Saturday, 19 April 2014

Urgent action required!

This last week turned out to be a perfect illustration of how unpredictable events can turn up without warning and need urgent attention.  There were in fact two in quick succession.

One was when a member of the public reported to me a fallen tree across the path in Taylor Gill Force. Taylor Gill Force is situated on the path between Seathwaite and Sty Head, at the head of Borrowdale. When my volunteers and I arrived it was to find that the tree had fallen completely across the narrow path which is a bit of a scramble on the steepest side of the Gill.  As it had fallen, the tree had dislodged some large rocks that were hanging dangerously above the path.  The only way past would have been to scramble over or go under the tree, neither of which would have been safe.

So I set to work with a chainsaw and we cleared the path of the tree and also moved all the loose rocks.  My volunteers did their usual hard work and we completed a really good job.  I was pleased that we had acted so quickly because, barely half an hour after we had finished, a group of young walkers came down the hill and they would have had to negotiate a difficult and dangerous obstacle.  (This is the time of year when we have lots of Duke of Edinburgh Award groups on the fells.)

Obviously we respond as soon as we can to reports of problems that come in but sometimes we need to prioritise.  Is it a faulty gate catch that is inconvenient or is it a damaged gate catch that could cause injury?  It’s great if someone reporting a problem can show us a photograph.  This is a very large area and we do regular checks of paths, fences, stiles etc. but the unexpected can happen so information from the public makes a huge contribution to our ability to prioritise what needs to be done.

My second ‘emergency’ of the week involved Daisy.  Jan had taken her for a training session one evening but arrived back home early with an injured Daisy.  She had returned to Jan after one of her explorations and had a sizeable wound on her leg.  It clearly needed attention so we had to take her straight to a vet where the wound was closed with 5 staples and was bandaged.  

Quite remarkably, it has not slowed her down one little bit and she even came with us up Taylor Force Gill where she bounded up and down the rocks as she always does.

In fact, except for enduring the minor irritation of a plastic bag to protect her dressing, she is carrying on as usual!  Hopefully that means that there will be no long-term effects.

Daisy here.  I cut my leg.  Ah well.  I went to the vet.  Vets are lovely people.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Cleaner water.

Force Crag mine has been the focus of attention this last week.  This was the last working mine of its type when it finally closed in 1991.  In its early days it was mined for lead but latterly zinc and barytes were extracted.  After closure it was taken over by the National Trust and it is now a Scheduled Ancient Monument and geological SSSI (site of special scientific interest).

The buildings and their machinery remain intact and this makes Force Crag mine a unique site.  The Trust now holds a number of open days each year and we have trained and enthusiastic volunteers to guide visitors around the site and behind some locked doors. The next three open days are:  April 17th, May 31st and June 31st.  You can find contact details here if you want to know more about these visits.

One of the legacies of its history is that the water flowing from the mine into local water courses is contaminated with heavy metals (zinc, cadmium, lead and copper). The Trust’s Water Advisor, John Malley has been working on a nationally funded DEFRA mine-water remediation project with the Coal Authority, the Environment Agency and Newcastle University to develop a passive mine-water treatment plant to deal with the contamination.

The build phase has now been completed and the plant is currently being commissioned.  This is a pioneering project that uses a passive-mine-water remediation scheme on a scale that has not been tried in the UK previously.  The core idea of the process is to carry out the clean-up without using chemicals or energy. You can read more about it here. For even more detail, look here.  I’ll tell you for starters that it uses old mine lagoons, limestone and processed, dried human ‘poo’!

As all this has been underway, the Trust has continued to develop opportunities for visitors to learn more of the old mining way of life.  So I recently talked to a group of Guides about the mine.  They seemed to be particularly interested in the ‘poo’ part of the story!  A dried form of the ‘poo’ covers limestone chippings in the lagoons.  The water will percolate through that and the bacteria will help to bind the contaminating metals.  The Guides were curious about what if any smell there will be.  At this stage, we honestly don’t know how much smell these ponds will produce.  I suspect you would not want to picnic beside them but they have in fact been fenced so that passers-by cannot approach too closely.  We hope there will be no more than a little whiff of it on rare occasions.

Many thanks due to John Malley for the photographs.

Daisy here.  I’ve been to the pub.  It’s great but ever so tiring.  I didn’t want to get up for work the next morning!

Friday, 4 April 2014

Whatever the weather ...!

A view from my roaming office (a Trust jeep!).
Last week we had incredibly varied weather.  Warm and sunny where it was stunningly beautiful and also weather which was wild.  I love being out in wild weather. It makes you feel alive.

Whatever the weather, the work goes on so I was out and about with Liz Guest one of our fundraisers to look at some of our next projects.  As ever, these decisions are heavily influenced by funding considerations and the search for sponsors or partners. We are constantly looking for ways to make our limited budget stretch to cover expensive work.  

What we are hoping to do next is replace a stretch of boardwalk near Keswick and to repair and maintain more footpaths.  When it is possible to do so, we now improve accessibility so that wheelchair users, pram pushers and others with limited mobility can enjoy as much as possible of this fantastic area.  The Trust was founded to protect places of historical interest and natural beauty for ever for everybody. That’s a lot of people and a long time.

One job that we hope to complete before Easter is some refurbishing and tidying of Bark House. This is a small, stone cottage near Ashness Bridge which has been used by the Scouts until recently when they decided to hand it back to the Trust.  So I’ll be going in with my volunteers to transform it for use by our recruiters.  If you are up there over Easter and we have managed to get it into use, just pop in for a chat.  You might even find a nice fire burning!

Daisy here,

Roy thinks I’m crazy just because I run everywhere.  Why walk when you can run?

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Dramatic events

I’ve been working recently in the gardens of a rather splendid holiday property owned by the National Trust.  Millbeck Towers is near Applethwaite at the foot of Skiddaw.  It has beautiful, large gardens with superb views over Derwentwater. 

I joined Amanda (Wordsworth House gardener) and a group of gardening volunteers to do some Spring cleaning there in preparation for the new season.

I’ve mentioned before the kidnapping of Fletch the perchcrow from Wordsworth House.  Well, for some reason, Fletch was in the Millbeck Towers garden and I happened to be there to witness a crack team of gardeners do an SAS type rescue!


They had brought with them an attack dog who can only be identified as D.  As the kidnapper tried to escape with Fletch, D went in hot pursuit and brought him to the ground and promptly despatched justice.

It was a great day all round.  Fletch has been freed to go home; the Wordsworth House gardeners had the opportunity to work in a different garden; I really appreciated having such a good team to help me and we completed a lot of work.

Hi, Daisy here.

Che’s still with us. It’s great. Huzzah.HouH

Friday, 14 March 2014

Planning a project and starting a project.

The time is fast approaching when our visitor numbers will increase very quickly so I spent some time last week planning self-guided walks.  Leaflets for these walks will be available in the Trust shop on the Derwentwater shore and there will be oak marker posts along the paths for walkers to follow.  We see many families with small children for example who walk along to Friars Crag but, if they are new to the area, they are uncertain about whether or how to go further.  Where does the path carry on?  Will it be too difficult or too far?  Does it go along the lake or through the wood?  Do we have enough time to do it?

The leaflets and the way-markers will answer those questions and hopefully will encourage many more people to go out of their comfort zone to explore, discover and enjoy much more of this beautiful place.  The walks will begin at the shop & amphitheatre and will take in Friars Crag, Cockshott Wood and Strandshag Bay and there will also be one at Castlehead.  In all there will be four different trails with different levels of difficulty.  

Soon, we hope, there will be even more to enjoy in Cockshott Wood.  We are planning to develop a wild play area for children. We’ll be using natural materials from the wood itself to create this.  We have already looked at pictures of similar Trust developments to learn from them and will also hold a couple of sessions to consult with children about what they would like to have.  I feel really excited about this project and can’t wait to get started on it.

Meanwhile, we have started work on the Braithwaite Common project that I mentioned last week.

 A sizeable group of village residents turned out last weekend and set to work helping with the clearing of some undergrowth and laying a hedge.  As you can see from the photographs, their enthusiasm and sheer hard work achieved a lot in just one day.

Hi, it’s Daisy here,

Che’s been staying with us again.  Che’s always staying with us.  I think he’s moved in!  I quite like it though.  I was getting bullied the other day and Che came and stuck up for me.  He was great.