28 August 2015

Give peas a chance ..... Growing ambition at High Wray Basecamp

Here at High Wray Basecamp our mission is to help as many different people as we can to engage with and care for the beautiful South Lakes countryside. We welcome people from all walks of life to stay, and many of them join us in carrying out the vital conservation work that keeps the landscape looking the way it does. We feel that we’re in a pretty good position then, with our wide (and somewhat captive!) audience, to help spread the word about issues affecting the countryside and the wider environment.

With this in mind, towards the end of last year, we started thinking about a Basecamp garden.  It was an idea that had been in gestation for a while, and a previous half-hearted attempt had at least gone some way to addressing the issue of what to do with food waste. But the ‘dalek’ style composters and the overgrown, fenced-off area they inhabited was unsightly and inefficient. We needed something more in keeping with the environs, and the Basecamp ethos.

So plans were drawn up for a garden area that would have multi-functional purposes. First of all it would have a properly constructed and positioned composting area, to deal effectively with food waste generated on site, and to provide compost for our vegetable beds, in which would be grown crops for the benefit of people staying at Basecamp. There would be a small herb garden, again for the use of Basecamp residents. Then there would be a wilder area planted with native wildflowers and flowering shrubs beneficial for pollinators such as bees and butterflies. A ‘bug hotel’ would also be installed to give local invertebrates a helping hand. We also decided to utilise water draining off one of the paths to create a boggy area, and to plant an apple tree, for both blossom in the spring and fruit in the autumn.  The whole area would need to be fenced to keep marauding ruminants at bay, and, true to the Basecamp philosophy, we’d put up an interpretation board to let people know what was going on. All this on little or no budget!

The old garden, with old 'Dalek' and 'Tombola' style composters
Volunteers from 'Mind' in Barrow getting to grips with removing the old fence posts

After returning from the Christmas and New Year break we set about turning these plans into reality. As Basecamp would be nothing without its volunteers, we enlisted the help of some of our regular groups to help us dismantle the old ‘garden’ and start constructing the new composters. We used wood and chicken wire salvaged from the timber yard at Boon Crag to make three adjacent units, large and airy enough to accommodate not just food waste, but grass clippings and some woody material, to provide a more balanced compost.

Volunteers from Littledale Hall Therapeutic Community building the new compost bins

The next stage was to build the raised beds. For these we used wood from NT trees, kindly donated by the forestry team. This was a laborious process, not least because the site was on a fairly significant slope which meant that the beds had to be dug in and levelled.  We were lucky to have lots of willing volunteers to help us with this, and with the arduous task of moving a few tons of leftover topsoil from Claife Station to fill them. Once the beds were done and the site was landscaped to allow for the natural slope (resulting in a rather pleasant ‘terraced’ effect we think), we could get on with the exciting task of actually planting stuff. This year we’ve been planting smaller amounts of veg as a kind of test run, but we still managed to plant some spuds, courgettes, spinach, broccoli, peas and beans. We’re using four, fairly large, separate vegetable beds so that we can rotate the crops and minimise the chances of disease taking hold, and we selected varieties that we reckon are going to be hardy enough to withstand the sometimes harsh Basecamp climate.

The garden completed, but looking a bit bare
We then  sowed our wildflower ‘meadow’ with seeds kindly donated by organisations such as the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and Butterfly Conservation, who do sterling work in addressing the issues faced by these vital pollinators, such as drastic reductions in recent decades of proper meadows. In the middle we planted our showpiece apple tree, a hardy dwarf variety carefully selected for us by the head gardener at neighbouring property Sizergh Castle. We also included some gooseberry bushes gifted by gardener Pete from Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top.

The nascent herb garden

In opposite corners we built the herb garden and the boggy area. The first of these was raised at an angle as a rockery, to take maximum advantage of the sun and to provide as much drainage as possible. In it were planted herbs which could be used by visiting groups in their cooking, such as thyme, rosemary, and sage. It’s a happy coincidence too, that most of the plants in this area are also great for pollinating insects. The boggy area is fed by a drain which collects water off one of the paths, meaning that in the wet Lakeland climate it is continually replenished, and hopefully in due course will provide some good habitat for water-loving creatures such as frogs.
All that was left then was to gravel the paths around the garden, secure the perimeter fence to keep out the deer and stray sheep which occasionally find themselves in the Basecamp grounds, and construct the bug hotel. This was made from old pallets and materials found around the place, and topped with a ‘green’ roof planted with low growing sedum, to blend in with its surroundings and provide further food sources for invertebrates.

Much greener! The wild flower area on the left with apple tree and raised beds on the right

It’s still early days, the garden’s only really been finished a couple of months, and there’s an interpretation board yet to go in to explain everything, but we’re really happy with the results so far, particularly as we had a very slow start to summer up here.  We harvested the potatoes just last week and most of the other veg is coming along as well. We hope to have more next year, but it’s looking like there should at least be plenty of spinach and hopefully even runner beans for our residents (and maybe even ourselves!)  this year. There’s also quite a few wildflowers emerging, in amongst the inevitable weeds that were lying dormant in the soil (Perhaps an autumn weeding job for one of our groups!) 

First of many? this years small potato harvest

Massive thanks then, to all the volunteers and people who donated their time and resources to help us make the Basecamp garden dream a reality. We genuinely couldn’t have done it without you. As the garden matures and develops over time, we hope that it will provide a haven for wildlife, and all the Basecamp visitors, for many years to come.

By Matt Tweed, Basecamp assistant ranger

14 August 2015

Spectrums of light.

Whilst out on the fells in all conditions we are sometimes privileged with great spectacles in the sky. Often accompanying the various atmospheric cloud formations are halos.

Golden rings have appeared in the sky on a couple of occasions in the form of sun halos. Without being blinded we took pictures and researched what it was all about.

The golden ring.

A mix of chemistry, physics and geometry are the main components for sun halos. At high enough altitudes in the sky, the water vapour condenses and then freezes into ice crystals. The ice crystals responsible for halos are typically suspended in cirrus or cirrostratus clouds. As sunlight passes through the ice crystals, the geometry of the crystals cause the light to refract, similar to what happens when light passes through a prism.

This geometric size and shape causes light to undergo two refractions, or bends, as the light passes through the ice crystal. Once the second bend is made, the light appears as a halo in the sky. Light from the moon can also form halos.

Rings galore.

On another occasion whilst working on the fells, the team witnessed an even rarer phenomenon. Usually the halos are formed by one, simple uncomplicated ring. However a variety of halos can appear, caused by a corresponding variety of ice crystals. In the photo above you can see an additional ring starting to form.

Diagram of weather halo elements.

31 July 2015

Rogues, Raiders and Romans

The Lake District attracts some 15 million visitors each year and is one of the most visited areas in the UK.  Step back in time a little and and it might not have been the great place it is today to have a holiday.

When the Romans came here some 2000ish years ago, they soon discovered that the Lakes could be a harsh place to travel in.  Soldiers and workers that serviced Hadrians Wall often had to travel from Galava Fort, near Ambleside, to Fort Brougham at Penrith. They were so worried about ambushes and attacks from roaming raiders that they went to great lengths to build a road on top of the ridge of High Street. With the route being above the treeline, it was safer for the traveling Legions to spot trouble.
High Street (The cloud ridden,long ridge in the background)

Centuries after the Roman Empire crumbled, various settlers arrived in the area, such as the Celts and then the Vikings, but it's not known for sure whether they came in peacefully or took the land forcefully. The Lakes and Cumbria then saw a power struggle between the English and the Scots, with both parties regularly sending raiders over the border.  There were the Border Reivers, that would take cattle and livestock from across both sides of the border and sometimes they would even kidnap members from wealthy families and hold them to ransom.  With the Lakes being hard to police and the law almost impossible to enforce, locals had to protect their livelihoods by any means possible.

Here in the South Lakes in the early 1800's, one man who took full advantage of the remoteness and isolation of the rural communities was a fellow called Lanty (Lancelot) Slee.  A local farmer and quarryman by day, an illegal whisky distiller and smuggler by night.  He spent most of his time in Little Langdale and reportedly had Stills at Low Arnside, Hallgarth, Greenbank Farm, Moss Rigg Quarries and also one up at the Three Shires Stone, at the top of Wrynose Pass.  Apparently, if you know where to look, there's metal work from the Stills to be found at some of these places.
Hallgarth, Little Langdale

Most of the moonshine was sold to the locals but large amounts were bottled up and taken to the port of Ravenglass.  With the whisky sold, Slee would buy tobacco and illegally poached Salmon to take back to Little Langdale.  The goods were carried on ponies and whilst ascending along Wrynose and Hardknott Passes, he had to be very careful to avoid the traveling excisemen, with Slee often having to hide in the boulders up there until they passed.
 Boulder Fields on top of Wrynose

Again, staying here in the South Lakes, over at Claife Heights there was a house of ill-repute.  Market traders came from all round to sell their goods at Hawkshead and on the return journey, visit the house with their newly gained money.  If you walk through the woods and look carefully, you can still see the foundations of the house in the ground.
Interpretation of one of the workers (they weren't good looking but they were cheap)

With the onset of Industry in the Lakes, better travel links arrived and this in turn led to the first tourists coming to the area.  Since then, tourism is now the biggest source of income in the Lakes and it's not hard to see why people want to visit the area (now that it's a bit safer than it used to be).

24 July 2015

Hot Bedroom Action !

I’d like to share with you a video I took recently in my bedroom of some frenzied activity.
I live in a National Trust house ; like many Trust houses it is quite old and being in a rural area we inevitably share the house with ‘uninvited guests ‘  some welcome some less welcome . Slugs, spiders , ants,  wasps and  toads are all regular visitors.  During the night there are strange noises coming from inside the walls scratching, scuffling noises with the occasional loud  ‘boing’ . I re-assure myself that these are probably just mice in cavities in the wall , not sure about the ‘boing’ I imagine that they have a trampoline in there too !  

Probably the most welcome visitors arrive in late April / early May . It was 26 April this year when the House Martins arrived  on warm winds driven North from  Africa.
The nesting begins immediately both adults build cup shaped mud nests on the underside of the eaves where the roof overhangs the wall. Some re-use and rebuild old nests, others ( presumably the young from last year ! )  build new ones using the mud gathered from the edge of field ditches and pools. Most of the nests are on East and South  facing walls but not in direct sunlight as this dries the nest out and can lead to nest collapse and overheating of young  chicks in the nest.
There are generally 4 or 5 eggs in a nest and can be 2 sometimes 3 broods in a year. Both adults incubate the eggs and  feed the young on flying insects , flies , aphids and beetles . They are fast and agile flyers.

The attached video shows two of the young House Martins from  the second brood leaving the nest. It’s fascinating watching the adults luring their young out of the nest for the first time , some take flight straight away others hang for ages to the side of the nest before letting go.


The unusual nest in the video is one that I did a makeshift repair on last year. The nest collapsed and the young birds fell out , so I had to put a bit of rubber matting under the nest  to support it and then replace the two chicks. It seemed to work .

These birds will be around until late Sept , early Oct if it warms up,  then they will head South to Africa . Strangely no one seems to know where they spend the Winter .

Enjoy the sights and sounds of the young birds on their early flight . If you want to see more you can take a walk on the west shore of Windermere near the Car ferry, where you’ll see swallows and House Martins feeding  . Spend some time at Hill Top the home of Beatrix Potter in Near Sawrey and you are likely to see Swallows , House Martins and Swifts around the village at this time of year.