News from John Moffat for November 2015

  • Trees old and new

    10:00 27 November 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

    Autumn is a time when I am busy with tree inspections, its a chance to catch up with some of our trees have a look at them and see if they need any management work. 
    We do the inspections over autumn because fungal fruiting bodies are often visible and they can give us clues about what might be going on inside the tree.

    Sparassis crispa associated with a scots pine tree.

    The weather during September and October was great (its not so good now!) and I took several 'woody' pics

    Patterns in sycamore bark.

    Sunshine through beech leaves.

    Autumn colours in Tilberthwaite.

    I also went down to Hatfield forest on a course to learn more about decay in trees.  Hatfield is home to hundreds of veteran trees in various stages of decay with great examples of decay in trees, how to manage the trees so they continue to provide this rare and valuable habitat.  

    Open grown oak with decay caused by loss of large limb on the left.

    David Lonsdale explaining decay process in a mature beech.

    Pollard ash with large column of decay in the center.

    Dead wood with woodworm holes the large hole is the exit hole from a stag beetle.

    After spending time looking at old trees I spent yesterday putting this years christmas tree in Wray Castle.  It took a massive team effort to get the tree standing in the castle we even had to rope in a couple of the building team as last minute re-enforcements!

    Christmas tree elf wrestling the tree onto the trailer for delivery.

     The tree outside waiting to make its grand entrance!

    Check out the Wray Castle Facebook page to find out more about the tree and other stories from the Castle.

    Richard Tanner
    Woodland ranger
  • Winter - Arrivals and Departures Lounge

    11:04 19 November 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

    Winter – The Arrivals and Departures lounge

    I can’t believe that we are deep in the midst of Autumn already , this year has flown by . I’m sure they’re making these years smaller than they used to ; just like Wagon Wheels and Curly Whirlys, and Cadburys Crème Eggs for that matter  !

    Arrivals and Departures

    Each year  in the Lake District  , as well as bringing a stunning palette of colours , Autumn brings a range of  arrivals and departures in terms of wildlife. These migrations are brought on by changes in the daylight hours and climate, not just in this part of the country but across the whole of Northern Europe. These changes mean that  certain food sources become  more scarce , vegetation  and water bodies become inaccessible due to snow and ice and wilder weather makes it desirable to find a more benign environment  in which  to spend the Winter months.

    Bitter winds

    A previous Ranger blog mentions the house martins that nest under the eaves  of the National Trust houses at Harrowslack next to Lake Windermere. The real start of Autumn for me is when they flock together and decide to head South to Africa, usually connected to the first cold snap, the bitter winds from the Arctic North giving a taste of what’s to come . The signal for the house martins is the temperature drop but also the increasing scarcity of their food source , flying insects .

    Berries and seeds

    The departure of the house martins is followed in a few weeks by the arrival of Bramblings and Fieldfares , birds that migrate from Scandinavia  drawn to Britain by the relatively milder Winter climate ( compared to Norway and Sweden ! ) and the abundant seed and berry crop from the likes of  hawthorn bushes and  beech and rowan trees etc.  Look out for flocks of these Winter visitors  in the parkland around Wray Castle the bramblings look like chaffinches flying from beech tree to beech tree , the Fieldfares  similar to blackbirds can be seen in the fields and around the hedgerows feeding on berries , worms and insects.

    Fieldfare a bit thrushlike !

     Pink foot  V formation

    For me one of the most thrilling spectacles at this time of year is the sight and sound of flocks of geese flying in  V - formation overhead . Pink- footed geese  breed in Greenland, Iceland and Svalbard  in the summer , strangely,  I always seem to see them flying North in the winter and South in the spring . I am assured that this is just the flocks making small movements to different  winter feeding grounds , the estuaries,  marshes and coastal fields around Morecambe Bay and  the Solway .

    A noisy flock of pink footed geese heading north for the Winter !

    The V formation in flight  apparently  helps create an updraft which reduces the resistance and helps conserve energy ! 


    Oystercatchers are a familiar site on the shingle beaches around Windermere and Esthwaite Water , they have a less dramatic migration . Like Curlews in the Autumn/Winter they tend to head back to coastal areas ; tidal beaches and muddy estuaries provide a more reliable source of food than inland .

    So wildlife populations are always changing in the Lake District and there is always something new to see as the seasons change . Wray Castle is open at the weekends up until Christmas. Hill Top  Shop and Garden is open every day ( weather permitting ) The countryside in the South Lakes is open all year round  regardless of the weather.
  • The hidden world within a dry stone wall

    08:53 06 November 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

    Assistant Ranger, Julie Bell delves into the hidden world within a dry stone wall.  Not just a functional stock-proof boundary; they hide an entire wild community who live alongside and within this man-made structure. 

    Walling within the South Lakes area

    Come to the South Lakes and you can’t help but notice the dry stone walls that form such strong patterns and field boundaries within the landscape, criss-crossing through the pastoral valleys, and up onto the high fells.  

    I love how they stand as testament to the skill and hard-work of our forebears, built from natural, locally sourced materials (slate, granite, sandstone or limestone), with no fuels or imports.  The ultimate sustainable build!  

    Fields beside Esthwaite Water (©National Trust Images/Joe Cornish)

    Living walls

    At first glance, it may appear that dry stone walls are a barren, hostile environment for wildlife.  Take a closer look - you will see these living walls are a haven for wildlife, providing important sanctuary to many plant communities, birds, mammals and insects.   Dry stone walls also provide important shelter for larger mammals too in severe weather conditions – hill sheep, and us humans!  

    The first residents move in

    Whilst the stone gives a wall its strength, age gives it character.  Over time, weathered stone becomes porous.  This allows the first residents to move in: an extraordinary plant, with the ability to grow where no other plants have gone before - the lichens.  Did you know: the age of a wall can be guessed from the spread of lichen.  Another pioneering plant, the mosses, are soon to follow behind the lichens. 

    Lichens on a wall weathered by wind and rain. 

    The flowers arrive

    Once these pioneering plants have gained a secure foothold, the flowers arrive.  Seeds of annuals such as dandelions and herb Robert - a familiar flower on banks and hedgerows - land on the wall, carried in by drifting in the wind, or by ants.

    Creepy crawleys

    There are many insects harboured within a wall’s cracks and crevices, including spiders, woodlice, springtails, millipedes, snails, bees, and wasps. 

    Did you know: snails are surprisingly long-lived and may roam the same patch on a wall for up to six years? 

    Common woodlouse on moss


    A variety of mammals make use of walls as a place of shelter, for feeding, nesting, and as a protected corridor to move between different areas of favourable habitat.   These include:

    • Slow worms
    • Common lizards
    • Adders
    • Toads
    • Frogs
    • Voles
    • Field mice
    • Shrews
    • Hedgehogs 
    • Red squirrels – known to store nuts under the stones.


    Birds are frequent visitors to a dry stone wall, using them as a place to search out possible meals, a place to nest, or as shelter or a roost. 

    The secretive Wren
    Wrens occupy holes in walls as nests and also for winter shelter.  They lose heat rapidly when not active in colder weather and Wrens will huddle together for warmth.

    Other birds that sometimes nest in walls are blue and great tits, pied and grey wagtails, house and tree sparrows, spotted flycatchers, nuthatches and wheatears.  One bird that favours walls for nesting is the Redstart. 

    Take a look for yourself

    So, next time you find yourself beside a dry stone wall, take a closer look around you.  You may just be surprised to discover the sheer variety of life you will find.