Slowing the flow at Coledale

Volunteer plants tree in Coledale Valley, Keswick

The wind is icy on our ears and knuckles. The spade cuts through the damp moss with a satisfying squelch. Each sapling looks no more than an insigificant twig right now, but we're planting them trusting in the knowledge that in 20 years' time their roots will be binding the shallow soils on this steep slope together, holding them firm, enabling them to withstand the battering of winter storms, helping to protect the village just a mile downstream.

Planting native species in Coledale

Coledale stretches 2½ miles north west from the village of Braithwaite. Although it's just outside Keswick it can feel remote and idyllic in summer, and exposed and hostile in the winter.

Since 2010 we've been planting native tree species into carefully identified areas in Coledale - a mix that includes oak, aspen, hazel, hawthorn, birch and willow.

From the tree planting in 2011
Volunteers plant trees in the Coledale Valley, Borrowdale
From the tree planting in 2011

Reducing the risk of landslides

A study of Coledale by Durham University showed that it was one of the North Lakes valleys most at risk of landslides during extreme weather events, due to a combination of extremely steep sides and very thin vegetation.

Sadly in December 2015 this proved to be only too true, when one enormous landslide and a series of smaller ones throughout the small valley inundated Braithwaite village with boulders, silt and debris.

Landslide at Braithwaite
Landslide at Braithwaite, Cumbria
Landslide at Braithwaite

Since then, we've been working with the residents' Flood Action Group, the local farmers and a partnership of organisations including the Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission, Natural England, Woodland Trust, the Lake District National Park Authority to co-design a solution that involves farming the land upstream differently to help make the village and its valley more resilient to extreme weather in the future.

Research by the Forestry Commission has demonstrated the way that increased tree cover and 'roughing up' of ground cover vegetation can help to slow the flow of water over steep ground.

With the residents' Flood Action Group and the farmers we identified areas to plant up with saplings during the winter of 2016/17, and also identified areas where we can continue to  expand that work each winter since then.

Read the latest update below.

Latest updates

14 Dec 18

December 2018

The upland path ranger team come down off the tops to work in the (relative) safety of the valleys during the winter weather. Part of their work has been continuing the tree planting in Coledale. 'We finished up planning another 400 native trees right at the top end of the valley last week. The picture's not the brightest but it was a much better day than when we went up the week before mid storm!' said ranger Ted

Three rangers on a steep slope surrounded by tree tubes


3000 willow pegs planted to stabilize landslide

We planted around 3000 willow ‘pegs’ in the valley during 2018. Willow has the amazing ability to root from a section of stem only a foot long. Half of these pegs were pushed into and around the big land slip, which will stabilize the loose, bare soil once they get going. The other half we pushed in right at the top end of the fenced area, in the wettest parts where only willow, alder and a few other tree species will thrive. We worked with the Forestry Commission for this and from a full trailer load of willow we cut around 1500 pegs. Some of them have grown a couple of foot in the first year so hopefully now they’re established they’ll really take off in 2019!

closeup on willow sticks being cut with loppers

25 Jan 17

Winter sun brings a bit of sparkle

Our ranger Ted was joined by volunteers from Fix the Fells, who are looking for low-lying jobs to do while it's too cold to go up on the tops. They planted another 200 trees today. The north-facing slopes are mostly in shadow, but right at the end of the afternoon Ted caught this slanting shaft of winter sun bringing a bit of sparkle to the day.

winter sun glancing across the fells as volunteers plant trees