A blog by third year Wildlife Conservation and Environmental Management student Molly Conway, who is working with us this year as our ‘Property Engagement Officer’.

November has been a busy month for me I’ve been out on three work parties and spent a lot of time learning about the properties as well as working on a project which I hope to test on the Helm in the coming weeks. Going out on work parties is a great way for me to see the properties and be able to learn as much about them as possible. I have also got to know some of the regular volunteers and understand their views on the properties as well as the importance of a good cake on a work party!

The first work party I went out on was to Mazonwath on a bitterly cold day! Dry stone walling is a skill I’ve always admired and wanted to learn how to do.

Pictured: The section of wall I spent time working on, just don’t look too closely!

A full day of walling at Mazonwath is, in my opinion, the best way to learn. After a quick tutorial from John - Friends of the Lake District volunteer and expert waller - I was set off working on a small section of wall. Walling is rather complex and the terminology is even more complex than that. The foundations of the wall are made up of larger stones which are sunken into the ground they must be a set width apart, this is dependent on the wall. As the wall goes up the stones used are smaller as they get nearer to the top. The width also decreases so the wall is narrower at the top. The slope created is called the batter.

Pictured: Larger stones on the outside, Heartings are the smaller stones in the middle.

I found walling to be a challenge, but enjoyable, especially when you find a stone that fits just right! I would certainly urge anyone to have a go at drystone walling. There is definitely more work to be done on the wall at Mazonwath, so if you feel like trying your hand there are regular work parties that you can join throughout the year (Workparty dates - 2019). The next is December 2nd where I’m told there may be mulled wine and mince pies provided.

Pictured: The limestone at Mazonwath is full of amazing fossils.

I went out on two additional work parties. The first to High Borrowdale which is an absolutely stunning property! Here we put in some new tree planters, ready for some new saplings which will be planted soon and brushed up my skills with a bit more drystone walling. 

Pictured: Constructing robust tree guards to protect new saplings from hungry deer!

Jan Darrall, the property manager at High Borrowdale, gave me a tour and told me about the work which has gone into this property in the past. It includes work put into seeding two upland hay meadows. I look forward to returning High Borrowdale in July when they’re in full flower. There is ongoing research into flood resilience techniques to counter the erosion which has taken place in the valley. The steep sides of the valley mean it is prone to landslides during heavy rainfall. The University of Cumbria and Friends of the Lake District have worked together to put in test plots of different natural materials to study how they stabilise and retain the integrity of the soil as well as looking at the plant growth through these materials. This is an ongoing project which will remain at High Borrowdale for some time.

I found the ruin of the farm house at High Borrowdale particularly fascinating as you can certainly feel the history of the place when you look inside the ruin to see a flight of stairs and a hearth. It made me think what it would have been like to live here in this wild and beautiful, if isolated, valley. 

Pictured: High Borrowdale certainly warrants a visit (there is public access) as my photos don’t do it the justice it deserves!

I spent a day out at Hows Wood in Eskdale which is another striking and remote place. In the shadow of Scafell Pike and Hardknott is Hows Wood, a semi natural ancient woodland. The woodland is dominated by downy birch trees which seed and grow quickly so the woodland needs regular thinning. I spent the morning at Hows Wood removing smaller saplings which if left to grow to full size will cause the woodland to become too dense and cause larger, well established trees to die off. The leftover wood will be used to repair the bridges in the wood or to create deadwood piles which are a haven for wildlife and fungi, which are abundant at this time of year.

Pictured: The view from Hows Wood

After lunch and, of course, some cake later I spent the afternoon walking round the woodland and getting to know the place. The woodland is a very rocky and steep in places and is home to lots of mosses and ferns as well as the remains of a bark peelers hut. On my walk I found a variety of fungi which are pictured below. Hows Wood is in a stunning location with amazing views from all angles in an unspoilt Lake District valley. I will definitely be returning to see Hows Wood throughout the seasons.

Pictured left to right: Turkey Tail fungus, Hedgehog Mushroom, Brown Birch Bolete

Pictured left to right: Birch Polypore, Common Earthball, Candlesnuff Fungus