Team news for January 2012

  • Up into the Snow

    21:51 30 January 2012
    By Tom Burditt

    On Saturday my family and I had one of our best experiences in Lakeland since we moved up here last April: Stickle Tarn in the snow, on a gloriously sunny day. What a privilege…

    One of the joys of being a lead ranger up here in Cumbria is the opportunity to occasionally get out of my own patch of South/East Cumbria and Morecambe Bay and head to the middle of the Lake District to meet up with the other lead rangers. Historically, the National Trust managed our vast Lake District estate as a succession of fairly independent properties - each valley or historic house having relatively little to do with each other. Now we come together to make sure that there is a bit more consistency in the way we look, the kinds of activities we get up to, our approach to environmental issues like water quality or relationships with farm tenants, and also we come together on joint projects.

    The Ranger Experiences are one such joint initiative (perhaps you have even come to this blog from the website where they are hosted ): the idea being that we have a space where we can share with our visitors our local knowledge of what’s special about the places that we live in, work in, and manage. It might be a great place for a picnic or for watching a sunset, a place to go swimming or bouldering, for watching birds or butterflies, seeing leaping salmon or hearing natterjacks.

    As a newcomer to these parts, it is exactly the sort of information that we as a family have needed to help us to get to know this incredible part of the world. And more or less every time I meet up with one or more of my lead ranger colleagues, I come away with some great tips. Last Friday it was James Archer, lead ranger for Grasmere and Langdale, who recommended the National Trust’s Stickle Gill car park as a way of getting right up into the middle of the fells without having to drive on the treacherously icy roads that we had encountered the week before near Coniston. It might be well-known to thousands of people, but it wasn’t to us.

    We woke up on Saturday morning in our Arnside flat and out of the window there was a ribbon of snow-capped mountains glowing at us, calling to us, from over the fuzzy green and terracotta of Cartmel Fell on the other side of the Kent estuary. The kids, too, were desperate to get up into the snow.

    The path up from the Stickle Gill car park didn’t feel like walking at all - to the kids it was a mountaineering adventure, heading for the snows up amongst the Langdale Pikes alongside tumbling waterfalls and ice-blue pools right for summer bathing. Wainwright describes, in typical style, the path as “that steep ladder to heaven [that] stirs the imagination, and even the emotions, and this is especially so whenever the towering peaks come into view suddenly and unexpectedly…the east bank path has a special attraction almost unique on Lakeland paths - a rock stairway requiring continuous hand and foot climbing.”

    Writing in 1958, Wainwright also describes the path the severe erosion that had been inflicted by walkers, reducing them to “rivers of scree”. That the paths we experienced are once again a steep ladder to heaven is something for which we must be thankful to the National Trust rangers. For years, rangers working for the Trust’s “Fix the Fells” project, a partnership with the National Park authority expertly led by John Atkinson (now NT lead ranger for South Lakes) has been repairing routes like this. The rangers have been painstakingly building bridges and diverting paths, allowing natural vegetation to regrow, re-positioning the tough volcanic rocks into a surface that can withstand the experience-seekers like us but which blends seamlessly with the mountain itself. Andy Goldsworthy would be proud.

    And then, just as my 6 year old (Roddy) and 3-and-a-half year old (Flora) were flagging and the path started getting slippery with rimy ice, the most awe-inspiring view exploded on us from around a cliff. Behind us was the soft, almost springy greenness of Langdale flowing down to sparkling Windermere, and a couple of crag-bound Herdwicks. Ahead an alpine playground of glittering snow, and the black and white enormity of Pavey Ark and Harrison Stickle towering over us from across the surface of Stickle Tarn.

    The kids, for a split second, stood like proud mountaineers and took in their achievements at reaching the 480m contour, and then started hurling snow balls at each other and sliding on their tummies over the hillocks - a pair of otters in waterproof trousers. My wife Nancy and I just kept on staring.

    Oh to be in Cumbria, now that January’s here! Thank you James for sharing it with me, and thank you John for getting us there. Two sides of the same ranger coin.
  • Friday 27 January

    14:54 27 January 2012
    By Jo Day

    Set on the estuary of the River Duddon, with a backdrop of the Lakeland Mountains, Sandscale Haws is a stunning sand dune habitat with International importance.

    History of the Site

    The name Sandscale Haws takes its name from the Norse Sandra (sand), skali (temporary hut) and haws (hills) and refers to the age old practice of wintering sheep on the dunes, the temporary huts being the shepherd's accommodation. It has been occupied by humans from the Stone Age with finds such as arrow heads, scrapers, anvil stone and a polished axe found amongst the dunes. The land formed part of the land holding for the nearby Furness Abbey in the 12th and 13th Century and the woodland covering was cleared to be used as farmland. The site was used as a warren with the the introduction of rabbits at this time. There is still evidence of the Ridge and Furrow working on an area known as Red Gutter, which could date from 1500s just before the farm fell into dilapidation with the dissolution of the Abbey.

    From 1540 until 1955 the area was owned by the owners of some of the Roanhead mines which included the Duchy of Lancaster, Lords Sherbourne and Thomas Woodburn.

    During the war the Black Watch infantry used the dunes for training and the Lowsy Point Cabins (now fishing cabins) were requisitioned as their quarters. Around the site you will find the remains of brick buildings; these were tank decoys which were in the shape of the Barrow docks. Filled with water and with lights shinning down from above they would have created a decoy and drawn bomber planes away from the heart of Barrow in Furness.

    After this time the majority of the site was bought by British Cellophane which used the area as a rough shoot. The rest of the area which included the car park and nearby dunes was kept by the Woodburn family who allowed local people access to the sea.

    The National Trust took management and bought the site in 1984 with funds provided from Operation Neptune, a National fundraiser to acquire coastal sites.

    The Importance of Sandscale

    Sandscale Haws includes seven coastal habitats which are considered internationally important. They are embryonic shifting dunes, shifting dunes along the shoreline with marram grass (known as yellow dunes), fixed dunes with herbaceous vegetation (grey dunes), Atlantic decalcified fixed dunes (dune heath), dunes with creeping willow (dune slacks), humid dune slacks and finally, Atlantic salt meadows (established salt marsh).

    The site is also a vital support to the Duddon Sands SPA for wintering and passage waders such as curlew, dunlin, sanderling, redshank and knot.

    Natterjack Toads

    Six species of amphibians are found on the site - common frog, common toad, natterjack toad and the three native newt species (great crested, palmate and smooth). The site is particularly important for the natterjack toad which is protected under European law. It is considered to be endangered in five countries (including the UK) and has declining numbers in many more. Sandscale is ideal for this amphibian as it has abundant breeding pools in which the long spawn strings are laid and in which the tadpoles develop, and also well grazed grassy areas and bare sand over which the toads can hunt their invertebrate prey. Many of the breeding pools are seasonal and dry out in the summer and this helps to keep invertebrate predators under control. Natterjacks spend the winter months hibernating in burrows within the dunes.


    606 plant types including subspecies and varieties have been recorded from the dune system and surrounding habitats so there is plenty to talk about. Sandscale is one of the most important sites in the UK for the Coralroot orchid. This plant has very little chlorophyll in its stem so there is limited photosynthesis. Instead it has a symbiotic relationship with a fungi that lives at the base of the stem. Without this fungi the plant could not survive.

    The Dune Helleborine is endemic to the UK and has a high tolerance of heavy metals of which Barrow is known for, from its history of iron ore mining. Other notable species include the Green Flowered Helleborine, Grass-of-Parnassus and the round leaved wintergreen along with other highly specialised coastal species.


    Sandscale has been ranked as one of the most important coastal mycological sites in the British Isles. Over 200 species have been recorded including a species new to science in the 1990s which is still awaiting a full biological description and name. To date it has only been found on Sandscale and North Walney.


    At Sandscale we have three red data book (RDB) species, two on the Provisional RDB list, three nationally rare (Na), twenty eight Nationally Scarce (Nb), ten regionally rare (Nr) and an impressive 160 species having a localised distribution in mainland Britain. In recent years several species of dragonfly have been recorded for the first time and who knows what else awaits discovery here.


    The site is cared for by two National Trust Rangers, Neil Forbes and Jo Day. We work closely together to maintain the site in favourable condition as set down by Natural England. The main priority is to continue the long-standing grazing regime to arrest successional development that would eventually lead to dense scrub and loss of many of the important wildlife species. The grazing livestock and the rabbit population retain the dune system in the early stages of succession with a high density of plants which support the vast numbers of invertebrates which in turn support many other creatures including breeding birds and the natterjack toads. The site has been grazed for at least 800 years and it is this that has created such as diverse environment.

  • Moss Eccles' Dam Inspection

    10:00 27 January 2012
    By John Atkinson, Nick Petrie, Paul Kear , Rob Clarke, Sarah Anderson

    this is what keeps the tarn a tarn!

    Moss Eccles & Beatrix Potter
    Moss Eccles Tarn on Claife Heights above Near Sawrey was one of Beatrix Potter’s favourite locations in the area. She entrusted its care to the National Trust after she died and it 's a good example of the way the Beatrix Potter legacy is present in much of the countryside conservation work we do today in this area.

    The dam inspection
    As National Trust Rangers we regularly monitor the dam’s wall for damage and check water levels. Formal annual inspections take place and this month saw the big 10 year inspection of  the Moss Eccles dam. We await the final report, and hope that there are no major works required, but if we do have to spend money on repairs it will be worth it to protect this special place.
     Moss Eccles & Wildlife
    The tarn is part of the Claife Tarn and Mires Site of Special Scientific Interest and on a hot day in Summer it’s a great place to see dragonflies and damselflies. 

    However, last Summer at Moss Eccles I  came upon one of the more bizarre spectacles that I have witnessed in my job as a countryside Ranger, this was a rare sighting of the Lake District Pink 'Gorilla', I’m not sure what Beatrix Potter would have made of it? (see what you think!)  It turned out to be a publicity stunt to raise awareness of the threats to Orang-utans and their habitats.
    not the regular Moss Eccles wildlife!
    Listen out for Tawny Owls
    January is a good month to listen out for Tawny Owls as they are particularly active at the moment, the males are protecting territories and looking to attract their mates at this time of year and can be heard calling  in the dark evenings and mornings. Listen out for the females who call ( "twit "! ) and the males who reply ( "who ?" ).  Click here to Find out more about Tawny Owls.

    Blog post and Moss Eccles photos by ranger Paul F 
    Tawny Owl photo by Jusben at

  • On-going stuff.

    21:22 26 January 2012
    By Roy Henderson

    Our work on the new diversion channel above Braithwaite moved another step forward last week when we broke through the wall going out of the old dam.  It was a lot easier to do than ‘breaking in’ to the dam.  

    None of this will pose a problem for walkers because the channel is narrow enough for them to hop over quite easily.  The next stage will be to install a 6m x 600mm pipe.  That shouldn’t be too much of a problem as the ground is soft at present.   Thankfully my fantastic volunteers are still with me on this one!

    In stark contrast, the drilling at Force Crag is hard going just now.  The drill has encountered about 3 or 4 metres of very hard rock and a larger rig has been brought in.  If this doesn’t do the trick a change of drill bit or a relocation of the drill site will have to be tried.

    Later in the week,  Alistair, our North Lakes General Manager hosted a meeting of Trust general and property managers at Bowe Barn.  This included a trip over to Derwent Island to look at work that will need to be done there and to generate ideas about how to make it more accessible for members of the public.  At present there are some open days with limited numbers of places.  Watch this space for open day dates. 

    Evening walk.

    Spot the squirrel
    At the weekend Jan and I went to Edinburgh.  It’s nice to visit a city for a change and Edinburgh is a lovely place.   Of course the pandas are drawing large crowds at present.  Then, when I returned home and took Reiver for a walk on Friars Crag, just by being alert to the surroundings, I saw a red squirrel, a nuthatch and a tree-creeper.  We sometimes forget to take the time to see what is around us all the time – no queues and no charges!
  • Repairing the footpath at Wetheral Woods

    08:15 23 January 2012
    By Ade Mills, Pete Entwistle, Leo Walmsley

    Recently we've been working at the far northern end of the Central & Eastern Lakes property, over at Wetheral Woods, a few miles outside of Carlisle. Wetheral Woods is a twenty-one acre broadleaved woodland and is home to St Constantine's Cells, a hermit's refuge that is thought to have been in existence during the Roman times.

    Our work was to clear away any overhanging branches and repair the footpath, as over the years it had started to become narrow and sloping towards the river.

    Our first job was to dig the bank next to the path that had started to fall away. We would then be able to erect some shuttering to prevent the side of the path from eroding away any more.

    Digging out the bank

    Once we'd dug out a long enough section of the banking, we used wooden rails to create the shuttering, these were firmly attached with nails to some long wooden fence posts to keep them in position.

    Fixing the shuttering in place

    With all the shuttering in place we used a couple of the large trees that had been felled in the past to create a new edge. The trunks of the trees were cut into three metre sections and then rolled into position next to the path. A trench was dug out where we wanted the path edge to be, and the logs were then sat into this channel. Finally we knocked in some posts against the logs to stop there being any chance of them moving.

    Staking the logs into position

    On occasion when the river Eden floods it has been known to reach the path. To try and give the path a bit more protection we laid a couple of trees in the most vulnerable area, to produce a short section of hedgerow. We also took a few cuttings from a nearby willow and planted them up. We're hoping that if the hedge has the chance to grow for a few years, without being damaged by floodwater, it should help to stabilise the bank and reduce the damage to the path in the event of any flooding.

    The newly laid hedge

    Finally, to finish off we graded the bank (on the left hand side of the picture below) to make the path slightly wider and level out the worst of the undulations.

    The completed section of path
  • Diversionary tactics!

    15:55 19 January 2012
    By Roy Henderson

    Last week we were finally able to begin the task of diverting water from an old, inadequate drain into a new channel that will by-pass the village of Braithwaite and lessen future risk of flooding.  The Trust’s archaeologist, Jamie Lund had visited the site and researched archive material before we started work.
    Ranger Joe at work & Reiver on inspection patrol.

    One of our fantastic regular volunteers.
    The existing drain runs under an extension to an old building that is now Coledale Inn.  It began life in 1824 as a carding mill but by 1867 had been purchased by Robert Wilson of the Cumberland Pencil Company.  In 1898 it was destroyed by fire.  Attempts were made to divert water from the old mill pond to douse the fire as the fire engine made its way from Keswick.  The splendidly-named English Lakes Visitor & Keswick Guardian reported on Dec 24th 1898 that … the fire engine (horsed by a pair of good animals and driven by John Nelson of the Blencathra hotel) … made its way to the fire.  Perhaps predictably, all that remained the following day was the pitiful sight of the shell of the building.  A subsequent meeting of the shareholders (including Canon Rawnsley, one of the founders of the Trust) decided to sell the remains and it was then rebuilt as Coledale Inn.

    So, this site has long been an important part of the village.  Once our project is complete, water will be channelled across the mill pond and out the other side to avoid building up a head of water there.  Following Jamie’s advice, this part of the channel has been dug out by hand to minimize the risk to the site.

    More volunteer power.
    I worked alone for one day; had a fellow ranger Joe with me on the second and then had three volunteers on the third so it has taken seven days of hand digging to complete this section.  We completed just over 30m which is brilliant.

    Feet complaining?
    Fortunately we can now bring in contractors with a JCB to complete the job. All being well that should reroute at least 80% of the flow that threatened the village with flooding. 

    The end-of-the-day clean-up.
    It hasn’t been a particularly glamorous task but sometimes we just have to get our heads down and get on with a job.  Sadly, there were no exciting archaeological finds to reward the hard graft!

  • The Tale of Four Little Pigs

    15:50 19 January 2012
    By John Atkinson, Nick Petrie, Paul Kear , Rob Clarke, Sarah Anderson

    is this what they mean by free range pork?
     Proving life is never dull as a National Trust ranger, our Lead Ranger John has spent some time this week sorting out the’Tale of Four Little Pigs’.
    The Tale began at the weekend when John was contacted by several people who told him that a small group of pigs had appeared in one of our car parks near Coniston Water. It seems that the pigs may just have been left there and they have now set up home in our adjacent wood. John’s enquiries with farms nearby, the police, RSPCA and DEFRA have failed to provide any further information and no owner has stepped forward.

    Luckily the Tale can have a happy ending as John himself has a farm close by and will be able to give them a home … all he has to do now is trot down there, snout around a bit and catch them!

    Story by Linda
    [photo credit Dayve Ward]
  • Acting on information received

    15:27 18 January 2012
    By Maurice Pankhurst, Mark Astley, Jack Deane, Paul Delaney, Andy Warner , Daniel Simpson, Geoff Medd

    Tuesday morning bright & early, Jack and I grabbed a chainsaw, got our gear and headed off down to the path linking Crow Park to the Isthmus. Taking a ribbon of dry land surrounded by some very swampy ground, it is a popular path especially for many of the local Keswick dogwalkers. The wet ground allows Willows to flourish, and windy weather occasionally bends them right over causing the path to be obstructed. Half an hour with the chainsaw and the problem was sorted.

    But how did we get to know about the problem in the first place? The area we cover here in the North Lakes is vast, it is impossible for us to get out and find all of the problems. Fortunately for us we have a largely anonymous, unknown, but much appreciated army of informants, that during the course of a walk, or climb, or sail, or drive, spot things that need a quick fix, and then let us know that something is amiss. The lady who found the trees gave us a quick telephone call, and the problem was soon resolved. We always appreciate this, and it is absolutely essential to how we work. So this little piece is not about clearing damaged trees, but rather it is to say thank you, and keep up the good work!
  • Whither the weather

    14:23 18 January 2012
    By Maurice Pankhurst, Jack Deane, Paul Delaney, Andy Warner , Daniel Simpson

    Our work here in the northern Lake District is normally carried out to prepared plans. So, as you will have already read in previous Blogs, most of our winter time work is taken up with hedgerow maintenance. You can work on hedgerows in most weathers apart from heavy consistent frosts. So the appallingly wet and warm winter that we are enduring (oh for the winter wonderland of the past two years!) has been ideal. Over the weekend the rain finally gave out and the beautiful North Lakes were alive with people enjoying the cold crisp sunny days.

    Come Monday and the weather was holding, so it was a case of taking advantage, temporarily dropping the planned work, and getting some outstanding resurfacing work at Braithwaite finally completed. In conservation work it always pays to take a flexible approach. Oh and checking the weather forecast also helps. Incidentally in my experience, the much maligned weather forecasters get it right far more often than wrong!
  • Sun at last!

    09:00 17 January 2012
    By John Atkinson, Nick Petrie, Paul Kear , Rob Clarke, Sarah Anderson

    one of our local sheep happy to be dry for a change
    After one of the wettest winters we can remember at last we've had a spell of great weather to enjoywhile we're outside and getting on with our winter work. One local resident at least seemed pleased!
    an unfortunate beech tree - victim of the recent very windy weather
    The recent storms brought down quite a few trees in the Coniston and Hawkshead area and the valley's been buzzing with the sound of chainsaws as different members of our team have been "tidying up". We're hoping that the rest of January is kinder to us weather-wise.
  • Allan Bank opens its doors March 2012

    11:52 14 January 2012
    By Roland Wicksteed, Dave Jackson, Dave Almond, James Archer, Neil Winder

    For the first time in its 206-year history Allan Bank will be opened to the public in March 2012 to allow you to help us decide the property’s future. 
    Allan Bank is a large house that William Wordsworth had condemned as an eyesore when it was being built. However, in 1808 after he had married, he and Mary moved here with their three children John, Thomas and Dora. Also living with them were Mary's sister Sara Hutchinson, and their literary friends Thomas de Quincey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. They stayed here for two years during which time they had two more children, Catherine and William, but they moved from the house because the chimneys smoked too much, and they fell out with the landlord.
    After 34 years at Crosthwaite Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, one of the founders of the National Trust, retired in 1917 to Grasmere, where he had bought Allan Bank in 1915. He died in 1920, leaving the house to the Trust.
    The house will be unfurnished and undecorated so that we are free to implement suggestions that come forward - we’ll even get people to think about the best colours to paint the different rooms!
    Allan Bank sits proudly above the head of Grasmere with luscious grounds and a breathtaking outlook. In need of more than a little tlc to return it to it’s former glory, Allan Bank is to be the subject of an exciting and unique National Trust project that will invite you to be a part of determining the future of this once great early 19th century building.
  • Winter rescue skills practice

    16:43 13 January 2012
    By Roy Henderson

    Although it isn’t exactly T-shirt weather here in the Lakes, it has definitely been an unseasonably warm start to 2012.  I did manage to do some ice climbing on Helvellyn a couple of weeks before Christmas but it has been really warm since then.  So I and a few other members of the Keswick Mountain Rescue Team had to head off to Cairngorm for a weekend to refresh and practice our winter skills. 

    Cairngorm area January 2012

    The walk in - patchy snow cover
     Even there the snow cover in many places is significantly less than we would have expected at this time of year.  One of the associated problems is that some areas hosting rarer plant species are more vulnerable to damage.

    Most of the weekend was spent practicing skills that we don’t often have the opportunity to use but can be crucial on rare occasions. So we worked on generally Grades 1 and 2 mixed terrain practicing lowering and down-climbing sections, stomper belays and snow belays.

    A bonus to the weekend was spotting a ptarmigan in winter plumage and arctic choughs.  Anything that overwinters in Cairngorm has to be a hardy bird!

    Spot the Ptarmigan
      We returned to almost spring-like conditions in the Lakes. The days are bright and sunny but the crisp, frosty mornings remind us that it is still winter.  If a very cold spell sets in now, it will nip a lot of early growth amongst the vegetation.  For the time being though we can make progress with the Trust’s outdoor projects so I’ll be writing about those next time.
  • Footpath repair at Aira Force

    10:25 13 January 2012
    By Ade Mills, Pete Entwistle, Leo Walmsley

    With our work finished on the high fells until the spring we've been getting out to a few different places around the property and we've recently been working over at Aira Force. Our first job was to replace a set of old wooden risers, with some new slate ones, and also build a stone drain higher up the path, to help protect the new work.

    Old risers removed and the first few slate risers in place

    It's quite a change working somewhere like Aira Force, although the work is still mostly footpath repair work as it is in a more formal environment it's essential to get everything looking just right. It seems quite alien to be using a spirit level and tape measure while constructing a new path! But still the path quickly started to take shape.

    The risers almost completed

    With all the risers in place, it was just a matter of building up a short section of wall and gravelling between the steps. The new path should now be much more user friendly.

    The Finished path

    Our next job was to replace a section of wooden revetment that was retaining a gravelled footpath. As you can see in the photo below, the weight of the gravel has started to push out a section of the edging and the path has started to fall away.

    Section to be replaced

    The first thing to do was to dig out around the boards that had started to move out of place. We dug down a couple of feet until we reached the very bottom of the revetment, and then removed the whole section. Next we made sure everything lined up correctly and marked out where we needed to put the new posts.

    Checking the positioning

    Once we'd decided where the posts should go, we made some fresh holes for them with a crow bar and, as is often the way,  found the bedrock just below the surface. Fortunately the bedrock was relatively easy to break so we managed to knock the posts deeply enough into the ground. Just to be on the safe-side we added a couple of additional posts to help give the new section a bit of extra strength. Once this was done it was just a matter of nailing the reused rails back on to the posts and filling in with some fresh gravel.

    Job finished
  • Coming soon...The Fell Rangers Poster

    10:25 06 January 2012
    By Ade Mills, Pete Entwistle, Leo Walmsley

    After a good winters break to recover from our exertions in 2011 we're now back and steadily getting up to speed. For the start of the new year, we'd like to unveil our new poster. You may have actually seen it around already as a few have been leaked, and one is already on the wall at the National Trust's Grasmere Information Centre.

    The New Fell Rangers Poster

    The poster was created solely by the Fell Ranger Team and will hopefully help people to get a little more information about the work that we do and in turn also highlight the problem of footpath erosion.

    The new poster will be displayed at our work sites in conjunction with our warning sign. The idea being that if you're out walking the fells and stumble across one of our work sites, if it's one of our days off and there's nobody to talk to, it'll be a bit easier to find out what's been going on. The posters should also be appearing sometime soon at the National Trust car parks in Langdale.

    We do realise that some people would rather not see any signage out on the fells but hopefully with the poster being in black and white it should be eye-catching but not too intrusive. Of course, it'll only be temporary and when we move to a new site the posters (made out of a durable vinyl, with waterproof ink) will come with us. We would be really interested to know if you've seen one of our posters and what you think of it.