Team news for March 2013

  • Wind and Snow

    16:00 30 March 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

    It may be Easter but spring hasn't yet arrived, in fact recent heavy snowfall and strong winds have made for 'interesting' conditions in parts of the Lakes recently; this is what Luke encountered on his 'commute' to work...

    It took a little longer to get to and from work at the weekend. I crept along the road with one eye looking ahead, and the other on the amazing snow formations built up against the hedge.

    Crazy shapes created by the strong winds and light snow, can you see the face?!
    Blowing snow is the Meteorological term for any loose snow lifted from the ground surface and suspended by strong winds to a height of 2 m (6 ft.) or more above the surface.

    Drifting snow is only raised from the ground surface by the wind to a height of less than 2 m (6 ft.) creeping, rolling and bouncing above the surface.

    The snow which is being blown about may deposit as snowdrifts.

    Snow tsunami.
    The two photographs below were taken at the same spot along the hedge. One on the way home in the evening and the other in the morning the next day when the sun was coming up.

    Not so droopy...

    The view opened up as we drove from Grizedale visitors centre to Moor Top. The definition of the dune-like landscape was enhanced by the shadows cast from the rising sun.

    Grizedale Moor Top.
    Happy (chilly) Easter!

    post and photos by Luke, Upland Footpath ranger
  • Serious stuff then games.

    15:37 28 March 2013
    By Roy Henderson

    Last week I was involved in one of the more unusual of my activities.  The National Trust owns a house on the island in Derwentwater and we need to have plans in place for what we would do in the event of a fire in the house.  It’s obviously not quite as simple as drawing alongside the house in the usual fire tender so we carry out regular practice sessions.  For the island these involve Cumbria Fire & Rescue, the National Trust and Keswick Mountain Rescue Team.

    This was a full-scale rehearsal to test our procedures.  In total we had four engines and two boats from Cumbria Fire & Rescue and two boats from the Mountain Rescue Team.

    Of course the gear, including light-weight pumps and hoses, and the crew have to be taken over in the boats.  All were on the scene very quickly and three teams of two fire-fighters donned breathing apparatus and entered the cellars of the house with charged hoses to carry out a simulated rescue of three dummies.  Members of the Mountain Rescue Team helped with the evacuation of the ‘casualties’ to the boats.

    It was a good joint exercise that went very well.  All the effort was rewarded by the tenants of the island providing copious amounts of tea and cake.  As you can imagine, a huge amount of cake was consumed!
    But, it’s not all so serious.  

    We have had the unexpected recent snowfall and it was too good an opportunity to miss.  We ended one day with a good, old-fashioned snow ball fight.  Sadly I have to report that two foresters walloped five rangers.  In our defence, the foresters are much younger and fearless!  Daisy wanted to join in the fun so she had some snowballs delivered ‘underarm’ so that she wouldn’t be hurt or frightened.

    Finally, a reminder that I will be very pleased to see anyone who can volunteer some time for a path-clearing project behind the new shop.

    Dates:  April 1st to 5th inclusive

    Time:  10am to 3pm

    Meet:  At the new Trust shop at the boat landings.

    If all you can spare is an hour or two, it will still be very much appreciated.

    Daisy here:  I've got a new bed.

  • Meet the Ranger (Rohan Ambleside 30th March 12-3pm)

    19:25 26 March 2013
    By Roland Wicksteed, Dave Jackson, Dave Almond, James Archer, Neil Winder, Ben Knipe

    Meet the RangerNeil Winder - Ambleside - Sat 30 March
    Neil, National Trust Area Ranger, is most probably the Lake District's biggest fan; his enthusiasm for his adventure playground of a workplace knows no bounds. Meet him in the Ambleside store to learn about the National Trust Rangers' ongoing work to maintain the stunning landscape, and get the low-down on the best ways to experience the Lakes, both indoors and out.
    12pm to 3pm. Tel: 01539 431630

  • Bringing the outside in!

    14:32 26 March 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

    If you've been reading our Hilltop, the Gallery and Wray Castle blog, then you will have seen that Wray Castle is open once more for the 2013 season.  There was a mad dash to the finish line to get everything ready, but with the help of some wonderful volunteers and many staff we did get there and were ready to open as promised, so come and say hello!  They are open 10am-5pm everyday. 

    This year something that is slightly different is that the Ranger team were given a room to call their own.  Called the countryside room, it is a room where we decided to bring the outside, in.  Afterall it's what we know best about!  The question was where to begin?  Do we put a sprinkler system in to recreate the great British summer, maybe some sheep poo to recreate the aroma?   Or perhaps just some sheep?!

    The countryside room as work began
    Well where we did in fact start was by ordering some astro turf to lay as carpet, then we carried up some stone to build a dry stone wall and for good measure we carried up some massive tree discs to act as a history lessonI think half of the house staff thought we were a bit mad, and well yes we are, but it was great fun!

    Cutting the astro turf ready to carry up

    The drystone wall and mini walls for people to have a go at walling with.
    One of the tree discs and some notable historic dates

    The room as it was for opening
    So lots has been done, but we are still adding some finishing touches, including getting the astro turf properly fitted and adding some fencing and a gate.  It will change throughout the seasons and during the summer you may even find a ranger in the room running some activities.  Eitherway we hope its a room that lets people engage and learn about what we do, so when you're next in the castle go and have an explore (just be careful of the sheep...)! 

  • Old Elm tree on Gowbarrow Fell

    15:00 25 March 2013
    By Roland Wicksteed, Dave Jackson, Dave Almond, James Archer, Neil Winder, Ben Knipe


    Close to Aira Force next to the path that leads up onto Gowbarrow fell beside Ullswater is this really old Elm tree. It is an ancient pollard that has lasted for hundreds of years. A pollard is where the crown of the tree has been reduced to about 3 metres above ground level so grazing animals would not eat the new shoots that grew from the stem, back in those days this would have been deer as Gowbarrow is an old deer park.  

    As you can see the trunk of the tree is quite rotten and open and only about half of it remaining. We were worried that the weight of the crown would get too heavy for the stem to support and pull the tree over so we decided we had to reduce the weight by cutting back some of the branches.

    Luckily we could do this with the high pruning saw as we didn't think it was safe to climb.

    Here is one of the branches we cut off, I counted over fourty growth rings in just this thin branch and it shows how slow growing it has been. At a guess i would say it must be over 150 years since the tree was last pollarded and who knows how many times it was pollarded before that so this could easily make the tree 300-400 years old. The work we have done will now hopefully keep the tree going for another 100 years and interest the many walkers that pass by it.


    09:07 25 March 2013
    By Roland Wicksteed, Dave Jackson, Dave Almond, James Archer, Neil Winder, Ben Knipe

    The white clawed crayfish is the UK's only native crayfish and our largest crustacean; its distribution and numbers have declined catastrophically in recent years, and now it is the rivers and streams of Cumbria that are its main stronghold.
    White clawed crayfish.
    White clawed crayfish inhabit clean mineral rich water, usually in limestone areas; this releases calcium carbonate into the water which the crayfish needs to build its hard carapace or outer shell. It is intolerant of pollution, so its presence is often a sign that the water quality is good. It plays an important role in maintaining a stable water ecology. It certainly does not thrive when cattle waste mixed in with mud and silt  threaten to overwhelm water courses.
    Part of the fencing work.
    For this reason, N.T Rangers based at St. Catherine's were given the go ahead to fence off hundreds of metres of a watercourse, with known populations of crayfish upstream; However, the cattle still needed to drink, and a way to reliably provide water for them from the original source was needed. -The answer was to pipe water by gravity feed from a header dam into a water trough put in place many metres further downstream. The following images illustrate the most recent phase of the project, which is still ongoing.

    Building the header dam...The fun bit but COLD!
    The completed dam.
    The blue alkathene pipe on its way to the water trough.
    through the wall......

    ........and into the trough.....
    ....and back out through the wall into the stream again!
    The water trough fills up rapidly.
    a new gate was needed to allow stock movement past the fenced off beck.
    The new gateway.
    Ideal habitat for crayfish, with plenty of watercress for the juveniles to take cover!

    The water pipe is well hidden, and the gap in the wall normally has a hurdle placed across it to deny access to stock.

    The main reason for the massive losses in native White Clawed numbers was the introduction of the American Signal Crayfish in the Seventies. It is a voracious predator that has annihilated the White Clawed from many waterways, especially in the South of the country. It breeds much more prolifically, outcompetes it for food and worst of all, carries a fungal plague that is fatal to the native species. The Signal does major harm to the eco systems of rivers in the UK. It severely depletes fish stocks by devouring fish eggs and small fish, as well as impacting on plants, invertebrates and snails. The Signals burrow into river banks in such numbers, that in the worst infested sites, people have reported seeing banks retreating under the relentless pressure. 

    Please help maintain the populations of the White Clawed Crayfish in Cumbria;  clean and dry any equipment. you may use around rivers and lakes. This will reduce the risk of spreading the "Crayfish Plague" , the fungus of which thrives on damp boots, fishing gear etc.
  • Daisy, Stan & a new shop.

    17:43 22 March 2013
    By Roy Henderson

    The big news in the valley this week is that the builders have completed their work renovating the National Trust shop opposite the Derwentwater boat landings near Theatre by the Lake.  After extensive work we now have a medium –sized shop with stunning views over the lake. 

     It will be reopening before the Easter weekend so there was much to do to have it stocked and ready for then. 

    Now that the builders have moved out, I can move in to do some work on the open-air classroom and seating space next to the shop.  It will have a decked area made from recycled-plastic boardwalk.  The recycled plastic is made in Liverpool from plastic waste (mainly milk containers) from NW England so the whole process is as local as possible.

    Over the weekend I took a walk up Castle Crag to check out a couple of trees that will need attention soon.  One would grow to obscure the view from the top so it will be taken out.  

    The other, a larch, is growing too close to the iron-age hill fort up there and its root plate would damage the archaeology if it were blown over.

    There is a tremendous view of Rosthwaite from the top of Castle Crag.  The ancient field development can be clearly seen in the existing hedge and wall pattern radiating from the settlement.  The early division of the land would have used people-drawn and then animal-drawn ploughs.  Stones would have been cleared to the boundaries and became walls.  The rocking and turning motions of the ploughs often resulted in what are called ‘lazy-S’ shaped walls and hedges.  This actually resulted in stronger walls and hedges.  It is also clear from the view from the top that Rosthwaite reflects the Old Norse meaning of Thwaite – clearing (in a wood). 

    Castle Crag is a fairly short circular walk from Grange although the top is a bit steep as you are climbing up through old slate mine workings.  But, for relatively little effort, there are stunning views both towards Keswick & Derwentwater and deeper into the valley towards Rosthwaite.  There is a reward for your effort!

    Hi it's Daisy. I fell in the river - it was awful, awful !!!

    I've made another friend.  This is Stanley, Stan to his friends like me.  He can run really fast.
  • Friday 22 March

    15:06 22 March 2013
    By Roland Wicksteed, Dave Jackson, Dave Almond, James Archer, Neil Winder, Ben Knipe

    The Tree Doctor
    Over the winter we have been carrying out our tree safety inspections, we need to check that trees in high public areas are safe and will not fall or drop limbs on any one. Occasionally some trees may look ok but have signs that all is not well and then we have to call in the tree doctor with his high tech peace of kit called the PICUS which is latin for woodpecker.
    The picus works by ultra sound, sending sound waves through the trunk of the tree, then depending on the speed it travals through the wood it can tell if the wood is healthy or has decay in it.

    He starts by hammering some nails just a short way into the tree, these are at regular intervals around the circumference of the tree, he then attaches sensors which are connected to each other by cable and then to a computor. When it is all set up he then goes round and taps each nail three times, hence the name woodpecker, the reading is then recorded into the computor.

    As he go round the tree tapping the nails the computor records the measurements and starts to draw an outline of the tree.

    When he has been around the tree and all measurments have been recorded we get a picture like the one above, the darker areas indicate sound wood and the blue and red area indicate rot. So looking from the outside the tree looks fine but the Picus shows that there is decay developing within the tree and we need to do some remedial action. In the case of this tree we did a slight crown reduction to reduce the weight and sail of the crown. The Picus machine is a very usefull piece of kit but very expencive at about £5000 but if it helps to protect our visitors its well worth it.


  • Flying teddies!

    10:44 19 March 2013
    By Roy Henderson

    Last week I had a slight diversion from my usual tasks in the valley.  I went along to Wordsworth’s House in Cockermouth to set up an aerial rope-way across the garden.  The house has just reopened to visitors after its winter closure and, with the early Easter dates, all staff are busy with preparations for the new season.  If you visit, you will find that most of the staff will be wearing period costumes that Wordsworth would recognise.  Throughout the year, there are also many activities that visitors can experience.

    The rope-way is for the use of teddy-bears during the Easter holidays.  Children who visit can bring along their bear and it can experience an exciting aerial trip across the garden and can then return safe and well to its owner.  Remember to bring your camera to record the adventure!

    You can also check out the resident chickens.  Chris (our coast ranger) has looked after them over winter but has now returned them to a part of the garden.  And while you are in the garden, you can visit Fletch the Perchcrow.  You can catch up on his recent activities here on his blog.  Normally dogs are not allowed in the garden but Daisy had a special exemption as she was with me and was being taught about where she can and cannot go.  She enjoyed a good mooch around a new place of course.

    Did you know you're not supposed to eat bulbs?  How is anybody supposed to know that?
  • Sub-soiling on the Helm Crag path

    08:12 19 March 2013
    By Ade Mills, Pete Entwistle, Leo Walmsley

    Last year we started work on a section of footpath on Helm Crag using a technique known as sub-soiling. We were helped originally by a group of volunteers on a National Trust Working Holiday and we recently re-visited it with a few of the Fix the Fells volunteers.

    The weather was at times bitterly cold and there was continual flurries of snow, but when you've got your head down working it doesn't take too long to warm up.

    The fence in the photograph below shows where we finished last year. The plan was to continue the path and put in another bend. Zig-zagging the path like this reduces the gradient and this in turn helps to stabilize the path.

    Starting where we finished off last year

    The idea is to dig off the top layer of soil until the harder (sub-soil) layer is found. This hard layer is removed, the soft upper layer is put into the hole and the sub-soil is placed back on top of it. The soil layers are basically being inverted.

    It wasn't too long until the turfs were removed from the new section of path and the soil beneath them had been dug off.

    Digging off the path

    The next photograph shows the path with a drainage channel to the left. You can see now how the path is starting to develop. The soft material has been put back in and has been topped with broken rock and the sub-soil, which is the red-coloured material. This red soil compacts down really well and makes an excellent surface.

    Topping the surface

    By the end of the second day we had completed another section of path and turf lined the drainage channel. We've still got a little bit further to go until we've completely finished this section, so we'll crack on with it again later this year.

    The finished section of path
  • Replacing the highest stile in borrowdale

    15:36 18 March 2013
    By Maurice Pankhurst, Mark Astley, Jack Deane, Paul Delaney, Andy Warner , Daniel Simpson, Jessie Binns, Geoff Medd, Joe Cornforth

    The old stile did well lasting so long considering it is in the wettest inhabited place in

    Daisy supervising the removal of the old stile
     Located above the old graphite mines in Seathwaite at roughly 350m, it takes a hell of a beating from the Cumbrian weather.

    Double checking before making the first cut
    We started the stile on a lovely day in the middle of February,  It is the first I have built and a real step up in my joinery skills. The first job was removing the old stile then getting the new pillars in place and marking where they would be joined.

    At this point Daisy lost interest

    Carefully cutting and chiseling we created the joins and with some maneuvering we eventually got the pillars fitting snugly and nailed together.

    We fixed the pillars at the correct width with a rail and started cutting the grooves for the steps to sit in.

    The pillars were joined opposite ways to create better hand holds 

    With the grooves all cut we nailed the steps in place.

    Volunteer Charles finishing off the stile with the final nail.

    Looking down the valley over Thornythwaite and Watendlath fell to Helvellyn 

    Charles testing the Stile 
     All done and looking stylish...

  • Doras' Field 24th March 11am to 4pm

    12:12 16 March 2013
    By Roland Wicksteed, Dave Jackson, Dave Almond, James Archer, Neil Winder, Ben Knipe

    NGS Cumbria 'Wordsworth's Daffodil Legacy' Day on 24th March
    • The week before Easter 8 gardens will open to the public the length of Cumbria 'from Cartmel to Carlisle' to mark the Lake District's link with Wordsworth's 'host of golden daffodils'.
    • Wordsworth left a double legacy to the Lake District - not only his poem 'I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud', but also Dora's Field, which he planted with native daffodils in memory of his daughter. Opening Dora's Field last year was the starting point for all the openings.
    • Includes an eclectic mix of gardens- (Dora's Field & Acorn Bank are both National Trust properties)
      • South Cumbria - Dora's Field and Rydal Hall in Rydal, Eller Howe in Lindale, Holehird Gardens in Windermere,
      • North Cumbria - High Moss in Portinscale near Keswick, Newton Rigg Campus Gardens & Lowther Castle & Garden Trust near Penrith and Acorn Bank Garden & Watermill  in Temple Sowerby near Penrith.
    • The NGS, which celebrates its 86th anniversary this year, organises the opening of almost 4000 gardens in England & Wales.
    • In 2012, by opening their gardens, NGS Garden Owners raised £2.8m benefiting nursing & caring charities and horticultural education in England and Wales. 

    Come and join us at Dora's field Rydal on Sunday 24th March, enjoy the sea of yellow Daffs and chat to the Rangers about the Fields history and secrets.

  • Beatrix Potter National Trust Ranger

    14:14 15 March 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

    Beatrix Potter is well known as a children’s author and illustrator but perhaps less well known is the fact that she was also a farmer ,land owner and for a number of years worked for the National Trust  as a voluntary Land Agent . In this role in the 1930’s she helped to look after some of the National Trust property across the South Lakes , including farms , houses and woodlands much of which was either donated or sold to the Trust by Beatrix Potter herself.

    Even though she came from a wealthy family and was raised in a luxurious house in London with servants and a governess , she wasn’t frightened of getting her hands dirty and was very actively involved in the day to day decision making that was required to ensure that the Trust owned  property was well looked after.

    Beatrix Potter the day before her marriage to William Heelis.


    I have  recently had the opportunity to look through some of Beatrix Potters’( or more accurately Mrs Heelis as she was known after marrying in 1913) letters to Bruce Thompson The Trusts’ first Land Agent in the lakes.  A few things leap out from the pages .

     It is quite striking how  things have little changed over the years,  the challenges and issues that the South Lakes Rangers face  today are identical  to those that Beatrix Heelis and Bruce Thompson faced in the 1920’s and 30’s . In one letter  dated Jan 4 1937, written from her home , Castle Cottage in Near Sawrey, she writes at some length advising Mr Thompson on the best type of fencing to use on a wood boundary that floods regularly ‘ It is usual to put round  wire near flood water, because woven wire netting gets clogged with drift ‘  . She then goes on to extol the virtues of ‘Hercules’ netting over the cheaper  ‘Wrylock ‘  co-incidentally  we  still use Rylock netting for most of our fencing jobs these days .
    Ranger Team helping to fence a wood with Rylock netting in foreground !

    In another letter dated Jan 14 1937 she talks about inspecting  the drainage at Thwaite Farm in Coniston. ‘ There is a fine sewer or main drain from Thwaite. …. Whoever made the drain 80 years ago had lost his level and made a raised step …. We could not remedy it , but I had the sides of the sewer raised , so as to give more head room , and up to date it has answered’

    The management of surface water is a constant challenge for our Ranger teams with torrential rain becoming common place damage to paths and fields is something that we deal with on a regular basis . The solution in many cases is to do exactly what Mrs Heelis mentioned in the letter namely to increase the size of the field drain , so that it can take a greater volume of water ; very costly and time consuming but the right decision in the long term.

    Yew Tree Farm Coniston
    Yew Tree Farm in Coniston is a farm that Mrs Heelis had strong personal connections with and the challenges of finding a suitable new tenant  are mentioned  in one of the  letters . She felt that the existing tenants had not made the most of the farm . ‘ Yew Tree as a farm has a bad name already ……..What it wants is a tenant who would concentrate on the visitor teas.’  Beatrix had helped to set up a tea room on the farm to help bring in extra income at a difficult time for farming.  We as Rangers get involved with the selection of  farm tenants from time to time as an organisation we , like Mrs Heelis , are always looking for people who will run a successful business , look after the land and who are comfortable with the high levels of access on Trust land,  that we encourage.

    In other letters she talks of installing benches at Tarn Hows , vandalism by mischievous local boys, woods where timber for fence posts and rails may be sourced from and  writes quite disapprovingly about a new fence that has been erected at Holme Fell . All very familiar issues and decisions that we get involved in today.

    Apart from the striking familiarity of the issues discussed , the letters also  reveal something of the character of Beatrix Potter ( Mrs Heelis ).  When asked about their relationship, Bruce Thompson wrote  that he was quite scared of her , and didn’t look forward to their meetings . The letters show that she had strong opinions on things and was obviously very knowledgeable about farming and land management, I get the impression that she didn’t suffer fools gladly . I,m not sure how this fool would have enjoyed working with her !

    Paul Farrington
    National Trust Ranger ( South Lakes )

  • Back working at Allan Bank

    12:25 11 March 2013
    By Ade Mills, Pete Entwistle, Leo Walmsley

    Since the last update we've been busily working away on the Woodland Trail at Allan Bank. It's a continuation of the work that we did last year and joins the two sections of path that we worked on to form a continuous loop.

    Before we commenced work, the footpath was fairly level but rough and tended to be wet in areas. We want to make sure the trail is suitable for lots of people so we thought it'd be good idea to resurface it. It was unworked on last year as the other areas were of a higher priority due to the steepness and the likelihood that they may deteriorate.

    Before starting work

    Before surfacing, the first job was to sort out the drainage. We piped three areas where rainwater runs off from the bedrock and we also put in two new stone drains. The pipes were finished off with stone so you would never know they're there.

    Digging in the new pipes

    With this done we had to have access to get the gravel from where it was delivered to the rest of the path. In one place there was a set of steps with no way around. We therefore built a wooden ramp over the steps out of two tree trunks and some fencing rails. We'd now be able to access the path without ruining the steps.

    Building the ramp

    The next job was to edge the path. As part of the woodland management program at Allan Bank quite a few trees are required to be thinned out, this will allow more light to reach the ground and encourage plants such as bluebells, primroses and violets to flourish. So we took advantage of all the surplus timber to edge our new path.

    Fixing the edging in place

    Finally it was time to start moving the gravel. In total we'll have shovelled 30 tonnes of gravel and moved it around the woodland with our mechanical (power) barrows. It's not the speediest of jobs but it's the only way to do it.

    Starting the gravelling

    The new path is really starting to take shape now and when finished will provide a fantastic route around the woodland.

    New section of path
  • Industrial heritage

    15:41 08 March 2013
    By Roy Henderson

    One of the more unusual things I did last week was go into one of the levels in Force Crag Mine with John Malley and two friends.  We wanted some photographs to apply for consent for contractors to do some work in it.  The mine is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and we need to plan how to have work carried out without damaging the historic remains.

    It had to be a carefully planned and carried out visit because it is potentially dangerous.  There are many unsafe shafts to be avoided and it certainly isn’t a place for anyone who doesn’t know where these are.  We were also careful to avoid any area which did not have a solid roof above us.

    Force Crag Mine is a major project for the National Trust that will be ongoing for years.  It was the last working mine in the Lake District and is the only one of its type that still has its working machinery and buildings intact.  It is important that the Trust conserves and maintains it as a significant part of this area’s industrial archaeology heritage.

    Hi,   Daisy here.  Did you know if you carry a tennis ball to the top of the stairs then drop it, it's the best thing?!

  • Basecamp blitzed ......

    10:00 08 March 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

     …… But in a good way! We’ve recently had our second ‘Basecamp Blitz’ up here at the volunteer centre, the first of which we ran back in December 2011. For five days Basecamp was a flurry of activity with a gang of volunteers and working holiday leaders turning up to work through our big 'to do' list of jobs. As well as loads of deep cleaning one block’s kitchen and communal area has been repainted, with the other having one of it’s dormitories redone. With the everything done in the last Blitz this means the whole Basecamp has been repainted over the last couple of years!
    All dressed up and ready for painting
    But it wasn’t just painting: A plumber has fixed some leaky pipes and a seamstress has patched up some of our most worn out old sofas, broken tools have been mended, a new barbecue area started and our garden area given a tidy up. With all the many miscellaneous little jobs that were tackled the whole place feels freshened up and fighting fit for the new volunteering year.

    The new barbecue area taking shape
    It’s been a fantastic team effort by everyone involved and we’re really chuffed with the results – we’d literally never have done it without all the help from the volunteers. There was also an additional benefit in that the working holiday leader contingent used the Saturday night to have a get together and talk through various issues. So not only were we getting the place spruced up, we were providing a conference centre!

    The blitzers take a break
    But it was all a bit much for some!
     By Rob Clarke, Community Ranger, High Wray Basecamp

  • Springing to life

    14:10 04 March 2013
    By Tom Burditt

    So long now I’ve been out
    In the rain and snow
    But winter’s come and gone
    A little bird told me so.

    Gillian Welch, from “Winter’s come and gone”

    Hawfinch at Sizergh (c) John Hannah 2012 and used with permission

    When is it that you first notice that spring is here? The first primrose in the woods perhaps, the first celandine in the hedge, first snowdrop in the garden? Frogspawn, newly emerged butterflies, hazel catkins? There’s so many to choose from, but we each of us have those little signs of nature that make us realise that the turning of the earth is slowly bringing another winter to an end.  

    For me it is hearing the birds singing again that helps to make my sap rise and brings with it that unmistakeable deepdown feeling of excitement that, at last, another spring has come.
    Mistle thrush at Sizergh, (c) John Hannah, 2012 and used with permission

    It starts not long after Christmas: as the mornings very slowly start to lighten it is the seesaw “teacher-teacher” of the great tits that I notice first, coming back into my life by singing around the time when I wake up. Then they are everywhere – in Eaves Wood, in the trees around our office at Bank House Farm in Silverdale. The songthrush is next, a proud songster noticed first from next door’s conifer in the lengthening afternoons, right up until dark falls...and almost before I am aware of it that song seems to pour down from above wherever I go. Now by the start of the March the soundtrack to my mornings, the backdrop to my whole life, is an orchestra of different voices: the squeaky trill of the dunnock, the woodland peeping of the nuthatches, the sad repetitions of the mistle thrush from the ash tree at the end of the lane. Each of them coming back into my days like a long lost friend: don’t worry, we’re here again “Which means the globe’s still working, the Creation’s / Still waking refreshed, our summer’s / Still all to come” (as the poet Ted Hughes wrote of his Swifts).

    Now I can see that my life will have a new character in this spring drama, which is the hawfinch. I was aware of them last year too but towards the end of February this year I have been working often out of our Sizergh office, and the feverish excitement of the return of the hawfinches is infectious: every time the office phone rings, it seems, there is another expectant bird-watcher asking if they are back yet, how many, how often? Arriving at Sizergh in the mornings to start work there are already parked cars with telephoto lenses sneaking out of the gaps above frosted windows; knots of cameras, binoculars and ‘scopes on the cafe verandah.

    Watching Sizergh's hawfinches, March 2013

    The hawfinches come to Sizergh’s car park in spring every year to feed up on the seeds scattered earthwards from our many hornbeam trees – a quirk of geography that makes this a superblocation  to watch and photograph them in the quiet times before the human life of Sizergh awakens each day. Every Friday and Saturday morning through March (and some other days too) our Sizergh ranger Rob is there on the verandah helping the many birdwatchers to get the most of their experience.

    I joined him on both Friday and Saturday last week...and though Friday’s single hawfinch was exciting in its way, Saturday brought quite a crowd; of the beautiful and characterful stocky, pink orange, black and white finches as well as about 50 people coming to see them. To hear Rob exclaim suddenly “There’s one! Can you hear that chinking noise like a coke can opening? There it goes, into the tree there” is to experience a sudden thrill bubbling up inside you. To watch them, Professor Yaffle like, descending branch by branch to the ground is tremendous. But to see them staring at you, grinding their powerful beaks from side to side as they comically chew on a seed is very endearing indeed: they seem to have personality: a strange, quirky look that makes you feel like you’re face-to-face with another individual rather than simply with a bird.

    They are vividly alive.

    Sometimes the excitement of Spring is irresistible...

    Female hawfinch at Sizergh (c) Phil Evans 2012 and used with permission

    Sizergh’s hawfinch watches with Rob run every Friday and Saturday from 8am to 10am, with the cafe open for hot drinks and bacon sandwiches from 9am.

    Or follow this link for some of Rob’s top tips:
    Male hawfinch at Sizergh (c) Phil Evans 2012 and used with permission