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22nd November 2017

To Brotherswater with ATF Cumbria

Ben Garish of HDDN media

Walking through pasture towards Dovedale

Clare de Villanueva, Cumbria Woodlands Project Officer, and member of the ATF Cumbria group, writes about their recent visit to Brotherswater

It was a chilly, misty autumnal day, beginning with an exciting approach for me via the Kirkstone Pass. An excellent turn out made for some serious parking challenges, which were negotiated well by Ian Jack (leader of the ATF Cumbria group). The visit to Brotherswater had been inspired by Cumbria Woodlands’ ash project, which is looking in part at ancient and pollarded ash. The day was hosted by Liam Plummer of the National Trust, and we were also joined by a lichenologist and a film maker.

The footpath took us alongside Brotherswater toward Hartsop Hall farm and pasture. Hartsop Hall is a Grade I listed traditional Lakeland hill farm, built in the late 16th Century and owned by the National Trust. The outlying barns we walked between are examples of vernacular Lake District constructions of the 16th and 17th centuries, featuring cruck frames and bank barns. The farm itself is about 3000 acres, with a flock of 800 (predominantly Swaledale) sheep, and a herd of 30 Aberdeen Angus beef suckler cows.

Ben Garish of HDDN media

Mossy tree trunk


We stopped to admire and discuss the veteran individual trees and stands of trees, their history, management and relationships to one another and with the landscape. We debated with the rangers about the management of the site as wood pasture versus dense woodland. Questions were posed about pollard management in the light of ash dieback, the pressures of grazing deer, sheep and cows, and their relative impacts, grazing being a perennial issue in the Lake District. This included a chat about the appropriate breeds of cattle, the relative merits of fencing types, and fencing versus stalking, as well as the effects of management on neighbouring estates. Knepp was cited by Ian Jack as a unique example of (unintended) consequences and the benefits of changes in management and ‘re-wilding’.

Ben Garish of HDDN media

ATF Cumbria beneath an ash

Luke and others postulated about the human habitation history of the valley and the potential changes in tree cover over time with habitation, grazing herbivores and climate change, and how this might be seen in the collection and arrangement of species in the valley. We explored how this history could inform current and future management.

John Douglass spoke to the group about the variety of lichen growing environments possible on one tree specimen, according to light levels, humidity, prevailing weather, plus interaction with insects and mammals. Ben and Clare organised a short piece to camera from John about lichens and their reliance on pollarded trees.

Luke led an interesting chat about what species might be considered native, looking in particular at sycamore, for which he provided an engaging and persuasive argument (but rhododendron was also mentioned!).

Ben Garish of HDDN media

Luke Steer leading discussions with ATF Cumbria

Other topics included the pros and cons of grants and agricultural policy, as well as designations such as SSSI and SAC, and we touched on the recent World Heritage Site status award.

Thanks go to all those that contributed, and particularly for the stimulating and open minded discussions throughout the day, inspired by the historic trees and their place in this iconic landscape.

Posted by: ATF Cumbria

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