19 December 2014

The unwelcome guests ....

The sheer diversity of people that stay here demonstrates what a welcoming and inclusive place High Wray is. But sometimes we get a guest that we just wish hadn’t come in the first place and that we can’t wait to get out of the door.

Well, that doesn’t sound very ‘rangery’ does it? But when the guest in question is a bird that files in through our door and gets stuck in the kitchen we hope you’d agree with us. It doesn’t happen too often, but when it does we’re normally alerted by the tapping and flapping sound of the panicking bird desperately trying to batter it’s way out of our windows. This is upsetting for both the bird and us so we try to get it out as quickly as possible.  

Bird in hand

Most of the time we can leave the door open and slowly ‘herd’ the bird towards it, but this doesn’t always work so sometimes we need to capture it. It’s tricky, but there’s certain ways to do this that minimize the chance of harming the bird and once you have them (carefully) in your hand it’s surprising how calm they appear. 

A bird in the hand .... the Wren caught in the kitchen
Sometimes though this may be because they’re a bit dazed as with this Wren that we recently caught, which is why it’s just sat on a hand without flying off. We put this one down outside the door and it had gone 10 minutes later so we think it just needed to get it’s breath back.

The duck makes it's casual entry
It’s not just small birds though. On occasion a local duck has turned up and wandered proprietarily in for a quick look around, before exiting in its own good time. More dramatically, this summer one of our volunteer groups came in to the Acland block kitchen to find a Bullfinch hiding under the kitchen shelves, with a Sparrowhawk perched inside on the windowsill looking mighty peeved! They caught this one by throwing a towel over it and released it outside, where it flew off unharmed – certainly not something you want eyeing up your sausages in the kitchen ….

Volunteers flock in

Most of the time though, our guest are invited. Recently we played host to the Fix the Fells lengthsmen for their annual Xmas bash, an event we’ve been proud to hold here for the last five years now. Around 35 of these fantastic regular volunteers spent a couple of days working with us and the South Lakes upland path team, culminating in a Saturday night feast of fun …. and food, of course. This year the lengthsmen have once again broken all their own records on the amount of volunteering days they’ve contributed to Fix the Fells, so there was plenty to celebrate.

Very welcome guests! The lengthsmen's Xmas quiz in 'full flight'


We’re looking forward to next year now and welcoming many more guests through our doors. And while you can never be sure, we’re hopeful there won’t be any need to throw a towel over any of them!

By Rob Clarke, Basecamp Community Ranger

12 December 2014

Many hands make light work

On Saturday the 15th November 60 volunteers gathered for what's becoming the annual Monk Coniston garden bash.
Monk Coniston was the home of James Garth Marshall who created Tarn Hows, what's less well known is that he landscaped the grounds, created a network of footpaths and planted a collection of specimen trees.
Over the years the views have been lost and the specimen trees buried under more and more rhody - you can't see the (specimen) trees for the woods!

Before -rhody spilling down the bank

After - rhody cleared and burnt

Helen & John who manage the site for HF Holidays (NT tenants) gathered their volunteers and split them into 4 groups, each with a separate mission clearing paths, clearing the old Ha-ha, clearing views - each group did so much clearing that by dinner there were 4 large fires to burn the waste.



Regenerating sycamore was also removed

Another load for the Ha-ha bonfire

Stoking the 'car park' bonfire

Once the areas are cleared the rhody can be managed more easily and Helen's regular garden volunteers can keep on top of the bramble and other vegetation.

Rhody hiding the trees behind

 Views of the trees opened up

 John and Helen said "The formula absolutely works - everyone involved brought tons of enthusiasm and worked tirelessly during the day...... the level of gardening input was only matched by the volume of conversation at dinner in the evening!  The weekend is a fantastic blend of hard work and sociability"

The volunteers

I suspect that after the day's work that all the volunteers put in that they all slept really well no doubt helped by the fact that Barngates brewery donated a barrel a 'cracker' for the evening!

Richard Tanner
Woodland Ranger



5 December 2014

In the frame!

National Trust, Mickleden and the Pike o Stickle
The Langdale Valley looking over Mickleden.
The Pike 'o' Stickle is on the right. See point 2,3 and
4 below with regards to lighting, and composition
I consider myself to be quite fortunate at times with the amount of travelling I do when patrolling the South lakes. I get to see some of the most iconic views of this beautiful landscape from the gentle rolling fells on the western shore of Windermere and Claife, to the carved out valley of the Langdales where the pike 'o' stickle’s dome like obilisque can be seen rising out of the ground.

The other day I was stopped by a gentleman at Blea Tarn, after the initial startle of being approached from behind in one of the quietest spots in our portfolio he went on to ask me how to get to hard knot pass and Wasdale. I gave him his directions and inquired what his journey entailed? ‘photography’ he replied.

As you can imagine, the Lake District is a photography location for professionals and amateurs alike. However this gentleman went on to tell me stories of his past, and how he was hired by popular magazines and newspapers to ‘camp out’ in the wild and get some iconic and moody photos for publication -- A dream job for many. In contrast however, his career went in a different way and now some 20 years or so later he is looking to reinvigorate his interest in landscape photography.

National Trust Tarn Hows near Coniston
The stunning Tarn Hows, #NTtarnhows I used this
strip of bedrock to add foreground interest
to my photo. See point 4 below.
I too have a photography background, and like him I was studio trained using 35mm and medium format cameras. Back then, if you was planning a shoot of any kind your kitbag would have comprised of more than one camera, several lens’s and as much film you could carry (you only had 32 go’s at taking a picture back then kids).

Times have moved on, and now good quality digital cameras are affordable and in many cases come complete with your mobile phone. So what I would like to do is give you some basic observations on taking a memorable picture. I’ve included some of my own photos I have taken whilst on my journey, I don't by any means claim that they are perfect, but they should highlight some of the points I've outlined here. I have also provided links which go into more detail of what I describe here …. And yes, I am very lucky to live and work here.

Get off the track - Look at where you are, don’t take your photograph from the standard point of view on a footpath. If it’s safe, and OK to do so, move closer to your intended target, or maybe get higher, or lower to the ground for some depth.

Lighting - You’ll always get a better lit photograph when the sun is behind you, for more dramatic photography head out early, for what is called the ‘golden hour’, this is the first hour after sunrise, or before sunset. Maybe stay at one of our campsites, to make sure you can get up and out for the sunrise.

Composition - Remember the rule of thirds, in simple terms look at breaking your photograph into 3’s this gives you a much more balanced photo, and is more pleasing to the eye. Click here to learn more about this subject.

Break the rules - Landscape photos don’t need to be taken in a landscape format. Try breaking the rules a little, taking a photo of the fells in portrait gives you a sense of drama and scale. In the square, it gives you a much tighter shot. Most importantly, think about having foreground interest, such as a rock formation, or a dry stone wall maybe?

National Trust, View over Windermere from Claife
And finally, don’t rush! - I see so many people taking photos out of car windows, (The origin of this blog) or running from their car to a fence and back again. To truly say you’ve been there you need to absorb what’s around you, and really feel the connection. Sometimes, I like to keep some moments to myself and not take a picture at all.

I use an Iphone to take my photos, and I make use of the filters that are available. These vary from adding a vignette, increasing the saturation or the brightness and the contrast.

1 December 2014

The tale of 2 ranger's adventure to Wasdale...

You can't beat a good old adventure.  You know the kind, good friends, amazing scenery, hopefully some nice weather.  Well all of these aligned this weekend just in time for Rangers Clair and Sarah to have an adventure over to the National Trust campsite in Wasdale, a splendid wee spot!

Our destination!
Starting from the NT car park at Old Dungeon Ghyll we shouldered our packs and headed on our way.  It was looking to be a beautiful day so our plans included Great End, Scafell Pike and Lingmell before finally arriving at the campsite in Wasdale and our tipi for the night!

The adventure starts!  Heading along Mickledon
Coming off Great End towards Scafell Pike
Lingmell and the last of the sun
As you can tell we were really lucky with the weather, but even if it had been wet that wouldn't have been a problem as the tipi we stayed in was just plain awesome!  If you've not stayed in one before we would highly recommend it.  The one we used on the NT site in Wasdale was all we needed it to be, simple and spacious with a brilliant wood-burner that kicked out the heat.  As it says on their website all you need to bring is what you'd bring if you were camping normally, minus the tent!  More information can be found here.

Getting ready for another day on the fell.
With a toasty night in the tipi and everyone well rested and fueled up on porridge it was time to make our way back to Langdale.  With most of the high fells covered on our way over, we decided to take a more leisurely route home, taking in Sprinkling and Styhead Tarns, Seathwaite Fell and Rossett Pike.  Again the weather was glorious, something we took full advantage of!

Getting the legs going again
Enjoying the sun!

By the time we reached the our car down at Old Dungeon Ghyll our legs were weary and the night well and truly drawing in, but it had been a fabulous adventure and I would encourage anyone with a spare few days to grab a couple of friends and give it a go!  The campsites have lots of great offers on at the moment including 25% off their tipis mid week until 16th December (more info here).  The campsites also offer a green discount to encourage you to arrive minus a car, whether that be by public transport, foot or bike.  So there's no excuse, get out there and find your adventure!

Scafell Pike
Written by Upland Ranger Sarah
Follow us on twitter @ntlakesfells and @ntlakescamping
Also find 'NT Lake District Campsites' on Facebook 

21 November 2014

Making space for nature in the South Lakes



Nature conservation in the Lakes - nothing furry in sight

What springs to mind when you think about ‘nature conservation’?  Maybe it’s something exotic but vague about tigers or snow leopards - or, closer to home, fuzzy ideas about counting dormice or monitoring butterflies.  The sad fact is that most of the rangers’ nature conservation work is much more prosaic. As a cynical ex-colleague put it: ‘We just cut down trees and build fences.’  There’s a lot of truth in that, but our work’s no less important for it!

For the past few weeks some of us have been hard at work on Hoathwaite Farm, near Coniston, creating a new wildlife corridor through the fields. Our starting point was an old, neglected hedgerow next to a beck. ‘Neglected’ in that it hadn’t been managed by laying for many years, so it had developed into a gappy line of trees. Although trees are important components of lots of ecosystems, the real value of hedgerows lies in the way they provide a continuous, sheltered ‘corridor’ through the landscape, which small mammals and invertebrates can use to move around and live in. The low, bushy growth also provides perfect nest sites for lots of birds.   

The gappy, neglected hedge before we started the project
To restore the hedgerow and maximise its value for wildlife, we felled the ‘overstood’ hedge trees in a process called coppicing – most broadleaved trees will spring back to life when you cut them down with lots of vigorous new stems, so they’ll form the perfect basis of a hedge in a couple of years.  Although it can look a little stark initially, and may seem counter-intuitive, cutting down trees and allowing them to coppice creates a constantly changing variety of different stages of growth throughout the landscape, ensuring that the right conditions are available for lots of different mammals, birds and other creatures – all of which require different things. We’ll also plant new hedge plants between the coppiced trees, to make sure it’s a continuous line, and we always leave the best couple of trees in the line upright as 'standards' to grow on into maturity, for the habitat they provide and to enhance the landscape.  


The old neglected hedge before...


...and after, with trees coppiced and two new fences.

 Fencing - not glamorous but great for wildlife

The only problem with coppicing and hedge-planting on a farm is that the young, soft growth of the trees makes an irresistible treat for sheep and cows.  Livestock will choose tree leaves and fresh twigs over grass, so we needed to fence the hedge-line to ensure that the trees grow successfully.  With its location on a small beck, fencing this hedge created a win-win situation, as fencing stock away from the beck is also great for the ecosystems in the stream, and for the water quality of the whole catchment.  Stopping the stock accessing the beck will reduce the amount of silt washing into the lake where they trample the banks (not to mention sheep poo!), and allow the natural vegetation of stream-sides (‘riparian edges’ in conservation terms) to grow unhindered.  In turn, the increased growth of vegetation slows the movement of water through the catchment, which can help alleviate flooding; and the wild, overgrown strip within the fence line becomes a whole new ecosystem, bustling with wildlife.  We should be able to see wildflowers and native shrub species growing, and butterflies and birds flitting along the beck-side - not to mention all the mice, shrews, beetles and bugs hidden away beneath the plants.

The beck protected within the fence line.

 A team effort

We spent a week coppicing trees (and producing about 8t of firewood), and then built two fences of nearly 200m in length, so we couldn’t have done it without the help of the South Lakes Volunteer Group, and our colleagues in the ranger team – particularly the upland path team, who are down off the fells for the winter and provide vital muscle and technical ability on jobs like this.  

Luke S, Sarah and Stuart hard at work.
  

We also worked closely with the tenant farmer, Sam; developing good relationships with the farmers so that we work in co-operation with them is one of the most important parts of the rangers’ job.  We need to work together to ensure they can run successful businesses while also providing the other benefits we all need or want from the land; like increased biodiversity, clean water, carbon storage, or a place to go for a revitalising walk. 

One of the other less glamorous sides of nature conservation is dealing with funding, and this work was made possible thanks to Sam’s ‘Higher Level Stewardship’ agreement with Natural England – government funding for farmers to help them achieve environmental benefits, and to ease the difficult balancing act between food production and all those other factors.  

The finished job with two 'standards' left in the line.
  
Behind the scenes


So while it might look like we’re just ‘cutting down trees and building fences’, the rangers are hard at work behind the scenes building relationships with farmers and our colleagues in other organisations, using our understanding of ecosystems and river catchments to plan effective projects, getting our heads round the grant schemes and sourcing funding, and organising the team and our great volunteers to ensure we get the work done.   

The hard graft’s done at Hoathwaite now – we’ve just got to plant the new hedge trees in a couple of weeks.  We’re all looking forward to next spring when we can head back and see the new plants bursting into leaf and the coppice stools sprouting fresh buds; and beyond that, when the hedge has grown back and the vegetation gets nice and high inside the fence, creating a brilliant new home for wildlife.  It might not be tigers, but its nature conservation Lake District style, and we love it! 

27 October 2014

Ghostrider


Beatrix Potter and Arthur Ransome wrote stories and created characters that have become part of the culture of this part of the lakes. Tales of adventures on sunny days, of breezy picnics by the lake,  friendships and laughter. But some stories are much much older, these are stories of love and loss  of violent actions with fatal consequence of madness despair and death, these stories ,centuries old , have been passed from generation to generation and have been around so long they are now part of the soil, the water the rocks and the air.
At this time of year these stories seem somehow closer to the surface. Maybe it’s the cold still autumn mornings when  the mist hangs low over the lake, deadening the background noise, allowing disembodied voices animal and human to reach out through the enveloping grey.  Maybe it was the earth tremor last night; that noise and the shaking woke me suddenly with a bright blinding light and a searing pain down my spine and I have had the mother of all headaches ever since.


Windermere Ferry early morning
 
And this is how I start my normal daily commute into work as a  countryside Ranger on my trusty iron horse, a journey I’ve made a thousand times before, but this morning it feels somehow different, otherworldly, I have a sick feeling in my stomach and feel so damn cold. A mile along the lakeshore cutting my way through the mist, the sound of the Windermere car ferry , creaking and groaning as it pulls itself along on metal chains. I am reminded of the ferry disaster of 1597. A wedding party  45 strong returning from Far Sawrey cram themselves onto the ferry which was in those days just a large rowing boat. The outward journey in calm waters, full of laughter and merriment turned to disaster on their return as the winds picked up the wedding party high on drink but low on balance capsized the boat and 38 people drowned. The biggest loss of life that this lake has seen.
Since then people have reported seeing faces in these murky waters and swimmers have felt hands grabbing their ankles trying to drag them under to join the wedding party. These are  probably just reflections and submerged weeds, but his morning through the mist the bouys that surround the islands look eerily like floating lifeless bodies .
Sawrey Church
Onward and up ferry hill to the church at Far Sawrey the late flowering devils bit scabious scattered on the grassy road verges. Chattering crows gather on the wall watching me pass by like they’re waiting for  something to happen.
Through the Sawreys and along the side of Esthwaite Water this is always the coldest part of the ride in, this morning it is icy cold I look out across the water towards the Devils Gallop. In medieval times when Hawkshead was the main market town in south Lakeland the packhorse men would spur the horses on double-quick along this lonely stretch of road trying to keep one step ahead of old nick. Through the mists I hear the sound of hooves and a sudden snort of some large hidden beast on the other side of the hedge gets the adrenaline racing and I put my foot down on the pedals just that bit faster.
Approaching Priests Pot, a small circular tarn on the edge of Hawkshead village past the site of the gibbet. This was an upright wooden post with a projecting arm for hanging the bodies of executed criminals. A bit like a giant bird feeder it acted as a blunt warning to the packhorse men approaching the village, with its 14 public houses, to behave themselves when they got paid or as a reminder as they were leaving that they may have got away with it this time but next time they might not be as lucky.
Riding through the village  the speed camera on the corner shouts 13 at me in bright red numbers ( why is it always 13 ) is it trying to tell me something ?
Riding out of the village my nerves on edge not warming up at all I look to my right to Latterbarrow and Claife Heights  my thoughts inevitably stray to the Crier of Claife the ghost that has haunted the Heights since they were the property of Furness Abbey. There was  apparently a house of ill repute on Claife heights where women would provide ‘ refreshment ‘ to the weary packhorse men.  A young monk sent by the Abbey to save these women from a life of sin, fell in love with one of them, but his advances were spurned and the rejection eventually sent him mad, he died love lorn and lost on the heights.
His restless spirit wandered the heights for years wailing into the night. One foggy winters evening the ferry men based at Ferry Nab, heard a desperate call from across the lake “ferryman, ferry man". The ferryman set off into the mist  a single lamp on the prow of the boat lighting the way. After some considerable time,  the boat eventually drifted back across the lake, with no passenger, no light and the ferryman wide eyed with terror, struck dumb by whatever unspeakable horror that he had witnessed .
Well, that was enough for the locals and they quickly engaged two priests with ‘bell ,book and candle' to exorcise the ghost’s spirit to a remote quarry on the heights. If you listen carefully some nights you can still hear strange noises probably just the screech of an owl, the cry of a fox or the bark of young stag.

Claife Under a blood red sky

Climbing up Hawkshead Hill ,out of the mist now the ghost of the mad monk seems to be fading , but the late rising sun offers no heat and has cast a  deep bloody hue over everything , the silent ghostly figure of a barn owl sweeps low  across the field to my left.  It is folklore that these owls carry the souls of the  recently departed I look back to see Claife under a blood red sky, and it looks most peculiar.
Up ahead I can see a black figure crouched over something in the middle of the road is that a shadow or .... As I get closer the figure stands up and breaks  apart, exploding in ten different directions at the same time, the sound of a cape?..... no it’s the sound of wings flapping as a murder of carrion crows  disperse into the trees above, not wanting to move too far from what was interesting them lying on the tarmac.
What was interesting them is a mass of blood and bone and entrails , road kill of some description feeling bad enough I can’t bear to look too closely so I cycle on and the pain in my back and the cold are just getting worse.
I finally reach the crossroads at High Cross and now have an easy descent, freewheeling down to our Ranger base in Coniston. The base is very quiet, unusually quiet for a workday, I walk into the kitchen area and on the table lying open on pages 7 and 8 is the most  recent edition of the Westmorland Gazette and my eye is drawn to a short article ‘National Trust Ranger killed in early morning traffic accident', gripped by a crushing fear and understanding, the cold and the pain intensify, the room starts shaking and then suddenly the pain and the cold disappear along with the colour, the light, the sound………
When you are walking the paths and lanes of South Lakeland if you feel a sudden unexplained rush of wind passing by or the squealing of brakes when no bike is around to be seen, it might just be me on my way into work again ........ghostrider. 
Paul Farrington (1963-2014)
National Trust Ranger
South Lakes

24 October 2014

Rangers ‘walking on the wild’ side…



As rangers, the variety of places we work and the type of work we carry out varies a lot. It almost sounds cliched we say it so often. Whether that is rebuilding a dry stone wall, fixing a gate, filling in potholes, leading a guided walk, doing some 50 things activities with groups of children or presenting our special places to the highest standard (that includes the toilets!). But the most important part of our role is sharing this love of special places with all our visitors.

When I first started as a ranger, I was quite daunted by how much knowledge some of the other rangers had about their patch, ecology and the natural environment. From my volunteer days, I was under the impression that the role was very much about getting your hands dirty through the variety of conservation work such as rhododendron bashing and drainage clearance. But as it turned out it was about so much more than that! 
 
South Lakes Rangers 'walking in the wild' side in Blelham Tarn
Every ranger brings their own special skills and interests to the job and the South Lakes ranger team is no exception. They have a wealth of knowledge and experience but historically we have not been great at sharing this knowledge around the team (great at sharing with the public!). After lots of ranger chitter-chatter, we came up with a solution - ‘Walking in the wild side’.

 
Rangers learning about the geology of the Coniston coppermines valley from a very knowledgeable, local historian, Mark Scott
The idea is for a ranger to run an afternoon session of his or her choosing on the South Lakes patch, once a month by getting out and in true Lou Reed style ‘walking in the wild’ side! The topics so far have ranged from dragonflies and damselflies, the landscape history and ancient trees of Tarn Hows, the history of the Coniston Coppermines and a historical walk around Blelham Tarn. It seems hard to see how we can justify the ranger time initially when we look at the mounting work such as fixing wall gaps, repairing fences, filling in potholes, strimming grass. Justification is easy – how can we share our love of special places with our visitors if we don’t spend the time learning about them?

 
Ranger Paul explaining how farmland can be managed to the benefit of the Windermere Catchment
Many people tell me that you become knowledgable over time, by picking up tid-bits and simply asking lots of questions. I find the best way to learn is to get out and hear passionate people talking about the subjects that they care about! 

The idea is not only to share this knowledge but also to allow individuals to pursue their own interests and learn about a topic to share with everyone else. We have plenty more planned in for the future including meadow wildflowers, Beatrix Potter and her farming legacy, traditional use of woodlands and woodland crafts. I am hoping to run a ‘walk in the wild side ‘ by sharing (and improving!) my knowledge of Lake District geomorphology… The knowledge of the South Lakes ranger team as a whole is improving rapidly!

 
Rain doesn't stop play - learning about the industrial archaeology and history of the Coniston coppermines

One of the National Trusts’ aims is to pass on a richer, healthier natural environment for future generations. This starts with sharing our knowledge and interests with everyone we meet... We want to help people to recognise the true value of our countryside and have a role in caring for it, for example to understand the impact that wild camping and off-road driving can have on our special places.

So if you see a ranger in red out and about, ask them what they have been learning about recently!