A day out with Friends of the Lake District- leader training in Wild Ennerdale

- 10th May 2016-

Ennerdale The biodiversity of the hills is, in most places, unfortunately impoverished. The 2013 'State of Nature' report found that 65% of upland species have declined over the last 40 years, and many of these have 'declined strongly'. Any effort to turn around this trajectory should be welcomed, and it was with interest at seeing one of the most famous examples that I signed up to the Friends of the Lake District's 'Wild Ennerdale' leader training day on a baking hot Tuesday in May.

The day was hosted by Rachel Oakley, the project officer for the Wild Ennerdale partnership, and someone who has been involved in the movement since its inception 13 years ago. The vision is of a valley where natural processes are in charge of the landscape and the ecology, and where people can get a sense of wildness. We were taken on a walk through the woods and along the river, and discussed some of the management techniques, and diplomacy with local farmers and residents, that has made the project so successful.

The largest owners are the Forestry Commission and the National Trust, with United Utilities having ownership of Ennerdale Water, the glacial lake at the end of the valley. Some of the ways management has changed are unheard of in other valleys. The River Liza and its tributary streams are undredged and undammed, allowing them to flow where they wish. The forest can naturally regenerate, and alongside the ubiquitous spruce from the former forestry operations, broadleaved woods creep their way up the hillsides.

FOLD Logo The wildlife is unavoidable, and includes red squirrels, the reintroduced marsh fritillary butterfly, and over 100 species of birds. There are also a few sheep on National Trust leased land, and cows have been brought in at a low density to open up the forest. Even after just a decade, the difference is remarkable, the changes between habitat types a blur rather than a harsh edge, the woodlands mingling into the shrubs and the flowers of the high peaks. Though people are welcome, there is no road through the valley, and devotees of YHA Black Sail which stands near the valley head will know how unique this feeling is.

The discussion also touched on the topical subject of reforesting parts of the uplands to prevent downstream flooding. Ennerdale, though receiving the same amount of rain as other valleys, didn't have anywhere near the same problem, and the effect has been put down to both the tree-covered slopes and the unmanaged nature of the upland streams. Residents of Glenridding have been over within the last few months to see if there are techniques they can reproduce above their valley.

As a leader, the day was invaluable in providing me with an insight into a different way of looking after the mountains. For clients keen to understand why the landscape looks like it does, it's important for us as guides to be able to talk about the human and natural influences that have shaped the hills wherever we're walking. I would definitely suggest that, if you can, sign up to a Friends of the Lake District leader day. They're all on different subjects, all relating to conservation, and all worth at least a day of your time.

Review by Alex Kendall- MTA member

Friends of the Lake District are running similar awareness workshops throughout the summer.
Click here for more details.