Latest team news

  • Updating and assessment!

    13:49 09 October 2015
    By Roy Henderson

    Every three years those of us who work with chain-saws have to do a refresher course followed by an assessment and it was my turn this year. So, I spent two days last week in the South Lakes working with our senior forester Martin Thwaites. Over the course of three years there are always changes to good practice that have to be learned and also we might have developed some bad habits without realising it. Martin can spot these and iron them out during the course. I always learn a lot from him and this year was no exception.

    Another day was spent with a new volunteer for my team. Mick is someone I’ve known for a number of years now from my time on the Mountain Rescue Team. He is going to be a huge asset to my team of volunteers. His first task will be helping with a survey of the outdoors furniture – the gates, bridges & stiles etc. So I have been out with him looking at examples, discussing what I’m looking for and making sure that he has a good handle on how to report back his findings.

    Daisy here,

    I’ve been playing with Gus and Bryn on Derwent Island while Roy was chain-sawing. They’re my best friends now.
  • Homage to Catalonia

    08:00 09 October 2015
    By Clair Payne, Craig Hutchinson, Glenn Bailey, Ian Griffiths, John Atkinson, John Moffat, Luke Sherwen, Matthew Allmark, Nick Petrie, Paul Farrington, Paul Kear , Richard Tanner, Rob Clarke, Sam Stalker, Sarah Anderson, Stuart Graham

    A visit to the Aiguestortes I Estany de Sant Maurici National Park.
    In September I was lucky enough to pay a visit to a National Park in Spain, to find out how things were done over there, and if any ideas might be transferable to the Lake District. The trip was funded by the National Trust’s Land, Outdoors, and Nature travel bursary scheme, which enables NT staff to investigate good practice of helping people to connect with nature.
    The Aiguestortes I Estany de Sant Maurici National Park is in the north-west corner of Catalonia, close to the French border in the Pyrenees. The name translates as ‘winding rivers and little lakes of Saint Maurici’, and it doesn’t disappoint. Amidst the countless rivers and lakes, deciduous woodland merges into pine forests which cloak the hillsides up to a natural treeline, and from which vertiginous peaks emerge, rising skywards for up to 3000m. It’s a spectacular landscape, popular with visitors wishing to exploit the wealth of recreational opportunities.  But I was keen to find out how people were managed, how the expectations of visitors were balanced with conservation, and whether any ideas would be relevant to the particular pressures facing the Lake District.  

    Designated in 1955, the park covers 408km2, split between a peripheral zone of 267km2, and a core area of 141km2. This distinction plays a pivotal role in how the park is managed.  Within the core area, human activities are stringently regulated, with a firm emphasis on access by foot only, and allowing natural processes to dominate.  There are no permanent dwellings within this area, the only buildings being the high mountain ‘refugis’. Somewhere between a youth hostel and a mountain bothy, these are staffed in the summer months, and for a few euros weary hikers can receive a hot shower, a meal, and a bed for the night. As no camping is permitted anywhere within the core area the refugis play a vital role in enabling visitors to explore the park. However, many people, including park officials, believe that the camping regulations are too strict and in a wild area with no roads are unenforceable anyway.  No roads means no traffic however, which lends the core area a very peaceful atmosphere and makes it feel more remote than it actually is. The only vehicles permitted to enter are Land Rover taxis to ferry people to the two main starting points for hikes at either end of the park.   

    Other prohibited activities include hunting, fishing, swimming, and the gathering of wood and mushrooms, to name but a few! All these rules can seem fairly draconian at times, and certainly a good deal of the residents in the surrounding villages feel somewhat alienated by some of the restrictions.  Mushrooms seem to represent a particular bone of contention, with a lack of comprehension that a popular activity practised for generations is being curtailed.  On the whole though, there is support for the park and what it is trying to achieve, certainly in the two main gateways of Espot and Boi.  These villages have seen living standards improve dramatically in recent decades, as they have moved from isolated and self-sufficient farming communities to ones largely supported by tourism. Of course, this process is not itself without drawbacks, as traditions in this fiercely independent region have been eroded and skills lost, and there is a danger that a decline in tourism would leave many local businesses in trouble.
    This shift from farming to tourism has resulted in a relative decline in livestock numbers in the core area. Traditional grazing rights mean that some farming is the only commercial activity permitted here, and although the evocative clanging of cowbells can still be heard within the boundaries, stocking densities are low enough to allow for the natural regeneration of the forest. Although welcomed by many, not everyone is happy with this development, with some viewing the expanding woodland as detrimental to the aesthetic appeal of the park, and even an increased fire risk.

    Outside of the core area, within the peripheral zone, rules are more relaxed. Commercial activities such as forestry and slate mining take place, and several small ski resorts bring in significant tourist revenue.  Hunting and fishing are allowed with the necessary permissions, and the region is a significant destination for anglers. In fact, in efforts to maintain good relations with local communities, conservationists working to protect upland tarns from introduced brown trout have relocated them, at considerable expense, to lowland rivers.

    Within this zone are the power plants which are fuelled by the dams higher up. In a region epitomised by the existence of upland waterbodies, hydroelectric power has been a significant feature of the landscape for well over 100 years, and the power plants supply electricity to populations as far away as Barcelona. Many local communities hope that they will be able to gain control of this abundant and relatively environmentally friendly source when power company leases begin to expire in the next decade.
    One aspect of the economy which is under local control is the area of Romanesque churches in the Valle de Boi. These churches, with their distinctive belltowers, date back to the 11th century and are unique to the region. Their cultural significance is such that they were designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 2000, and are now another important draw for tourists in the region.

    My visit to the Aiguestortes I Estany  National Park revealed to me a beautiful, wild, and in many ways natural landscape. But a landscape still subject to the influences of human activity. I admired the protection of a core area, free from any significant development and exploitation, but recognised that this came not without its adverse effects on surrounding communities.  How transferable these ideas might be to the cultural landscape of the Lake District is arguable, and it seems that the cohesion between economic, social, and environmental responsibilities is as finely balanced in the Pyrenees as anywhere.
    By Matt Tweed, High Wray Basecamp ranger
  • Fungi - eat or be eaten

    08:04 07 October 2015
    By Clair Payne, Craig Hutchinson, Glenn Bailey, Ian Griffiths, John Atkinson, John Moffat, Luke Sherwen, Matthew Allmark, Nick Petrie, Paul Farrington, Paul Kear , Richard Tanner, Rob Clarke, Sam Stalker, Sarah Anderson, Stuart Graham

    Fungi eat or be eaten !

    Having just got back from a Tree Safety Management training course and recently hosted a fungal foray guided walk , fungi are featuring prominently in my worklife at the moment . They are also behind some big challenges facing the National Trust  in the Lake District .

    Autumn days of mellow fruitfulness

    It is at this time of year that the Ranger team are out and about checking our trees for issues that might make them a risk to our visitors or property.  We deliberately choose this time of year because this is the time that many fungi are fruiting and are making themselves visible around the base or trunk of the tree. For some trees next to busy roads, paths  or houses , the presence of certain types of fungi can indicate a problem that might make the tree unsafe over time and because of this they may need some work doing to make them safe . This can mean the removal of a single branch , the removal of several branches to reduce the weight or height of a tree or in extreme cases,  and as a last resort,  the felling of the whole tree. We always try to do the minimum amount of work to a tree to make it safe.

    Honey Fungus at the base of a tree can be bad news .

    Fungi are an essential part of the ecosystem, many of our plants and animals , including humans , are dependent on the success of  different forms of fungi for their survival . Many plants and trees rely on tiny networks of fungi in the soil for the absorbtion of  minerals and nutrients . Fungi assist the recycling process by rotting down vegetation, without them we would be standing on a mountain of debris from years of growth.

    Wet Rot at Townend

    Wet rot in an oak beam at Townend

    The success of certain types of fungi can be bad news though.  Imagine what it feels like to press against a 400 year old solid oak beam and feel it crumble beneath your fingers. That was just what we were faced with at Townend House  ( Troutbeck ) when we scraped away the top layer of render to check the condition of the beams holding up this grade 1 listed farmhouse.  The  discovery of this wet rot means a lot of expensive work over the winter  to find ,repair or replace all the damaged beams potentially costing £100,000.

    Fungal Foray

    I recently agreed ( actually someone volunteered me ! ) to host a ‘Foraging with the Farringtons ‘  walk around Harrowslack on the west shore of Lake Windermere for the Hawkshead  Womens Institute . In previous years , in the company of  a knowledgeable expert we have found  95 species of fungi some edible some not . This has been a cold year in the lakes and the fungi were being a bit shy , after rummaging around I managed to gather 5 species on our walk  some nice Chanterelles, a couple of Birch Boletes , Yellow Russulas ,  a small puffball and a hedgehog fungus  all pretty easy to identify and good to eat . Always use a good ID book or better still go on a walk with an expert.

    So fungi  are very much a part of  life in the National Trust at the moment sometimes dangerous,  sometimes delicious , sometimes downright costly , but always interesting .

    Paul Farrington - Area Ranger South Lakes

  • Hartsop bridge repair

    06:46 05 October 2015
    By Ben Knipe, Dave Almond, Dave Jackson, James Archer, Neil Winder, Roland Wicksteed

    Bridge repairs at Hartsop.

    One of our roles as Rangers, is to work alongside tenant farmers in helping to maintain, boundary walls, gates and fences on their farm land and in this case a bridge.

    As you can see from this picture the bridge had become very worn, with numerous holes starting to appear.

    The plan was to re-use the steel girders that the rotten beams where sat on. New timbers had been ordered from our in house saw mill based at Boon Crag near Coniston.

    They were very heavy

    The old beams where cut out and the new ones placed onto the steel girder

    They were then bolted into place.

    It was a very fiddly job to get the nut screwed onto the bottom of the bolt!

    Some of the new beams didn’t match up to the previous holes that had been drilled into the girder, this meant new ones had to be drilled.

    Although the girder was well over 10 years old and looked like it had seen better days. It was still extremely strong.

    A few alterations had to be made to the final beams, so that they fitted around the old fence posts.

    A chainsaw was slightly quicker than using a hand saw!

    Once the final beams had been slotted into place, it was clear to see the huge improvement we had made.

    The farmers cattle where now safe to cross the bridge once more.
  • Running repairs.

    11:44 02 October 2015
    By Roy Henderson

    This is the time of year when we are out and about as often as possible fixing things. Last week my regular volunteers joined me to fix a gate on the path around Derwentwater. This is a massively popular walk around the lake. This particular gate is on the stretch from Friars Crag to Strandshag Bay and must be one of the most used gates in the Lake District. On some days thousands, of people will use it so it’s not surprising that it needs regular maintenance.

    We also did some maintenance on a stretch of the lake shore. This was a timely intervention to stop a relatively small erosion problem before it becomes more difficult to deal with. Great work from the volunteers again.

    Then, as I still had some holiday time outstanding, I took a few days of that during the glorious weather we are having. I had some superb walking in the Lake District. I know the area well and, of course, know Borrowdale especially well. We have lots of places that have become incredibly popular because they are so stunning but there are still many hidden gems to find and explore.

    Daisy here, 

    I’ve been running round the fells with Roy. It’s great.
  • Shepherds meet.

    05:18 29 September 2015
    By Roy Henderson

    It would be easy to think that for some of our outdoor work here in the Lake District we might often be isolated from other people for much of a day. In reality, a lot of our work is about improving and maintaining access for people.  So, no matter where we are working, whatever the weather or season, it would be unusual if we didn’t see someone out and about. Which is as it should be because the National Trust was founded with the aim of saving our heritage and open spaces for ever, for everyone.


    Last week was definitely a time of meeting people and having opportunities to talk to them about what we do. One day was spent with my volunteers in an area named The Ings on an Ordnance Survey map but commonly known locally as Dirty Wood. This is close to the lake on the path around Derwentwater. We were replacing the hand-rail on a small wooden bridge. Surprisingly, the old one had been vandalized and we like to fix problems like this as soon as we can. This is a walk that is used by a lot of people with limited mobility including those who are not always steady on their feet. So, although it is only a short stretch, we like it to have a hand-rail to give all users confidence in using it.


    This was one of those days when we had immediate feedback about our work. Many walkers stopped to talk to us and were full of praise for what we were doing. It’s gratifying to know that people do appreciate our efforts and it reassures us that we are doing what the Trust was set up to do.


    At the weekend I met many more people at the Borrowdale Shepherds Meet, a very traditional shepherds meet that takes place annually.  As the name suggests, it is predominantly about sheep with judging of sheep in a range of categories. The main focus of course is on our local Herdwick sheep – an ancient breed of hardy, fell sheep that probably came to these islands with the Vikings.

    We were there literally flying a flag for the Trust and chatting to locals and visitors alike about our work and plans. We also had a wild-life identification quiz. The show is something I’ve been doing for a while now and it is always enjoyable to meet people who share my love of the Lake District and who want to know more about our job and our way of life here.


  • Learning to love our beautiful bogs

    09:00 25 September 2015
    By Clair Payne, Craig Hutchinson, Glenn Bailey, Ian Griffiths, John Atkinson, John Moffat, Luke Sherwen, Matthew Allmark, Nick Petrie, Paul Farrington, Paul Kear , Richard Tanner, Rob Clarke, Sam Stalker, Sarah Anderson, Stuart Graham

    Anyone who’s walked the Lake District will have had an experience where they’ve sunk up to their knees in a bog. But next time you’re cursing your soggy feet, bear in mind that bogs aren’t all bad – they’re amazing habitats that also provide all sorts of important benefits for humans.

    Walla Crag
    A typical boggy scene facing the hill-walker (LDNPA photo)

    There are a couple of types of bog in the Lakes. Blanket bogs cover vast areas and sit on top of flat plateaus; these are mainly found in the north and east Lakes, and are more typical of the Pennines and Peak District. Much more common, especially around our patch in the south Lakes, are flush bogs. These form in smaller, flat hollows on hillsides and hilltops where the movement of rainwater slows down, leading to permanent waterlogging.

    Sphagnum mosses

    Sphagnum mosses are easily overlooked but they're beautiful species in their own right. Good quality bogs can hold around ten different species. (Photo Rob Clarke)

    The wet ground is colonised by carpets and hummocks of sphagnum mosses, which are ‘keystone species’ in bog formation (species which produce an environment that other species need to survive). Sphagnum thrive in the acidic flushes and create a layer of peat, made from the dead plant material that doesn’t decompose due to the cool climate, waterlogging and its own acidity. As the peat doesn’t decay (as long as it remains waterlogged) it can build to many metres deep. This wet, peaty environment then provides a home for other specialist plants such as cottongrass, bog asphodel, cross-leaved heath, and the insectivorous sundews; they subsequently support a specialist range of invertebrates, as well as birds like curlews.
    Sundew growing amongst Sphagnum moss (Wikipedia photo)

    How bogs help us

    Peat bogs aren’t just great for wildlife, they’re vital for us too. By slowing down the flow of water off the hills, they reduce flooding downstream, and help improve water quality. As the plant material that is sat, undecomposed, in peat is primarily carbon, they are also a huge carbon store – in the UK, they’re our biggest resource of carbon (with 22m tons stored in the Lakes alone) and have a net cooling effect on the climate.

    South Lakes rangers puzzle over the identification of a Sphagnum moss at one our important bogs (photo Rob Clarke).

    Bogs in trouble

    Their importance for carbon storage and water management can mean that threats to bogs have serious consequences. Over the last few decades, peat has often been drained to improve grazing for sheep, and was traditionally a source of fuel (although this practice is fortunately fairly rare in the UK today). Dry, degraded peat bogs are prone to erosion from rain, which unlocks stored carbon, increases the speed of run-off, and requires increased treatment where water is collected for drinking. Eroding peat bogs in the Lakes are thought to be emitting about 32,000 tons of carbon every year.

    Here at South Lakes, we look after our flushes by damming drainage ditches to ‘re-wet’ bogs that have previously been drained, and by clearing the encroachment of trees where necessary, which can also dry them out. We also build appropriate paths through bogs to ensure ease of access and stop people ploughing through sensitive habitat. Elsewhere in the country, huge projects are underway to re-wet entire blanket bogs, often paid for by utility companies because it’s cheaper to improve the water quality at source than to treat it when it comes out of the reservoir. It’s likely that ‘eco-system services’ like this and carbon storage will become an even more important part of our economy in future.

    So, next time you’re confronted with a bog on your fell-top ramble, try not to curse and remember all the wonderful things the unsung heroes of Sphagnum and peat are doing for wildlife, and for us!
  • Tour of Britain

    06:47 25 September 2015
    By Ben Knipe, Dave Almond, Dave Jackson, James Archer, Neil Winder, Roland Wicksteed

    On Thursday September the 10th a blur of Lycra clad cyclists whizzed past the entrance to Aira Force. The Tour of Britain had come to town.

    The Tour of Britain’s origins are believed to date back to just after the Second World War. The event has grown and grown ever since. This year saw competitors such as 2012 Tour De France winner Sir Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish winner of 26 Tour De France stages, taking part.

    With two of the eight stages starting or ending in Cumbria the locals had really gone to town in decorating road side verges, trees, gardens and anywhere else they could think of to place what has become a local landmark, of bikes that had been painted yellow.

    It was decided here at Aira Force we needed to enter into the spirit. So in keeping with the ethos of naturally made items, we thought we would make a bike out of some leftover timber we had in the yard.

    After a day of sawing, bolting and painting, what started the day as a pile of wood, was now a giant wooden bike

    I wonder if Sir Bradley could have won the Tour De France on this!!!?

    It took four Rangers to load it onto a trailer and deliver it to the bottom of Park Brow (just outside the tea room)

    The bike being secured into position.

    On the day of the race the sun came out and the local primary school came down to cheer on their favourite cyclists.

    The 120 or so competitors shot past in the blink of an eye.

    Overall it was a great day enjoyed by all. And if you look closely enough on the highlights, you can just about pick out the yellow wheels of the bike as the helicopter shot pans down Ullswater.
  • Working on Walls.

    13:21 21 September 2015
    By Roy Henderson

    Amongst the many obvious beautiful features of the Lake District landscape, the stone walls are easy to overlook. They are built from the stone in the immediate area surrounding them and, when conditions are right, they have been colonised by lichens, mosses and other small, resilient plants. They blend into their background and become a part of the landscape in a way that brick-built walls never could.  Well made walls will also stand for hundreds of years if they are carefully maintained so we in the National Trust do regular repairs.

    So last week, some of my time was spent working with walls. I returned up Cat Gill to repair the wall that had been damaged by a fallen tree branch. The others were busy on a different job but this one was small enough for me to manage. Walling isn’t as simple as just stacking rocks on top of one another. There’s a skill in selecting the right size & shape then placing it in the right position to make the wall strong and stable. It’s very satisfying to be working outdoors and to see the outcome of the work.

    Another day last week was spent with a large group from the National Park on a guided walk. It’s always useful to do these with a different group and to hear their views on the experience. We walked from Seatoller up to the Allerdale Ramble, around the back of Castle Crag, dropped down to the river Derwent and walked back along the river to Seatoller. These are popular paths with visitors and we like to check occasionally that there are no problems that need attention.

    At the weekend, I was working with my regular Yorkshire volunteers who were here for their second visit this year. This time we worked over on Derwent Island.

    The work included some walling, some fencing and the digging of a trench around an outbuilding over there. The plan is to eventually convert the building to a different use and the trench will stop it becoming damp. We also fenced off an old waste water system which is now redundant since we installed the new piping to remove the waste water from the island. 

    It has to be said once again that the volunteers did an amazing amount of work.

    Daisy here: 

    I’ve been playing on Derwent Island with my bestie friends. They’re great.

  • The silver lining

    11:30 18 September 2015
    By Clair Payne, Craig Hutchinson, Glenn Bailey, Ian Griffiths, John Atkinson, John Moffat, Luke Sherwen, Matthew Allmark, Nick Petrie, Paul Farrington, Paul Kear , Richard Tanner, Rob Clarke, Sam Stalker, Sarah Anderson, Stuart Graham

    There has been lots in the media about tree diseases over the last couple of years, Ash Dieback and Oak Processionary Moth are just a couple.

    In the South Lakes woodland we have been battling a disease which affects larch trees called Phytopthera ramorum (Pr).  Its a fungal like disease which eventually kills the tree.  It's spores spread on the wind and in water so conditions in Cumbria mean the disease is a real threat, particularly our larch trees but sweet chestnut is also affected.

    The Forestry Commission fly over the county in May and try to spot individual trees which may be affected from the air - they show up as having yellowy needles - healthy trees are a lovely pale green.  Once spotted the trees are tracked down on the ground (not easy even with a GPS!), felled and tested.

    Peter Fox (FC) testing a suspect tree.

    The inner bark is removed and tested with a special kit in the woods, if it's found to be positive further samples are sent to a lab to confirm the diagnosis.

    Pr. larch on FC land above Windermere.
    If  a tree is confirmed with Pr. we work with the Forestry Commission (FC) and are served a Statutory Plant Health Notice (SHPN) around the affected tree.  A radius of 100m is often used though in some circumstances it can be wider, any susceptible tree within the area is felled.

    Once the SHPN has been identified it's a matter of deciding the best way to deal with the trees contractor or our own forestry team?

     Moss Eccles Plantation before work started.

    Harvester at work felling the trees.

    Job half done.

    The harvester felled and converted 4.5ha of 30 year old larch in 8 days!  It took much longer to move the timber to market as the wood was a the end of a long narrow track.

    Plantation behind Basecamp before work.

    Harvester at work.

    Moving the felled timber with a forwarder.

    Not all sites are suitable for large forestry machinery the final site was steep, rocky and had power lines running through it, it was felled by our forestry team.

    NT foresters snedding felled larch.

    The timber from the infected sites can be sold (the disease doesn't affect the timber) but it has to be moved by licenced hauliers to licenced sawmills to be processed.  
    In order to reduce the spread of disease all equipment used on a Pr. site has to be cleaned before it leaves the site this includes chainsaws, tractors and boots.

    Matt not enjoying having his boots cleaned.

    You can help reduce the chance of spreading the disease through Cumbria's woodlands by cleaning as much mud and soil form your boots, tyres and paws as possible between woodland walks.

    And the silver lining?  Many of the larch plantations were planted in the 1960s on sites which were native woodland and though things can look a bit bleak right now felling the trees because of the disease does give us the opportunity to try and establish more native woodland to fill the gaps.