Wildlife in Borrowdale and Derwent Water
The ancient ‘Atlantic oakwoods’ in Borrowdale and Derwent Water are both protected as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Find out which rare plants and animals you can expect to see during your visit, including the best places to spot native red squirrels.
Winter at Borrowdale
Winter cloud inversions at Borrowdale
Standing in the sun under a blue sky looking down on the tops of the clouds, knowing that everyone below you is wandering around in a cold dank mist. These are the joys of getting above a cloud inversion.
Cloud inversions happen when you get that magic combination of cold temperatures and high pressure. It’s not uncommon in winter, and there are a few places in Borrowdale where it’s relatively easy to get above the clouds.
Looking down onto the lake below from a crag where the ice-age glaciers carved the end off, leaving Watendlath valley hanging in mid-air, you can be treated to the sight of a sea of clouds at your feet.
If Honister Pass isn’t closed because of icy conditions, driving up the pass might bring you to a level above the cloud. If you park at the car park at the top of Honister Pass, an out-and-back walk along the old packhorse route Moses Trod towards Great Gable could reveal cloud-filled valleys of Buttermere, Ennerdale and even Wasdale, depending on how far you go.
How to predict when a cloud inversion will occur
There’s a good description of how cloud inversions work on Terry Abraham’s blog.
Winter ice climbing in Borrowdale
If you’re heading out ice climbing, please read the BMC’s White Climbing Guide. The crags in Borrowdale are home to some extremely rare specialist alpine plants, and using crampons and ice axes when the ice is too thin can damage them. To help we’ve installed an ice monitoring station on Great End which will tell you when the ice conditions are just right.
The Atlantic oakwoods of Borrowdale
Get in amongst this ancient landscape by following the moderate waymarked walk from the Great Wood car park.
The woodlands that cloak the surrounding fells are dominated by oak: these 'Atlantic oakwoods' are the last surviving fragments of an enormous ancient forest that once stretched from western Scotland all the way down the west coast of Britain and Wales.
They receive an incredible 11 feet (3.5m) of rainfall per year and therefore they qualify as temperate rainforest. Look up as you walk and in the crooks of the branches you may see ferns growing – another indicator of rainforest status.
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, all of the Borrowdale rainforest is protected as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
The best places to spot red squirrels in Borrowdale
Red squirrels have inhabited Cumbria for the past 6,000 years. Today, their grey cousins are pushing them close to extinction, but there is a population in the valley that we are fighting hard to protect.
The best time to come for a walk in Borrowdale's woods and see squirrels is in spring or early summer before the leaf canopy hides them from view, or during and after the October half term once the leaves have started to drop.
- Cockshot Wood and Castle Head wood
- Follow waymarked trails from opposite the boat jetties through these lovely oak woods right on the edge of Keswick (satnav CA12 5DG)Park at Lakeside car park
- Great Wood
- Follow waymarked woodland trail from the National Trust car park at Great Wood, with glimpses of Skiddaw and Bassenthwaite through the trees. (satnav CA12 5UP)Park at Great Wood car park
- Moss Mire
- Follow the path marked to Watendlath from the National Trust car park at Surprise View as it meanders through the little wood above the crags (satnav CA12 5UU)Park at Surprise View car park
- Bowder Stone wood
- Follow the accessible track from the National Trust car park for ¼ mile through the trees to the Bowder Stone (satnav CA12 5XA)Park at Bowder Stone wood car park
- Castle Crag wood
- Follow the Cumbria Way beside the river and into the woods that flank Castle Crag's steep sides from the National Trust car park at Rosthwaite (satnav CA12 5XB)Park at Rosthwaite car park
- Johnny Wood
- If you're feeling up for an adventure take the loop along the river from the National Trust car park at Seatoller, which includes a chain to help you over a rocky scramble above the water, then climb steeply up through the woodland looking out for ferns in the crooks of the trees and return on the gradual descent through the wood (satnav CA12 5XN)Park at Seatoller car park
Borrowdale wildlife in the woodlands
If you go for a quiet walk in the valley, especially around dusk or dawn, you could be rewarded with a glimpse of some of Britain's rarest wildlife:
- Red and roe deer are present throughout the forest
- Bird species include peregrine falcon, sparrowhawk, buzzard, barn owl, tawny owl, little owl, pied flycatcher and redstart, greater spotted woodpecker and dipper
- Otters often visit our woodland streams and gullies
- We retain as much dead wood as we can, both fallen and standing. 80 per cent of British beetle species make their home in dead wood
- If you're lucky you can spot glow worms in the valley close to Watendlath
Water wildlife in Derwent Water
Derwent Water is an exceptionally important area for wildlife. It has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) because it is a clean, naturally nutrient-poor lake with excellent vegetation. The lake supports the healthiest remaining population of Britain’s rarest freshwater fish, the vendace (the only other natural population in Britain is just downstream in Bassenthwaite Lake).
Wetland wildlife surrounding Derwent Water
The surrounding wetlands are important for breeding birds – most days you should be able to catch a glimpse of common sandpiper or Snipe, in amongst a beautiful variety of plants such as bog asphodel and cotton grass. The sheltered bays are valuable for wintering wildfowl and if you're very lucky, you might see an otter.
Take in the views from Friar’s Crag and visit historic sculptures on a lakeside walk around Derwent Water or set off from Keswick to explore the surrounding woodlands and fells.
There are nine National Trust car parks in Borrowdale and Derwent Water to choose from. Find out how to find them and how much parking costs.
Derwent Island and House are open to visitors five days a year. Find out all your need to know about the visit and how to get the most out of your day.
Find out how to spot red squirrels, the best times to see them and how to tell them apart from grey squirrels.