A summer at Eycott Hill Nature Reserve

Small pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly

Volunteer Jenny looks back at a summer at Eycott Hill Nature Reserve...

After spending 10 weeks with Cumbria Wildlife Trust working at Eycott Hill Nature Reserve, I have experienced so many different aspects of the work that goes on there. As well as working on the nature reserve, I also worked in the office at Gosling Sike, Houghton.

Throughout my placement I have taken part in several conservation days, which involved working with volunteers to undertake vital physical maintenance work around Eycott Hill. The volunteer days began at the start of summer with meadow recording days, and progressed onto conservation work parties. Teamwork is essential in many of the tasks, which included dry stone walling, top wiring, and bracken bashing. Walling and top-wiring stops escapee sheep entering the fell. If sheep were allowed onto the fell to graze, the grass would be grazed very low and uniformly,  and they prefer grazing on the sweet herbs. Cattle are used as low input grazers on the fell instead as they graze the vegetation to different heights, and use their tongue to pull out shoots, which creates a variety of habitat structures. Bracken bashing, although tedious, is needed to protect some of the 10,000 planted trees across the site. The bracken surrounds the young trees and competes with them for soil nutrients.

Placement students Jenny & Jack completing vegetation surveys at Eycott Hill Nature Reserve

Throughout the summer I worked alongside Jack, another summer placement student at Eycott Hill. We have been focusing on completing the vegetation surveying across the site. This identifies which species are present in different areas, the average vegetation heights and looks at how the vegetation is changing as the project continues. It is a very long task – 96 quadrats spread over 7 transects covering all 216 hectares of Eycott Hill– but is a fantastic way to discover the different areas of Eycott Hill and see first-hand what a diverse range of habitats there are there. Surveying has markedly improved my plant identification skills and the key changes we were looking out for in this task were a decrease in negative indicator species such as Nardus Strica (mat-grass), bracken, and Molinia and an increase in positive indicators including dwarf shrubs such as Calluna vulgaris (common heather), Erica tetralix (cross-leaved heath) and Vaccinium myrtilus (bilberry).

Fox moth caterpillar

There are regular workshops covering a range of topics run by Cumbria Wildlife Trust at Eycott Hill. I recently took part in a Caterpillars and their Food Plants Workshop which began at Mungrisdale Village Hall led by Stuart Colgate from Cumbria Biodiversity Data Centre. We learnt all about the caterpillar’s life cycles, anatomy, life strategies, ecology and how to identify them. We then went onto Eycott Hill for a few hours to search for some specimens. Different caterpillars like different environments and we found some in the wetter areas, such as fox moth and broom moth caterpillars.

Working in the office has taught me how important it is to document things about Eycott Hill, such as social media interactions and event feedback. As well as this I discovered how to post upcoming events on different social platforms to engage as many people as possible and have also really enjoyed writing these blog posts to tell people about all of the interesting things I have learnt!

A lot of the work done at Eycott Hill is for the purpose of teaching the public and students about the site, or enriching the wildlife across the site – often combining the two! Over summer I have worked with Cumbria Wildlife Trust staff, volunteers, college students, young children and work experience students. Without the hard work and organisation of the staff at Cumbria Wildlife Trust there would be no project at all and no place for some important species to thrive! I have thoroughly enjoyed my summer working here, and have gained so much more knowledge and new skills!

Jenny

National Lottery Heritage Fund

Work at Eycott Hill Nature Reserve is possible thanks to National Lottery Players, and support from the Heritage Lottery Fund.