Spring emerges in Ennerdale

Primroses on woodland floor in Ennerdale, Cumbria

As winter releases its grip on Ennerdale, spring flowers lift their heads from the dark forest floor – evidence that the plan in the valley to allow native species to re-naturalise the former conifer plantation is working.

Black cows and pale primroses

Discover the amazing difference that 'extensive' cattle grazing is making to wildlife habitats in Ennerdale. In areas where fences have been removed you can see small herds of black Galloway cattle which are allowed to roam freely along the valley floor, through the forest and up onto the high fell.

Although well cared for by our tenant farmer, these cows take themselves off to have their calves alone in the forest, then when their calf is big enough they come back to the herd to introduce the newcomer.

The long association this landscape has had with cattle grazing can be discovered while exploring the valley through archaeological remains of the Medieval 'vaccary' or cattle ranch – download the free historic sites guide for more information.

The Galloway 'gals', above Ennerdale
Black Galloway cattle in the Wild Ennerdale Valley
The Galloway 'gals', above Ennerdale

Meanwhile, the cattle herd is helping native tree species to regenerate Silver Cove by trampling the bracken and disturbing the ground. The disturbance is vital for creating new open glades and microclimates that enable native spring flowers like violets, wood anemones and primroses to flourish on land that was once dense forestry plantation, or closely grazed sheep pasture.

These humble spring flowers aren’t particularly showy, or exotic, or even particularly rare, but their presence reveals a lot more than just the coming of spring. All these flowers are among a list of indicator species that reveal the underlying habitat to be ancient semi-natural woodland, which is coming under increasing threat across England.

Through the trees of Silver Cove
View through trees at Silver Cove, Ennerdale, Cumbria
Through the trees of Silver Cove

Sites of Special Scientific Interest

Today just 10% of England’s surface area is wooded, just under half of that is ancient or recent semi-natural woodland. Most of England’s native woodland plants are in these areas, but only ¼ of the woodlands are Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and only half of those are in what Natural England calls a ‘favourable condition’.

Against this backdrop, the positive work going on in Ennerdale is even more important – almost 50% of the land in Ennerdale is designated as SSSI and 700ha (1,730 acres) is forest or woodland.

Early Spring sunshine wakens the Valley
View into Ennerdale in Spring
Early Spring sunshine wakens the Valley