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've identified areas to plant up with saplings during the winter of 2016/17, and we've also identified areas where we could expand that work in future years if funding allows.

Watch this space for updates

Latest posts

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

17 Jan 17

X marks the spot

Lesley, who volunteers her time to help us, found this clever way to mark the spot where the next batch of 200 trees, tubes and stakes need to be dropped. We take all the equipment up in batches using the quad bike. The planting areas are on the north facing slope of Coledale, which gives great views out over Skiddaw.

a purple ribbon tied round a fence post with a view of Skiddaw in the distance

30 Nov 16

Saplings delivered to our base

In November we took delivery of 2,000 native species saplings, with tree tubes and stakes. Winter is the best time for tree planting because the saplings are dormant, they can be transported and stored for a while, as long as they're in the ground before the sap starts to rise. When the saplings are young they can be damaged or even killed by grazing animals, so we protect them during their first few years with tree tubes to help them get established until they can survive on their own.