On a cold Saturday morning a group of volunteers with the Students’ Union set off to work at the beautiful site of Arnside Knott Nature Reserve.
Once reaching the site we had a monstrous hill to climb which seemed to be at a 90 degree angle! The beautiful scenic views at the top looking down onto the valley and the sea made the walk up well worth it. Now with the sun shining bright warming us up, we were ready to get working.
The area was limestone grasslands which hold key importance to biodiversity as the habitat holds a wide variety of species of plants, invertebrates and birds- many of which are rare. For example the Scotch Argus is found on this site- a very rare butterfly which is only found in two sites in England. The problem this important habitat faces is natural succession- brambles, shrubs and young woodland encourage the habitat so the low-nutrient, rich in diversity species of plants cannot grow.
The national trust is responsible for managing the site with the aim to balance conservation, farming and public access- although this is more difficult than it seems. They regularly graze livestock (selection of different breeds of cows) on the land although the cattle cannot graze areas that are over-grown. This is where volunteers come in to help. The work we were doing on Saturday was clearing a patch of woodland at the edge of the forest to create connectivity to woodlands with clearings on near-by sites. This work aims to connect the Scotch Argus butterfly to new sites increasing its habitat range and population size- very important work to be involved in.
The national trust employees used chainsaws to chop trees down and our job was to organise the wood; small sticks were burnt on the fire, medium size logs were stacked and used as habitats (great for invertebrates and small mammals) and the larger logs were stacked ready to be cut and sold to the locals (essential funding for the site). Lunch was enjoyed with cups of tea, sandwiches, packets of crisps (and a piece of toast) chit chat and jokes before returning back to work. After a long day of hard work we all gathered around the fire to enjoy s’mors- roasted marshmallows with chocolate digested biscuits and even roasted jelly cubes. The day out was a great experience, lots of fun with great people and working on such an important conservation project was very special. The volunteering day will be running around the same time next year a volunteering experience you do not want to miss out on.