This week was a chance for me to experience first-hand the work that the Cumbria Wildlife Trust do and also learn the conservation and land management techniques used to protect Cumbria’s wildlife.
My first day was spent in the office analysing data recorded from four meadows to see the change in sample size of each individual plant species between 2017 and 2018. The hope was that the positive plants, beneficial to the meadow, would increase over the year while negative plants would decrease.
On the second day we were bracken bashing on a section of Eycott Hill Nature Reserve. Bracken, known as the ‘moorland scrub’, is a very successful fern that is invasive to many other species of plants that are trying to grow which is why bracken bashing is useful in the conservation of other plants. Bracken bashing is a technique used to clear the bracken in which we crushed and bashed the stems of the bracken so that its energy is put into replacing the stems rather than expanding further. Our focus was the swathes of bracken located around the trees as this is an effective way of aiding the trees growth. We managed to clear a large area between four people and I gained knowledge into the land management of bracken.
Day three consisted of top wiring and strengthening the fences surrounding Eycott Hill Nature Reserve to ensure that sheep are unable to wander onto the nature reserve and graze. Sheep grazing on Eycott Hill is an issue as sheep are selective grazers and they graze on the most nutritious and newest vegetation. Top wiring stops sheep from getting over the walls to do this. Firstly we strengthened the larger posts that take the strain of the wire by digging deep into the ground then tightly packing soil and rocks around the post. Secondly we tightened the wire using monkey strainers to cause tension on the wire which we then maintained by hammering staples into the larger posts then began to add staples to all the posts to keep the wire at the correct height. This was interesting as I learnt how to use equipment I have not used before, such as the monkey strainers, but it helped me to understand the reason that land management is vital for Eycott Hill’s wildlife.
A butterfly walk was taking place at Smardale Gill so I took the opportunity to search for the Scotch Argus butterfly which is only found in two sites in the UK. The walk was led by Andrew Walter, a reserve officer at Smardale Gill. The lovely weather we had encouraged butterfly activity allowing us to see lots of different types of butterflies including: