Last week was tree planting week, and next week is our final tree planting session of the season. In between we have been doing a bit of training and upskilling.

On Monday, we were out at Torver Common with colleagues from the Lake District National Park Authority, Natural England and the Open Spaces Society. We were discussing the complex issues surrounding common land and how to try and achieve more nature recovery, and sustainable commoning and communities while also facing the issues arising from open access for the public. There are no easy answers but it often helps to talk through the issues and options with other people and learn from their experience.

On Tuesday, we were down in our woods in the Rusland Valley on the first of our volunteer skills training days this year. This was led by expert Peter Bullard and his colleague Gary who taught us all about mosses, liverworts and hornworts, collectively known as bryophytes.

They talked us through the composition of bryophytes, how they grow, the different families, and how to recognise each group. Like lichens, bryophytes can be indicators of good or bad air quality, but unlike lichens who like light, bryophytes like wet and darker conditions. 

There are over 1000 species of bryophyte and it is only in the last couple of decades that they have been given English names such as rustwort, swan neck moss, velvet feather moss, springy and scarce turf moss and the list goes on. Peter and Gary have been surveying our woods for bryophytes to help us establish whether the woods are remnant ancient Atlantic woodland. Bryophytes are a key indicator of this.

At first, they identified 40 or so species but on a second visit, they got this up to 70, including 12 of those on the indicator list for Atlantic woodland. Even more amazingly, they found one species only recorded in the Rusland Valley and one other location in England but not in the profusion of our woods. So, it is likely that we have the biggest colony of this species in the UK.

Equally amazing, Peter showed us a small number of small-leaved lime trees. These had been coppiced over many years, with each new set of growth occurring at the outer edges. The result was what looked like a collection of trees in a circle, but they are all one tree.

Studies of small-leaved lime in the Duddon have suggested similar trees could be around 4000 years old, which is truly astonishing. The volunteers who were trained will now help us by going out to our other land holdings and surveying for bryophytes.

This was a real introduction but any findings, however basic are good for us as we have no current records for most of our sites. We also send the data to the Cumbria Biological Data Centre so that it is available to the public and for those wishing to use data to monitor changes to our landscape and habitats. Citizen science in the making but incredibly valuable… 

On Wednesday it was back to mudfest! Walling at Mazonwath, and yet again it was appalling weather. 

We had two new volunteers with us to learn the art of dry stone walling. It is great that people are interested in learning these old skills and rewarding to see someone at the start of the day unsure what to do, but by the end already putting courses of stone on a wall. We hope to see them again to continue the training in future.

If you would like to join us at our next skills training event, we are focusing on woodland archaeology on 29th April in the Rusland Woods

For the last tree planting session of the season, you can join us at Middle Bleansley next Wednesday.