Latest team news

  • The Tiller Boys

    13:42 16 September 2014
    By Ivan Corlett

    Sorry to disappoint you, but the Tiller Boys doesn’t refer to a line of feather-costumed, precision dancers high kicking their way along the deck of Gondola.

    Instead, I’m referring to the boys in the crew who, in an emergency, need to work the tiller to steer the boat.

    In normal operation the Helmsman steers the boat from his position up on the helm using the wheel.

    Steering wheel

    However, should the steering mechanism fail for any reason we have to be able to steer the boat using the tiller.

    Two of our new recruits, Jack and Dave, were put through their paces on an emergency tiller exercise recently to make sure they know what to do if we have a steering failure.

    At the stern of the boat there’s a removable hatch above the rudder where a tiller locks into place so that the boat can be steered by moving the rudder directly, as demonstrated to our new recruits by crewman Greg.

    Demonstration of using the tiller

    Using the tiller requires quite a lot of muscle so it’s a two man job and it also means the boat has to travel a little slower than normal as running at full steam makes it almost impossible to move the tiller.

    But it’s not simply a question of brawn, brain is also required. The tiller boys work under the direction of the Helmsman, who shouts out instructions to tell them to move the tiller to port or to starboard.


    And here’s where the brain is needed because if the Helmsman wants the boat to turn to port the tiller has to move to starboard and if he wants the boat to go to starboard the tiller has to move to port. The Helmsman therefore has to think which way he wants to manoeuvre the boat then ‘flip’ his instruction the other way around for the tiller boys.

    If things go wrong the boys can end up doing a funny little dance backwards and forwards with the tiller as the Helmsman corrects his instructions – not quite the dance of the tiller girls, more like the hokey cokey.

    Using the tiller

    Using the tiller

    I’m pleased to say that in our exercise, no such tomfoolery ensued and we sailed in a controlled fashion under precise instruction from the helm from our base at Pier Cottage all the way to Coniston Pier for our first pick-up of the day.

    Anyway, back to those Tiller Girls ….

  • Adding the final touches to the Esk Hause path

    12:59 15 September 2014
    By Ade Mills, Leo Walmsley , Pete Entwistle

    Since the last update we've been spending much of our time working, and walking, up Esk Hause. We've calculated that for this year, in total, to repair the Esk Hause path we've walked a distance of 185 miles just to get to and from the work site and spent over 90 hours doing it. We've also climbed, and descended, over 102,500 feet, that's like walking from sea level to the top of Mount Everest three and a half times!

    Turfing a section of path

    In between all the walking we've also been building a path which has generated a lot of soil and rubble. This is all used to landscape around the path to help the area look more natural after the path repairs have taken place.

    Starting landscaping around a drain

    To help the path blend in and stop rubble falling on to it we also turf along the edge. Turf that is generated while building the path is reused and if any extra is required it is cut from areas away from the path, and out of sight.

    Freshly landscaped drain

    As you can see in the following photo often very large quantities of soil and rubble are generated. To reduce the amount of surplus rock smaller pieces are buried and any larger, and more weathered, rock is half dug in to create a natural looking bank.

    Rubble and soil generated while building the path

    Once the landscaping work is finished the area changes from something resembling a building site to something much more natural. After the area has been seeded (often once a year, over several years) the landscaping work will be indistinguishable from it's surroundings.

    Path after landscaping
  • Improvements to the View Point Area, and the path at Aira Force.

    09:13 14 September 2014
    By Ben Knipe, Dave Almond, Dave Jackson, James Archer, Neil Winder, Roland Wicksteed

    Work was needed on the path leading down from the small National Trust car park on the Dockray Road to a view point close to Aira Force. The viewpoint area itself was due to be resurfaced. 

    The small wooden bridge that crossed the beck was old.
     For safety reasons it was removed and a concrete pipe was put there in its place. 

    Aggregate from Threlkeld Quarry was used for resurfacing 
    over the pipe.

    Kevin Tyson was contracted to do the excavating, and to fill the power barrows from the aggregate pile dumped at the car park...the nearest practical point. 

    The power barrow on its way from the car park to the site down the steep narrow path.

    Nic, explaining to interested members of the public,
    about the next stage of the work. Kevin was to level out part of the area prior to it being entirely resurfaced. It was a tricky job as Kevin had to reach over the railings with the excavator arm.

    A lot of concentration needed!

     Digging out the turf which the digger couldn't reach.

    Power barrow coming into its own, yet again, to take the turf away in order to landscape the area around the newly installed pipe.

    Resurfacing inside the viewing area.

    A "wacker plate" was used to firm up and compress the new surface.

    The new surface. Within a short time, it will weather to match the path surfaces elsewhere at Aira Force.

    The path above the newly installed pipe.

    The view, taking in Place Fell, St Sunday Crag and Glenamara Park.
    (Ancient Wood Pasture) See post ...Glenamara Park... on this Blog Site.
  • Trolls and creatures from the Black Lagoon

    10:00 12 September 2014
    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

    One of the best things about being an NT ranger is that we get to hidden places around the Lakes.  

    Coldwell Quarry is such a place, hidden in the woods near Outgate its a SSSI important for the exposed geological features in the quarried cliffs. 
    Unfortunately sometime in the past the quarry was not so secret and it had been used to dump waste fencing materials and other rubbish so it was up to us to clear it out, we didn't realise we would encounter a prehistoric creature in the process!

    Volunteer John standing next to the dumped waste
     using a pallat to stop sinking into the sludge.

    And what of the prehistoric monster??  I won't be cheeky about John, (without help from volunteers we would struggle to complete so much work).
    On day 2 of the job we found this Southern Hawker dragonfly newly emerged on our pallat (you can see the shed larval skin called an exuvia next to the insect).  Dragonflies have flown the earth for 300 million years, some fossils have a wingspan of 70cm!
    We were able to watch the dragonfly take it's first flight into the surrounding woodland after about 20mins where it will feed and mature before returning to the quarry to breed. 
     Teneral Southern Hawker

    Removing the rubbish and cutting back overhanging vegetation should improve the habitat, let more light in and make the geology easier to see if you can find the quarry!
    Rubbish removed and cutting back completed.

    Everyone knows that trolls live under bridges but not everyone knows about the old bridge over Blelham beck near the campsite at Low Wray, I didn't until I was asked to clear some trees growing on the bridge.  They had to be removed as their roots were damaging the structure.
    There's a bridge in there somewhere!

    Once again with help from volunteers we were able to clear the trees and ivy and find the old bridge.  The bridge is Grade 2 listed  and dates from the late 19th century when it's thought it was re-modelled as part of changes made to Low Wray farm by the Dawsons who owned Wray castle and it's estate.

    More trees removed.

    The bridge emerging from the woods.
    All bridges have trolls its just a matter of finding them!  After a couple of hours of graft our troll emerged from his leafy hiding place and stands ready to scare anyone who dares to cross his bridge!

     Wray the troll uncovered.

    Richard Tanner
    Woodland Ranger

  • Mountain School

    15:20 09 September 2014
    By Roy Henderson

    I write this having just returned from a week of mountain rescue training in the Dolomites.  Two groups each with twelve members drawn from six rescue teams will have spent a week enhancing their rope skills to the most up-to-date techniques. 

    I travelled out early with two other team members and we met up with our guides, Kirk and Christjan to recce good sites to use for our training.  I’ve worked with Kirk before so know him quite well but Christjan was new to us.  Both were excellent and had a lot to teach us. We were then joined by the rest of group one and were based in the mountain hut you can see in the photo.  It was ideally located with short walks in to big crags so we had as much time as possible refreshing existing skills and learning new techniques.  Group two followed for training in the second week.

    We were particularly keen to learn new techniques for using guiding lines.  Rescuing people from vertical crags is relatively easy.  It is much more difficult from smaller crags and across broken ground and this is when good use of guiding lines is safer for both rescuers and casualties.  The priority has to be to minimize the danger to rescuers.

    It is five years since I last did a similar training course and knowledge is constantly developing about things like stresses in ropes systems.  Kirk is at the forefront of such research so is an ideal trainer to develop our skills to the highest standards.

    At 3200 metres

    As it happened, the day after arriving back, we were called out to a rescue where we could put into practice our newly honed skills to rescue a couple of people from some very steep, nasty, uneven ground.  Of the nine who carried out the rescue, three had been on the course and were able to guide the others through using the most up-to-date techniques.

    All in all, it was an excellent course.  We learned lots and I really enjoyed being in the mountains enjoying the company of a group of like-minded people.

     Daisy here.  Roy’s been away but Che came to stay so that was quite good.

    Daisy here.  Roy’s been away but Che came to stay so that was quite good.

  • Rhododendrons and Lancasters.

    06:36 08 September 2014
    By Ben Knipe, Dave Almond, Dave Jackson, James Archer, Neil Winder, Roland Wicksteed

    Phytophora Ramorum is a fungus like pathogen that causes immense damage and death to many tree species.

    In the United States different strains of P. Ramorum have decimated native oak populations. The strains found in the UK have had negligible impact on our oaks, but have infected many Japanese Larch tree plantations here.

    Evidence has shown that Rhododendron acts as a host for P. Ramorum; the pathogen produces spores that are easily wind blown thus causing new infections.

    P. Ramorum has been found in Rhododendrons at a site on the A592  near St. Catherine's, National Trust. To reduce the risk of the pathogen spreading all the Rhododendrons at St. Catherine's are due to be cut down. The work started on Sunday 7th of September with tremendous help from the Cumbria National Trust Volunteers!

    Cutting back and burning the Rhododendron Ponticum.

    Pruning and clearing the outer branches to allow access for cutting the main stems with either bushman or chain saw.

    Work well under way.



    Time out was taken to watch  2 Lancaster bombers fly over Windermere from the vantage point of Adelaide Hill. 

    Wonderful weather and a good turn out on this very special occasion.  


  • Himalayan Balsam "Pull For A Brew" with South Cumbria Rivers Trust.

    08:09 02 September 2014
    By Ben Knipe, Dave Almond, Dave Jackson, James Archer, Neil Winder, Roland Wicksteed

    The last organised volunteer balsam pull for this  year with South Cumbria Rivers Trust took place at  a site near Skelwith Bridge on Saturday 30th August. Vanda and I met up with Jen at 10 am. Sadly, no one else turned up; after waiting a while, our small band set to work.

    Invasive Himalayan Balsam at Skelwith Bridge. It readily out competes,
    and shades out our native plants, reducing diversity, and denuding river banks of understory
     vegetation. Winter die back exposes the bare soil to erosion. 
    A volunteer, working on a recent National Trust project, told me about several studies that indicated volunteering has surprising benefits for the volunteer. She summed it up: "Doing good for the community makes you feel good...and does you good!"

    Because it was so late in the season, bin bags were used to contain the ripe seed pods; they would be incinerated later. Many of the pods could be heard popping inside the bag!
    Cutting the stem with the seed pods ready to put in a bin bag. A single plant can produce 800 seeds and project the seeds up to 4 metres away; hence the plant can spread with phenomenal speed over a few seasons.
    An awkward site. I am in a silted up drainage ditch.
    Vanda, National Trust colleague,
    and Jen. South Cumbria Rivers Trust. and organiser of the
    Himalayan Balsam pulling events.
    It is easy to see why the Victorians were so taken with this plant.
    They had no idea of how invasive Himalayan Balsam would become away
    from its natural habitat. 
    Bees find Himalayan Balsam irresistible because it contains so much nectar.
    They often prefer it to native plants which means yet more Himalayan Balsam
    gets pollinated to the detriment of native species. This allows it to spread and

    become dominant over large areas very rapidly.
    Bees are drawn to this invasive species. Note proboscis already extended!

    Oh Yes, this is 'THE PULL FOR A BREW'. Chesters By The River, a bakery, café, and shop, heard that a balsam pull was to take place nearby and had kindly offered in advance to treat all participants to a cream tea.


    Thanks to all at Chesters.



  • Salmon songs

    12:06 29 August 2014
    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

    Inspired by gardener Pete’s themed musical offerings on the Hill Top blog, the South Lakes rangers have spent an unhealthy amount of time discussing ranger-themed music, and we’ve come up with some pretty good (and eclectic) Lake District playlists for our journeys in the truck – from Ain’t No Mountain High Enough by Diana Ross to Into the Valley by The Skids, and from Travis’ Why Does It Always Rain On Me? to Bob Marley’s Hammer (the perfect accompaniment to a fencing job).  

    I've been on my usual hobby horse, scouring my music collection for songs that reflect ecology as well as landscape, and sadly, haven’t found much.  Strangely, the only two I came up with are about the same species: salmon.   

                                                                          Atlantic salmon - image wikipedia

    Neil Young’s Will to Love and The Chemical Brothers’ Salmon Dancecouldn’t be more different in terms of style; the former was recorded on acoustic guitar on a tape deck  in front of an open fire, while the latter is a techno/hip-hop mash up (and features the odd bit of typically hip-hop language, so please be aware that it may not be suitable for work, children or sensitive ears if you choose to search for it).  They’re similar, though, in that they’re both bizarre pieces of music in which the salmon has a voice – Neil Young sings verses from the salmon’s imagined perspective through an underwatery vocoder effect, and ‘Sammy the Salmon’ provides guest vocals for The Chemical Brothers. 

                                               Will to Love by Neil Young on Youtube - external link

    So, what is it about salmon that inspired these major musicians to write about them?  Well, as the songs show, they’re pretty incredible fish.  Sammy the Salmon tells his rapper friend that ‘all my peeps spend part of their life in fresh water, and part of their life in salt water;’ they have an intricate and awe-inspiring life-cycle, spending anything from one to eight years as juveniles (or ‘parr’ ) in the rivers where they're born – such as the Crake and Leven locally, and the becks above Coniston Water and Windermere.   (On a slight tangent, it's been suggested that symptoms of loneliness have been observed in salmon parr, giving a whole new dimension to Will to Love, which as well as featuring the thoughts of a salmon, develops into Young's meditations on love and relationships and finally seems to consolidate the two in a surreal last verse as the salmon looks for a companion with whom to 'sway together, our tails together, and our fins and minds.'  Maybe it's best to just listen to it.)

    When salmon mature they head out to sea, changing their physiology in the estuary to cope with seawater and to become better camouflaged for the ocean, and spend a few years in the seas around Greenland.  Finally, they head back to the river of their birth – their ‘natal river’ – using senses beyond our comprehension.  Sammy says: ‘Most of our friends find their home waters by sense of smell, which is even more keen than that of a dog or a bear.  My family also rely on ocean currents, tides, and the gravitational pull of the moon.’  

                                        Atlantic salmon heading back upriver. Image -                                         

    Neil Young takes over the story with his much more poetic imagining of the salmon’s thoughts:

    When the water grew less deep
    My fins were aching
    from the strain
    I'm swimming in my sleep
    I know I can't go back again.

    They re-adapt to freshwater and struggle upstream to lay their eggs before most die, although some will complete two of these huge cycles.  As Young observes ( And now my fins are in the air, and my belly's scraping on the rocks / And I'll keep swimming till I stop), the huge fish (up to 75cm long) swim literally as far as they can upstream in to tiny becks, before laying their eggs in gravel beds.  It’s during this epic journey that salmon perform their famous ‘leaps’ up waterfalls, powering out of the water over and over again in their attempts to get up to their spawning grounds.

                                  Atlantic salmon leaping a waterfall.  Image -

    The past few decades have seen huge declines in salmon and their fellow migrant, the sea-trout, due to overfishing at sea, and pollution and changes in river management inland.  In the south Lakes, the National Trust works in partnership with organisations that are doing great work to improve catchments for migrating fish and other wildlife.  The South Cumbria Rivers Trust and the Coniston and Crake Catchment Partnership promote land management practices that reduce pollution in our local becks, lakes and rivers, and carry out practical work to ‘de-canalise’ waterways that have been straightened and homogenised in the past, in order to allow the development of gravel beds and other natural niches for salmon and all sorts of aquatic life to use. 

    Weirs and dams have also blocked some migration routes so fish passes are now a common sight on the region’s rivers, allowing salmon and sea trout to bypass the man-made blockages and access their home waters.  Adult salmon undertake their epic migration back to their spawning grounds in the autumn, so if you head to the region’s low waterfalls on the right becks, you might be lucky enough to see salmon on the last leg of their huge journey – you’ll have to do a bit of research and get off the beaten track to pick the right spot!

    For a better chance of spotting them, fish passes on the River Kent in Staveley and near Sizergh are hot spots for salmon viewing.  Don’t forget to put some Neil Young or Chemical Brothers on the stereo to learn even more about these amazing fish – you might even find yourself doing the salmon dance…

    If you’d like to know more about Lake Windermere and especially the history and ecology of the Claife woodlands, why not join ranger Paul on one of his guided walks as part of the Great British Walk festival? Meet at Ferry House (where the ferry docks) at 2pm on Sunday 14 September, Friday 26 September, Sunday 12 October, or Friday 17 October.
  • Preparing for advanced training.

    06:13 29 August 2014
    By Roy Henderson

    By the time you read this post I will have left for a trip to the Dolomites for some mountain rescue training.  Cheap flights mean that we can now travel easily to more extreme environments to extend our skills and in previous years we have trained in Zermatt, Chamonix and Canada.  There’s no guarantee of good weather but we can guarantee big mountains.

    So it has been a busy time for me and a couple of other team members as we have organised a sizeable trip.  Spread over two weeks, twenty four rescue team members from five different teams will spend a week working on advanced skills so there has been a lot of organising to be done. 

    Before we left, I also ran some extra rope skills sessions to prepare for the advanced work we were expecting to do in the Dolomites.

    While we are there, our training will be overseen by Kirk Mauthner (a Canadian and one of the best mountain rescue trainers in the world) and an Italian guide he recommended.  The great advantage of training like this in terms of both altitude and intensity is that, when we return to the Lake District, our crags are small in comparison.  The primary aim of the training is that our teams can perform rescues more safely for themselves but of course that also means safer for those being rescued.

    So my next post should have lots of good photographs of big mountains and of rescuers practising their techniques.

    Hi, Daisy here.

    I’ve been helping Roy train all year.  I check at the top of the crag and then I go and check at the bottom of the crag.
  • Aria Force....winching, walling and revetment work.

    15:30 28 August 2014
    By Ben Knipe, Dave Almond, Dave Jackson, James Archer, Neil Winder, Roland Wicksteed


    A fallen Wellingtonia tree at Aira Force needed to be winched upright in order tidy up the root plate.

    The upturned root plate is a bit of an eyesore especially as it is close to the popular path leading up to Aira Force.

    Although most of the tree had already been cut up, enough of the trunk was left intact to allow for leverage.

    Going up. Nic can be seen, centre left, manning the heavy duty winch.

    With the tree upright again it can now be felled leaving a tidy stump. 

    The  trunk can now be cut up and removed.
    Next job is the nearby wall.


    The image above is of the tumble down wall that overlooks Aira Beck. The main beam of the water heck is in the foreground.

    Not the easiest kind of wall to rebuild as it consists mainly of "beck stones" which are large irregular shaped cobbles. 

    Care was needed in building the coyne end; there  was a steep drop into Aira Beck to contend with!

    Breaking up stone to make filler or hearting for the inside of the wall. Without sufficient filler the wall will fall in on itself.

    Getting close to a finish.

    Job done.

    An attempt at a panoramic shot from the bridge.

    Revetment Work.

    Some erosion had occurred on the banks of a small beck that flows into Aira Beck. Revetement work was decided upon.

    Ray and Nic unloading a large boulder for the revetment.

    Top soil will be put in behind the stone at a later date.

    Nic bringing in more stone for the revetment wall on the other side of the beck. The power barrow proving invaluable for the work.

    All in all a productive 2 days with plenty of opportunities to chat about the work in progress to the many interested people on their way to and from the waterfall.