News from Richard Tanner for March 2014

  • Bags of Rock

    10:00 28 March 2014
    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

    "Bags of Rock" probably aren't of much interest to most people.  For Upland Rangers however they can be something to get excited about!

    At this time of year we are getting ready to return to the fells to start upland path projects. The bags in question are the ones we fill with rock to be moved by helicopter to the project sites.

    The first stage of the process starts before the bag filling commences as it needs to be agreed where the rock can be collected from. Wherever possible we use rock local to the area so that it is consistent with the surrounding landscape. Nearby screes are a good starting point for potential locations. These have to be agreed with Natural England, a public body responsible for protecting and improving England's natural environment. There may be reasons a scree should not be used, such as rare or protected flora, and there may be limits on how much rock can be taken. For example during the current rock collection we are avoiding areas of woolly hair moss.
    A 'good-looking' rock but the woolly hair moss means we won't use it
    Once the sites are agreed we can start bagging up the rock although we need to first get the 'heli-bags' to site.  This means carrying around 10 bags per person up to the rock sites.
    Our main project this year is a joint one with the Western team, tackling erosion on the path from Red Tarn to Crinkle Crags.  The rock sites selected are between Crinkle Crags and Cold Pike and our walk up from the Three Shires stone is around an hour. A fairly good warm up before the 'main event' of bag filling!
    Carrying heli-bags towards Crinkle Crags with the Western team & others
    Once we arrive at the rock site with the bags a quick break is in order before the bag filling commences.
    Some of the group enjoying a break before bag filling
    (Ian seems to be amused about something)
    There are various things to consider when filling the heli-bags with rock. This might include finding a nice spot to place the bag close to some suitable rock. The size and shape of the rock needed depends on what you want it for, such as stone 'pitching', drainage or landscaping work. Most of the rock recently collected is for stepped stone 'pitched' path work. This means chunky rocks with a bit of depth and a fairly flat surface that people can plant their feet on are in demand. It can be quite challenging rolling the rocks into the bags especially if it is windy the bag is flapping around.
    First rock of the day - a nice pitching stone "in the bag"
    Sarah hard at work filling a bag
    A full bag with bag-filling continuing in the background
    The heli-bags are designed to carry a ton of rock which is the limit that the helicopter can usually carry in one go. In reality the filled bags tend to weigh around 700 to 800kg.
    The number of bags that can be filled per person in a day can vary widely depending on the site,  the type of rock needed and how accessible the rocks are. The author of this blog likes the challenge of filling all of the bags he carries up but has only managed this once this year.
    There are legendary tales from the past of path workers filling impressive numbers of bags in a single day.
    A single rock fills this bag,
    (Courtesy of Jon, from the West)
    Bag filling can be quite a gruelling task but is satisfying and a great work-out.
    Searching for particular shapes and sizes of rock can have side effects and you may find yourself noticing suitable rocks wherever you go. You can even find yourself strangely attracted to rocks and describing them as 'beautiful'. It is fair to say that this trait may not be appreciated by others, particularly friends and family when not at work.

    After spending the winter doing mostly lower level work it is a great feeling returning to the fells to focus on the upland work that we enjoy.
    One of many nice views enjoyed during bag filling
    If you would like to know more about the daily work of the South Lakes Upland Ranger team they can be found on Twitter @NTLakesFells.

    Posted by: Nick, Upland Ranger
  • Idiot or evolution ?

    08:33 26 March 2014
    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

    "How do I get myself into these situations ? " I ask my wife, whose opinion I  value and whose comments normally , and quite annoyingly,  get directly to the heart of an issue . " Because you’re an idiot" she replies with a look of exasperation , one that you might give to your pet dog after it has swallowed a whole  j cloth which had some peanut butter smeared on one corner. I fear that she may be right, but I am certain that this is not the only reason  I find myself in this predicament.

     Our new neighbours  moved in just before Christmas.   Colin  is  about 15 years younger than me and is an Outdoor Education instructor . Unfortunately  for me he now does the same commute into work  that I’ve been doing for the last couple of years  and what ‘s worse is he sets off on his bike  at about the same time.

    Last Monday I set off a bit before Colin and he overtook me half way there, we exchanged pleasantries and agreed it would be great if the rain held off until we both got into work . As he passed me, I picked up my pace a bit  but struggled to keep up with him on the hill.

    The following day I again set off ahead of him and was definitely peddling just that little bit faster knowing he was behind me , I was puffing and blowing a bit on the hills and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit disappointed that he passed me again , me red faced and grimacing ,  he  chatting amiably , not out of breath , hardly having broken sweat !

    The view I should have been enjoying if I wasn't sweating blood.

    Now I’m not an overly competitive person normally , if I’m playing Trivial Pursuits I am quite happy to lose as long as we have had some fun along the way. Last Friday I again set off slightly ahead and something inside got the better of me and I went straight into racing speed , I became Sir Chris Hoy,feeling that I couldn’t face the humiliation of being overtaken for a third time that week I was out of the saddle on the hills ,muscles burning,  heart thumping,  the taste of blood in my mouth ( must see the doctor about that ). Of course I was doing my best to make it look like I wasn’t racing ;  trying to look around at the scenery in a casual manner when really I was peddling at top speed and trying to check if I could see Colin 's front light behind me . When I reached Hawkshead I saw a light behind , thinking it was the ' silent assassin' I  peddled even faster waiting for the inevitable wave as Colin passed me by.

    Miraculously it didn’t happen and I  made it into work without being overtaken . My pride and self worth fully in tact , I did it in record time .......and it very nearly killed me , I needed to lie down for a few hours to recover .

    Any sense of relief was short lived as it dawned on me that I was going to have to do it again next Mon , next week and every week until one of us ( probably me ) dies of a stroke  or gets another job.

     And how did I get into this situation because I'm an idiot well yes that's certainly part of the answer, but also I feel that I may be a victim of evolution.

    Competition within species is a fact of life and is particularly apparent at this time of year. During the spring, the males of many species are establishing and protecting their territories and then trying to attract a mate. Being the strongest, the fastest and the most colourful all helps. The older males each year have to prove that they have still got what it takes.

    It’s about strength 

    Blackbird with rowan berries

    Blackbirds and Robins are familiar birds in our gardens but fiercely territorial , Blackbirds will go to great lengths to protect a single tree laden with berries, providing food during the winter, using elaborate calls and flight patterns, to let other birds know that this their territory. Robins despite their  cute and friendly image , will become particularly  aggressive if they feel their patch is being intruded upon by another robin , other than a mate. 

    Cute garden visitor or vicious thug ?

    If you take a walk along the side of Lake Windermere , you will almost certainly see Canada geese protecting their nesting sites on the islands with loud ‘honking’ and aggressive wing flapping.

     it’s also about timing

    At this time of year the procession of late winter/ spring flowers has started , the white snowdrops have given way to the daffodils and the wild garlic is pushing through to be followed by  the lesser celandine , wood anemone and primrose . All these plants flower early in the spring to avoid competition with other species and to make the most of the light before the canopy closes as the trees come into leaf.

    Spring flowers Primrose ( light yellow ) Wood anemones ( white ) Lesser celendine ( deep yellow )

    If you are looking for a great place to enjoy  these and other early signs of spring , why not take a walk around Tarn Hows near Coniston or along the West shore of Windermere to Wray Castle in thernext few weeks .

    Keep an eye out for the sweaty red faced idiot on the bike, and show some pity , he’s just trying to prove he's still got it, he's a product/victim of the evolutionary process.

  • A wall with no mortar

    10:00 07 March 2014
    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

    Drystone walls ….. If you spend any time in Cumbria they’ll be a familiar sight and if you spend any time working in conservation they’ll soon become a very familiar sight. They’re called drystone because they have no mortar to hold them together, just a set of rules that are applied to every stone you put on the wall. How fast you do it often comes down to how often you do it – practice makes …. well, let’s say gradually improving ….
    It's always a right mess when you start, but all those stones need to go back

    A National Trust drystone walling working holiday getting some practice in ....
    Here’s some of the basic drystone wall rules:

    • Build the wall with two ‘skins’, with a centre of smaller stones (hearting)
    • Try to use the biggest stones at the bottom of the wall, smaller ones higher up.
    • Always place the stones on the wall so their tops are not tipped up, they are level flat.
    • Two on one and one on two – always try to cross the joins by placing the next stone so that it spans the gap between the two stones below it.
    • Place stones so their length goes into the wall, not along it (a tracer)
    • Try to ensure the outer faces of the stones present as flat a surface as possible.
    • Your wall should be roughly twice the width at the bottom it is at the top. This gives it it’s ‘batter’, or sloping face.
    • Finish with a row of larger stones to pin it together (the ‘cams’)
    Starting with the biggest stones at the bottom
    We’ve had lots of opportunity to put those rules into practice recently. The Red Nab bridleway runs from a popular car park towards Wray Castle, much of it flanked by a wall. It was starting to look like a very tired wall too and in great need of some TLC, which is where we came in. For the last two years we’ve repaired many sections of it, all with the help of volunteers. We recently had one of our last days there with the local group the South Lakes Conservation Volunteers, putting the cams on a long stretch.
    South Lakes Conservation volunteers adding the final 'cam' stones
    It was a nice feeling to be wrapping things up there but we wonder if it won’t be long before we return. The trouble with fixing up the worst bits of a long wall is that the bits that weren’t so bad suddenly look like the new worst bits by comparison. And that’s where another simple rule comes in:

    • For your own sanity, know when to stop ….! 

    By Rob Clarke, Basecamp Community Ranger