How the Lakeland valley of Ennerdale is returning to its natural state

PUBLISHED: 17:03 04 July 2011 | UPDATED: 19:39 20 February 2013

How the Lakeland valley of Ennerdale is returning to its natural state

How the Lakeland valley of Ennerdale is returning to its natural state

A Lakeland valley is gradually returning to its natural state thanks to a collaboration between three organisations. Award winning photographer Mark Gilligan reports

As well as photographing the most beautiful parts of the Lake District, I am privileged to meet fascinating people, who shape this glorious piece of England.

Today is a classic example. Its great weather and I am sat by the shores of Ennerdale Water, discussing this magnificent vista with three people who are passionately interested in its future. They may be individuals but they represent a collaboration with one vision - The Re-wilding of Ennerdale.

If you go exploring in the Western Lakes, youll come across this phrase, but what does that mean? Isnt it wild already?

Gareth Browning, area forester with The Wild Ennerdale Partnership, explains that the word wild can mean many different things. But in this case its allowing the valley to become a wilder place. Its a mixture of natural ecology, natural processes and people. He stresses that people arent the dominating factor in that process. They want it to happen quite naturally with a little help from us.

Both John Gorst, biodiversity officer from United Utilities, and Alistair Starling, general manager for the National Trust in this area, agree.
Back in 2000, National Trust manager Jeremy Barlow was looking at their own management plans for Ennerdale. He realised that the three bodies were so intertwined, they really needed to work together for the benefit of the valley. It sounds obvious but it wasnt happening.

With hindsight, the connections look obvious. For example, this body of water serves 60-70,000 local people - thats how important it is. But the taste and quality is affected by many factors such as the state of the soil around it as it filters the rain that flows down the fells. Another factor is the debris the river carries into it, allied with the management of the local estate and the forests themselves.

If you stop and look around Ennerdale, you are confronted by what are known as the big four. Big Forest, Big River, Big Mountains (Fells if you are getting technical!) and Big Lake. These are the grouped features that are emotive to us as human beings, creating the power, a sense of isolation, the feeling of wide open spaces and wilderness.

Ennerdale evokes this and the fact it has no direct roads to its shore enhances that sense of adventure.

As we walk around chatting, its evident that an excellent rapport exists between these three. John Gorst says: This is an area of over 4,500 hectares and an opportunity where we all get to have a say in the management of things we dont even own!

Alistair nods in agreement. Its one or our most innovative plans and its good that we can work from all viewpoints to naturalise the feel and look of the valley. We all have a part to play and for us at the Trust, we will lend our specialists to help tackle issues. For example if the need arises, we would bring in our biodiversity and our archaeological experts to assist with the scheme. We host the group co-ordinator within the Trust too.

So what is actually happening to make this re-wilding occur? Gareth says: Weve had to change our mindset by allowing natural processes to dictate. How we manage the forest in certain areas, what we allow, how well it all affects the naturalisation of this valley. We have put Galloway cattle in, which for us is ground-breaking because they eat trees! We dont intervene. The cattle are virtually free to roam and they choose where to graze. Weve removed fences and boundaries to allow this.

The effect of the River Liza is not lost on John either, as he is quick to point out that following the awful rains of November 2009, this valley and body of water remained virtually unscathed.

I visited two days after the downpours and there was little evidence on Ennerdale of any flooding. We had one very small area that had been affected but when you consider the terrible damage inflicted elsewhere,
it was remarkable. Why? I attribute that to this natural flood plain which filtered out the debris naturally. It took care of itself.

Eventually we make our way up the valley towards the magnificent Pillar and stand in the silence that envelops you here. I recall the big four as I look around and that sense of wilderness is very apparent.

All you can hear is the rushing of the river, the cry of a buzzard wheeling above us and the call of the cuckoo up on the fells. With no one else in sight it certainly feels wild.

Gareth then breaks the silence and sums the whole concept up for me.
Its about recognising the special qualities of whats already here and us, the parties, continuing to work together, allowing those qualities to evolve as naturally as possible and to shine through.

Ennerdale seems in safe hands.

Butterflies are back

Thousands of caterpillars have been released as part of ongoing attempts to re-establish colonies of one of Europes most endangered butterflies.

Almost 4,000 Marsh Fritillary caterpillars were distributed on suitable habitat by Wild Ennerdale Volunteers, Forestry Commission staff and Butterfly Conservation under a licence from
Natural England.

The caterpillars were released a mile beyond the head of Ennerdale Water. The site was considered to be ideal as it contains an abundance of Devils Bit Scabious - a plant that Marsh Fritillary caterpillars feed on.

Steve Clarke from Butterfly Conservation said: The Marsh Fritillary is a rare and beautiful species which was present in Ennerdale until around 30 years ago when it became extinct.

The area where the caterpillars were released provides great opportunities for the butterflies to spread up and down the banks of the River Liza, one of Englands most natural rivers and an ideal habitat.

Gareth Browning said: It is a measure of the success of The Wild Ennerdale Partnership that the habitats in the valley have been restored over the last ten years to a point where this beautiful species can be reintroduced.

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