Team news for September 2016

  • Annual Netted Carpet Moth Survey

    09:00 30 September 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

    Monitoring habitats and species is vital for successful conservation. Changes over time and over large areas can inform us of how best to manage those habitats. 

    The data collected can be examined for long term trends 
    linked to conservation. Changes that are as expected and those not anticipated.

    It is therefore important to select what to monitor, how, where and over what time.

    The Lake District is special for many reasons and one of them the presence of the Netted Carpet Moth (Eustroma reticulatum). A very rare species it is primarily known to only a few areas here, though, recently new sightings have been made in North Lancashire and possibly some in Wales too.

    A possible explanation for its rarity is that its eggs are laid, and its larvæ feed, on only one plant, Touch Me Not Balsam (Impatiens noli-tangere), itself a nationally scarce species.

    Therefore, conservation of Netted Carpet Moth is also conservation of Touch Me Not Balsam.

    The UK's only native impatiens, it favours moist, nutrient-rich soils and is commonly found in damp open woodland with dappled shade, alongside streams and where there is regular ground disturbance. 

    With few associated species it often forms pure stands of several hundred individuals. Though here in the Lake District sites of much larger populations numbering many thousands of individuals are known, particularly around Coniston and Windermere.

    Recent conservation work by the National Trust in the Lakes has resulted in a significant increase in the population of Touch Me Not Balsam. 

    Winter grazing of cattle has been introduced to woodland sites known to have the balsam amongst its ground flora. The cattle trample the ground providing the much needed ground disturbance to spread the seed. The cows are then removed from the woodland before germination takes place.

    No other method of ground disturbance has proved quite so successful as cattle.

    Even with such successful conservation efforts as this the numbers of Touch Me Not Balsam are still known to fluctuate from year to year.

    A kind of 'predator - prey' relationship between the balsam and the Netted Carpet Moth occurs whereby as populations of balsam increase so too do the numbers of larvæ feeding on the food plant until a critical point in the larvæ population when the numbers of balsam start to deplete. As the population of the food plant decreases so too do the numbers of larvæ feeding on the balsam until another critical point whereby the balsam can begin to recover and increase its population and the cycle begins again.

    Such is the delicate relationship between the moth and its food plant. And thus the need to monitor populations of both annually.


    So, Netted Carpet Moth eggs are laid during July to August meaning the caterpillars are fully grown by early to mid-September. And this is the best time to survey.

    We joined a group of Rusland Horizons volunteers for the annual survey of Netted Carpet Moth at Brantwood on the east shore of Coniston.

    The survey was led by the National Trust's Wildlife and Countryside Advisor John Hooson and Dr. Paul Hatcher of Reading University. Together they have been monitoring the numbers of balsam and moth here for the last 20 years.

    Brantwood gardens are managed specifically with Touch Me Not Balsam in mind and head gardener Paul was keen to take us to spot where the recent felling of a tree, providing both light and heavy trampling of the ground beneath, had resulted in an explosion in the population of balsam.

    We began with a quick tutorial of how to spot the caterpillars which are to be found on the underside of the leaf and can camouflage themselves to look like a seed pod or a leaf stem.

    The method of monitoring with which we began was to count the number of larvæ per site. We paired off into groups, picking a site of the garden each, and first estimated the number of balsam plants on our site. Then we counted the number larvæ we found on all the balsam, that we could reasonably reach, within our site, without trampling any of the neighbouring plants. We would then re-group and give Paul Hatcher the number of plants estimated on our site, the percentage of those plants counted and the number of larvæ found.

    These figures will be used by Paul later to estimate the number of larvæ in each site and in the gardens as a whole as well as having the actual number seen on the day. These figures will in turn will be used to estimate the number of Netted Carpet Moth at Brantwood. 

    In the afternoon we moved to another location along the Coniston east shore called High Barn Wood. This site has seen winter grazing of cattle since 2001 which has resulted in widespread ground cover of almost pure stands of Touch Me Not Balsam.

    With such large numbers of plants over a much larger area we used a different method of surveying here. This time we worked individually each picking an area of woodland and checking a total of one hundred plants in that area. This gave us the number of larvæ per one hundred plants. We did this in three or four different areas and again gave all the results to Dr. Hatcher who, again, would use the figures, later, to scale up an estimate of the density and number of larvæ in the whole site as well as having the actual number seen in the woodland.

    Surprisingly the numbers of larvæ found in High Barn Wood appeared to be less than those found in Brantwood gardens. Though as Dr. Hatcher explained it is often the case that large areas of balsam yield a lower density of larvæ, though overall higher numbers, than smaller sites.

    After 20 years or more surveying the moth and its food plant, however, he has yet to observe any clear correlation between site and numbers of caterpillar. A large, seemingly ideal, habitat may produce only a handful of caterpillars one year where as a small patch of balsam next to a path produce pleasingly high numbers. And then, the following year, the opposite.

    Musing on why some sites appear to be more favourable than others to the presence of Touch Me Not Balsam - vital, remember, for the existence of the Netted Carpet Moth - Paul Hatcher noted that the woods around us had been coppiced for charcoal production in years gone by. That the combination of a 10 year coppice cycle, providing dappled light, plus the trampling of the ground by those working the woods would provide ideal conditions for the balsam to grow. And that the presence of Impatiens noli-tangere as the primary ground flora in a woodland may be a strong indicator of historical industrial woodland.

    And so, from this years survey, it appears that the overall number of larvæ in the Lakes is increasing year on year. Which is encouraging news to both surveyor and conservator. 


    Incidentally, the Netted Carpet Moth itself can be surveyed at dusk in early July to mid-August. Or, more precisely, according to one intrepid volunteer, during the last week of July and first week of August at 9:15pm. So there you go.

    An explosion of balsam where a tree
    once stood at Brantwood garden

    Two for the price of one on rare larvæ
    A seed pod. Or is it a caterpillar?
    A caterpillar. Or is it a seed pod?
    Larva pretending to be a leaf stem
    The group disperse into a sea of balsam

  • Meadow Life...Plug Planting at Town Head Grasmere.

    07:30 29 September 2016
    By Roland Wicksteed, Dave Jackson, Dave Almond, James Archer, Neil Winder, Ben Knipe

    "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone"...Joni Mitchell, 1970.
        Wildflower meadows are in catastrophic decline. It is estimated that 97% were lost, nationally, between the 1930s and 1980s with a corresponding loss of insects and predators that are dependent on them. When, for instance, did you last see a hedgehog!?
    With its wildflower rich grassland, open grown mature trees and wetland, the National Trust parkland at St Catherine's near Windermere, is a rare glimpse of a habitat that was once much more widespread. 
    Bumblebee on betony at St. Catherine's. 
    Many acres of perennial rye grass have taken the place of wildflower meadows. This has had a devastating impact on pollinators and especially bumblebee numbers. Two bumblebee species have become extinct recently.
    Bumblebee covered in pollen on cats-ear at St. Catherine's.
    Wildflowers offer a sustained source of nectar and pollen during the long Summers.
    "Bumblebees are key factors in our wildlife. If they disappear many of our plants will not bear fruit." David Attenborough.
    The presence of quaking grass is a good indicator of well managed "unimproved" grassland at St. Catherine's.
     Red clover. 
    Clover releases nitrogen into the soil which benefits other plants.
    Self heal
    Harebells, betony and burnet saxifrage.
    Black knapweed, birds foot trefoil and thistles.
    Young goldfinches eat knapweed seeds. Other small birds predate on invertebrates attracted to the flowers.
    Meadow brown.
    Even stinging nettles have a place in hay meadows. Peacock butterflies lay their eggs on nettles; these plants are a food source for the caterpillars.
    All of the above images were taken one afternoon in July at St. Catherine's with the exception of the damselfly and peacock butterfly.
    The benefits and importance of well managed hay meadows to wildlife has become more widely recognised. 

     The Cumbria Wildlife Trust has been working with landowners to restore and manage hay meadows through Meadow Life, a project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
    In September, Claire Cornish, Meadow Life Restoration Officer, Cumbria Wildlife Trust, met up with National Trust countryside rangers, volunteers and the tenant farmer of Town Head Farm in Grasmere.
    The meadow below Allan Bank had been chosen to be planted up with 2000 wildflower plug plants. These plug plants are young plants raised in individual cells or small pots.
    A spade depth of turf is dug out, then inverted...
    ...and a space is made in the centre...
    ...for the plug plant, in this instance a wood cranesbill.
    This, a close relative, is meadow cranesbill at St. Catherine's in July.
     Eleven different species of wildflowers were planted with the aim to increase plant diversity in this meadow.
    Will Benson, National Trust tenant farmer. took time out from his busy schedule to help with the planting.
    Claire explained what was going on to interested walkers on the nearby footpath.

    Plug planting is just one of many initiatives of Meadow Life.
    Below is a quote from Cumbria Wildlife Trust website:
    Welcome to Meadow Life!

    "What is Meadow Life Doing?"
    "We hope to help reverse the decline of this very special habitat and bring back the stunningly evocative landscape of hay meadows to Cumbria".
    For more information, click on the link below.

  • Softly, Softly, Catchee Crayfish.

    15:29 22 September 2016
    By Roland Wicksteed, Dave Jackson, Dave Almond, James Archer, Neil Winder, Ben Knipe

    Scout Beck is a stream that flows past High Lickbarrow Farm near Windermere.

    Shortly after the National Trust acquired the farm, Storm Desmond hit Cumbria in December, 2015; the ensuing flood caused extensive damage to stone pitching that was built into this stream bed many years ago. 
    Damage to the pitching at Scout Beck and the eroded stream bank.

    This pitching work was sanctioned by the Environment Agency  to protect neighbouring property from erosion.
    The National Trust undertook to repair the damage. But the stream is home to endangered and protected white clawed crayfish so a plan of works was submitted to the Environment Agency; they approved  and granted a licence for the work to go ahead.
    Work began on Tuesday, September 20th.

    The first task was to use nets to catch the crayfish in the vicinity of the work site and then move them away to a safe distance. From left to right...Bekka, from South Cumbria Rivers Trust who is a licenced crayfish handler, supervised the handling of the crayfish. James, NT Area Ranger and Bruna, NT Academy Ranger. 
    While James carefully lifts a large pitching stone, dislodged in the flood, Bekka is using a bathascope to view any crayfish that may be taking refuge underneath.  
    A crayfish is gently deposited into a container ready to be moved away from the work-site to safety. Nearly seventy crayfish were caught in an area of approximately only six square metres!
    Little and Large.

     White clawed crayfish (Austropotomobius pallipes) are on the IUCN Red Data List of threatened species. (International Union for The Conservation of Nature). Classified as endangered, they are the UK's only native crayfish.
    The UK is the most north westerly limit of their range.

    Once widespread, Cumbria is now the last major stronghold for the native white clawed crayfish in England; they are not found north of the border.
    Native crayfish numbers have declined drastically since the introduction of the American signal crayfish in the seventies. This alien species carries a fugal plague that is fatal to the white clawed crayfish.
    This specimen is an adult male. Their claws are usually larger than the female's. 
    Crayfish are capable of a surprising turn of speed.
    Bruna,..her reflexes are amazing...scooping up another crayfish!
    Numbers, sex, size and condition of the crayfish are noted down for the records.
    With the area cleared of crayfish the pitching work can at last begin!
    The scattered pitching stones still had to be carefully lifted up in case any crayfish had escaped the initial search.
    Straw bales were used to filter out sediment arising from the repair work. Crayfish are intolerant of sediment as it clogs their gills.
    Work well underway with just the retaining wall to be completed.
    On the day the work was finished (21st September), a thunderstorm broke out during the night. The torrential rain considerably increased the flow of Scout Beck giving the repaired stone work a stern test; this image was taken on the morning of the 22nd September.

  • Working Holiday

    08:00 14 September 2016
    By Roland Wicksteed, Dave Jackson, Dave Almond, James Archer, Neil Winder, Ben Knipe

    A variety of tasks were tackled by a Working Holiday Group who were with us for a week from Sunday 4th of September until Friday 9th.
    Part of the goup started on Sunday 4th of September by taking a hedge line  fence  down at Cockshott Point, on the East  shore of Windermere, and loading the posts and wire onto trailers (seen here listening to instructions from James, Area Ranger)
    A smaller group dug out a rectangular shape in front of a bench in order... place a wooden frame work within which to position...
    ...stone setts.
     This is an effective hard wearing surface. (The area in front of the bench was prone to get boggy in wet weather!)
    On Sunday work stopped briefly to watch a low flying Lancaster bomber over Windermere on its way to an air show.
    At Millerground, on Monday, a small group set to work on more stone pitching in order to safeguard the immensely popular lake shore footpath from being undermined by high water levels. (A walker can be seen using the path above). 
    A quantity of small stone was gathered in trugs to infill behind the stone work. 
    Impressive looking job.
    Another task was to rip out and replace the old worn out wooden steps leading down to Millerground.
    Taking shape.
    Great team work!
    On a very wet Monday time out was taken to watch the second stage of the Tour of Britain flash past Queen Adelaide's Hill.
    A well earned break on Wednesday...
    ...with the Windermere Outdoor Adventure Centre.
    Steady as she goes.
    The completed steps were filled with a mixture of crushed stone (aggregate) from the local quarry and lake shore gravel. A job to be justifiably proud of!
    Visitors to Millerground using the new steps.
    Yet another job was to totally upgrade a section of the lake shore footpath at the Southern end of Millerground. Large stones were 'barred' out of the path and used as edging can be seen bottom right of this image.
    The path was levelled and finally resurfaced with approximately seven tonnes of aggregate brought in by...the power barrows.
     From being by far the most difficult to negotiate section of path, it is now arguably the easiest...such is the transformation!

    In addition to the work described above the group also worked in the walled garden at St. Catherine's and also on scrub clearance at Millerground.

    This Working Holiday Group can be proud of what they have achieved in just six days; it was a pleasure to work with them on the five different tasks that they so willingly and ably accomplished through admirable teamwork.   

    With special thanks to Maureen, Group Leader, and Assistant Leader Andy who, incidentally, supplied many of the images for this post.
  • Continuing our work at Seldom Seen

    10:56 08 September 2016
    By Ade Mills, Pete Entwistle, Leo Walmsley

    Since our last blog post much of our time has been spent continuing the repair work on the path above the former mine workers cottages at Seldom Seen.

    The photograph below shows a section of path that has started to erode quite badly. An old stone drain is at the bottom to allow a small beck to run across the path, but as the stone on the path above is very mobile this fills quickly with rubble. To stop further erosion and prevent the drain blocking up we decided that the best option was to pitch the whole section.

     Bags ready in place to start work

    The stone drain was replaced and a new path was built.

     Repaired section of path

    Directly above this section the path had really gullied out, you can see in the next picture just how high the bank has been cut away once the new path had been built.

     Path repaired before landscaping

    One of the most important aspects of our job is trying to blend a new path in with the surrounding landscape. The following photo shows the same section of path once the bank has been graded. A large quantity of soil had to be removed (which was used for landscaping elsewhere) to create a more natural bank this was then turfed and seeded to help stabilise the bank and also speed up the vegetating process.

    Newly landscaped path

    The next section that we worked on had suffered a serious landslide which can be seen in the following photographs.

    Starting work on another section

    The new path includes much better drainage to help reduce the volume of water flowing down the path which should help reduce the chance of another washout.

    Completed path

    To help prevent the soil in the bank falling back onto the path when it rains the side of the path has been edged with large boulders which will be continued along this full section. We'll also spot turf the area and put down plenty of grass seed to try and stabilise it all.
    Close-up of the landscaping on the bank
  • A busy summer at Tarn Hows

    08:24 07 September 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

    Tarn Hows has been a hive of activity this summer. The bank holiday weekend was bursting with visitors enjoying this classic Lakes spot and our rangers and volunteers have been busy all summer setting up free activities for all of our visitors to enjoy. From pond dipping to weekly guided walks, indoor art to mini-beast hunts, learning how to weave hazel to whizzing around the tarn on our balance bikes, lots of fun has been happening each week, come rain or shine.

    By far the most popular activity that has taken place this summer has been pond dipping. Families have been dipping into our tarn to see what they could find and learned how to identify the aquatic life here. Water beetles, water boatman, pond skaters and damselfly nymphs have been found in abundance but our most popular find (if slightly off-putting) has been that of many leeches found lurking at the bottom.

    Visitors enjoying pond dipping at Tarn Hows
    In addition, the use of our trampers has been ever more popular which allow people of all abilities to enjoy a trip around the tarn. The teddy-bear like Belted Galloways have of course proved popular with our visitors as well as the odd sightings of red squirrels and even an otter!
     Belted Galloways with a view over Wetherlam and Holme Fell 
    As for now, the flurry of visitors from the summer is slowing down and it is now a great time of year to come and enjoy the range of wildlife that can be seen around the tarn as the leaves turn into their autumn colours. Tramper hire continues for the next few months, just call the office to book your slot: 015394 41456.

  • Hedgehog Encounter

    08:09 03 September 2016
    By Roland Wicksteed, Dave Jackson, Dave Almond, James Archer, Neil Winder, Ben Knipe

    With hedgehog numbers in steep decline, I considered myself lucky to see this one in the St. Catherine's carpark at dusk. The hedgehog was lucky I saw it, too, as I was driving and just spotted it in time!

     The hedgehog paused long enough, after unrolling itself, to have its image taken before scuttling for cover! 
    Hedgehog populations were estimated to be over thirty-six million in the Fifties; according to several recent surveys, numbers have now dropped to below one million and are continuing to fall at the rate of 5% per annum.

    Many websites go into some detail as to why hedgehog numbers are in such catastrophic decline. An increase in badger numbers is considered to be a factor in combination with many other issues.

    The time before I saw a hedgehog was on the A592 at night three years ago. Driving back to the Lakes, after a Carlisle home match, I had to brake hard to avoid an adult hedgehog. It had rolled itself into a ball in the middle of the road. I picked it up and took it some distance away to comparative safety. 

    Sadly, thousands of hedgehogs are killed on UK roads every year. 

    Hopefully St Catherine's has a thriving hedgehog population. We have tried to help hedgehogs by maintaining a suitable habitat for them.
    For instance, you may have seen a recent post on this site where brash from a fallen oak branch was piled up as potentially good cover for the increasingly rare hedgehog. It will also be a good habitat for important food source for hedgehogs. 

    The hedgehog is seen as an indicator species. A good population of hedgehogs in a given area shows that the landscape is in good shape with an abundance of insects and invertebrates.