News from Roy Henderson for March 2012

  • The joys of Spring.

    16:35 29 March 2012
    By Roy Henderson

    Much of this last week was spent at High Snab Farm continuing the hedge-laying.  I still have a few more days to complete that before the sap starts rising with the early growth.  If we ‘cut’ the stems too late, the plant will lose too much fluid and will weaken or die.  We also don’t want to be disturbing a hedge when birds might be nesting in it.  This has been a big job but it shouldn’t need repeating for another 10–15 years.

    Early last Sunday morning Jan and I set out canoeing on Derwentwater in glorious conditions.  It was mirror flat calm for most of the morning which is longer than usual.  We had Reiver with us and we stopped at a few landing sites around the lake where she was able to have a walk and sniff around.  She can then think she has walked right round the lake without too much effort!  Between stops she sleeps in the bottom of the canoe on my feet as we paddle on.   

     I had a camera with me and managed to capture a few pictures of the birds we encountered.  The cormorants can often be seen in the Calf Close Bay area – indeed the name Calf Close is derived from the Old Norse “skarv” meaning cormorant.


    Greylag and Canadian Geese

    In the afternoon we went for a walk to the secret valley.  There are still places in the Lakes where you will see very few people and can just enjoy being alone.  So we have our secret place but I’ll leave you to enjoy finding your own.  A good start is to look at an OS map for parking areas where people begin a walk and just walk further than they do.  It is still easy to get away from hordes of people.  Enjoy your exploration!
  • Upgrading a wildlife highway.

    19:50 23 March 2012
    By Roy Henderson

    It seems no time at all since the last inspections but once again it was time to make the quarterly checks on old mine shafts.  These are scattered around many places here in the Lakes and we need to make sure that fencing and warning signs are all in place.  The following picture will give you an impression of the potential danger.

    One of my visits was to a site I can drive to so Reiver was able to revisit a familiar haunt and enjoy a potter around.  She still likes to be out and about.

    Later in the week I was working with volunteers at High Snab Farm where we have been building fences and hedge-laying.  Hedges may go almost unnoticed amongst the magic of the hills and lakes but they are massively important.  They act as barriers for livestock; they add to the beauty of the landscape and, probably most important, they are mini-ecosystems.  So their upkeep is well worth the effort.

    We had two jobs to do at High Snab.  First we laid a hedge that we had previously planted and then we pitched in helping Tom (farmer) to install some new fencing.  So we are first scrubbing out some of the trees that would damage the hedge that we want to thrive on each side of a stream.  Then we will build fences on each side to contain the hedge and stream.  This will create a 4 metre-wide wildlife corridor.  There is an unexpected sense of urgency about this project because the signs of spring are so much earlier than we would expect at a hill farm at these latitudes.  We do need to lay the hedge before it bursts into leaf and it looks like that will be soon.

    Fortunately, my volunteers are great workers and are developing a range of skills very quickly so, if there are no unplanned hitches, we should complete it in good time.  A bonus for us is that High Snab is in such a superb location –  great place for the picnic lunch.

    This link will take you on a quick tour of High Snab and you can get an impression of life for one of the farmers at a Trust farm.
  • How to rescue a crag-fast sheep.

    19:25 12 March 2012
    By Roy Henderson

    I had a phone call recently from one of the Trust’s tenant farmers to say he had a sheep stuck on a crag.  They jump down to a ledge with grass but then can’t jump back up.  They eat everything on the ledge and then either starve or fall off the crag.  Farmers with crag-fast sheep ring me and I with other members of the rescue team will go to the scene.

    Over the years we have developed a technique where we try to approach from below the sheep.  I will abseil down on one rope whilst being belayed from the top with a second rope as a safety rope.  I go down below the sheep and will then climb back up to its position.  If the sheep panics and jumps off, which they often do, I will be able to catch them.  We’ve found that the best way is to approach them very slowly without looking at them and appearing to hunt them.  It’s also a good idea to take down some vegetation to throw onto the ledge.  They might be distracted as they eat.  As soon as they are within reach, they can be grabbed and manoeuvred off their feet so they are less likely to struggle and either fall or give the rescuer a good kicking. So far this has been a successful technique. 

    For this last rescue on Cam Crag above Langstrath. I’d climbed up to the ledge and the sheep worked its way to the back of the ledge.  After a few minutes, I was able to grab it and sling it with a couple of slings so that it could be hauled up to the top of the crag.  Rescuing sheep is carried out for animal welfare reasons (better than they starve or fall to death or serious injury) but it is also very good rope-work practice.  Rescuing a reluctant sheep is more challenging than rescuing a cooperative human!  It is also safer that we do it with our training and equipment than it would be for many farmers.

    We don’t just do this for the Trust’s farmers but, like other rescue teams, will do it for all farmers within their areas.  It’s always good to release a sheep safely and see it wander off to carry on grazing.

  • What did you do with your Leap Day?

    19:11 07 March 2012
    By Roy Henderson

    Ready for action.

    Last week all the employees at the National Trust were given the Leap Day (29th February) off work to volunteer for a day in their local communities – a Local Leap.  This 'Local Leap' was to celebrate the importance of volunteering as the Trust, which itself enjoys the support of more than 62,000 volunteers, continues to build links with its local communities.  Here in the North Lakes we divided our time between parks in two local towns in Allerdale.

    Workington is working towards achieving a Green Flag status for one of its town parks.  We worked with the park keeper on litter-picking, clearing and planting flower beds and finally on planting some new trees.

    First the litter picking.
    Then clear a bed ready for planting.

    In Cockermouth we also worked with the park keeper litter-picking and planting more trees.

    More litter picking and a surprising find!

    We had a good day.  It was a rare opportunity for all our staff to enjoy working together on one project – we are usually spread far and wide across a large area of Cumbria.  It was a great opportunity to engage with people in the community who wouldn’t normally see us at work.  We could make our voluntary contribution to the community where we live as well as work.  We could also look back with some satisfaction on the results of our efforts.

    Dad needed the help!
    Tree-planting (Naomi a long way from her lake foreshore.)

    Mountain Rescue Team work continued .  The fell tops are once again covered with snow and ice so will need extra care.  You can read more here:

News from Roy Henderson

Photo of Roy Henderson

I’m the National Trust ranger for Borrowdale and Newlands in the North Lakes, UK. I volunteered for the Trust when I came on the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme aged 13. I started by building a new fence on Friars Crag to tackle an erosion problem and making paths more accessible for people with limited mobility. I enjoyed it so much that I continued to volunteer until I left school and was lucky enough to get a job with the National Trust. After working for the Trust for 29 years, I still love the job.