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.

17 July 2015

Tree TV - for tree geeks everywhere

It's no secret to anyone here at South Lakes that I really, really love the rare small leaved lime trees hidden away in Coniston's gills. These beautiful trees are a direct link to the pre-human 'wildwood' - read more in my old blog post here.

Recently I had the chance to share my love for lime in a different format when Rob, our community ranger, made this atmospheric film one sunny summer's day. Naturally it's mortifying to watch myself on screen but it's great to get the message out about these time-travelling trees. Thanks Rob!

10 July 2015

Bat Man visits Basecamp!

Up here at the volunteer centre we’re proud of the work we do to help look after our special places. But for many groups a stay here involves a lot more than just working with us as there’s plenty to discover in and around our grounds.

So it was that during a recent visit by Glenburn Sports College the word was out amongst the students that Tuesday evening we were due a visit from ‘the Bat Man.’ Not the punchy kicky superhero (no need for that kind of behaviour at Basecamp), but our regional Wildlife and Countryside Advisor, John Hooson, who had kindly given up his evening to come here and talk about our resident bats.

Bat box on the Longland toilet block roof - you'd never guess there's been 190 bats counted coming out of here!

We have, we think, two colonies of Soprano Pipistrelles (Pipistrellus pygmaeus) at High Wray. We normally let groups know about them and have a couple of bat detectors that we lend out, but having John up here to talk to them added an extra level of interest, especially when he brought out his collection of desiccated bats picked up from various sites over the years! He even had a bat skeleton, where you could clearly see the very similar bone structure in their arms to us – they have an elbow and a forearm with four very long fingers on it which the wing is stretched between and even a little thumb.
They're tiny! Getting hands on
The bat skeleton with long finger bones clearly (but slightly blurrily) visible
Blowing raspberries

After a ‘bat chat’ full of interesting facts (Did you know bats aren’t blind, they actually have quite good eyesight?) it was getting gloomy enough to turn the detectors on. These clever little devices ‘listen’ for the bats’ high frequency hunting calls and convert the sound to a lower frequency audible to our ears. It wasn’t too long before we started hearing the bats fluttering past us, catching midges on the wing. On occasion we even picked up the ‘raspberry’ sound they make when they are closing in on an insect and intensify their calls.

After a fascinating couple of hours John departed in the Bat Mobile (might have been a Nissan), but the group were enthused enough that they asked to hold on to the detectors for the next night. No trace remained of the Bat Man, except for one thing – we now have our own example of Pipistrelle, which we plan to show to other groups in the future and hopefully spark off an interest in these amazing creatures.
The 'Basecamp Bat' 

By Rob Clarke, Basecamp Community Ranger

3 July 2015

Bits 'n' bobs

Although I've been busy (I always am) I'm not sure with what.  I had a look in my calendar to find what I've been doing but it was no clearer.
With nothing in particular to write about I thought I'd go through the most recent pictures from my camera and find some inspiration.........

Boundary works - it's important to keep stock out of woods as they damage the ground flora and prevent tree regeneration by grazing.  Repairing our boundaries keeps sheep in the fields where they belong!
Local contractor repairing a woodland boundary wall.

Volunteer Ian repairing a fence after a tree fell and damaged it.

 Another gap repaired by contractor near Coniston.

Dad dens - you may have read in an earlier blog about an event at Wray Castle on fathers day, guess who helped collect the den building material?

Truck loaded with brash for the Dad dens event at the Castle.

Claife Station - with the help of a sure footed group of volunteers we have finished removing the laurel from round Claife station to open up the historic views.

The view south restored.

Charcoal - again helped by more volunteers I have made some charcoal form wood cut to restore the designed landscape around Boon Crag farm near Coniston.

A kiln full of charcoal.

I love how you can still see the growth rings in the charcoal.

Tree planting - although our tree planting is done in the winter its always good to see them start to emerge from the protection of their tree tubes.

Cherry  tree planted in 2012 growing out of its tree tube.

An oak with a little way to go!

26 June 2015

Faffin around in Northern Ireland...

Working for the National Trust has many great benefits, one of the main being you are a part of a national organisation and you have colleagues in loads of interesting and beautiful places, including over in Northern Ireland (which can be easy to forget...sorry NI).  As such Rangers across the Trust have the opportunity (thanks to the generosity of the Mayled family, in memory of Andy Mayled), to link up with other Rangers allowing them to learn, discover and experience somewhere new.  So what greater contrast than the high fells of the Lakes to the hustle and bustle of Northern Ireland's capital Belfast!

From here.....
....to here!
This was the choice I (Upland Ranger Sarah!) made and over 3 days in June I swopped the 14 strong Ranger team in the South Lakes for the some what smaller 3 Ranger team in Belfast... 

The Belfast crew, the green helps them blend in...
Why Belfast I hear you ask?!  Well, I've done a wee bit of traveling, but hadn't yet made it to any part of Ireland, so when I heard about the Ranger link, heading over to Belfast seem a good way to kill two birds with one stone.  It also helped that I knew the Ranger, Craig, from the work I do as a rep with Prospect, the NT's union.  As such it wasn't long before we had dates in the diary, ferries booked and I was getting excited to be somewhere new and completely different.  Only as it turned out it was different...yet the same!

Same old fencing job, different location!
Let me explain.  You see, although the South Lakes has a 13 strong Ranger team, that team is broken down into more specialist teams and day to day I mainly work with the 3 other guys that make up the Upland team.  So rocking up to the Ranger office at Minnowburn and meeting Colin, Mick and Craig felt like a temporary exchange of the usual faces.  Accompanying them was a friendly bustle of volunteers, and lets not forget Bella!

The South Lakes massif
Over the 3 days I got to see some of the main bits of work the guys get up to in Belfast.  From working with school groups pond dipping and in the forest school, to practical work on one of their coastal sites in Port Muck, to the intricacy of project planning a car park development at Minnowburn where they can annually receive over 150,000 visitors.  It's what we as Rangers would expect to be involved in, it's just the balance of jobs or the habitats that may be slightly different. 

Irish language school group
Pond dipping

A very Ranger suitable totem pole, all about cake!
 For example in Belfast the large majority of their volunteer input is from large groups, whether those are corporate groups wanting to get out and do something different, or school groups looking to have a mix of education and conservation.  Partnership working is also key, Minnowburn itself is only 120 acres within the much larger Lagan Valley, covering 3500 acres in total and welcoming between 2-3million visitors a year.  Being on the doorstep to a population of over 300,000 people living in Belfast the opportunities to work with communities are well taken, a great example being the community garden that sits just behind the Ranger office and comes complete with a wood fired pizza oven for those long summer evenings!

Community garden, a great space

All in all it was a really interesting week that I would recommend to all Rangers.  It makes a refreshing change for both sides of the link and allows for plenty of learning, even if to start with you don't know how to articulate what that learning is!  For me though its back to the grind stone and back to home sweet home.

Home...literally- i can see my house!
By Upland Ranger Sarah
Follow us @ntlakesfells

12 June 2015

Dens and treehouses!

Remember those long summer days during the BIG 6 week holidays which seemed to go on FOREVER (well perhaps it did to our parents…)… When the weather was great and there was fun to be found around every corner?

I, for one, remember those days fondly - getting stung by nettles, grazing my knees through repeated unsuccessful attempts to ride my bike without holding onto the handlebars, finding little hide-aways to build secret hangouts, playing around in the local park looking for the perfect twigs to build a survival den. Usually arguing over who had the best or strongest design… 

The dictionary tells me that a den is: an informal room or hideout; or a wild animals’ hidden home. Thinking back to my childhood and those long summers, we were rather like wild animals creating dens that no one would be able to find (or so we thought!). Scouting out the best spots for hidden hide-outs, in the pre-smartphone days when time had to be filled with fun found in the great outdoors (or sometimes the living room when the weather was particularly poor!)

The rangers absolutely love building dens! Who says you have to grow up?
Dens don’t always have to be your traditional sticks propped up against a main stem. I recently learnt about the concept of ‘made versus invade’ dens – this is the idea that dens can be ‘made’ from scratch using the more traditional materials such as twigs, sticks and leaves (like in the photo above) or they can be ‘invaded’ such as finding little nooks and crannys that might not otherwise be seen as so. Try finding a hollowed out tree, putting a sheet over an A-frame picnic bench or behind the sofa when the weather is too wet out! Do you remember that feeling of excitement as you inadvertently lose your whole day to developing and perfecting  your own hideaway?

Happy den-builders at Wray Castle
The best news is, you can come build the biggest, the best, the most complex dens at Wray Castle anytime as part of the National Trusts’ 50 Things to do before you are 11 and 3/4. Why not see how small you can build your den (for your favourite toy or an ant?) or see how many rooms you can build within your den. 

Calling all Dads - this is your time to shine!

We often find that parents, Dads in particular, and older siblings are the real den building aficionados. Keen to step up and show the younger members of the family how dens are really built; even without being invited to! So we are putting on a day aimed especially at the big kids! Come down to Wray Castle on Father’s Day for ‘Dens for Dads’ – The rangers are busy gathering plenty of fresh den building material behind the scenes to really get you into the competitive spirit… What will you come up with?

On the 21st  June from 10-5pm; normal admission applies but the event is free. Check out the Wray Castle Facebook Page for more information or call 015394 33250.

In need of some inspiration?

The best thing about den building is making it up, the possibilities are endless… but just in case you wanted some inspiration to get you started, here are some top tips!
      1) First, you need to decide on a basic structure. Here are a few to think about:

The classic 'tipi' - often build around a main stem, like this one, offering the most strength. Find yourself a well-appointed tree with a view and balance the other twigs around it

The ultimate classic 'tipi' - It takes quite some skill and balance to construct this type of den with no middle support. Can you manage it without using rope?

The 'bivi' den - made by balancing a long main stem between two v-shaped branches or nobbles in a tree. The walls are then made by balancing twigs up and down the length of the main stem.
There is also the 'whatever you have lying around den' - never underestimate the value of sofas, clothing racks, cushions and duvets in the living room! 

      2) All dens need walls – so you have decided on your basic structure, what about adding some walls? If your den is in the woods, you can add moss, leaves or brash (or perhaps some old sheets if it is not raining) to make it water tight and more secretive!

All dens need walls - the material from a branch that fell from the Blue Atlas Cedar in the Wray Castle grounds makes great wall material!
          3) All dens need a floor – if you are building your den in the woods, perhaps you can find some leaves to carpet your floor. Beware using of bracken though, you don’t want to get tics!

      4) Your hide-out needs some furniture… hunt around for logs and branches that will make your den fit for a king!

Logs make great seats!

      5) Where can you go to build your ultimate den? There are lots of great places to go build dens - local woodlands and parks, National Trust properties such as Wray Castle, Allan Bank and Sizergh, local parks, your back garden (ask your parents if you can sleep out?!), your front room?

Building the ultimate den in the Wray Castle Play Trail..

You may have read my previous blogs about the play trail describing the new developments in the past few months. Or perhaps you have seen rangers and volunteers busy hard at work constructing more balance beams, log stilts and a giant spiders’ web… if you haven’t been down this year yet, come on down!! 

Testing your balancing skills on the new balance beams?
Jed, the dog, modeling the new spiders' web!
Log stilts
We have an even bigger plan for this year - to build the ultimate hide-out den, A TREEHOUSE!! 

And we want your help to design it… come visit the castle and draw or build your perfect treehouse in the craft room – or if you can't come to the castle, why not send us a photo to the Wray Castle Facebook Page? Get thinking and designing and the rangers will combine the best ones to build the treehouse in the play trail this summer! We can’t wait to see your ideas!

Let your imagination go wild!!

5 June 2015

South Lakes on Screen

Rangers are fairly accustomed to strange requests, and we pride ourselves on our can-do attitude - but it still came as something of a shock when we were asked, ‘Can we do a high speed car crash in Tilberthwaite?’ This isn’t the only unusual one we’ve had over the past eighteen months – there’s also been ‘Can we take plaster casts of the quarry walls?’ ‘Can we build an enormous waterslide that chucks people into Tarn Hows?’ and ‘Can we zoom a huge drone above your woods?’ Contrary to what you might expect, we only said no to one of these requests (guess which one!), and they all came from one group of people – film-makers. With such a spectacular and characterful patch, it’s perhaps no surprise that lots of people making film and TV want to shoot here, and you can spot South Lakes in big budget feature films like Miss Potter and Snow White and the Huntsman, TV dramas like Safe House, the opening credits of Countryfile, and even a toilet paper advert!

Blea Tarn Film Location
A scene from Snow White and the Huntsman in Little Langdale - Universal Pictures
Paying our way

This summer we’re busy working with a film company making a new adaptation of Swallows and Amazons, another TV drama, and lots of smaller documentaries. Sometimes it’s almost a full time job. So why do we do it? The simple answer is that, as a charity, the money the film makers pay is absolutely essential to the National Trust, and allows us to do even more of our important conservation work. Every day film-makers spend using our land and buildings pays for woodland management, watercourse protection, visitor access routes, and all the other work we do to protect and look after South Lakes ‘forever, for everyone’. Filming is also a really important source of income for the Trust on a national scale – find out more here. These films also create great publicity - sometimes globally - and attract more visitors to experience our inspirational places.

Accommodation Traditional Lake District
Renee Zellweger at Yewtree Farm in Miss Potter - Phoenix Pictures
 Protecting our patch

We work closely with our tenant farmers and the films' location managers to ensure that nothing the film units do damages the land or buildings – sometimes this means placing restrictions on where they can work, or asking that they lay temporary tracks before driving vehicles across fields. For Swallows and Amazons, the crew will have to leave their trucks at the road and carry their gear by hand into woodlands, in order to protect and preserve these special places. We usually supervise filming to ensure all the conditions are being met, sometimes long into the night, and places are often left better than when filming began because of repairs to walls or improvements to farm infrastructure. 

And naturally, we’re not afraid to say no to those requests that we think are going to cause damage or degradation, or are otherwise inappropriate. So if you haven’t guessed already, the one we refused recently was the giant waterslide at Tarn Hows – although it did look like fun!