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Our work at Arnside and Silverdale

A volunteer ranger coppicing trees on the estate of Scotney Castle, Kent
A ranger coppicing trees | © National Trust Images/Sam Milling

Taking care of the unique landscapes and scientifically important habitats across Arnside and Silverdale is a year-round endeavour. Learn about the work we carry out to maintain this special place, from coppicing woodlands and counting butterflies to grazing cattle and maintaining drystone walls.

Managing the woodlands

Woodland covers a third of the area at Arnside and Silverdale. Rangers and volunteers spend much of the winter carrying out woodland management work, when the birds aren’t nesting and the trees are shutting down for the season.


Using both new and traditional tools, rangers continue the centuries-old tradition of coppicing, where trees are cut to the base to encourage re-growth. This creates open glades where violets, primroses, wood anemones and bluebells can come up in the spring and attract a range of insects.

The woodlands aren’t coppiced in one go – the work is carried out in patches. This creates a mosaic of open glades alongside areas of bramble, dense regrowth and mature trees, providing a perfect mixed habitat for many species. By doing this, wildlife still has a home while the newly coppiced area grows back.

Growing back stronger

Coppicing may look destructive, but this practice ensures that the trees will grow back stronger and healthier. Once coppiced, an area of woodland won't be cut back again for several years. The piles of brashwood created by coppicing also make excellent deadwood habitats for wildlife.

More than trees

There’s more to woodland than trees alone. Some of the most species-rich areas of woodland can be found where there are no trees at all. Rangers leave dead wood such as fallen branches or rotten trunks on the ground to create habitats for insects and fungi to thrive.

A female Scotch argus butterfly on a fern leaf at Arnside Knott, Arnside and Silverdale, Cumbria.
A female Scotch argus butterfly | © National Trust Images/Matthew Oates

Annual surveying

Climate change, competition and trampling can all affect how a species might survive. Every year rangers, volunteers and local naturalists carry out survey work to make sure our management techniques are working. Surveying mostly takes place in the summer months, when the wildlife is reaping the benefits of the work we carry out in winter.

We pay particular attention to the numbers of butterflies and orchids. It’s not that they are more important than the other wildlife here, but they are ‘indicator’ species and can be extremely sensitive to change. If they are thriving, then we know the habitats they live in are thriving too.

Surveying butterflies

Between April and September, you might see National Trust rangers and volunteers on Arnside Knott with a butterfly net and a clipboard – they’ll be carrying out the weekly butterfly transect.

This is a fixed, 3.5km-long route around the Knott – any butterflies spotted within 5 metres of the transect are noted down. Sometimes the surveyors will ‘net’ individuals that are moving too fast for a few seconds so they're easier to identify.

The same transect route has been walked by rangers on Arnside Knott for the last 28 years. This gives us an ongoing picture of how butterfly numbers have changed over time.

Surveying orchids

Orchids are also surveyed in the summer. The limestone grassland and poor thin soils at Arnside and Silverdale make the perfect habitat for a range of rare orchids such as the green-winged and butterfly orchid. The flowering orchids are counted, and their numbers are compared to previous years’ records to look for any patterns.

Two Belted Galloway cows at Tarn Hows, Lake District, Cumbria.
Belted Galloway cattle | © National Trust/Paul Harris

Conservation grazing

We let cows graze at Arnside and Silverdale to mimic a more natural way of grassland management. By eating the longer grass, cows help to create space for the less competitive, sensitive plants, allowing them to thrive. This, in turn, attracts all kinds of insects and wildlife.

Managing grassland in this way is good for both the cows and the sites and it’s a real science. Rangers work closely with tenant farmers to plan how many cattle will graze each site. This is to vary the intensity of grazing and allow flowers to set seed.

The perfect cows for grazing

This conservation grazing uses traditional breeds such as belted Galloways and Shetland cattle because they’re happy to eat tougher, thornier plants and can survive quite happily on some of the wilder sites.

Each breed of cattle has a different temperament, and tenant farmers carefully plan which animals will graze sites with lots of public access. These cattle are always mild-mannered and are happy to stand and graze despite groups of people walking past on footpaths.

Walking near the cattle

Sites where we graze are Arnside Knott, Heathwaite, Jack Scout, Eaves Wood (King William's Hill) and Sharp's and Clark's Lots. Remember to keep dogs on a lead around cattle. If you are approached by cattle when you’re with your dog, then let go of the lead and call your dog back when it’s safe to do so.

Clearing a way for the flowers

Clearing scrub to stop it encroaching onto the special limestone grassland and outcompeting the delicate limestone grassland plants is an ongoing task which rangers complete every winter.

Bramble, hawthorn, blackthorn and bracken can soon take hold, taking up space and light, so cutting back the plants when they are small makes the task more manageable.

Sites such as Jack Scout really benefit from scrub clearing. Where parts of this site have been cleared in the past, orchids like autumn lady’s tresses now flourish and spread.

A gateway of stripped branches in a drystone wall at Arnside Knott in Southeast Cumbria
A wooden gate at Arnside and Silverdale | © National Trust Images/Joe Cornish

Hand-crafted gates

Look out for beautifully hand-crafted gates when you're walking around Arnside and Silverdale. Dedicated local volunteers carefully use traditional methods to split, cut and join the wood, which is a by-product of the work that the rangers and volunteers carry out during the winter months.

Some of the gates have been around for decades and are usually made from ash which has a beautiful grain once it’s been worked. How many will you open and close in one visit?

Drystone walls

Drystone walls are a characteristic part of the landscape around Arnside and Silverdale, shaping the fields and framing views. As well as their aesthetic value these walls have a function too – they enclose land and livestock, so keeping them well maintained is an important job.

Repairing drystone walls is a very slow process but we have a small team of drystone walling volunteers who are dedicated to their craft. The high standard of their work means that the walls will last for decades.

Drystone walls are also an important habitat for plants such as mosses, lichens and ferns and they provide hiding places for toads and birds. Lizards enjoy basking against the warmed stone in the summer and on wet and windy days they provide shelter for livestock – and rangers too.

Thank you

With your ongoing support, we're able to continue our vital conservation work. Thank you for helping to protect these special places.

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Philip's Gift

Legacy pledger, Philip Crossley-Dawson, describes his connection to Arnside and Silverdale - his 'favourite place' - and why he is choosing to leave a legacy gift. Philip's legacy will mean we can continue to look after the place he loves.

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