Conservation Day with the National Trust in Arnside, Cumbria

Last week saw the first one day volunteering event of the Academic year, bringing together students from the Penrith, Lancaster and Carlisle campuses for a Conservation Day with the National Trust.

We arrived at Arnside Knott, Cumbria Coast and had a short walk down to Heathwaite where we would be volunteering for the day. Heathwaite is part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (designated
by the government), so as landowners the National Trust has a
responsibility to maintain the nature conservation interest of the site.

Cutting and gathering wood

Much of this interest relates to the
mosaic of limestone grassland, scrub and woodland habitats which support
many rare and threatened species (eg. Green-winged Orchids, High Brown
Fritillary butterflies, Southern Wood ants, breeding Lesser Whitethroat
and other song birds)

Without management work, natural succession would lead to the entire
site becoming covered in trees and the loss of many of these species.
One of the main management tools is grazing using cattle (which eat tree
seedlings and help to control the bramble), but this still has to be
helped by direct cutting work.

This meant the first part of the day was to have the dreaded but needed Health and Safety talk which was actually a lot of fun as we were shown how to use hand saws and loppers and were given safety advice on the huge bonfire we were going to build.

The day consisted of volunteers working in different areas, some would gather up the cut material, some would cut it up even smaller (although once the fire got going we could throw huge parts of the trees on there) some would manage the fire and it was a brilliant production line that got everyone working together as a team and spirits were very high despite the slightly muggy weather and the physical nature of the tasks. One volunteer said “It was good fun and everyone was really friendly”

It was nice to be able to see the difference our help made as we cleared a lot of material throughout the day and we were informed about the positive effects of our volunteering. Another student said “really fun day, the National Trust man was good and it was a really nice place to spend the day doing worthwhile work”

If the cut material was left on the grassland, it would rot down and add
nutrients and humus to the soil. Because the diversity of the limestone
flora relies on thin, nutrient-poor soils this would result in the loss
of many of the special plants and the insects which rely on them:

Building a Bonfire
Building a bonfire

therefore we had to remove the cut material, and the most effective way
of doing this is to take any logs away to be used/sold for firewood, and
to burn up the smaller branches. To avoid cooking the soil and allowing
ash to nutrify the ground, we burn this brash on metal sheets raised off
the ground on a base of logs.

Overall, a brilliant day and a great way to start the year’s volunteering projects.