Helicopter help for Lake District footpath repairs

More than three quarters of a million tonnes of stone is being flown by helicopter in a bid to fix some of the Lake District’s most popular paths.

Volunteers and rangers have spent the last six months gathering the stones, which will be lifted by helicopter to remote paths. Among the paths in urgent need of repair is the main tourist route up Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain, and a busy route to the summit of Helvellyn.

The work is being carried out on behalf of Fix the Fells, a partnership backed by the National Trust, Lake District National Park and other partners that has been tasked with repairing some of the Lake District’s most worn paths.

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A helicopter lifts bags of stone in the Ullswater valley. CREDIT: Adrian Mills/National Trust

The helicopter lifts will make a huge difference to the repair work, Fix the Fells programme manager Joanne Backshall said.

She said: “It will allow us to move heavy stones to areas that badly need them. Without the helicopter it would be impossible for us to carry out the work that is needed.

“Our teams of Fix the Fells Rangers, aided by our volunteers, have already hand-filled nearly 800 bags with stone, each bag weighing approximately 950 kg. These will be lifted in to place one by one by a Squirrel helicopter.”

The air drops will allow National Trust repair teams to then move the stones into place, stabilising the paths to prevent erosion and preventing them from becoming scars on the landscape.

The helicopter flights are taking place in Borrowdale, Ullswater, Wasdale and Grasmere, weather permitting.

Path erosion can see soil more easily wash off the fells and into streams and lakes and lakes. By repairing the stone paths, rangers will help slow soil erosion and prevent the paths from spreading out further.

PICTURES: New arrival for ‘Ronald’ the Farne Islands shag

An egg belonging to a Farne Islands shag christened ‘Ronald’ by a Year 4 class from Gateshead has hatched.
Sarah Lawrence, National Trust ranger on the remote Northumberland islands, said: “Ronald nests right next to the main jetty on Staple Island. He’s probably the most photographed shag on the island.”
Ronald the shag CREDIT Sarah Lawrence, National Trust

Ronald the shag sitting on top of ‘his’ nest on the Farne Islands, Northumberland. Credit: Sarah Lawrence/National Trust

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PICTURES: Rare dormouse snores in Surrey ranger’s palm

A snoring dormouse was caught cuddling her tail as it napped in a National Trust ranger’s hand at Holmwood Common, near Dorking.

Rangers from the conservation charity were looking for rare hazel dormice in the 50 nest boxes that have been placed on the Surrey common, which was once owned by William the Conqueror.

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National Trust ranger Sophie Parker discovered a snoring female dormouse cuddling her tail during a regular survey for the rare mammals at Holmwood Common, near Dorking. CREDIT: Sophie Parker/National Trust. 

Sophie Parker, National Trust area ranger at nearby Leith Hill, discovered the female dormouse at the end of April whilst checking the boxes under the supervision of a licensed handler from the Surrey Dormouse Group. Continue reading

Expert Matthew Oates picks his favourite spring wildlife as holly blue butterfly booms

Britain is enjoying a holly blue butterfly boom as warm temperatures cause spring wildlife to flourish.

National Trust gardeners report one of the best years in decades for the holly blue butterfly, but nature experts confess that the reasons for the butterfly explosion remain a mystery.

Holly blue male in Gloucestershire CREDIT Matthew Oates, National Trust Images.jpg

Holly blue butterfly (c) Matthew Oates/National Trust Images

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New research lands Victorian fin whale discovery at Cotehele

A giant jawbone in a Cornish stately home has at last been found to be from a Victorian fin whale – thanks to a mixture of cutting edge DNA analysis and archival research.

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Acting house and collections manager Nick Stokes with the whale bones at Cotehele, Cornwall. (c) Steven Haywood / National Trust Images

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Meet ‘Doris’ the rare-breed lamb born at Sutton Hoo as the winds raged

A rare-breed lamb born last night as yesterday’s storm blew through has been christened ‘Doris’ by National Trust rangers at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk.

Born in the early hours of Friday, the lamb is the first of the year for the flock and the first pure-breed Manx Loaghtan to join the sheep cared for by National Trust shepherd Andrew Capell.

The flock, which spend most of the year on the Orford Ness National Nature Reserve, move to drier ground over the winter months, with many of the expectant ewes moving to Sutton Hoo.

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Doris the lamb. Credit: National Trust

Andrew, 52, said: “She’s definitely an early arrival, but looking really healthy and is the first of several pure Manx-Loaghtans we’ll be welcoming this spring. She’s only six hours old but already she’s very lively.

“After all the drama of the weather with Storm Doris, there really was only one name we could choose for her.”

Andrew and sheepdog Kite look after the Orford Ness flock which includes a number of rare breeds, all chosen for their ability to thrive in the challenging coastal landscape.

Known as a ‘conservation grazing’ flock, the sheep are hard workers on the Ness, moving from field to field where they keep the grass well mown and generate ideal conditions for other wildlife to thrive.

Part of the flock is currently grazing the burial mounds at Sutton Hoo, where in 1939 archaeologists discovered the remains of a spectacular boat burial dating back to the seventh century.

Archaeological survey work taking place later in the year means that the grass needs to be shorter. And, because of the historical significance of the mounds, heavy mechanical mowers cannot be used.

Andrew, who has spent 36 years as a shepherd, added: “We have another 25 ewes expecting, some are Manx Loaghtans and some are White-faced Woodlands.

“Doris will be spending her first day in a pen so we can make sure she’s well, but then she’ll be out greeting visitors to Sutton Hoo over the next few weeks.

“I’ll be down at Sutton Hoo tomorrow morning to make sure she’s got a full belly. And if the weather’s fine we’ll introduce her to the rest of the flock.”

All the lambs born at Sutton Hoo this spring will stay there until April, when they will move back to Orford Ness.

Birdwatchers flock to see short-eared owls at Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire

Birdwatchers from across the East of England have spent the winter entranced by one of Britain’s most impressive birds.

Around ten short-eared owls have been seen on Burwell Fen, near Ely, Cambridgeshire, by rangers from the National Trust’s Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve.

The sandy-coloured owls, which are one of Britain’s largest and unlike many others thrive in open countryside, arrive on the reserve in October. The birds will leave the reserve, which home to many vulnerable wetland and grassland species, in in March for their breeding grounds in the Scottish uplands or northern Scandinavia.

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Short-eared owl at Wicken Fen, near Cambridge. Credit: Prashant Meswani

Birdwatchers have been treated to stunning views of the short-eared owls, capturing the owls performing mid-air acrobatics and skirmishes with other birds of prey.

But behind the pictures is an important conservation story that rangers from the National Trust reserve are keen to tell.

Martin Lester, Countryside Manager at Wicken Fen, said: “The habitat on Burwell Fen is ideal for the short eared owls. Their numbers have increased over recent years since we started grazing the fen with our konick ponies and highland cattle.

“The ponies and cattle help create a mixture of vegetation heights and open spaces that are perfect for voles – the owls’ preferred prey. It also has plenty of posts for the owls to roost. The fen is home to lots of vulnerable grassland and wetland species.

“The owls have been a big draw for birdwatchers and photographers across the region. And if people want the best views of the owls, they should stick to the raised banks or public footpaths. These banks offer panoramic views of the fen – and ensures our visitors to see the owls without disturbing these wonderful birds.”

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Short-eared owl hunting at Wicken Fen, near Cambridge. Credit: Prashant Meswani

National Trust rangers added that birdwatchers should not stray onto the fen in search of a better photograph of the owls.

Burwell Fen is a wintering home to a large number of vulnerable grassland and wetland species. Rangers said that by walking onto the fen would risk disturbing the birds and

Wicken’s other rare wildlife – and could lead to the owls looking for alternative wintering sites in the future.