Team news for December 2013

  • Braving the weather!

    22:14 30 December 2013
    By Roy Henderson

    Like everywhere else in the country, we’ve recently been having a lot of very windy weather. In places there have been vortices that have touched ground and ripped out a lot of trees. Sometimes we have lost larches and occasionally oaks but this is just a natural process. Trees grow up; they are battered by the elements and eventually they fall down.

    Our foresters have had a busy time checking and clearing unsafe ones, especially near footpaths.

    Since our trip to take materials up Langstrath we’ve been back to begin tree planting. Our original day to begin planting had to be cancelled because of strong winds but eventually we were able to make a start. We had a large working group of Rangers and volunteers. I spent most of the day carrying posts and tree guards up the hill. Rangers Maurice and Jack worked with the volunteers planting the trees. Generally speaking, if the soil on the hills is deep enough to grow bracken, it will also be deep enough for trees.

    The weather was a bit grim with some heavy rain coming in waves. Despite that, a lot of planting was done and it was really satisfying to see the pattern of planting developing on the hill-side. All in all, it was a successful day and, with the help of the volunteers, a lot was achieved. These were the volunteers who had worked so hard to shift the section of tree trunk to act as more seating at the amphitheatre beside the shop. They have fantastic amounts of energy and commitment!

    Hi from Daisy. I wish it would stop raining. Ah well I've got a jacket.

  • Juniper Conservation Work at Troutbeck Park Farm.

    15:21 24 December 2013
    By Roland Wicksteed, Dave Jackson, Dave Almond, James Archer, Neil Winder, Ben Knipe

    Juniper is in decline in the U.K....Cumbria, with the most extensive stands in England, is no exception.

    Juniper -- one of the first tree species to colonise Cumbria after the last ice age -- has been a feature on the fells ever since.

    Juniper is adapted to extreme weather conditions, and thrives in the poor soil of the Lake District mountains.

    Many of the trees are now very old; the few seedlings that they do manage to produce are heavily grazed by sheep and rabbits. 

    Juniper regeneration is so poor that it has been included in the Biodiversity Action Plan as  a priority species for Cumbria.

    Digging out and scraping away the turf, prior to planting a seedling.

    Funding from the High Level Scheme has allowed for the planting of 500 seedlings high above Troutbeck Park Farm to boost numbers here over the long term. 
    National Trust Land Rover with the plants and materials.
    The power barrow taking the tools and materials on the next leg of the journey.
    The quad bike and trailer also being used to transport
    the juniper seedlings, stakes and mesh guards.

    This is the point where it is too difficult for the quad bike to go any further.
    Everything has to now be manually carried up the long, steep slope .
      Clambering up into the mist with bundles of stakes and mesh guards.
    The designated planting site is still some distance away.....

    A young Juniper....approx 3 years old newly planted into bare ground. The turf has been stripped back from around where the juniper has been planted.

    Juniper seedlings  with plastic mesh guards to protect them from sheep and rabbits.
    Juniper is an important habitat:

    It supports, or is host to over 40 types of insects, including the juniper carpet moth. The caterpillars feed exclusively on juniper. 

    The Ring Ouzel, an upland bird of the thrush family, feeds up on ripe juniper berries before its Autumn migration to Southern Spain, or the Atlas Mountains in North West Africa.

    Various schemes, aimed at conserving juniper, will hopefully safeguard the long term future of this threatened species.

  • Play is suspended, but work isn't!

    10:45 23 December 2013
    By Ivan Corlett

    Think of Wimbledon and you probably think of Andy Murray, strawberries and cream, warm summer days, grass courts, hawkeye, and if you’re old enough, Robinson’s barley water.

    You might also think of rain delays and the covers going on.

    But what does all this have to do with Steam Yacht Gondola, I hear you ask?

    Well, the company that makes the covers for Wimbledon, Stuart Canvas Products of Warrington, also made the cover for Gondola - if it’s good enough for the aristocracy of tennis we figured it would probably be good enough for Gondola.

    Obviously we don’t bring out Gondola’s cover every time it rains which is a good job given the changeable nature of the weather here in the Lake District.

    Gondola’s cover is only used during the off-season to provide protection to the boat through the harsh winter months and allows us to work in the dry whilst carrying out repairs and maintenance.

    In preparation for the task of covering the boat we first have to assemble the framework.

    Framework for Gondola's cover

    We were a little late getting started this year, partly because we ran our cruises for a couple of weeks longer than usual, but also because the cover was back at Stuart’s for repair - last year, whilst we were shot blasting the engine room in readiness for repainting, the cover took some ‘collateral damage’.

    Anyway, as soon as it arrived back with us we got on with fitting it to the boat.

    Unfortunately, you can’t just line up half a dozen men and tell them to run the cover straight across Gondola. Those Wimbledon guys don’t know what an easy life they have!

    The cover is a 90ft long one-piece heavy canvas. Putting the cover over the boat requires some careful planning and certainly involves a fair amount of manhandling.

    Cover going on

    It took six of us the best part of two hours using rope and bare hands to get the boat covered before the arrival of the gales and torrential rain that were forecast that night, but eventually everything was secured in place.

    Inside Gondola's cover

    Now that Gondola is tucked up in her winter outfit the real work can begin in the dry and relative comfort of the covered interior.

    First job – varnishing the engine silencer lagging.

    Varnishing the engine silencer lagging

  • Daisy's 2013 gallery

    19:26 20 December 2013
    By Roy Henderson

    Daisy here:  I’ve had a great year.  I now live with Roy and Jan and I go to work every day. It’s fantastic.  I think I’ve got one of the best jobs for dogs in the world and I might be getting another one.  Jan's started to train me as a search dog.  It will probably take about 2 years - that is if I pass my exams.  Life's great.

    Me and Jan.

    I am one year old now and these are some of my favourite photographs from my first year. 

    My Mum

    Me as a baby
    I think this was my first time at work.

    I'm a bit bigger here and Roy let me go up a fell.  He carried me a bit.

    I used to do a lot of sleeping...

    ... and playing - Roy and Jan didn't always agree that I was playing!

    I still do a lot of swimming - it's great.

    I have a lot of friends to run around and have stick games with.

    Now that I'm bigger, I go up the fells a lot and I don't need to be carried.
    I still like a good sleep though.  So do my friends.

  • Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

    10:00 20 December 2013
    By John Atkinson, Nick Petrie, Paul Kear , Richard Tanner, Rob Clarke, Glenn Bailey, Sarah Anderson, Sam Stalker, Ian Griffiths, Matthew Allmark, Stuart Graham, Paul Farrington, John Moffat, Craig Hutchinson, Clair Payne, Luke Sherwen

    Wishing you a merry Christmas and a happy new year from all our Rangers. We'll be back in the new year with more news, activities and updates - check back then.

    Evening view across Coniston Water

  • The uplands for Juniper project

    16:00 18 December 2013
    By Roland Wicksteed, Dave Jackson, Dave Almond, James Archer, Neil Winder, Ben Knipe

    The Uplands for Juniper Project aims to conserve and restore Cumbrian Juniper populations through targeted survey work and the provision of management plans to land owners and land managers. Juniper and other tree species are being planted by Cumbria Wildlife Trust where populations are in decline or in places where recreated juniper stands will provide stepping stones between existing populations.
    A young Juniper plant
    This focus on juniper conservation came about after long term declines across the UK in the 20th Century. A decline of 60% up to 1960 was followed by a 31% range contraction in the UK from 1970. These declines lead to Juniper being identified as a UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) priority species, and the species was later the only vascular plant to be short-listed as a Cumbrian BAP species.

    The Wren and SITA funded Project has now surveyed more than 260 stands – a huge effort which was only made possible by the dedication and commitment of more than forty volunteers. Unfortunately, the survey findings don’t make great reading, as the majority of stands are in long term decline due predominantly to sheep browsing but with shading by tall trees and browsing by red deer being important factors in some areas. The mapping of all of these juniper stands will be used for decades to come – resulting in more focused and strategic conservation efforts in the future, which will hopefully counter the decline that the survey has now highlighted. 

    Glenamara Park above Ullswater which is owned by the National Trust is one area that was identified as a site for planting, 500 young plants were planted over two years along with 40 Aspen trees.  It will act as a stepping stone for the stands of Juniper to the west on Glenridding common and to the south at Hartsop.

    An Aspen tree protected by a tree guard.

     National Trust rangers and volunteers having a well earned break.
    The Uplands for Juniper Project will come to an end in 2014, having planted 9000 juniper across the Lake District, and having encouraged more positive conservation work through 40 management plans Juniper in the Lake District will remain a common feature for many years to come.  

  • Ghyll scrambling or admiring views?

    13:34 18 December 2013
    By Roy Henderson

    I have mentioned before visits to Stoneycroft Ghyll with people from a number of organisations and groups to discuss how to balance conservation and the needs of outdoor providers of ghyll scrambling. Well that project is now well underway.  Bolts and chains have been installed along the side of the ghyll.The National Park provided funding for the bolts & chains and King Kong climbing installed them for us. 

    The new hardware has been installed so that it won’t be visible to passing walkers but will enable groups to use the ghyll for scrambling activities without causing erosion to its banks. Ghyll scrambling is an activity that has been growing rapidly in popularity in recent years. This project means that large numbers of people can use a route that minimises damage to vegetation.  Ghylls often have their own distinct vegetation with some having very rare lichens for example. 

    I'm really pleased with this project. Working with lots of different organisations and partners has been challenging but it's great that we've all moved forward in the same direction.

    Another big project is nearly complete when my volunteers helped me to transport a large section of tree trunk to the site beside the Trust shop. 

     This will serve as more seating at what is a superb view point looking across Derwentwater.  

    As you can see in the pictures, it was not the easiest task to move it into position.  Fallen trees of this size are a precious resource so we thought very carefully about how best to use it.  We hope that many of you will be able to enjoy the seat and the views.

    Daisy here:  I'm allowed to run and jump. Huzzah!!.

  • The Great Storm of 2013

    12:19 17 December 2013
    By Jo Day

    Thursday 5th December was no ordinary day here at Sandscale.  We had high tides of 9.81meters and the gusts of 63mph winds were pushing the tide even higher.  Although we had to cancel the volunteer work party, Neil and Myself were lucky enough to capture the events on camera...
    This is the view from the boardwalk, usually the tide will be a good meter away from our frontal dunes on a really high tide.  Here our frontal dunes are just being engulfed by the storm surge.
    This view of our blowout is only impressive when you learn that the bush at ground level used to be at the top of the dune.  Later this shrub was found just below our boardwalk, half a mile away
     This footage was captured whilst being stood inside the blow out, an hour before high tide.  Needless to say we couldn't hang around for long.

    So what sort of damage was done?  Here are our before and after shots...
     Using the tree in the background as a marker, you can see the front ridge has all but disappeared

     The fence from the blowout that was catching sand and starting to build up as a ridge has completely gone, along with our fence.

    Although dramatic, this is really good news for us.  Sandscale is a dynamic system with constantly shifting sands.  More bare sands create a good habitat for early pioneer plants.  It's also great news for our Natterjack Toads who bury into the sand dunes and hunt along the shore where vegetation is sparse.

  • Start of the Gondola Winter Refit

    12:02 17 December 2013
    By Ivan Corlett

    Late autumn signals the time of year when Gondola comes off the water. However, there’s no time for the crew to put their feet up and look forward to a cosy winter by the fireside.

    It's time to start the winter refit so it’s all hands on deck, so to speak, on the day the grand old lady of Coniston is hauled out of the water and up the slipway at Pier Cottage.

    Hauling Gondola out of the water

    The big day brought beautiful, clear weather. The sun shone all day long, but at this time of year with a chilly north-easterly wind to freshen things up it was cold work for all involved – if only we could have fired up Gondola’s steam engine to keep us warm!

    The stunning weather did bring some compensation in the form of wonderful views of the Coniston Fells and the sight of snow on the summit of the Old Man.

    Old Man of Coniston

    Last year’s refit was a major overhaul, so this year‘s plans are somewhat less daunting, although there’s still a huge amount of work to do – all neatly detailed on the project plan lovingly plugged into Microsoft Project by Gondola manager, Peter Keen.

    Gondola refit project plan

    The aim of the winter refit is to put right what's wrong, fix the things that need fixing and give the boat a good old makeover. This means a bit of weight loss to start with - one and a half tons of lead ballast is removed along with the decks and all of the ships fittings.

    Dismantling of the helm

    It’s a significant task so practicalities take over. For example, ‘Sidney', the boat’s twin-tailed sea serpent figurehead suffered a little indignity as he was removed for his winter renovation. He usually gets treated with a little more respect, but needs must!

    Sidney the sea serpent

    The other big task at the start of the refit is the engine room strip-down. This begins with pipework, valves, gauges, fittings and the steam dome being removed.

    Engine dials

    And all that just on the first day! We'll keep you up to date with our progress over the winter.

  • Two days and three nights of festive activities at High Wray Basecamp

    15:50 16 December 2013
    By John Atkinson, Nick Petrie, Paul Kear , Richard Tanner, Rob Clarke, Glenn Bailey, Sarah Anderson, Sam Stalker, Ian Griffiths, Matthew Allmark, Stuart Graham, Paul Farrington, John Moffat, Craig Hutchinson, Clair Payne, Luke Sherwen

    High Wray Basecamp was built to be used and is always at it’s best when it’s full up with volunteers. This is why one of our best weekends of the year is the now traditional Fix the Fells lengthsmen’s Christmas bash. We’ve hosted this for the last four years now and this year was the biggest and best yet!

    Walling on Red Nab bridleway on Friday
    It all started on Thursday night. A few volunteers who live the furthest away arrived to stay over (quiet night in) and be ready for Friday’s work day drystone walling us on the Red Nab bridleway. More people arrived on Friday morning, swelling the numbers to around 15 people. We had a fine day’s walling in very mild weather, at the end of which some went home and a few more stayed over (a less quiet night in), ready for the main event on Saturday.

    The volunteer army moves out!

    Saturday came and more arrivals saw the volunteer army up to full strength, with 34 ‘Fix the Fellers’ heading over to Coniston to join with the South Lakes upland path team and members of the Western and Northern valley’s teams. On site, they divided to work on two sites with a smaller party fixing some leaking stone drains on one path and the bulk of the numbers working to landscape out shortcuts and plant trees on another.

    Team two on the drain repair
    While everyone was out having muddy footpath repair fun, we stayed back at Basecamp getting the place ready for the evening’s festivities. A full day hoovering, moving tables + chairs, cleaning and decorating gave us just enough time to be ready for the now very hungry volunteer’s return from the fells. A proper slap up Christmas dinner expertly prepared by Ian, a long standing group member, was the perfect end to a great day. This was certainly not a quiet night in!

    Cheers! The well earned xmas meal
    Social events are often an important part of volunteering and can really help bind a group together, so it’s great for us at the volunteer centre to be able to host things like this. It was a very cordial evening indeed, although it has to be said from past experience we’ve learnt it’s best not to plan for any work to be done on the Sunday ….
  • Daisy is missing her running and swimming.

    17:13 11 December 2013
    By Roy Henderson

    One of my big jobs last week was to take a load of tree guards and tree posts up Langstrath on our ATV (All Terrain Vehicle).  Our woodland ranger Maurice and I hope that, weather allowing and with the help of volunteers, we’ll be able to do some tree planting up there before Christmas.  The ATV is brilliant for such jobs.  It can take some quite big loads into some difficult places so it saves us a lot of time and effort.

    The tree planting scheme is part of the woodland expansion scheme that Maurice has been heavily involved in.  The tree population in Langstrath has been ageing and declining for some time now so it will be good to restore some to the landscape.

     For anybody who knows the area, I managed to take the materials as far as Black Moss Pot.  This is a deep-sided gorge with good access and a small stream running through it.  It is a fantastic place to go swimming when it is nice and warm although perhaps not at this time of year!

    On my way down Borrowdale that morning I spotted a big red deer stag standing in the middle of the river near Grange.  There were also six or seven red deer on the opposite river bank.  Further on near the Stonethwaite campsite, as I passed an ash tree, I saw a red squirrel with its fluffed up winter coat scampering around the trees. I can’t say this too often.  There is a huge amount of wildlife to be seen around here if we only take the time to look carefully.  All you need to do is pause quietly and be observant.  You never know when it will be your luck to be in the right place at the right time to see something outstanding.

    Daisy here:

    I’ve had an operation on my tummy.  It’s horrible.  It’s so that I can’t have puppies in future.  I didn’t want puppies anyway.  I’m not allowed to run or jump or be walked off the lead for ten whole days.

  • Water-Gate (Heck) at Troutbeck Park Farm.

    14:26 06 December 2013
    By Roland Wicksteed, Dave Jackson, Dave Almond, James Archer, Neil Winder, Ben Knipe

    One of the many water gates or "hecks" at Troutbeck Park Farm needed repairing recently.

    The wooden cross "beam" had collapsed into the stream, after becoming rotten in the middle.

    A replacement was needed  urgently.

    These gates or hecks act as barriers to livestock, whilst allowing the stream to flow past.

    A recently felled birch at St. Catherine's looked to be an ideal replacement.


    With the bark stripped off, it was ready for several coats of wood preserver.

    Getting the replacement "beam" into position.
    The length of birch  was transported to site by land-rover and trailer.

    Final adjustments.

    Drilling through the new beam to allow the "swing gates" to be attached .

    Job done!
  • Working with volunteers on Gowbarrow

    13:35 04 December 2013
    By Ade Mills, Pete Entwistle, Leo Walmsley

    Over the course of the year we've spent a fair amount of time repairing the path up on Gowbarrow in Ullswater, and to help us achieve this work we've had fantastic support from numerous volunteer groups.

    Although the path had previously been worked on a few years back, those sections that have been left had really started to worsen. You can see here just how bad the path was getting, with bare sections of peat which were steadliy getting wider and wider.

    After some consideration on what would be the best method to repair the path we decided we needed additional materials as there was little suitable rock on site. So earlier this year several tonnes of gravel and rock was delivered to a nearby site and we filled the bags.

    With the bags all filled, the next job was to get it up to Gowbarrow. A helicopter was used to fly it in, with the bags dropped near to the most eroded areas.

    With the bags now in position we arranged our first work party. A group of Fix the Fells volunteers came out with us for a couple of days. Our job was basically to dig a shallow trench through the peat and fill it with the gravel from the bags to create a hard surface for walking on.

    The next group to help us was from the Environment Agency's North West team. Once again we struck lucky with the weather and by the end of the day we'd completed another good section of path.

    Shortly after this we were joined by a National Trust Working Holiday for a week. The section that we were working on is shown to the left. We decided to move the path from it's original location (in the first picture above) higher up the bank. We did this as the line was less undulating and so the new path will be more sustainable and less likely to erode at a later date.

    So we set to work. Although it always seems wrong putting a path through an untouched area, given a bit of time the original path will green over and, in this instance, eventually the heather will return and nobody will be any the wiser.

    Due to the close proximity of the crag, the bags had to be dropped a fair distance away from the new path.
    To overcome this we filled buckets with gravel and created a chain of people moving it to where it was needed.

    After a few days the new path was really starting to take shape.

    To help make the path more durable we used a whacker-plate to compress the surface.

    Our next group of volunteers were school children aged 10 & 11 and accompanied by the Field Studies Council. They joined us for an afternoon to help them understand the impact that visitors to the Lake District have on the environment.

    Though only with us for a few hours they managed to get another decent section of path completed and also seemed to have great fun doing it.

    As there was still a bit more work to do on the section, we arranged another Fix the Fells work party to finish off where we'd started with the school group.

    Word had obviously spread from the Environment Agency about our work up on Gowbarrow, and later on in the year we were joined by another group, again from the North West.

    Even though the weather had noticeably started to deteriorate since earlier in the year, we completed another good section of path.

    With the days now shortening we had one more day to finish our work for the year. We were again joined by the Fix the Fells lengthsmen with numbers bolstered by staff from the Lake District National Park Authority, including Richard Leafe, the Chief Executive.
    We had some more resurfacing work to do and also a large side drain that needed to be dug out.
    It's really been a fantastic team effort to get this work done but there's still plenty more to be done. We'll be back working on Gowbarrow again next year for Phase 2, so maybe we'll see some familiar faces again then.

    Over the course of the year we clocked up an amazing 162 volunteer days. Although we said it at the time we'd really like to reiterate how thankful we are for everybody's help. The work on Gowbarrow is incredibly labour intensive and there's no way we could have completed it without all the additional help. Thank you.

    A few more photographs from our time on Gowbarrow can also be seen here... Gowbarrow photographs.
  • Making good use of plastic.

    10:09 03 December 2013
    By Roy Henderson

    Last week I was joined by some of the ranger team and volunteers from Sandscale Haws.  They are going to be installing some recycled plastic decking and just as we went to learn from the experience of others, they came to do the same with us.  There’s no need for them to repeat the mistakes that I made when we first started to use the material. 

    We went down to Great Bay and Myrtle Bay to see an established section there.  The biggest difference between plastic and wood is the amount of expansion and contraction with temperature so they could see the expansion joints I have been using.  Whilst we were there, they helped me to deal with a couple of posts that had sunk a bit.  We took the opportunity to underpin those to level off the board walk. 

    It will be interesting for me to go to see their work eventually and to see if they have developed any improvements that I can use in future.  I’ve mentioned before that the plastic we use is plastic milk cartons collected in the north of England and recycled in Liverpool.  The Sandscale Haws team is similarly keen to minimise the environmental impact of the production and transport of the materials they use.

    As they had brought their ranger dog with them, Daisy had a great time running around playing in the long grass.  It was good to work with a new team.  It is always useful to share ideas.

    Daisy here:

    Life’s great.  It’s my birthday soon.  I wonder what I’ll get.