Team news for November 2014

  • Planning for winter.

    16:31 27 November 2014
    By Roy Henderson

    After our short break in the Cairngorms, I returned to work with a renewed appreciation of just how fantastic our area is. It’s a great area to go walking with Jan and Daisy.  Daisy just loves running around and we see her just naturally ‘quartering’ or zig-zagging and returning to us.

    We now turn our attention to a programme of work for the winter. Our fell rangers come down from the high fells and work on the lower slopes and in the valleys during the winter weather so I’ve been out with them to show them some footpath work that needs to be done around Castle Crag. They are a great bunch of guys who will be well able to use their experience to decide how best to do the repairs.

    We’ve also been doing some more work on the play trail with the volunteers.  We’ll have to think of some kind of an opening ceremony for that.

    Daisy here:

    Roy’s back. It’s great. Me, Roy and Jan have been running around on the mountains. Well, I’ve been running.

  • The Long Haul

    16:55 25 November 2014
    By Ivan Corlett

    The operating season for Steam Yacht Gondola finally came to an end on 31 Oct, after a summer that provided us with amazing weather and more than 20,000 passengers. Gondola is unique in the UK as the only large pleasure cruiser powered entirely by steam, so it's been no surprise that visitors came from as far afield as Australia just to see her and experience the serenity of a cruise aboard this iconic Victorian steam yacht.

    Gondola (courtesy of Cumbria Life)

    The long season takes its toll, however, and once the crowds have departed, the Gondola crew and volunteers face the challenge of hauling her out of the water for the vital winter refit period. In simple terms, this consists of placing a 42 ton vessel securely onto a rolling cradle and dragging the combined weight up an inclined rail track to a final position at the top of the slipway.

    Hauled Out

    With no powered winch available, this called for a team of four to man the double handles of a manual winch. 

    Winch Team 1

    Each full turn of the massive winch mechanism draws Gondola another inch up the slipway and the winding team can manage just 30 turns before grinding to a halt and putting the brake on. 

    Winch Team 1 beginning to tire

    The next team of four then take up their positions and continue winding - hour after hour.

    Winch Team 2

    Fortunately for the Gondola crew, it's a long tradition in this part of the Lakes that our friends from nearby NT properties turn out in force to add their sweat to ours - all for a cup of tea! So, we'd like to thank Craig, Glen, Rob and all the others who willingly lent a hand to this year's hauling out ceremony, in the best spirit of the Trust.


    Following on from the day of the long haul, Steam Yacht Gondola has had her own frame and cover erected over her to protect her from the winter weather and she now closely resembles a giant toothpaste tube.

    Under cover

    The boat is now ready for the crew to set to and carry out the myriad of refit tasks over the coming winter in reasonable comfort. These jobs range from stripping down the immaculate steam engine for servicing, to painting and varnishing almost every surface on the boat. By next March and the start of the 2015 season she will once again be a vision of perfection and beauty.

  • Making space for nature in the South Lakes

    14:33 21 November 2014
    By Clair Payne, Craig Hutchinson, Glenn Bailey, Ian Griffiths, John Atkinson, John Moffat, Luke Sherwen, Matthew Allmark, Nick Petrie, Paul Farrington, Paul Kear , Richard Tanner, Rob Clarke, Sam Stalker, Sarah Anderson, Stuart Graham

    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! 
  • Wild Camping

    15:09 19 November 2014
    By Roy Henderson

    School half-term holidays are over and winter is fast approaching so a friend and colleague, John Malley, and I decided to take some leave and spend a long weekend camping in Cairngorm. We approached from the Braemar side, went up Ben Macdui and camped out for a few nights.

    The weather was fantastic but, not surprising of course at this time of year, the nights were cold with temperatures well below freezing.  As you can see in the photographs, there was already quite a bit of snow on the ground.  We did have one day when we were walking in low cloud so we needed our map and compass skills to make safe progress. 

    There really is no experience quite like wild camping in a remote place.  Just make sure that when you leave a site, the only evidence that you have been there is a temporary footprint of your tent and that will disappear very quickly.

    Leaving nothing behind.

    But, before you go, make sure you know how to use your equipment and skills.  Have a few outings to places you know and practise navigating with map and compass.  Then try it on a longer route and eventually include an overnight camp.  Once you are confident that you could rely entirely on your map and compass if you had to, then you can go to remote locations that are new to you.

    We had a fantastic few days.  One night was a clear, crisp night and the stars were brilliant.  On another night a dozen or so red deer passed almost silently within about 20 metres of my tent.  It’s amazing that such large animals can move so quietly.  They were a stunning silhouette against the skyline.

    On our way back out we called into Mar Lodge (National Trust for Scotland) to see the Head Ranger that John knows.  Had a welcome cup of coffee and shared thoughts about our work.  It’s a relief in some ways to realise that we are not the only ones with a large area to cover and never enough money to do all that needs to be done!

    Daisy here:

    The weekend was boring.  Roy went away.  Jan did some training with me but ... well, then I had to go to work with her and just be in the van.  But he’s back now.
  • New Visual Identity

    08:30 14 November 2014
    By Ben Knipe, Dave Almond, Dave Jackson, James Archer, Neil Winder, Roland Wicksteed

    National Trust properties within the Lake District National Park have recently adopted a new "visual identity" aiming to give a fresh and striking interpretation of what the National Trust, "THE LAKES" represent.

    Below are several examples of the new "visual identity" on three of the Central and East Lakes vehicles with the following stories to relate.  

    The image on this Ford Ranger represents the National Trust as supporters of outdoor activities with access to lakes such as Windermere and Ullswater.

    A group of kayakers setting off from National Trust land...Jenkyns Field...Windermere.

    The image on the other side of the Ranger represents the many miles of footpaths, bridle ways, and cycle routes that are freely available to be enjoyed by all.

    The National Trust Fell Rangers Blog gives an indication as to the amount of hard work that is needed to construct and maintain the footpaths in this region.

    Guided walks leaflet.

    An illustration of the Footprint building. This is the first straw bale building in Cumbria; it is set in the grounds of St. Catherine's with spectacular views of Windermere. It is a unique and popular venue...from school groups to green wood working events, and from birthday parties to yoga sessions.

    The Footprint alongside Wynlass Beck.

     An atmospheric view from the Footprint during a temperature inversion over Windermere.

    This image of a Belted Galloway cow, "Beltie", represents the strides that the National Trust are making in promoting and conserving ancient wood pastures. (various posts on this subject are on this Blog).

    Wood pasture....Glenamara Park.

    This image is particularly appropriate as red squirrels have recently been seen at Hodgehowe Wood very near St. Catherine's, (where this vehicle is based). By keeping the numbers of grey squirrels in check, the reds are making a come back in this area.

    In partnership with the Penrith and District Red Squirrel Group,the National Trust have created a red squirrel trail at Aira Force. This image is of a red squirrel making full use of one of the feeders... (caught on one of the strategically placed cameras and relayed back to a monitor in the Visitors' Shelter). See post...Aira Force Red Squirrel Trail.

    Overall the new "visual identity" has been a success. Most people like the bold colours and the minimalist imaging on the vehicles.
  • Woodland trail.

    11:10 12 November 2014
    By Roy Henderson

    The main focus of my work last week was the play trail in Cockshot Wood. That is making really good progress.  I began working with a couple of young guys who are doing the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme and were very helpful.  Then I finished off with the regional volunteer group who are always excellent.

    As it was school half-term break, we also did a 50 Things to do before you're 11 ¾ event down at the lake shore.  This was not as successful as we would have liked because the weather let us down unfortunately


    There are still things to be done with the Wild Play Trail but there probably always will be things to add or things to improve as new ideas pop up.  But so far I am really pleased with what has been achieved.  All the people who have worked so hard to make this happen can be really proud of their work.  It is already proving to be a big hit with children as you can see in the photographs.


    Daisy here,


    I got to play in the woods with lots of different people. It was great.

  • Stepping stones in the wood.

    17:28 05 November 2014
    By Roy Henderson

    Myself, Leila (our Academy Ranger) and Sarah (one of my regular volunteers) tackled a heavy job last week. We shifted some huge logs onto a trailer to take them round to Cockshot Wood to use on the new play trail.  They were cut from a Scots Pine that had just reached the end of its life and had been brought down during a storm some years ago. 

    You might wonder how just three of us could move these but the photographs show how ropes, pulleys, ramps and some hard graft can do it.

    Now that we have it in the wood, I want to use it as stepping stones to lead people on from the fairy ring and thrones even further into the wood.  I’ll soon be meeting up with my regional volunteers so digging those in will be the project for their visit.  The play trail is really developing quickly now so we are looking forward to seeing many more children following it and playing in the woods.

    Elsewhere in the week, Leila and I went up Cat Gill to deal with a situation before it becomes a big problem.  Some time ago the Trust laid a pitched path up there for walkers and runners to follow but unfortunately some have started to take a short-cut down a steeper slope.  The problem with that is that eventually the short-cut will begin to cause serious damage to the slope with heavy rains and foot traffic combining to erode the area.

    One solution is to fell some small trees across the short-cut so that use of the pitched path is the easiest option.  I had taken a chainsaw to do this but it was too windy to do it safely and accurately so I’ll need to go back to this.

    Whilst we were up there, we took a look at a project that Leila will take on.  It will improve some fencing and access but I’ll let you know more about that in a future blog.

    Daisy here.
    I’ve been helping with some big bits of wood and I’ve been up Cat Gill.  Cat Gill’s great.  You can run and run and run and nobody cares.

  • Rebuilding accident-damaged roadside walls.

    08:30 03 November 2014
    By Ben Knipe, Dave Almond, Dave Jackson, James Archer, Neil Winder, Roland Wicksteed

    The stone built roadside walls of the Lake District are regularly damaged by vehicles.

    Time is set aside for the Central and East Lakes Rangers to repair damaged National Trust roadside walls, usually in Autumn or Winter.

    A car recently hit the roadside wall at Millerground.
    (Driver failed to negotiate the bend on the A592 and this was the result)
    This masonry wall (stone cemented together with mortar) required a lot of preparation work before rebuilding work could begin. On impact the wall broke up into large irregular shaped blocks.
    Time consuming work was put into separating the stone from the mortar. In the image above a wrecking bar was used to prise the top or cam stones apart.

    Dry stone walls usually require a lot less preparation work because no mortar is used in their construction. In addition, no sand, cement or a mixer is needed!
    With the top stones removed, a sledge hammer was used to separate the walling stone from the tenacious grip of the mortar!
    Because of the height difference between the two sides of this retaining wall, scaffolding was needed. The stone and chunks of mortar were cleared back from the damaged wall to allow access for the scaffolders.
    The damaged section of the wall has been taken back to where the wall is sound and is now ready to be rebuilt.
    The scaffold is in place with the planks cleverly arranged around the big beech tree.
    The next stage is to load the scaffolding with stone.  (Note Wynlass Beck in the background)
    The wall is being rebuilt using mortar as it was originally.

    The last of the mortar is being removed from the stones using walling hammers and cold chisels.
    The lumps of old mortar did not go to waste. They came in useful as filler for the ongoing revetment work at Millerground!
    With the wall now up to height the top stones can be put into position.
    The completed work. Hopefully, for everyone's sake, it will not be hit least not for a long time!