Wildlife at Borrowdale and Derwent Water

Red squirrell on a branch, Borrowdale, Lake District

In Borrowdale we're working to reverse the decline in British wildlife species by protecting their fragile habitats. If you go for a quiet walk in the valley, especially around dusk or dawn, you could be rewarded with a glimpse of some of Britain's rarest wildlife.

Did you know?

  • Borrowdale is one of the most wooded valleys in the Lake District, when it comes to native tree species

  • we care for around 500 hectares of protected Atlantic Oak wood

  • incredibly rare 'old growth' lichens and mosses thrive the valley's temperate rainforest

  • over recent years otters have returned to the valley

  • You can hear Peregrine Falcons calling to their young at fledging time

  • Vendace, England's rarest freshwater fish, survive only here and in Bassenthwaite

  • We're working with the local community to protect red squirrels in the valley


Saving rare lichen in Borrowdale

We’re trying to save one of England’s rarest and oldest lichens by removing it from a fallen oak tree in the Lake District and transferring it to dozens of nearby trees. The lungwort lichen (Lobaria pulmonaria) is characteristic of the wildwood that took root after the last ice age and has been in decline since the 18th century. Find out more about the work we’re doing at Borrowdale to protect it.

Nature highlights in winter and spring

Owls have their breeding season when snow is still falling.  Around February half term if you go for a walk in Great Wood you can hear tawny owls hooting to each other in their quest to find a mate – the female calls “tu-wit” and the male replies “tu-woo”. While there is freshly fallen snow on the ground, look out for the tracks of wild red deer, rabbits and even otters.

Great Wood, Keswick, Derwentwater, Cumbria
An owl in Great Wood, Keswick, Derwentwater, Cumbria
Great Wood, Keswick, Derwentwater, Cumbria

Remember to keep your ears open as well as your eyes and enjoy the soundtrack of winter in the mountains with the song of the raven which is much deeper and more musical than the crow.

Spring returns to the valley

As winter turns to spring it sometimes seems like every puddle, is teeming with frogspawn. Even high up on the fells at places like Dock Tarn which is 400m above sea level, frogspawn and tadpoles can be found.

Spring puddles teeming with life
Frogspawn, Lake District, Cumbria
Spring puddles teeming with life

You don’t have to head up to the fells though for a quirky wildlife win - just a short walk out of Keswick town at dusk and you will be rewarded with a frog chorus in the heart of Ings Wood an internationally significant wet woodland habitat.

In March and you’ll hear the distinctive high-pitched cry of Peregrine Falcons echoing off the crags as they call to their mates. Did you know that Peregrines form monogamous pairs that bond for many mating seasons?  Look up and you might catch a glimpse of their distinctive ‘hunched shoulder’ silhouette against the sky.

Listen out for peregrines as you explore the valley
Line drawing of a peregrine falcon
Listen out for peregrines as you explore the valley

There’s nowhere quite like the spring woodlands of Borrowdale with scents, sights, tastes and sounds to be absorbed.  Breathe deep breaths of the fresh new vegetation or the pungent tang of wild garlic, taste the peppery freshness of wild sorrel on your tongue and listen out for the echoing call of the cuckoo which arrives back in the valley on the 3rd week in April each year.

" If you’re Borrowdale born and bred you’ll know the cuckoo as a ‘Gowk’ which is also used colloquially as an insult!"
- A local Gowk

And of course there will be carpets of white wood anemones, wood sorrel and wild garlic before the leaves are out on the trees.

Drifts of white wood anemones
Wood anemones in Borrowdale
Drifts of white wood anemones

Other nature notes

Ancient woodland

Borrowdale is dominated by ancient woodlands that cling to the steep and craggy fellsides. These are the Atlantic Oakwoods, the temperate rain forests that once cloaked much of the Western Seaboard of Europe, and as with other rain forests its wildlife is secretive and unobserved. 


Soaring above you, you might hear buzzards and peregrine falcons. The raven is relatively common throughout the valley and during the summer months the striking pied flycatcher takes up residence in the forest. Roe Deer are often seen in the woodlands and the larger wild red deer who live around Borrowdale. In autumn they become especially active because it's the time of the annual rut - the mating season. During the day they hide out of sight of humans on the high fells, but they come down to the valley floor during the night to feed in peace and quiet.

Time your walks for dawn or dusk as the days grow shorter, take your binoculars with you, and you might spot stags locking antlers and tusseling to find out who is the strongest. You could hear dominant stags bellowing, and you could see the herd feeding as they slowly make their way down from the summits in the evening, or back up to them in the morning.


Look down to the forest floor, up to the fell tops, across the ancient pastures to discover an incredible diversity of plants, particularly ferns, and a dazzling array of mosses and liverworts. The Borrowdale valley has a nationally significant collection of outstanding rare lichens and a rich variety of fungi in the autumn.

Lichen survey, Thorneythwaite
Lichen survey, Thorneythwaite
Lichen survey, Thorneythwaite


Red squirrels have inhabited Cumbria for the past 6,000 years. Today, their grey cousins are pushing them close to extinction, but there is a population in the valley that we are fighting hard to protect.

A red squirrel at Allan Bank in Grasmere Cumbria

Keep red squirrels alive in the Lakes

Against the odds native reds still survive in the Lake District. But they are under constant threat from the non-native grey squirrels that carry a deadly virus. We work with local squirrel groups to protect reds in our woodlands. But we need your help to do more.