News from Clair Payne for June 2016

  • Rhody Bashing on the west shore of Windermere

    09:00 24 June 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

    The woodlands of High Furness have had a long history of charcoal production dating back at least to the 13th century. The 17th century saw an increase in demand for charcoal from the Iron Industry and much of the woodland along the west shore of Windermere was managed for its production up to the mid 19th century.

    Charcoal was burned on site in turf mounds situated on charcoal burning platforms or 'pitsteads'.  These were large flat clearings made within the woods, either earthen or stone built. Over 250 of these pitsteads, along with 'collier paths' -  tracks for the transportation of the underwood and charcoal to and from production sites, can still be seen throughout the woods around Claife.

    One such wood, Pate Crag Coppice, was a working coppice from at least the 17th century through to the early early 20th. In the years since its coppice stools have grown into impressive multi-stemmed trees. But the woods have also suffered an invasion of rhododendron which now threaten this historic woodland.

    A non-native invasive species, rhododendron prevents native flora from growing due to its dense evergreen shade. It colonises an area through stem layering and by producing millions of seeds, and is difficult to remove thanks to its 'tenacity of life', making it the bane of conservationists. 

    Much work has been done by the rangers in recent years to remove rhododendron and improve woodland flora and bio-diversity. But the successful eradication of rhododendron requires a programme of managed removal, monitoring and control over a number years - aka Rhody Bashing.
    Rhododendron in Pate Crag Coppice.
    No rhododendron in Pate Crag Coppice.

    As part of Volunteers' Week (1-12 June) a group of 8 members from the South Lakes Volunteer Group joined us on a bright, hot Tuesday morning for a day of Rhody Bashing at Pate Crag Coppice. Led by Richard, our Woodland Ranger, and armed with bow saws, loppers, flapjack and lots of water we set off from the lakeside track over the steep and sometimes slippery terrain of the woods to one of the pitsteads that would serve as our base for the day.

    There are several ways to tackle rhododendron. You can pull up the seedlings by the roots, dry the roots and snap the stem; saw off branches at the base and treat the stump with herbicide; spray the leaves with herbicide where there is no risk of over-spray effecting surrounding flora or contaminating a watercourse; or use mechanical flailing.

    Given our number and the size of the near by rhodies, plus the steepness of the terrain and potential risk of over-spray, our method of choice was to cut and saw the branches down to the stump. We left about a foot standing with a few leaves sticking up to act as a flag. This is to help locate the stump and treat it with herbicide at a later date. The cut branches were then piled up ready to be burned. Yes, just what you need on a hot, sweaty day with no breeze. A fire. Luckily one of our number was an ex-fireman more than happy to get the fire going.

    Volunteer tackling a large rhody stump.

    Rhody stump with 'flag' of leaves.

    In a manner one can only imagine was similar to those who worked these woods for charcoal in years gone by we formed an effective production line from shrub to fire. One or two small groups where based up slope cutting off branches then lobbing or dragging them down slope to the charcoal platform. Another group cut up the pile of branches into smaller manageable stacks while the final group fed and managed the fire. In this fashion we cleared all the rhody sites we hoped to in good time. 

    Where the rhododendron once stood was now an expanse of bare ground. A reminder of just how damaging to the habitat it can be. 

    Bare ground where rhododendron once stood.
    The fire can be seen down slope in the background.
    An area of Pate Crag Coppice where the rhody has previously been removed.

    Light gets through and new life grows again.


    Rhododendron ponticum was present in Britain in previous interglacials but didn't re-colonise here in the post-glacial. Native to parts of southern Europe it was (re)introduced to Britain in 1763 and became abundant throughout the 18th and 19th centuries as an ornamental plant and as game cover. It has now widely naturalised. Particularly on acid soils and in shaded woodland.

    It damages the habitat it invades by dominating the area. It spreads laterally through branch layering creating its dense, impenetrable growth which prevents light from getting to other species. Its leaves and buds contain toxic chemicals making it unpalatable to grazing animals. These chemicals may also act as an inhibitor to the growth of competing species further adding to its domination. Its honey is poisonous to humans and bees. It can be a host for fungal pathogen Phytophthora.

    Where the native flora ceases to be so too do the animals which live off the flora and hence the animals that live of those animals and so on leaving the area virtually barren of all life except the rhododendron. Even in woodland, where trees can exist above its dense shade, no new saplings can seed. So as the existing trees die off only the rhododendron will remain.

    Such tenacity makes eradication costly, labour intensive and time consuming. Even after removing existing growth and treating with herbicides the millions of tiny seeds that are produced each year are easily spread far and wide by the wind making regrowth highly likely. A site needs to to be revisited over successive years to repeatedly control the regrowth before the site can be declared free of rhododendron.

    Yet, despite all this, in its exotic form the bright flowers and twisted branches can look quite spectacular.

    Rhododendron Wood at Leith Hill.

    But back to the bashing...


    A new day, a new site and a new volunteer group.

    Volunteers from a group formed by the Windermere Reflections project joined us at Wray Castle. Ornamental rhododendron can be seen lining the edge of woodland around the Wray estate, however, invasions further into the woods once again threaten the habitat.

    There's rhody in there somewhere.

    The rhody here were smaller and more dispersed than at Pate Crag. The difficulty, however, was in getting to them through the overgrown ferns and brambles.

    The site had recently seen some rhody bashing and piles of dried branches were lying waiting for us to put them on the fire. Again, luckily, we had a retired fireman amongst us to help manage the fire. This was important as we had no 'ready made' fire site like the charcoal burning platforms. Instead we cleared a suitable area of ferns, with paths to and from the site, where a small controlled fire could be set and managed.

    Piles of branches from previous visit.

    Dragging branches though pathways to the fire.

    Retired fireman Steve managing the fire.
    Like the day before the team worked efficiently cutting, treating, dragging and burning, despite the hot weather, until the thunder storm came and we all retreated to the castle for a well earned cup of tea.

    Rain stops play.

    As the rain subsided we returned to tidy up and pile the un-burned branches ready for the next visit.

    Stumps treated with pesticide.
    The blue dye helps identify which stumps have been treated.
    Both sites will need to be revisited on several more occasions over the coming years before the work is complete. Such is the ongoing task of Rhody Bashing.

    A huge thanks to all the volunteers from South Lakes Volunteer Group and Windermere Reflections for all their hard work in taking us one step closer to having rhody-free woodland.

  • A big HELLO from Eve

    15:11 17 June 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

    Hello! My name is Eve and I am the new friendly face you will see here around Tarn Hows. I have recently finished university at Liverpool and have moved back up north to join the team, here at Boon Crag, as an Assistant Ranger at Tarn Hows for the next few months. Having been here for a grand total of 7 days now, I have already been involved in a range of work including assisting on guided walks, ending with free tea and cake, visiting our property’s sites in the sun and doing a variety of practical work around Tarn Hows- not too bad ey?!
    A lovely view over Tarn hows early in the morning.

    Born and bred in Cumbria, I love the outdoors and have a passion for nature. Therefore, I see myself very lucky to have landed a job in such a beautiful place and a great location as to Tarn Hows.  I will be here to ensure a very warm welcome to many of the 300,000 visitors that come to Tarns Hows each year, and I will be helping to maintain and conserve this incredible site. I will be helping to manage our off-road mobility vehicles as well as keeping the area looking at its best. 

    Me at my new office!
    Tarn Hows has bags of history and it is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The tarn is fed by a series of valley and basin mires, a nationally rare and protected habitat, which supports rare aquatic plant species and invites a diverse range of wildlife to the area. Future management work may involve removing some trees to encourage growth of aquatic plants.  Ancient woodland, also a nationally protected habitat, can be found of the south-west side of the tarn, rich with bryophytes and lichens. The tarn is also surrounded by old larch plantations, acid grasslands and areas of heathland. It’s a very diverse place with lots to see! I will be leading enjoyable walks around the tarn and surrounding area, (hopefully) filling your heads with lots of knowledge about the management, history and wildlife that can be found here and I am very much looking forward to it.

    Yellow Flag Iris currently in bloom by the side of the tarn.

     Orchid found at the edge of the basin mere by the tarn. You may be lucky to see one!
    I hope to develop visitor experience by offering a range of new public activities for everyone to get involved in to learn about wildlife,  biodiversity conservation and the specific work the National Trust does. This may include mini-beast hunts and bird watching. But it’s all early days yet!!


  • Musings on the 8th World Ranger Congress

    13:29 10 June 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

    Back in April, in my previous blog I'd written about how I was heading to the World Ranger Congress in Estes Park, Colorado. What a fantastic experience. I couldn't possibly describe everything I did, all the inspirational people I met or all the things I learnt in one blog so I hope I've managed to capture the essence of the congress for you.
    Estes Park YMCA was to be our home for the week. A beautiful backdrop of the Rocky Mountains.
    I was honoured and inspired to have been chosen to represent the National Trust and the UK while learning about the war on poaching in Africa, how to connect the disconnected in the US national parks, how much of our terrestrial and oceanic environments has some form of protected area status and how we should protect much more, fire management in Australia and the campaign for better funding and health and safety standards in Asia.
    Multi-nation flag parade including Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Norway and Kyrgyzstan.
    On day one, all the countries represented paraded their uniforms and flags (there were 65 countries in all!). This culminated in a reading of the names of the 60 rangers to have died in service since the last World Ranger Day. A moment to be proud of the ranger profession but also to reflect on the dangers that some rangers face in the course of their work.
    Reading out the names of the 60 rangers who have died since the last World Ranger Day, July 31st 2015
    The congress was a strong reminder of why the work we do is so important, not just for nature but also for the human race. It was also a reminder of how small the problems are we face here in the UK can seem in comparison to protecting endangered species from poaching or communities from crocodiles. Some of the rangers I met are working in far less fortunate situations than my own. Some don’t receive the regular pay we all receive or even have a basic uniform or safety gear (There was a ranger relief collection to donate old bullet proof vests, uniforms and outdoor gear to those in need). However different it all seems, we are all fighting the same fight – protecting special places.

    All 320 delegates with the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop
    Sean Wilmore, the (newly re-elected) president of the International Ranger Federation highlighted how the 320+ rangers at the congress each represented 1000 rangers across the world. I really felt part of a big ranger family, especially now I have so many contacts around the world. Can you spot the National Trust rangers in red in the group shot? Chris Wood (from the North York Moors) and myself represented the National Trust's North region.

    The Countryside Management Association Delegates - including 5 National Trust representatives from around England and Wales
    The congress contained a series of very interesting talks, thought-provoking presentations and plenty of time to get to know our fellow rangers. Many of these talks would take a blog each to describe. One particularly inspiring talk was by ranger Christian Mbina of Gabon: "It is not a fight to save Africa. It is a fight to save the world." National Park Service director, Jonathan Jarvis, also gave a frank and heartfelt talk about the American National Park System - 'How do we engage the disconnected in our National Parks?' They are the future. Conservationist Harvey Locke, gave a talk thanking rangers for their important work and described his nature needs half theory - how we should protect more of planet earth.

    Ranger Christian Mbina of Gabon. He said his name badge should not say he is from Gabon, but from the world.
    National Park Service director, Jonathan Jarvis
    Obviously a gathering of rangers would not be complete without plenty of fun too. Everyone brought parts of their cultures with them, the Brazilians brought their amazing dancing, the Russian's brought some interesting spirits, the British brought Yorkshire Tea....There was plenty of live music, a swap shop for patches and pins (I've now got quite a collection!) as well as daily raffles with prizes donated from ranger's protected areas (I wasn't lucky this time). I took part in a field trip to Gem Lake in the Rocky Mountains National Park with the local rangers. It was great to get out of a conference room for a day!

    This was my first protected area gathering and I really hope it won’t be my last. The next WRC9 is in Nepal in 2019. I have started saving already.

    Please check out the 8th World Ranger Congress YouTube channel to hear some of these inspirational talks, I particularly recommend the ones by Shelton Johnson, Harvey Locke and Jonathan Jarvis.

    The Association of National Park Rangers in the US did a fantastic job of organizing and hosting the congress. This was in collaboration with the 100 year centennial of the US National Park Service.
    Trees and mountains, rather like home!
    Clair Payne
    Hawkshead and Claife 

News from Clair Payne

Photo of Clair Payne

I am a ranger for the South Lakes property covering the Hawkshead and Claife area, helping to look after the west shore of Windermere, Claife Heights, the grounds of Wray Castle and much more… No two days are ever the same, one day I can be found helping to build a play trail at Wray Castle and the next I’ll be replacing a fence across a farmer’s field and the next, who knows?! It feels great to be helping people to enjoy our special places!