Going Wild in Ennerdale

An update on this 2011 funded project and what a difference EOCA's funding has made to a wild space on the west coast of Cumbria in Northern England.

The Wild Ennerdale Partnership has come about to fulfill a vision to see the remote Ennerdale valley (about 10 miles inland from the coast in the western Lake District) develop as a wilder place for the benefit of people and nature. Allowing the valley to develop in this way, protecting and expanding its valuable and fragile habitats and species, this beautiful valley gives the visitor a dramatic sense of wilderness. Barriers to the movement of wildlife have been removed, rivers have been left to develop and alter course as they would without man’s interference and native trees and plants have been allowed to self seed and take hold.

Original Buff, S.A., has committed huge additional support to its membership of EOCA by funding this project entirely (as well as 5 others over the last 2 years). Without their inspirational leadership in this way, EOCA would not have had the privilege of being involved in this project at all.

On a cold and snowy day before Christmas, the EOCA team was taken up the valley to view the progress of various parts of the project by Gareth Browning, Area Forester for the Forestry Commission and main contact at the project. His passion for the project and love of the valley was palpable. The variety of wildlife and the feeling of remoteness was immediately obvious, as was quite how much work had been put into providing the right conditions to get the valley back to ‘how it should have been’.

One story that really drove this home was the folly in artificially straightening watercourses. Rivers are naturally ‘wiggly’ (technical term …) – which in times of heavy rain, will slow down the power of the water coming off hillsides, allowing debris such as rocks, boulders, branches, and even whole trees to slow down and sink in the river. If rivers have been straightened so they flow more ‘conveniently’ across farmland etc, the water has no chance to slow down or release its load, causing potentially catastrophic damage. This was shown in 2009 when Cumbria was hit by massive flooding as rainwater accumulated in rivers and accelerated downhill, wiping out bridges and anything else in its path. Local lakes were left full of silt and debris, making the water unfit for human consumption for weeks afterwards. Conversely, whilst there was no flooding in the Ennerdale valley, the water quality of the lake remained exactly the same as debris piles in the river soaked up the energy of the water reducing erosion and capturing more debris.

Three herds of free-ranging Galloway cattle have been introduced to the area as a ‘natural disturbance process’, breaking up the ground vegetation just enough to encourage opportunistic seed germination and growth, leading to mosaics of more diverse habitats. Protected from the non-native greys, the local population of red squirrels is healthy and enjoying high numbers. A trapping network to monitor reds and remove greys in the area as well as the planting of 10,000 oak and birch trees will help expand their future habitat. 3,000 marsh fritillary butterflies (previously extinct in Ennerdale) released into the area are also thriving.

As non native conifer monocultures have been removed from the valley, the water quality in the local rivers and Ennerdale Water itself has improved. The lake is home to England’s only migratory population of Arctic char and to Brook Lampey, a primitive jawless fish resembling an eel. Obstacles to fish spawning have been removed from the rivers, and salmon and trout have been found further upstream than ever before. Arctic char have also been given a boost through the harvesting of eggs from migrating fish, which are taken to a local hatchery before being released back into the river the following spring. Numbers of Arctic char spawning here has increased from a handful in the 1990s to over 600 today.

There is too much going on in Ennerdale to describe just what a special space this valley has become and what a privilege it is to experience a place where nature is so wonderfully in control, with man a mere visitor (walkers, bikers, climbers, riders and kayakers all encouraged!). A place where nature is as it should be. With a sense of wilderness. Here in the UK.