News from Neil Winder for September 2016

  • 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.
  • 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.

News from Neil Winder

Photo of Neil Winder

Area Ranger-Grasmere and Great Langdale.

Growing up in the Lakes naturally progressed to working in this beautiful area. After studying Countryside management at Newton Rigg College Penrith I spent time volunteering for the RSPB at Leighton Moss Silverdale. These experiences lead to employment with the National Trust whom I’ve been with for over 14 years now.
I’ve worked on the upland footpath team carrying out footpath repairs in the area and as Warden working on countryside estate work like walling, fencing and hedge laying.
As Area Ranger I’m Responsible for planning and coordinating general operations over 7800 Hectares of countryside portfolio.
I love the outdoors, getting out side in my work and also spending time walking with my family.
I’ve been known to enjoy bursts of trail running when my energy levels are high. I also have a passion for electronic music; I was a DJ for many years and hold a qualification in computer music production.