28 March 2014

Bags of Rock

"Bags of Rock" probably aren't of much interest to most people.  For Upland Rangers however they can be something to get excited about!

At this time of year we are getting ready to return to the fells to start upland path projects. The bags in question are the ones we fill with rock to be moved by helicopter to the project sites.

The first stage of the process starts before the bag filling commences as it needs to be agreed where the rock can be collected from. Wherever possible we use rock local to the area so that it is consistent with the surrounding landscape. Nearby screes are a good starting point for potential locations. These have to be agreed with Natural England, a public body responsible for protecting and improving England's natural environment. There may be reasons a scree should not be used, such as rare or protected flora, and there may be limits on how much rock can be taken. For example during the current rock collection we are avoiding areas of woolly hair moss.
A 'good-looking' rock but the woolly hair moss means we won't use it
Once the sites are agreed we can start bagging up the rock although we need to first get the 'heli-bags' to site.  This means carrying around 10 bags per person up to the rock sites.
Our main project this year is a joint one with the Western team, tackling erosion on the path from Red Tarn to Crinkle Crags.  The rock sites selected are between Crinkle Crags and Cold Pike and our walk up from the Three Shires stone is around an hour. A fairly good warm up before the 'main event' of bag filling!
Carrying heli-bags towards Crinkle Crags with the Western team & others
Once we arrive at the rock site with the bags a quick break is in order before the bag filling commences.
Some of the group enjoying a break before bag filling
(Ian seems to be amused about something)
There are various things to consider when filling the heli-bags with rock. This might include finding a nice spot to place the bag close to some suitable rock. The size and shape of the rock needed depends on what you want it for, such as stone 'pitching', drainage or landscaping work. Most of the rock recently collected is for stepped stone 'pitched' path work. This means chunky rocks with a bit of depth and a fairly flat surface that people can plant their feet on are in demand. It can be quite challenging rolling the rocks into the bags especially if it is windy the bag is flapping around.
First rock of the day - a nice pitching stone "in the bag"
Sarah hard at work filling a bag
A full bag with bag-filling continuing in the background
The heli-bags are designed to carry a ton of rock which is the limit that the helicopter can usually carry in one go. In reality the filled bags tend to weigh around 700 to 800kg.
The number of bags that can be filled per person in a day can vary widely depending on the site,  the type of rock needed and how accessible the rocks are. The author of this blog likes the challenge of filling all of the bags he carries up but has only managed this once this year.
There are legendary tales from the past of path workers filling impressive numbers of bags in a single day.
A single rock fills this bag,
(Courtesy of Jon, from the West)
Bag filling can be quite a gruelling task but is satisfying and a great work-out.
Searching for particular shapes and sizes of rock can have side effects and you may find yourself noticing suitable rocks wherever you go. You can even find yourself strangely attracted to rocks and describing them as 'beautiful'. It is fair to say that this trait may not be appreciated by others, particularly friends and family when not at work.

After spending the winter doing mostly lower level work it is a great feeling returning to the fells to focus on the upland work that we enjoy.
One of many nice views enjoyed during bag filling
If you would like to know more about the daily work of the South Lakes Upland Ranger team they can be found on Twitter @NTLakesFells.

Posted by: Nick, Upland Ranger

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