Tuesday, 28 July 2015

St. Catherine's Parkland...a diverse landscape mosaic.

 Big Yellow Taxi, written and sung by Joni Mitchell, was released in 1970. It was a song expressing grave concerns for the environment. The chorus goes, "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone….." 

It is estimated that ninety seven percent of our wildflower meadows have been lost in just the last seventy years.

With its wildflower rich grassland, open grown mature trees, and wetland, the parkland at St. Catherine's is a rare glimpse of what was once commonplace.

Parkland at St. Catherine's as seen from the wetland area in the South West corner. The ground vegetation is very varied  and colourful at this time of year. (late July)
A young oak planted up in-front of a mature
oak. It will in time take its place.
Parkland consists of open grown trees.
(rich in lichens and beetles)
A limited number of cattle grazing the parkland at St. Catherine's is key to maintaining such a diversity of species.

Credit must be given to the National Trust tenant farmer for his conscientious management of this land which is under an HLS scheme. 

Cattle do not graze vegetation as close down to the ground as sheep. Unlike sheep, cattle use their tongues to pull tufts of vegetation into their mouths. This often leaves tussocks which  benefit insects and small mammals. As they have such wide mouths, cattle do not overgraze or target certain species of plants. This results in a highly diverse habitat.

Cattle are excellent at keeping back some of the rank vegetation. In areas where they have broken up the ground, seeds are more easily able to germinate. Here an oak tree seedling is a possible veteran of the future!

Bumblebee on Betony, St. Catherine's. The wildflowers here offer a sustained source of pollen and nectar for the bees during the long Summer months.

Many acres of perennial rye grass have taken the place of  the wildflower meadows. This has had a devastating impact on bumblebee numbers.  At least two bumblebee species are thought to have become extinct recently with others such as the Great yellow bumblebee and the Shrill carder bee on the brink. 

 David Attenborough once said,"Bumblebees are key factors in our wildlife. If they disappear many of our plants will not bear fruit." 

 A bumblebee is covered in pollen on a Cat's Ear flower at St. Catherine's in late July.

 Bees are needed to pollinate plants BUT plants are needed for bees to pollinate!

The presence of Quaking Grass is an indicator that unimproved native grassland is being well managed; it is good to see it at St. Catherine's.

A grass roots level view of Harebells, Betony, and Meadowsweet.

Dead wood is left to rot within the parkland. it is a valuable habitat for many invertebrates, some very rare. Here a fallen tree is surrounded by Birdsfoot Trefoil, Black Knapweed and thistles.

Foxgloves with mature parkland trees and younger trees in tree pens in the background.

Purple loosestrife in the
wetland area.


Self heal.

Just some of the many species of wildflowers to be seen in the parkland at St. Catherine's in July.

Now...any idea what this one is!?

In the wetland area is a stand of "nationally scarce" Touch-Me-Not Balsam which the rare netted Carpet Moth depends upon for its survival; the UK Biodiversity Action Plan classes the moth as a priority species. It is listed as vulnerable in the Red Data Book.

The Touch-Me-Not is growing up against the dry stone wall in the south west corner of the parkland. Invasive non-native Himalayan Balsam is eradicated every year from this area to stop it encroaching, and ultimately displacing the Touch-Me-Not.

Hopefully this post has given some indication of the rich biodiversity that is contained within this small area of parkland called St. Catherine's!

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Dora's Field. Invasive Control Work.

A concerted effort has recently been made to rid Dora's Field of non native invasive plants, namely Japanese Knotweed and Himalayan Balsam. 

Countryside Rangers from St. Catherine's and High Close with help from volunteers and a work experience student combined forces to deal with this problem.  

Japanese Knotweed has spread alarmingly quickly...
...as indeed have stands of Himalayan Balsam in Dora's Field.
Bees, bumblebees in particular, are highly attracted to Himalayan Balsam because it provides a rich source of pollen and nectar especially in late Summer.

Native plants are often overlooked by the bees in favour of Himalayan Balsam. More Himalayan Balsam gets pollinated at the expense of Native plants. No wonder it has become so prevalent!
A beekeeper told me recently that Himalayan Balsam is akin to fast food for a bee.... "But too much of the same food can be just as bad for  bees as for people!" He pointed out.

By getting rid of Himalayan Balsam, Native plants, which are great providers of pollen and nectar, will be able to flourish instead.  There are much better alternatives to Himalayan Balsam for bees such as...
...Touch-Me-Not Balsam seen here in the foreground or Foxgloves; many more Native plants could also thrive and help the bees maintain a 'balanced diet' at the same time! ..... How about Ragged Robin, Knapweed, Yarrow, Betony, (see image below) White Clover, Red Deadnettle and Purple Loosestrife for starters?
Bumblebee "tucking into" Betony flower on parkland at St. Catherine's.

As an aside Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) is highly invasive, and a massive problem in the United States...just as Knotweed and Himalayan Balsam are here... Away from its natural environment it has run riot, significantly degrading and creating havoc with the ecosystem of the North American wetlands. 

It was introduced by early colonists from Europe to plant in their gardens in the New  World...It is a horribly familiar story the World over.  
Work experience student, Luke with arms full of Himalayan Balsam heading for the fire site.
Academy Ranger, Pete with volunteer, Sue dragging down a bulk bag full of Himalayan Balsam. Laura is in the background dealing with the Knotweed.
Volunteer Coordinator, Greg, who volunteers to do this role, is about to bag up some knotweed ready to be burnt on site.
The cut stems of Knotweed are now ready for...
... an application of  Glyphosphate; it travels down the hollow stems to the rhizomes (sprouting root system) with devastating results. It is a time consuming process but highly effective in eradicating this pernicious weed.

Cutting back the stems will also help to exhaust the rhizomes but it may take several seasons to accomplish this!
Burning up!
There was time to strim the path...
...and 'tidy up' with the leaf blower.

To sum up, a difficult task was made manageable through good team work.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Tree Bumblebees at St. Catherine's, Windermere. BEEneficial Invaders?

Tree bumblebees (Bombus hypnorum) are native to Europe and were first recorded in the UK (New Forest area) in July 2001; they were probably blown across the English Channel. Since then they have spread rapidly with colonies spotted north of Carlisle.

They are tricoloured.. ginger thorax..black abdomen..white tail.

As their name suggests they nest in holes in trees, but bird boxes appear to be their favourite places to set up home; a bird box has been taken over at St Catherine's.

Male tree bees are flying around the bird box waiting for the new queens to emerge. Male bees have no stings. They are harmless.

A closer look at four of the males vying for pole position; competition between them is intense as there are many more males than queens.

The worker bees can occasionally become aggressive if they perceive a threat to the nest. I got too close for their comfort and was stung! Unlike honey bees bumblebees do not have barbed stings. They are more like wasps and may live to sting another day.

Two years ago tree bees took up residence under the eaves of the staff toilet at St. Catherine's. These toilets were put out of use for a while as the doors opening and closing really irritated the bees; they made it obvious! Image © Ben Knipe. 

A worker tree bee with full 'pollen baskets' heading for the nest under the eaves. 
© Ben Knipe.

The entire colony dies out after a few months except for the new queens. They hibernate in Autumn emerging in Spring ready to start new colonies.

Tree bees are generally perceived as natural invaders. (Not introduced by humans). Most experts consider them as valuable additional pollinators and do not think they are a threat to the long established bumblebees in the UK.

Arguments to support this are that tree bees exist alongside several other species of bumblebees on the continent that are also found in the British Isles.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Aira Force Steamer Pier

After many months in the making and years in the planning, the Aira Force Steamer pier is now up and running.

It is the first new stopping point to be built on Ullswater for 50 years. There has also been a huge improvement to the access from Aira Force down to Aira Green with a new hard standing path and boardwalk.

With the complexity of drilling into the lake bed, the pier took a number of months to complete.

The finished article fits effortlessly into the surrounding landscape.

The new boardwalk navigates people from the hard standing path, to the end of the  jetty.

The boardwalk allows easy access across a previously boggy and overgrown section of land.

The pier is the final piece in the jigsaw, to the visitor offer now available at Aira Force. Tourists and locals can now catch a steamer from Glenridding to Aira Force, where they can drop into our new Welcome Building and pick up one of our waterproof Ranger guides, before heading off to explore the majestic landscape of Aira Force. Once they have exhausted the numerous pathways, the tearoom is a perfect place to unwind and regain some energy for the walk back along the rolling pathway that skirts along the lake shore back to Glenridding.

As of the 1st of July the steamers are now running every day, so be sure to come along and experience a fabulous day out in Ullswater.

Friday, 26 June 2015

The Triple Threat to Millerground.

Notional Trust land at Millerground is a very special place to so many; it is one of the few public access points to Windermere's eastern shore and a popular lakeside walk... but it is under ever increasing threat from... invasive plants.

Wynlass Beck flows through Millerground and then into Windermere. Unfortunately, just a short distance upstream there is a large area of disused land, surrounding Wynlass Beck, where non native invasive plants have been allowed to run riot. 

The sheer number and density of invasive plants on this land is overwhelming. Immense stands of Japanese Knotweed and Himalayan Balsam predominate; it is appalling. The images above and below do not do justice to this; you really need to see it for yourself.

Invasive plants are adept at working their way downstream spreading into and colonising new areas with ruthless efficiency. Biodiversity is lost through the crowding out of native species and riverbanks are at great risk of being destabilised.

Millerground, being such a close neighbour, is highly vulnerable and susceptible to being overrun; to combat this, an intensive eradication programme is carried out each year.

Time and effort is needed to stop these rampant space invaders conquering Millerground.

(1) Himalayan Balsam. Each plant may produce upwards of 800 seeds or 30,000 seeds per square metre from a dense stand! Many of these seeds are carried downstream and this is how Himalayan Balsam is able to spread so rapidly particularly alongside watercourses.

(2) Japanese Knotweed. The hardest invasive plant of all to eradicate as it develops a gigantic, incredibly extensive root system deep in the ground; It reproduces vegetatively; if even small pieces of its root system or rhizomes are able to find their way downstream* new stands will quickly become established. *This is likely to occur during floods or heavy rainfall when river banks erode allowing chunks of rhizomes or plant material to break free. Despite knotweed's extensive network of rhizomes... roots that can sprout...it offers little in the way of erosion control.

Images from last July upstream from Millerground show the encroachment of Himalayan Balsam and Japanese Knotweed, overhanging and almost obscuring Wynlass Beck.

Horrendous! A tragic loss of biodiversity along this stretch of Wynlass Beck...overrun by Himalayan Balsam and Japanese Knotweed.

(3) Skunk Cabbage is a comparatively new invasive on this watercourse but if left can soon spread very quickly. When  Skunk Cabbage is found at Millerground it is sprayed.

Invasive plant species proliferate in several areas along Wynlass Beck. Millerground, being the furthest point downstream, tends to receive the brunt of the seeds washed down in Autumn.

This is how bad it can get when invasives are left to spread unchecked. Wynlass Beck on its approach to Millerground....The river banks are eroding badly here.

 A huge area has been taken over by these 'invasives'. They outcompete native species with the greatest of ease which is a worry because Millerground is an important site for the nationally scarce Touch-Me-Not Balsam... Reintroduced in 2009 after many years absence.  

(Most of the Images above were taken at 6pm. June 26th 2015. Sorry about the image quality. Only had a cheap camera phone with me!

Not only is Japanese Knotweed a huge threat to our native species and has a devastating effect on riparian eco systems...it is able to spread at more than a metre a month...it can be a nightmare for home owners and developers. It causes immense damage to drains and other buried services, boundary/retaining walls, paths, driveways, gardens and of course property. ...NOT A PLANT THAT SHOULD BE IGNORED OR UNDERESTIMATED... Wouldn't you agree!? 

£70 million!! This was the Royal Horticultural Society estimate for the cost of removing and disposing of Japanese Knotweed during preparation work for the Olympic Park, East London. Just from one ten acre site.....What would it cost to eradicate it from the UK!?

A stand of Touch-me-not balsam, a quarter of a mile from Millerground  (not on Trust land) is under threat from Japanese Knotweed. (shovel shaped leaves.) the Touch-me-not stand used to be far larger but has over time been shaded out by the Knotweed. 
The private landlord once he was made aware of the rarity of Touch-me-not is keen to start the eradication process of knotweed in the Autumn....very encouraging news!

Himalayan balsam flower.
Touch-Me-Not balsam flower.
Himalayan Balsam leaf, more elliptical in shape...
...than Touch-Me-Not leaf which is more rounded with less serrations.
Himalayan Balsam encroaching on Touch-Me-Not stand. Pulled out shortly after.
A Touch-Me-Not stand free of Himalayan Balsam at Millerground after eradication work.