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13th November 2018

ATF Visit to Lowther October 2018

Lowther Oak in October 2018

Lowther Oak in 2005

Report by Clare de Villanueva, ATF Projects Officer, on our visit to Lowther Estate, Penrith, Cumbria on 11 October 2018

The weather forecast was not without hope as a fantastic turnout gathered in the village hall for our introduction from our Lowther expert, Ian Jack. Ian Jack is the recently retired Director of Lowther Forestry after 35 years, with unrivalled knowledge on the estate’s trees, woodlands, parkland and pasture. He is also the founding member of ATF Cumbria.

In the morning we were taken through an illustrated history of the estate, its 850 years of owners (the good, the bad and the ugly!) and the changing land management. Ian showed us how the history of the estate can be evidenced by ancient maps and paintings, as well as more recent records. He also explained the reasoning behind many of the landscape decisions over the centuries, including dramatic changes in cash flow and times of war, as well as surprising and esteemed foreign visitors. All this as we heard the rain pelting down outside! Once out in the autumnal air we were able to witness the ancient pasture, boundaries and settlements, hunting landscape features and exciting, extensive new planting.

The main topics of discussion and debate were centered on pasture management and individual ancient tree management. What density of grazing animals is appropriate, based on historical precedent? And what species and breeds of grazing animal? Gathering round an ancient ash tree on exposed pasture, open to the Cumbrian fells, we observed the loss of a huge limb. What should the next steps be as responsible managers of a tree with such tremendous ecological and historical heritage? Intervention, or a hands-off approach? Should the tree be fenced off, and or mulched? Luke Steer and I studied the variation in growth rings of the fallen limb and discussed how these might have been produced in this context. As a group we also touched on tree species choice for new planting in pasture creation. Here it was evident that there is no simple set of instructions to create a pasture setting quickly, and that some misconceptions still remain when it comes to ash dieback management.

As anticipated, the day was an enjoyable and useful opportunity for folks to both catch up with old friends and colleagues, as well as network for new opportunities. Good practice was shared and debated between foresters, ecologists, enthusiasts and conservationists, proving that good professional development results in as many questions as answers!

Special thanks to Ian Jack and Ian’s successor, Andy Whitworth for a stimulating day and privileged access to a wonderful landscape. Thank you also to everyone who attended who leant their ears and experience to add to the day’s discussions.

Posted by: Kate Crook

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