The tale of Tarn Hows

Tarn Hows blue water 2019

Tarn Hows was originally three natural tarns but when the owner of the Monk Coniston Estate, James Garth Marshall bought it in the 1860’s, he started on a project to create a new body of water surrounded by a bold, ornamental planting scheme. It also had an industrial use to feed his sawmill, downstream in Coniston.

Marshall’s original plan

His Tarn Hows vision involved clumps of trees planted in a carefully considered way, highlighting rocky knolls and the dramatic Lakes landscape beyond.  To protect his new planting of broadleaf trees such as sycamore, beach, alder, cherry and willow, he also planted ‘nurse’ crops of conifers including larch and spruce. 

These care taking conifers were intended to be removed once the young broadleaf trees were established.

Disruptions to the plan

However, Marshall died before his vision was realised and the nurse crops were never removed. The larch and spruce trees then grew to dominate the Tarn Hows panorama as we know it today.

In 1930, thanks to fund raising and significant donations, the National Trust purchased and took management of a large part of the Monk Coniston estate from the Marshall family, as did Beatrix Potter and her husband William Heelis.  Latterly Potter sold more of it to the National Trust and bequeathed the remainder in her will.

In our hands

The National Trust has been working to restore elements of the original designed landscape whilst protecting rare habitats and enhancing the mire systems, which in turn nurtures the species in the area.  

Driven by benefits to nature and respecting its designation as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (since 1965), the work will also give visitors a chance to enjoy as wide a range of natural experiences as possible.


A vision for Tarn Hows

Tarn Hows as we see it today was the vision of former owner, James Garth Marshall. Our new project is working to restore some of the designed landscape in his original plan.

Today and tomorrow

Ongoing work will reveal some of the fine specimen trees and open views across to the fells, plus unearth some of the rocky knolls, and reflect parts of the original intention back in the 19th century.

" We will be removing some trees to reopen selected views and reveal some of the fine specimen trees that we have at Tarn Hows. "
- Richard Tanner, Woodland Ranger


In 2019 and 2020, much of the nurse crop which gave Tarn Hows its distinctive coniferous character, is now being substantially removed because of larch disease.  Phytophthora ramorum has forced a landscape change to happen much faster than intended, but over one hundred years after it was planned in Marshalls scheme.

The next chapter

The National Trust is continuing to monitor and plan what Tarn Hows will look like in the future – a plan which will preserve, but also enhance, the Tarn’s already high status as a habitat, and the significant balance of both created and natural values that have existed at Tarn Hows for over a hundred and fifty years.