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Our work in Borrowdale

There is no such thing as a typical day when it comes to work in the Borrowdale Valley – rangers could be doing anything from path maintenance to repairing gates, planting trees and hedge laying, helping researchers in the Oak Woodlands or designing conservation projects. Working together with farm tenants and volunteers, find out how we’re not only protecting this special place, but helping it to thrive too.

Renewable energy in Borrowdale

Where there is an abundance of water, there is the potential for an abundance of renewable energy. In the notoriously wet Lake District, this concept certainly isn’t a new one since its history of water powered mills can be traced back to the medieval period. Over the last few years we have established 3 hydro's in the Borrowdale Valley; Coombe Gill, Hause Gill and the latest one in the little hamlet of Watendlath.

Hydros are a wonderful way of harnessing renewable energy while looking after the river eco-system and wildlife. Since they do not require the watercourse to be dammed, they don’t cause surrounding areas to flood nor do they stop fish and other animals from moving freely down the watercourse. Ensuring there is always flow in the river, only a set amount of water is extracted to power the turbine and that may be stopped completely during dry spells. The pipes that direct this extra water are all hidden underground along the banks to make sure the natural riparian habitat, and its beauty, remains intact. The rangers look after our hydros, cleaning the intake of leaves and branches, adjusting the flow in the turbines and making any necessary repairs.

The Watendlath Hydro is the 11th to be installed in the whole of the Lake District over the last 8 years, making use of the large amount of rain fall and the many gills, becks and rivers that criss-cross the countryside. The new turbine produces 200,000 kilowatts per hour which is approximately 65 houses worth. All told, our hydro units will produce 5,788,000 kilowatts per hour which represents the annual electricity needs of almost 2000 houses! This energy feeds directly back to the National Grid and will help in our ambition to be net carbon neutral by 2030.

Ranger removing debris from the hydro at Watendlath, Cumbria
Ranger removing debris from the hydro at Watendlath, Cumbria | © National Trust Images/Paul Harris

Woodland Management

The ancient temperate rainforest in Borrowdale was once part of a very large forest that stretched from western Scotland all the way down the west coast of Britain and Wales. Today this great woodland has been reduced to small, isolated fragments with the largest remaining being in Borrowdale. The woods in this valley are one of the most important habitats in Europe for mosses and liverworts (bryophytes), and lichens – especially 'old forest species'. As a result of their rarity and diversity, the Borrowdale rainforest is protected as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Such an important natural site in a popular tourist destination and within a farming community requires a lot of effort to maintain and protect but even more so since we are also looking to improve its health and reconnect seperate parcels of forest. Strong, well maintained boundaries as mentioned above are then all the more vital.

Path maintenance to help ensure visitors can enjoy the outdoors while remaining on the trails also helps protect precious undergrowth from trampling and mosses and lichens from getting rubbed off trees. Since some of these woodlands are not yet in a fully self-sustaining state due to past over grazing etc, other woodland management techniques are also used to help create a more diverse and robust forest. Our rangers use coppicing to let more light in, creating rides and scallops, increasing biodiversity of the flora, age diversity in the trees and creates more space for mature trees growing in these areas.

Looking after our boundaries

Whether it be mending fences, hanging gates, fixing hecks and dry stone walls or maintaining and adding hedgerows, looking after our boundaries is an important task which requires hard work and skill. Not only do these features need to perform their function well, they also need to stay in keeping with the traditional style of this special part of the world. Even hedgerow types will vary from county to county and require specialist knowledge to do right. These culturally significant living walls also need to benefit wildlife and livestock as much as possible so the right native trees, shrubs and other plants need to be selected to provide as much food and shelter as possible. This is why we have been planting more and more "edible" hedges rich in pollen, fruits and nuts which can also provide foraging sites for local people.

All boundaries of course help to keep livestock safe while ensuring our woodlands remain protected from overgrazing, ensuring saplings and undergrowth have a chance to grow. This is why both enclosures and sometimes exclosures are needed, especially when we are looking to establish new wooded areas particularly susceptible to sheep or deer.

Our rangers and volunteers walk for miles to look after these boundaries and it is an ongoing job that will always need done.

Increasing accessibility

As part of our Everyone Welcome priority, we are looking to increase accessibility in Borrowdale to make sure more people are able to enjoy nature, beauty and history.

We are working with disability advocates and experts to identify places where we can make the biggest difference and hope to be able to provide a path with lakeside mountain views as well as a chance for some peaceful forest bathing. In other words, an ideal location for everyone to experience the Lakes.

We are also finding ways to improve the accessibility of our paths, alterations such as creating ramps or alternate routes, changing gates, smoothing out surfaces for wheelchair users and including signage or audio recordings for those with visual impairments can be implemented.

River conservation

Community relations

A big part of our work at in the Borrowdale Valley is also community relations, making sure there are good links to the parish council.

Unfortunately we also have to deal with a minority who come to spend a weekend in the Lakes and fly camp or stay overnight outside of designated caravan sites and end up leaving human waste, creating damage to farmer’s gates, leaving broken glass, and discarding burned tents on the lakeshore.

Supporting visitors

Answering visitors’ questions and helping them get the most out of their day is a key part of what we do.

We’re also working with schools to try and make sure the next generation of people growing up in West Cumbria have a better understanding of their environment and how conservation work can improve it for the future.