News from John Moffat for April 2016

  • The 8th World Ranger Congress

    08:26 22 April 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

    Every now and then we hear stories on the news of rangers from other countries dying in the course of their jobs - protecting wild animals, trying to prevent the complete destruction of rainforests and other sensitive habitats and I think how lucky we rangers are in the UK that we don’t need to take guns to work with us, or wear bullet proof vests. That our visitors on the whole understand what we are trying to do, what we are trying to conserve and protect. Rangering is a varied and exciting profession which we need to shout more about. This is where the great work of organizations like the International Ranger Federation(IRF) comes in.

    The IRF ‘ensure the world’s terrestrial and marine parks, and the flora and fauna that live in them, are protected from vandalism, poaching, theft, exploitation or destruction’ – The IRF is the voice for the world’s park rangers 

    Every 3 years, the IRF organises a gathering of rangers from all around the world to share stories, learn new skills, create lasting partnerships and experiences of what it is like to be at the front line, protecting the world’s most special places. This worldwide event has been hosted in places as far apart as Australia, Scotland, Tanzania and South Africa and will be attended by rangers from 40+ countries. This year, it is being held in Estes Park in the Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, USA. Myself and Chris Wood (Ranger at the North York Moors and Yorkshire Coast Properties) have been chosen to represent the National Trust at the 8th congress in May. And to say I am excited is a huge understatement. 

    Reflection of Hallett Peak in Estes Park - Wow

    Obviously, Colorado is a loooong way away so I plan on making the most of it. I’ll also spend a week meeting some of the rangers in the Grand Canyon Parashant National Park. My kind and generous hosts have made exciting plans for me including an opportunity to join their ranger pilot for a flight over Lake Mead and Parashant. I’ll also get to experience an overnight trip into the Parashant International Night Sky Province to see the night sky in this truly wild place! 

    One of the amazing views of the Grand Canyon Parashant National Monument

    This trip will be a very humbling and real celebration of what it means to be a ranger and be part of the worldwide ranger community. Chris and I will share this experience and raise awareness of the IRFs work with our fellow NT ranger colleagues as well as with you, our visitors and supporters. Watch this space.

    I wonder if I'll see any marmots?

    Clair Payne
    Hawkshead and Claife 

  • Moving on with the year

    09:00 15 April 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

    With the weather starting to improve now and more groups arriving the team here at the volunteer centre High Wray Basecamp is starting to spend more time outdoors now. We always look forward to this but with the miserable weather we had to put up with over winter we are sometimes quite pleased that we scale back on the amount of time we spend outdoors over the darker months. There are very good reasons for this as there is lots of wrapping up to do of the year just gone, planning to do for the year ahead and more importantly, maintenance of the site itself.
    Preparing the walls for repainting, goodbye to gloomy Terracotta
    Getting the new Pistachio colour scheme on - sophisticated!

    This maintenance occuppied us fully for a couple of weeks as we once more hosted the ‘Basecamp Blitz’, a week long barney of painting and DIY. Being a volunteer centre, we didn't do this on our own and had the help of some very hard working volunteers keen to get going with brush and roller.
    Do you like what we've done with the place? The Longland with the first coat on

    Now all we need is the roulette wheel - The 'Casino Brown' in full force
    Once the walls were complete, we moved on to the floors and laid new carpet tiles down in the Longland block. The old ones were starting to wear out and had so many corners peeling up it was becoming a full time job sticking them back down again. It’s great to have replaced them, even if the new ones have the perhaps inappropriate colour name of 'Casino Brown'!

    Now complete we have a lovely fresh feeling to welcome our many groups in for this year - it is a nice thought that improvements that will benefit many volunteers over the coming years have been wrought by volunteers themselves. 
    But it wasn't all indoor work over the winter and early spring. Part of the aforementioned planning  involved heading up to the hills to look at some of our upland footpath jobs for the year ahead. We got lucky with a rare sunny day for a site visit to Gummer’s How, above Windermere, but weren’t so lucky with a trip up Far Easedale a week later where it seemed winter had returned with a vengeance. Whatever the weather these trips are important as we need to have a very clear idea of the jobs we’ll be tackling with volunteer groups – it’s no good arriving on site and then trying to work out how to tackle a problem when you have 15 volunteers keen to get cracking!

    Lucky! The view from the top of Gummers How

    Not so lucky! Chilly and wet conditions for the trip up Far Easedale
    Since I wrote the most of this blog we've been out tackling the dreaded job of bag filling. Working with the South Lakes upland path team and the Fix the Fells lengthsmen we've been helping each other collecting enough stone for this year’s scheduled upland jobs. The stone is loaded into 1 ton bags ready to be lifted into place by helicopter, always a daunting proposition that we’re pleased to have completed. Finishing this normally coincides with the improvement of the weather and a full move from planning to action, a time of year that can’t come soon enough!

    See, it is fun! the lengthsmen mid stone collection

  • A Spring in their step

    16:04 04 April 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

    Fell farming has shaped the landscape of the Lake District for thousands of years using a system that has remained relatively unchanged. At the most basic level the fell farming year follows a cyclical pattern of sending stock off to the high fell, and gathering them back down for lambing in the spring and tupping time in the autumn. This system enables farmers to make best use of the limited growth that the vegetation puts on during the warmer months; it is no coincidence that the lambs are born in the spring as we are hopeful for some warmer weather and the grass will start to grow.

    Part of the Boon Crag flock, with Holme Fell in the background
    At the moment the ewes will have been bought down from the fell and will be held in the inbye fields. These are the fields in the valley bottom which are enclosed by the characteristic drystone walls where the ewes will remain until they have lambed, which for most fell flocks happens between mid-April to mid-May. Ewes with single lambs are sent back to the fell in May and those with doubles kept in the inbye until clipping time in July after which they are also sent to the fell. As you have probably guessed this is however only the tip of the ice berg …

    Fell breeds are particularly nimble and hardy; the grass is always greener on the other side!
    One of the aspects of fell farming that always amazes me is how the farmer staggers their lambs to be born over the period of around a month. Whilst lambing remains one of the busiest times of the year for any farmer, this makes the onerous task slightly more manageable. This is actually done way back in October and November when the tups are put in the field with the ewes.

    Each tup is fitted with a ‘raddle’, which is comprised of a strap that holds a block of paint on the chest of the tup. During the act, this colour is transferred to the ewes back. Sheep are in season for a 17 day cycle, and the colour of the raddle is changed for every cycle, starting lighter and getting progressively darker, for example yellow, red then blue. Not only does the changing of the colour enable the farmer to predict the lambing date, but also to check that the tup is working correctly and to check that the ewe is cycling. All being well 152 days later little black lambs will start to appear in the fields!

    Beatrix Potter played a pivotal role in ensuring the survival of the Herdwick breed by buying farms and bequeathing them to the National Trust. Here at the South Lakes property she left 14 farms, some of which I am fortunate enough to spend most of my days on fixing, building and carrying out conservation tasks. I have now been living in the Lake District for just over a year and during that time I have only began to scratch the surface when it comes to learning about fell farming; and I have only imparted a small part of my limited knowledge in the blog! Lambing is but one aspect of the fell farming year, let alone tupping, clipping, hay making, the relationship with sheep dogs and the myriad of other tasks that a farmer carries out to care for his stock. If you find fell farming as interesting as I do then come along to Wray Castle on the 2nd and 4th of June to meet one of our tenant farmers and some of his stock; he’ll be there to answer all your questions!