Wild Ennerdale, Cumbria

Ennerdale Water, Cumbria.

Ennerdale Valley was carved out by glaciers millions of years ago. Its slopes are lined with mixed woodland, forest, open fell and scree. Dotted within the landscape are juniper shrubs, said to give the valley its name. ‘Ennerdale’ (or versions of that spelling) means juniper valley in the ancient Norse language.

The valley is home to more than 100 species of wildlife, with goosander, grebe and heron on the water and goldcrest, buzzard and redstart in the forests. Up on the mountain you’ll spot whinchat, meadow pipit and skylark. There are butterflies, deer, otter and one of the UK’s rare colonies of red squirrel, with around 150 squirrels recorded.

In the valley bottom lies Ennerdale Water and the spectacular River Liza, a unique river in England which is dynamic, wilful and free to shift its course – something it often does in response to heavy rainfall. Here you’ll find England’s only migratory population of Arctic char. This fish dates back to the Ice Age and is now marooned in only a handful of the UK’s deepest and coldest lakes.

What's special about Ennerdale?

Ennerdale is already internationally recognised as an important site for landscape, ecology and wildlife and in 2002 it received a further boost. We joined forces with the Forestry Commission, Natural England and United Utilities to develop a blueprint for Ennerdale’s future. The Wild Ennerdale partnership is allowing nature greater freedom to shape the landscape, creating more opportunities for change to benefit wildlife and landscape. Importantly, the project recognises that this is a living, working landscape of which people are a crucial part. This is not about a past landscape, it’s about the ‘future natural’, and adopting a more sensitive approach in the way we manage and use resources.

Farming has long played a role in Ennerdale’s landscape, with sheep the main stock. To create a more diverse grazing system, Galloway cattle were introduced. They graze differently to sheep and, being heavier, encourage vegetation change by trampling and disturbing the ground. The herd has expanded to around 30 cattle grazing a 1,000 hectare site. These black woolly creatures, fondly described as ‘Ennerdale bears’, are encouraging new more diverse vegetation that is blurring the old boundaries between forest and farmland.

Damaged by disease

Over the winter of 2013/14, Ennerdale’s larch forests were struck by destructive, fungus-like pathogen called Phythophthora ramorum. The disease, which spreads rapidly, thrives in damp conditions (so recent winters have been ideal) and can potentially affect other species. The only way to control it is to destroy infected trees, and this means that some 15 per cent of Ennerdale’s forest - over 80,000 trees - will be lost.

The disease has prompted a re-think of woodland planning. The cleared spaces/dead trees offer opportunities, allowing more light and space to ground vegetation which in many places is already established, giving us a more diverse forest regeneration. We will also be able to plant more native species such as hazel, aspen, oak, birch and the red squirrels' favourite, Scots pine.

Ennerdale’s local community still have a key role to play in shaping the landscape, from the farmers who manage the Galloways to the volunteers who meet weekly to undertake many practical tasks in the valley.

For the latest access details and other information, take a look at the Ennerdale pages or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.