Team news for August 2015

  • Great trip to Canada

    17:40 28 August 2015
    By Roy Henderson

    Jan and myself have just returned from a fantastic three week holiday in Canada where we travelled as far north as Jasper and as far south as Invermere on the shores of Windermere.

    We spent some of the time with some friends Andy, Sarah and their two growing sons. They now live in Canmore and we managed to do some good things with them.

    Andy is super-fit at the moment and is into 50 and 100 mile races. He ranks in the top 20 in North America. In contrast I am still on the road to recovery from illness earlier this year and am not as fit as I have been in the past. Despite that Andy did manage to coax me up some big hills.We then spent some time with other friends and did some canoeing, rafting and walking with Kirk and his family.

    Whilst we were there we managed to see a lot of wild-life that we have not seen on previous visits. We have seen bears before and this time spotted a black bear. A particularly special sighting was of a lynx but sadly I wasn’t able to take a photograph of that. We also saw lots of squirrels, marmots, deer and elk etc. So, we had a great trip!

    But you don’t have to go to Canada to see wild life. You can come and see it in the Lake District or in your home area. In the Watendlath area you can see an ant highway for example.This are made by hairy wood ants (formica lugubris) that are found in coniferous forests.  They may not be big mammals but they are still very interesting. You can read about some hairy wood ant research that is taking place on a National Trust estate in the Peak District at this link.  

    I’ve also included some pictures of animal tracks we saw in Canada. If you look carefully, you might be surprised at how many tracks you can find in your garden or the nearest park. It’s often a particularly good time to look when there is a fresh fall of snow or even muddy puddles. Even if you can’t identify them all, you will see just how many creatures frequent quite small areas.

    Daisy here: Jan’s Mum and Dad came to look after me whilst Roy and Jan were away. It was great. They gave me special treats but I don’t think Roy is supposed to know.

  • Give peas a chance ..... Growing ambition at High Wray Basecamp

    09:00 28 August 2015
    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

    Here at High Wray Basecamp our mission is to help as many different people as we can to engage with and care for the beautiful South Lakes countryside. We welcome people from all walks of life to stay, and many of them join us in carrying out the vital conservation work that keeps the landscape looking the way it does. We feel that we’re in a pretty good position then, with our wide (and somewhat captive!) audience, to help spread the word about issues affecting the countryside and the wider environment.

    With this in mind, towards the end of last year, we started thinking about a Basecamp garden.  It was an idea that had been in gestation for a while, and a previous half-hearted attempt had at least gone some way to addressing the issue of what to do with food waste. But the ‘dalek’ style composters and the overgrown, fenced-off area they inhabited was unsightly and inefficient. We needed something more in keeping with the environs, and the Basecamp ethos.

    So plans were drawn up for a garden area that would have multi-functional purposes. First of all it would have a properly constructed and positioned composting area, to deal effectively with food waste generated on site, and to provide compost for our vegetable beds, in which would be grown crops for the benefit of people staying at Basecamp. There would be a small herb garden, again for the use of Basecamp residents. Then there would be a wilder area planted with native wildflowers and flowering shrubs beneficial for pollinators such as bees and butterflies. A ‘bug hotel’ would also be installed to give local invertebrates a helping hand. We also decided to utilise water draining off one of the paths to create a boggy area, and to plant an apple tree, for both blossom in the spring and fruit in the autumn.  The whole area would need to be fenced to keep marauding ruminants at bay, and, true to the Basecamp philosophy, we’d put up an interpretation board to let people know what was going on. All this on little or no budget!

    The old garden, with old 'Dalek' and 'Tombola' style composters
    Volunteers from 'Mind' in Barrow getting to grips with removing the old fence posts

    After returning from the Christmas and New Year break we set about turning these plans into reality. As Basecamp would be nothing without its volunteers, we enlisted the help of some of our regular groups to help us dismantle the old ‘garden’ and start constructing the new composters. We used wood and chicken wire salvaged from the timber yard at Boon Crag to make three adjacent units, large and airy enough to accommodate not just food waste, but grass clippings and some woody material, to provide a more balanced compost.

    Volunteers from Littledale Hall Therapeutic Community building the new compost bins

    The next stage was to build the raised beds. For these we used wood from NT trees, kindly donated by the forestry team. This was a laborious process, not least because the site was on a fairly significant slope which meant that the beds had to be dug in and levelled.  We were lucky to have lots of willing volunteers to help us with this, and with the arduous task of moving a few tons of leftover topsoil from Claife Station to fill them. Once the beds were done and the site was landscaped to allow for the natural slope (resulting in a rather pleasant ‘terraced’ effect we think), we could get on with the exciting task of actually planting stuff. This year we’ve been planting smaller amounts of veg as a kind of test run, but we still managed to plant some spuds, courgettes, spinach, broccoli, peas and beans. We’re using four, fairly large, separate vegetable beds so that we can rotate the crops and minimise the chances of disease taking hold, and we selected varieties that we reckon are going to be hardy enough to withstand the sometimes harsh Basecamp climate.

    The garden completed, but looking a bit bare
    We then  sowed our wildflower ‘meadow’ with seeds kindly donated by organisations such as the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and Butterfly Conservation, who do sterling work in addressing the issues faced by these vital pollinators, such as drastic reductions in recent decades of proper meadows. In the middle we planted our showpiece apple tree, a hardy dwarf variety carefully selected for us by the head gardener at neighbouring property Sizergh Castle. We also included some gooseberry bushes gifted by gardener Pete from Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top.

    The nascent herb garden

    In opposite corners we built the herb garden and the boggy area. The first of these was raised at an angle as a rockery, to take maximum advantage of the sun and to provide as much drainage as possible. In it were planted herbs which could be used by visiting groups in their cooking, such as thyme, rosemary, and sage. It’s a happy coincidence too, that most of the plants in this area are also great for pollinating insects. The boggy area is fed by a drain which collects water off one of the paths, meaning that in the wet Lakeland climate it is continually replenished, and hopefully in due course will provide some good habitat for water-loving creatures such as frogs.
    All that was left then was to gravel the paths around the garden, secure the perimeter fence to keep out the deer and stray sheep which occasionally find themselves in the Basecamp grounds, and construct the bug hotel. This was made from old pallets and materials found around the place, and topped with a ‘green’ roof planted with low growing sedum, to blend in with its surroundings and provide further food sources for invertebrates.

    Much greener! The wild flower area on the left with apple tree and raised beds on the right

    It’s still early days, the garden’s only really been finished a couple of months, and there’s an interpretation board yet to go in to explain everything, but we’re really happy with the results so far, particularly as we had a very slow start to summer up here.  We harvested the potatoes just last week and most of the other veg is coming along as well. We hope to have more next year, but it’s looking like there should at least be plenty of spinach and hopefully even runner beans for our residents (and maybe even ourselves!)  this year. There’s also quite a few wildflowers emerging, in amongst the inevitable weeds that were lying dormant in the soil (Perhaps an autumn weeding job for one of our groups!) 

    First of many? this years small potato harvest

    Massive thanks then, to all the volunteers and people who donated their time and resources to help us make the Basecamp garden dream a reality. We genuinely couldn’t have done it without you. As the garden matures and develops over time, we hope that it will provide a haven for wildlife, and all the Basecamp visitors, for many years to come.

    By Matt Tweed, Basecamp assistant ranger

  • New Heck

    10:27 24 August 2015
    By Roland Wicksteed, Dave Jackson, Dave Almond, James Archer, Neil Winder, Ben Knipe

    A new Heck* is to replace the existing one on Troutbeck, logistically its tough being over half an hour from the farm, so the old hanging beam (pipe) was deemed to be OK. Unfortunately the walls that held it were not so had to be repaired and the beam repositioned
    The original heck in disrepair.
    Repairing the wall on the west side.

    New parts arriving.

    And old ones leaving.

    The finished Heck.

    *Heck (dialect) the lower part of a door; a grating,esp in rivers or streams; a rack for animal fodder or drying cheeses. Old English hec/haec  grating, hatch; Dutch hek  a gate.

  • One Man and His Dog

    15:34 20 August 2015
    By Ivan Corlett

    Gondola has a new mascot – my terrier, Billy.

    Billy on the jetty

    Billy’s tale is the doggy version of a rags to riches story – from the dogs’ home to the luxury of a Victorian Steam Yacht.

    He had a difficult start to life and ended up at the Yorkshire Rose Dog Rescue, which is where I first came across him.

    I liked the look of him and, although he was a little nervous, he didn’t seem to be too put off by the look of me so I offered to foster him. Once we’d got to know each other I started to bring him on Gondola where he gradually came out of his shell.

    He’s now showing off his true personality and living the life of Riley, spending summer days on board the boat with the wind in his fur. What could be better?

    Billy looking at Coniston fells

    He’s a real hit with the passengers and managed to get actress Penelope Keith to fall for him during her recent filming day on Gondola. She even asked if she could take him home with her.

    Penelope Keith

    In fact she had me so worried that I immediately phoned Yorkshire Rose Dog Rescue to push through my formal adoption of Billy.

    Now we’re living our own version of the Good Life here on Coniston Water. He seems quite happy about that.

    Billy and Ivan

    Billy isn’t territorial and is always pleased to see other dogs on board Gondola. Our Weekend Walkers’ cruise is very popular with dog walkers – a great combination of a boat trip down the full length of the lake followed by a walk above the eastern or western shores.

    Billy and I hope to see you on board soon.

  • Spectrums of light.

    09:00 14 August 2015
    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

    Whilst out on the fells in all conditions we are sometimes privileged with great spectacles in the sky. Often accompanying the various atmospheric cloud formations are halos.

    Golden rings have appeared in the sky on a couple of occasions in the form of sun halos. Without being blinded we took pictures and researched what it was all about.

    The golden ring.

    A mix of chemistry, physics and geometry are the main components for sun halos. At high enough altitudes in the sky, the water vapour condenses and then freezes into ice crystals. The ice crystals responsible for halos are typically suspended in cirrus or cirrostratus clouds. As sunlight passes through the ice crystals, the geometry of the crystals cause the light to refract, similar to what happens when light passes through a prism.

    This geometric size and shape causes light to undergo two refractions, or bends, as the light passes through the ice crystal. Once the second bend is made, the light appears as a halo in the sky. Light from the moon can also form halos.

    Rings galore.

    On another occasion whilst working on the fells, the team witnessed an even rarer phenomenon. Usually the halos are formed by one, simple uncomplicated ring. However a variety of halos can appear, caused by a corresponding variety of ice crystals. In the photo above you can see an additional ring starting to form.

    Diagram of weather halo elements.

  • Beating back bracken and brambles!

    05:49 14 August 2015
    By Roy Henderson

    Leila (Academy Ranger) here with one of my occasional posts.

    Derwentwater from beneath Falcon Crag
    I’ve recently been working with Sarah and John of Roy's volunteer team to clear some overgrown footpaths. This is the time of year when the bracken and brambles can really start towering over some of the Trust's more out-of-the-way paths. That isn’t to say they’re not still well used and there were plenty of grateful walkers passing us, particularly those who had just walked through the bracken jungle on the section we hadn’t done yet. In favourable conditions, bracken can grow to a height of 2 metres or more! 

    This is the kind of work that can slip down the priority list because it’s not essential maintenance – the paths are still usable and most of the vegetation dies back over winter – but it is greatly appreciated by anyone who has had to walk through bracken on a wet day and it is certainly worth doing. 

    Fortunately for us it was a gloriously sunny day. It made for hot work but we were well rewarded with some stunning views of Derwentwater from under Falcon Crag. As ever, the volunteers did a great job. 

  • Wall rebuild on the Dubbs Road.

    06:55 11 August 2015
    By Roland Wicksteed, Dave Jackson, Dave Almond, James Archer, Neil Winder, Ben Knipe

    Dubbs, a popular bridleway.

    Part of  the wall - bordering the Dubbs road (bridleway) next to a ladder stile - had become very unstable. The wall is nearly nine feet high in places and looks much taller as it is built on a steep bank.

     It was too dangerous to take the wall down progressively (as is usually the case). To make it safer, the bad section of wall was "allowed"to collapse completely, with just a little help...minimal encouragement was needed!



    The wall was built from local Applethwaite Quarry stone. This stone is  notorious for its poor quality. It is prone to frost damage and disintegrates surprisingly quickly. 

    Water gets into the cracks of the stones; in a frost the water expands and ice  forces the cracks to become wider and wider over time.

    In this close-up image of a wall built from Applethwaite stone, it is clear that some stones are crumbling away; the stones above have sagged and this section of wall, like the one above, is on the brink of collapse.

    With the fun bit over, the stones were cleared back in order to dig out for the foundations or footing stones; this image gives some idea of how steep the bank is we had to work on.

    The foundations are in place and the wall is now being rebuilt. 

    Luckily, we recently put in a new entrance through a woodland wall at St.Catherine's to allow for timber extraction. The surplus stone  was brought in for this rebuild as so much of the original walling stone had disintegrated.

    The stones are 'tied into' or overlapped into  the sound part of the wall that is under the ladder stile in this image.

    The finished wall repair from the high side...

    ...and the track side.

    And just a reminder of what it did look like!

    A view from the ladder stile, Troutbeck valley and village.

  • International Rangers Day

    08:49 05 August 2015
    By Roland Wicksteed, Dave Jackson, Dave Almond, James Archer, Neil Winder, Ben Knipe

    To celebrate International Ranger Day - 31st July, the National Trust gathered its countryside staff alongside colleagues and peers from organisations such as Natural England, Cumbria Rivers Trust and United Utilities for a conference held at University of Cumbria's Ambleside campus.

    International Ranger Day is an initiative of the International Union for Conservation (IUCN) and International Ranger Federation (IRF) which invites everyone to acknowledge the work done by Rangers in protecting our precious natural and cultural heritage.

    Keynote speaker at the event was Gordon Miller from the IRF, who described the challenges faced by Rangers around the world working in Protected Areas.  He described the ever- increasing threats including poaching, encroachment on protected area and that rangers in the field often pay the ultimate price for their devotion to the task.

    Gordon said of the event: “This past 12 months has seen over 50 rangers from 20 countries lose their lives to poachers, from others threatening their parks and accidents. Most losses are from homicide and others from accidents that illustrate the often hazardous environment that they face, particularly in developing countries.

    “World Ranger Day gives us an opportunity to pay homage to those who have perished and urge governments to 'protect the protectors'.  The dedication of rangers, particularly in the developing world, deserves our gratitude if our precious protected areas are to remain havens for our diminishing natural and cultural assets.”  

    Protected Areas – national parks, wilderness areas, community-conserved areas, nature reserves and so on – are a mainstay of biodiversity conservation, while also contributing to people’s livelihoods, particularly at the local level. Protected areas are at the core of efforts towards conserving nature and the services it provides us – food, clean water supply, medicines and protection from the impacts of natural disasters.

    Sam Stalker, Lead Ranger for the National Trust in the western Lake District, and event organiser said:  “Opportunities for Rangers to get together and share their professional knowledge are few and far between – we’re almost always out in the landscape we love. Days like this give us a rare chance to share our conservation knowledge. “

    The Ambleside celebration also included the announcement that the National Trust has become a corporate member of the Countryside Management Association. Sam added:

    Membership of the Countryside Management Association strengthens the professional Ranger network both within the National Trust and with our colleagues elsewhere. It means we have a whole new network of Ranger colleagues to learn from and share best practice with.  We have chosen International Ranger Day to launch this membership, because it is a day for Rangers to come together as global profession and our membership builds links at a local, national and international level.

    For more information about the International Rangers Federation and how you can get involved please visit their website at 

    For an interesting look at International Ranger Day in Thailand, please click here to see a blog post from the IUCN

    For more information about the Countryside Management association please visit their website at
  • Trees, flowers, birds, benches ... all in a day's work!

    08:08 01 August 2015
    By Roy Henderson

    One of the great pleasures of my job is the unexpected. I was out and about recently with Leila (our academy ranger) working on Friars Crag and in the middle of the day we were treated to the sight of a young tawny owl. They are beautiful birds and it’s good to know that they are thriving in the area.

    Leila has also been working with the forestry team on tree safety tasks along the Borrowdale valley roadside. The Stagecoach bus company operates a popular open-topped double-decker bus service in Borrowdale and they were becoming concerned about overhanging tree branches. After discussions with Maurice, our woodlands ranger, Stagecoach offered the services of one of their drivers and an open-topped bus for the day. It made it so much easier for the Trust’s foresters to work at just the right height and the bus company was happy to have encroaching branches trimmed back. As they worked from the top deck, other rangers were on the ground clearing the debris quickly and controlling the traffic. The driver could just drive on when necessary. It was a very efficient alternative to hiring an expensive ‘cherry-picker’ (mobile elevating work platform). This was a win/win situation and a great example of effective collaboration.

    We have also been out and about replacing old seats.

    Working on one of them on the western shore of Derwentwater gave me the chance to see the improvement that followed on from some footpath work we did a while ago. Fifteen or so years ago there had been a widening track across some boggy ground. After installing a boardwalk, the vegetation alongside the path regenerated quickly and it was fantastic to see the number of plants re-colonising the area now.

    Another gratifying part of the job was to meet a couple who were packing up early one morning after a night ‘wild’ camping. They were a great example of how to do it and they left the site immaculate. As they walked away, they left no sign that they had ever been there and they had had a great night. That is how we want people to enjoy the landscape.

    Daisy here, 

    I’ve been playing in the wildflowers. I can run really fast.