29 January 2016

Winter Work

This week's countryside blog comes from the Upland Ranger team based in the South Lakes area. 

When the team are working in the Fells a question we often get asked is:
"Do you work up here all year round?"
The answer to this is that we don't and this blog is about what we might be doing when we are not tackling erosion in the Fells of the Lake District.

We do spend much of the year in the Mountains and during the months between the clocks going forward an hour and until they go back again we expect to spend nearly all of our working time up in the Fells. This period is sometimes referred to as our "Fell Season".
Upland Rangers in their natural habitat during the "Fell Season"
(Taking a break before starting working on Striding Edge)

Outside of this "Fell Season", due to the shorter days and weather conditions, it isn't practical or safe for the team to stay in the Fells and we move onto work in the lower level Countryside. We call this our "Winter Work" programme (although it does include parts of Autumn and Spring too).

In general the team will help with anything that our Ranger colleagues in the South Lakes ask. There is never a shortage of lower level countryside work and we can find ourselves in high demand (it is not unheard of for our Area Rangers to "fight" for our time).

The examples below, from this years "Winter Work" programme, give an idea of some of the types of work.

We often work with rock and some dry stone walling is a common activity. There are always plenty of wall gaps to repair and we sometimes do some slightly more formal work too.  

Building a Dry Stone Retaining wall for a raised bed at Wray Castle
Another recent task, also using stone, has been some Slate-edged pathway.
A section of Slate-edged path at Wray Castle in progress

A common task in recent years for our Woodland Ranger is building tree cages to protect young trees.  This year has been no exception. 
Tree Cage under construction
(A nice winter day & a Wetherlam backdrop)

We might repair or construct countryside furniture such as gates, stiles and benches.  
Installing a new Bench at Wray Castle
(Donated by a family with connections to Wray Castle)

The finished Bench
We might also work in other areas of the National Trust where help is needed. For example the recent floods didn't affect our South Lakes area as much other parts of Cumbria and we have provided some support in other areas.
Helping clear a flood damaged fence with volunteers near Ambleside
Each year we usually help the Steam Yacht Gondola team winch Gondola out of Coniston Water and set up the frame to cover her for Winter repairs.    
Steam Yacht Gondola winched out of the water
The work we get involved in can be very varied and the examples above are a small selection based on recent months. Our team could be called on to help with any work needed in order to look after the countryside.

At this time of year we don't completely neglect our upland work and weather permitting we try to fit in some maintenance days. We also have an upland work party with the Fix the Fells Volunteer "Lengthsmen" at least once a month.
A Work Party on Browney Gill with the Fix the Fells Volunteer Lengthsmen
(A fairly grim day, we've had a few of these recently)
We also need to think about preparations for the forthcoming Fell Season and usually need to consider rock for our projects. There is seldom sufficient rock close enough to the paths we are going to work on and we may need to fill "heli-bags" so rock can be lifted to site by helicopter. This needs to be done in the early months of the year so it is ready for when we return to the fells. Carrying the heli-bags up to rock collection sites is often quite a good warm up for the main event of actually filling them.
On route to fill "heli-bags" with Rocks
(Image from 2013, we haven't started rock collection this year yet)
A bonus at this time of year, due to the shorter days, is that the light can be quite striking especially early morning or late afternoon as the sun rises or sets. A couple of recent examples are:
Sunrise along Windermere as the team started work at Wray Castle
Late afteroon light looking along Coniston Water at the end of a working day
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 or for more about Fix the Fells follow this link: Fix the Fells 

Posted by: Nick, Upland Ranger

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