Team news for February 2016

  • Some Like It Otter

    14:39 26 February 2016
    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

    Some Like it Otter

    As a National Trust Ranger I help to look after 5 ½ miles of the Lake Windermere lakeshore, we have a couple of islands that we also help to manage.  I spend a good deal of my time by the water, in the woodlands and farmland close to the lake. It has been a source of continuing frustration that I have never seen an otter in the wild in the lakes…. until recently !

    In Otter words 

    Otters have been a spectacular part of the Lake District wildlife for thousands of years , they are a carnivorous mammal feeding mainly on fish , part of the weasel family. The name is derived from the Old English word ‘otor’ which in turn is derived from the older word ‘wodr’ which is where the word ‘water’ comes from ( see the connection ! ) they can be seen in the water or close to it even in the middle of the day.

    The Otter population in the Lake District has dramatically reduced in size over the years , suffering as a result of hunting in the 1800’s, packs of  specially bred Otter Hounds were used to track down and kill Otters along water courses . Otters had made themselves unpopular with land owners who were keen to protect their fish stocks.

    Numbers dropped dramatically in the 50’s and 60’s as a result of water pollution and a loss of habitat until they could only be found in small numbers in North Lancashire and South Cumbria.

    Things can only get Otter

    But in the last 20 years the otter population has been recovering and sightings  have been increasing around Windermere, Coniston and Tarn Hows. I would hear news of otters spotted at Tarn Hows, Wray Castle and  Low Wray , but frustratingly never see them when I was there !  The tell tale sign of an otter in the water is seeing the dark shape of the head moving smoothly and rapidly , low in the water  then disappearing below the surface with a flick of the tail. Sometimes I would see this sight only to find out that it was a cormorant or a coot.

    My luck changed un-expectantly a couple of weekends back  when I was waiting for the car ferry that crosses Windermere on a Saturday morning at about 10.00am. Sat in the car looking out across the lake I noticed the head swimming past, I jumped out of the car and ran down to the waters edge and there a few metres away was a young otter hunting for fish , apparently unaware , certainly not bothered that there were quite a few boats and people around ! It was one of those thrilling , magical wildlife moments, made all the more sweet because I had to wait so long for it .

    So here’s another reason ( as if you needed one ! ) why you might want to take a stroll along the west shore of Lake Windermere, combine your otter spotting with a visit to Claife Viewing Station or Wray Castle.

     If you fancy a longer stay next to the lake, why not stop at our  Low Wray Campsite or one of our cottages at High and Low Strawberry Gardens.

    Finally,  if you find yourself in a bad mood , having a bad day , worried about Brexit, or our chances in the Eurovision Song Contest , check out the pictures online of  ‘otters holding hands’ and feel the stress melt away.

  • Stardom for Borrowdale - featured in Star Wars.

    13:02 19 February 2016
    By Roy Henderson

    It’s really good to be able to report that the Lake District is back on its feet again after the December flooding. We did have small pockets that were badly damaged but they are now well on the road to recovery and most of it is now back to its usual splendour.  

    I’ve now been able to return with my regular volunteers to continue the drainage work we have started in Braithwaite. It has been quite a while since I’ve seen eels in the area so it was a good surprise to see two of them that day. We scooped them up and took them to a safer place away from where we were working.

    I’ve also been out with a larger group combining my regular volunteers with volunteers from Keswick Tourism Association, the National Park and Fix the Fells. We all got together to do a mass litter-pick tidying up the high water mark on the lake shore. That went incredibly well with the volunteers doing superb work as ever..

    The weather has also turned for the better. We are seeing more blue skies and, with the snow-topped mountains, the Lake District has been looking fantastic. I wonder how many of you have seen the new Star Wars film and recognized that a lot of it was filmed in Borrowdale. And, of course, it looked fantastic there as well.

    Daisy here, It’s not raining. Life’s fantastic. It’s great.

  • The noisy Great spotted woodpecker

    15:55 12 February 2016
    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

    Assistant Ranger, Julie talks about a master builder of tree holes within our woodlands – the Great spotted woodpecker! It certainly earns its name, for it spends nearly all of its life pecking at tree trunks. But did you know they are also housing developers, providing future homes for many woodland animals.

    Great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) perched on a bird feeder, eating peanuts, ©National Trust Images/NaturePL/Laurent Geslin

    Bird feeding station, Tarn Hows

    If you have visited Tarn Hows recently, you may have noticed our bird feeding station, and its myriad of visiting birds. As a child of about 8 or 9, I used to love watching the ‘back birds’ in my Nana and Grandad’s back garden, and my mum reminded me of the time I took it upon myself to buy them a coconut shell bird feeder for Christmas, using my own pocket money.  

    And so, fast forward a few years, I now enjoy seeing the birds in my work back yard, at Tarn Hows, when I pass through each week.  In November, I was lucky enough to be there for the installation of new hazel hurdles for the feeding station (built by our Academy Ranger, Ted; Volunteer, Adam and Intern, Dale). 

     Installing the new hazel hurdle: Adam and myself in the foreground; and 
    Ted behind hammering it into place, prior to drilling, November 2016

    In the last few weeks, I arrived at work to find a note from my colleague, Ian, asking that I please top-up the feeders in his absence.  I was more than happy to do so, especially given the pleasure I have in looking out for my favourite visitor, the Great spotted woodpecker.

    Woodland sounds

    On my days off, I love walking through woodlands, and often stop and listen to see what I can detect around me.  On a still day, the clamour of animal life carries far, including, if you are lucky, the unmistakable drumming sound of a Great spotted woodpecker, echoing through the trees.

    The best time to hear them is in spring, when the male will use his beak like a hammer to hit a branch over and over again in quick succession to mark out his territory – ‘this patch is mine!’  This is called drumming and it sounds like a machine gun echoing through the woodland.  Check out footage of the hammerblow, courtesy of the BBC, here:

    I adopted a full-on stalker mode strategy a few years back in order to spot one close-up, and managed to creep slowly but surely to where the sound emanated from, and was privileged to watch the woodpecker drumming away high up in the canopy.  

    Hammered home

    Many birds and mammals nest, hide and take shelter in tree holes.  However, only one kind can hammer a home out of wood; only it can excavate a hollow from a solid wood trunk with its chisel-like bill, as a secure place to raise its brood – the Great Spotted Woodpecker!  It has special feet (see below) to help them grip the bark, and a stiff tail to help them keep steady as they hammer away.

    woodpeckers have different feet from other birds – with two toes pointing forwards and two pointing back?   This helps them cling to tree trunks.  

    Greater spotted woodpecker feeds chick at nest hole, 
    ©National Trust Images/NaturePL/William Osborn]
    The male and female birds both work on making their nest hole high up in the tree trunk – usually at least 3 metres above the ground.  After all this hard work is finished, the female lays up to 8 shiny white eggs inside the hole in the tree.   The parents then take it in turns to sit on the eggs to keep them warm, and whoever’s not sitting on the eggs goes off to find food.   

    Some weeks later the eggs hatch, and once this happens the mother and father woodpeckers have to spend all their time collecting insects for the hungry youngsters to eat.    

    Finally, though, the young woodpeckers leave their hollowed-out home and fly off to make holes of their own. Check out BBC Springwatch footage here of fledging woodpeckers leaving a nesthole.

    A woodland housing estate

    Woodpecker holes, once abandoned, in turn provide a home for a long line of future home owners who adapt the holes to suit.  These include:  

    • Nuthatches – who narrow the hole entrance by plastering with mud.
    • Starlings – they use cavities of similar dimensions
    • Dormice – who have been discovered to use natural holes
    • Bats – summer residents of tree hollows
    • Stoats – an remarkable addition to this list, they can raise their families surprisingly high up a tree!
    • Grey squirrel - they will gnaw at the hole to enlarge it.
    • Tawny owls - who favour roomier holes (and even Barn owls if buildings are in short supply)

    The Woodpecker's Incredible Tongue

    The Great Spotted Woodpecker probes tree trunks for insects and larvae.  They have extremely sticky tongues enabling them to extract the insects from their nests.   

    In winter months, when their insect food is scarce, their diet is supplemented by nuts and berries and they will visit garden peanut feeders.   

    Good spotting sites in the South Lakes

    So next time you are visiting Tarn Hows, look out for the Great spotted woodpecker at the bird feeding station.  Listen out for them in our South Lakes woodlands and if you visit Wray Castle, make sure you explore along the lakeshore.  If you’re quiet and listen out, you may hear one.  If you’re lucky, you may see one – I’ve spotted one down near the pier whilst working there.  

  • Spread the load or honey-potting?

    11:52 10 February 2016
    By Roy Henderson

    Last week myself and Gareth Field, the Outdoor and Sports Programme Manager for the Lakes, went to the National Institute for Outdoor Learning where I had been asked to deliver a talk at their conference. The talk was to be about ‘honey-potting’ as opposed to ‘spreading the load’ within the outdoor industry.

    Things don’t always go to plan and there was a power-cut just before I was due to deliver my presentation so I just carried on with the talk without being able to show images! I began with the example of Castlerigg Stone Circle. This is a Neolithic stone circle just outside Keswick that has enormous numbers of visitors. We have installed two extra gates so that there are now three to access the site. This spreads the footfall from the parking layby and reduces the wear of the grass, although we still have to re-turf the walk around the circle each year.

    I then used the example of the path up the lower slopes of Grisedale Pike where we have two parallel paths and we swap from one to the other about every 3 or 4 years giving one chance to recover before the next switch.

    Finally I described the ribbon of footpaths we’ve constructed throughout the Lake District, both the digger paths made on the soft soils and the pitched paths that we tend to construct in the harder central fells within the Borrowdale volcanics. The path around Derwentwater with its sections of recycled board-walk is an excellent example of creating a balance between maximum access for huge numbers of people and minimal environmental damage. These paths concentrate people in relatively small areas and give good access whilst protecting wildlife and our conservation interests.

    My talk then moved on to the more specialist work done with outdoor instructors. This section included the installation of a multi-use abseil point at the Bowder Stone and the installation of chains in Stoneycroft Gill with the development of a gill-scrambling code to focus on using the harder wearing gills where damage will be minimised.

    I then introduced the Lake District WhiteGuide which has been developed by a partnership of The British Mountaineering Council, The Fell and Rock Climbers Club, the Lake District National Park, Natural England and the National Trust. This is an excellent code of conduct for winter climbing within the Lake District.

    I finally introduced as a discussion topic the issue of where the instructors and centres’ clients go to the toilet when they are away from the outdoor centres. I know some individual instructors and centres have a policy but I think it important that they think about it carefully and don't just send clients to go behind the nearest tree. The example of good practice I gave was the Canadian National Park system where they have a pristine environment. 

    They helicopter in toilets above the snow line. There's no way we could afford to do this but if every centre and instructor packed it back out with them it would solve the problem in some honey-pot areas overnight.

    The talk appeared to be well-received and I have had several emails thanking me for doing it. I have talked to large groups in the past but it is not the norm for me to talk to 150 people. But these are people who share our concerns for our landscape so it was definitely worth sharing our experiences in the hope that we will all be working in the same direction to develop best practice in future.

    Daisy here: It’s just raining again. I don’t like it. I do like it when it’s windy. That’s great.

  • Storm Desmond flood repair

    07:59 08 February 2016
    By Roland Wicksteed, Dave Jackson, Dave Almond, James Archer, Neil Winder, Ben Knipe

    Back in December storm Desmond wreaked havoc throughout the Lake District. This destruction hit the village of Glenridding particularly harshly, where shops and houses where flooded not once but twice in the space of three days.

    As many of you may have seen on the news, the main river running through the village burst its banks and started running down roads and pathways and into people houses.

     After we had done as much as we could to help get the village get back on their feet, we turned our attention to the wider valley. Many meters of fences and walls had been destroyed by flood water and landslides.

    The worst hit area for flood water damage was Hartsop, where the river that flows between Brothers water and Ullswater had completed burst its banks.

    It wiped out over 100m of dry stone wall, numerous meters of fence line, undermined sections of road and buckled iron railings.

    Clearing this devastation would have taken us weeks to clear up. With so much offer of help coming in from all corners, it was decided that we should organise a mass volunteer day to help with the clear up.

    The day was organised for Tuesday 2 February. We didn’t know how many people to expect. Luckily the weather was with us for once. We had over 100 volunteers, a mixture of staff from other properties, regular volunteers, people that had seen the poster and turned up on the day and primary school children from the Outward Bound.

    The children concentrated on picking debris off the fence line. 

    They also found a good way of keeping warm at lunchtime

    They did a fantastic job, and by the end of the day they had managed to clear over 400m of fence.

    Whilst the children concentrated on the fence, the other volunteers started clearing the fields of the tonnes of rock that had been washed out of the walls.

    The plan was to fill helicopter bags with the stone, so that it could be moved closer to the wall with a tractor when the field had, had a chance to dry out.

    After that had been completed, the final task was to try and scrape up as much silt and gravel that had been deposited throughout the field. This was shoveled into mechanical barrows and then tipped into some of the bigger holes by the side of the road.

    A fantastic amount of work managed to get completed thanks to a huge effort from staff and volunteers.

    All that’s left now is to build the walls.

    A massive thank you to everyone that helped out on the day.