was having lots of fun making mud pies!

Mud pie fun!
Never fear however there was one thing that was not forgotten, with a wee nod from security, Sarah once more headed off to meet Peppa Pig, hurrah!  Last year was kites, this year Peppa got a bug house, seems she slowly but surely ticking off the 50 things herself!

PEPPA
Now although the South Lakes staff have done there turn, never fear there is still time left to Dig the City, and there is definitely plenty to see.  If you've got kids there will still be 50 things activities on the Trust stand over the weekend and is a great place to start your day.  Meanwhile we're safe back in the Lakes, the Westmorland Gazette weren't called and we're well and truly back to digging what we know and where we know it!

South Lakes staff digging it! 

Back to what we're used to...!
By Sarah
Follow us on twitter @ntlakesfells and @ntsouthlakes

Ps Thanks to the Wooly Rug Company for donating some materials!


Nine days of gardens galore, pop-up picnics and masses to do and dig for kids – join us for Manchester’s urban gardening festival. - See more at: http://www.digthecity.co.uk/about/#sthash.tSwGccLg.dpuf
 

25 July 2014

Improving the lakeshore



If you have been down to the lakeshore recently, you may have been wondering why there have been rangers scratching their heads, diggers digging and fences being erected. The reason for this new development has been baffling many passers-by.

The first stages of development, what a great spot to have the office for a few days!
 As the days go by, more and more features keep appearing, such as hedge banks, gravel road ways and fencing.


Even the cows are interested in the new development!

This development is the result of a partnership project between the National Trust and Windermere Reflections. Up and down the lakeshore are many small tender boats. These are used by those lucky few with moorings on the lake bed and are their means of transport out to these beautiful boats on the lake. These are currently chained and tied up to trees, roots and whatever else, scattered along the whole of the West Shore from Ash Landing through to Strawberry Gardens.

The tenders being stored on the lakeshore.
Whilst these tenders do not do harm in themselves, owners edging steadily down steep wooded banks often found it rather precarious to do so. There is also the erosion caused to the sensitive lake shore, through the physical erosion of boats being dragged across young unestablished vegetation and the reed beds which are a fast disappearing habitat.

Since the 19th century, there has been a rapid decline in the number of reedbeds along the shores of Windermere. Reedbeds are a succession of young reeds which colonise open water. As the reedbed ages, the successive layers of vegetation build up the water level gradually turning it into increasingly drier ground. This allows scrub and woodland to develop.

Reedbeds reduce the erosion of the lakeshore banks by absorbing the impact of waves from passing boats and high winds, giving the vegetation on the lake shore some protection. Reedbeds are important places for invertebrates and bird species, with those in Windermere being particularly important for overwintering birds and breeding birds in the spring and summer. These have been all but lost along the Harrowslack lakeshore. 


Works in progress.
This decline has not just been caused by people hauling their tenders through the reeds into the lake of course. These are also caused by bow waves from boats, grazing by geese, ducks, farm animals and changing nutrient levels in the water.

So the plan is to place all of these tender boats into 3 compounds spread equally along the lakeshore. This will give the lakeshore vegetation chance to get re-established, make access to the boats safer and hopefully improve the visual look along the length of the lakeshore. Once the hedgerows have established and the compounds weather a bit, it will look great.

Of course, it will take more than just moving the tenders into one place to allow the reedbeds to re-establish. Windermere Reflections have started by mapping the existing reedbeds along the lake shore and will in the future, along with South Cumbria Rivers Trust, look at ways to artificially propagate and reseed the reedbeds to give them the best chance to establish as well as educating boat users about the best places to land their boats. Check out the Windermere Reflections website for more information about this and their other projects: http://www.windermere-reflections.org.uk/


Hedges will be planted into these raised banks to screen off the boats.
 Pop down and watch our progress. Constructing the tender storage is just another way of improving our lake shore. We hope to have the first compound built by the end of August and in use by the beginning of next year.