19 April 2013

The tale of the Helicopter lift, part 1...

As the snow melts away and we emerge into spring, the Upland Ranger team can normally be seen to be getting pretty excited, and that's not down to the weather supposidly improving as we come towards summer...instead its because the prospect of a ride in a helicopter gets ever closer!  Before that however, there is plenty to be done.

These don't fill themselves!
Helicopter lift are undertaken annually and allow the Upland teams to get materials onto work sites in the high fells.  This material is largely stone that will be used to build pitched paths (stone steps) and drainage, but we also fly up sheds and tools.  This year our team is filling bags for 3 main projects at Blea Tarn, Fairfield and Swirral edge.  Each bag we fill will contain around 500-800kg and we need to fill approx 270 bags, all of which get carried up by staff to the stone sites.  That roughly means that between the team we'll have moved nearly 162 tonne of stone, that's equivalent of moving the biggest bell in Big Ben 10 times! So alongside looking excited we also look pretty weary! 

Ian carrying helibags up Tongue Ghyll
Once the bags have been carried up the fell it's time to start filling them all with fairly sizeable stone, that will be suitable for the work it is intended for. So in the case of stone pitching, we look for stone that has a good, flat walking surface, alongside what we call a good face, which is the part of stone everyone will see as they walk up the steps.  Before all this however we take advantage of the empty heli bags to get out of the wind and have us a brew!

Brew in a bag!

View from the heli bags
Refuelled and ready to go we fill the bags, getting the largest stones in the bottom four corners, medium stones on top of that and small stones filling in the gaps.  A gold standard for a day of bag filling is 10 bags per ranger, but that can vary according to the nature of the site.  For example on the site at Tongue Ghyll, there was a footpath directly underneath, so fillling the bags did take longer as we were being extra careful!

Spot the rangers and count the heli bags!

This year there was a particular last minute rush on filling the bags because the snowy weather made getting to the sites a lot more difficult that normal, but with a big push and some help from the Fix the Fells volunteers we managed to get them all filled, and could now start looking forward to the arrival of the helicopter and the beginning of the lifts.  Only as with the bag filling, the weather can either be our friend or our worst enemy, tune in next time to find out what happened next...!

Our helicopter for the week and camera man from ITV


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