I first heard of the John Muir Trust a few years ago when I received a flyer at the end of the TGO Challenge. I visited John Muir’s birthplace after a snowy walk from Moffat to Dunbar, but it was only as a result of the campaign to halt the Stronelairg windfarm that I became more aware of what the trust did and how I shared its views on how precious wild land should be protected and conserved.
Most Trust activity takes place in Scotland, so I was pleased to see that there was a North West England Members Gathering planned for Ambleside. Not yet a member, I decided to attend both days to find out more about the Trust. There were talks on Saturday afternoon followed by practical conservation on Sunday.
After a not-very-scary traverse of the Wrynose Pass on Sunday morning, I parked at the Forestry Commission carpark at Birks Bridge. It was cold in the shady carpark and I put on an extra layer but I could see the bright sun on the fells and could tell we were in for a very pleasant day weather-wise.
We walked up the forest track for about 5 minutes then started work. The aim was to support the regrowth of native trees such as oak, holly and beech by removing invasive non-native species such as sitka spruce, larch and hemlock. The Hardknott area was planted as a plantation after the Second World War but, by the time the trees were ready to be harvested, timber production had moved on and it was not economically viable to recover the wood from such inaccessible, steep, rocky terrain. Many of the trees have now been cropped, but there is a lot of natural regrowth and it was our job to remove these unwanted trees so that the traditional species had a chance to grow strong. Eventually the area will be a mixed woodland rather than conifer plantation.
Armed with a Silky Saw large pruning saw, I got stuck in. The ground was rough and boggy and I spent a fair bit of time getting caught up in brambles or sinking to my knees in water. (It was just like the TGO Challenge at times!) Before today I couldn’t have identified any sort of conifer and I did have to check a couple of times before wielding the saw. There was some Juniper amongst the Sitka and I didn’t want to risk chopping down the wrong thing.
It felt a bit mean chopping down healthy trees but I tried to take the long-term view; in forty or fifty years there’ll be a more natural forest environment there with, hopefully, benefits to the wider flora and fauna.
We all agreed that it would have been useful to take a “before” photo before we started work…. but we forgot…. so here’s the “after” looking back at the area where we’d been working. We didn’t clear this whole area [we were working below the track going left to right in the middle of the picture] but the photo gives an idea of the type of terrain and the spread of trees.
I learnt a lot over the weekend; both from the talks on Saturday afternoon and by taking part in the work party on Sunday. I’d like to do more conservation work and it sounds like the John Muir Trust have plenty of opportunities for volunteers to get involved. I like the sound of some of the more remote projects where the work party has to walk in and then wild camp, so I’ll be keeping an eye on their webpage …. and probably joining up.