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A Not So Rainy Day!

A New Year and New Blog! I don't expect to do it every day but I do have some wonderful days in a year and this was one of them. I live overlooking the Pennines in the great Valley of Geltsdale. I have lived here for 29 years [30 this year!]. I came to the area with the RSPB in 1981 the same year I married Thelma. We have 3 boys - Jamie, Tom and Ewan now 32, 31 and 28. More personal info will come out over the blogs.

As many of you can imagine we have had a few wet days this winter! You have to go out when it is not raining! [I am writing this in heavy rain - indoors of course!] Well Sunday was dryish! So off I went around the other side of the fell to look at my trees. Well I call them 'my trees' as I was involved in their planting in 1983 and further planting where the gaps appeared in future years. This is called 'beating up' as I used to work in forestry many moons ago! In those years of the RSPB reserve of Geltsdale we had no land owned by the society just an access lease allowing us to do surveys etc.

With my back ground in forestry work the society decided to take on woodland in the area to make up for no management on the 12,000 acres we had access to. We ended up with 290 acres of mixed woodland in the Gelt and Irthing Valleys. We did manage to get permission to add new planting on the north side of the reserve in small blocks mainly in thick bracken where tenant farmers thought they would not loose any grazing. This was created using normal sheep fencing following lines given to us by the farmers and agreed by the estate.

With so much work now on I managed to take on 24 folk on job creation to do fencing, planting stone walling and weeding in the summer months. This lasted for 2 years and an amazing amount of work was done. Even volunteers came onto the reserve to carry out work like weeding the Bracken in summer even though the midges were enjoying their presents! The planting I was visiting has not been managed since I left the society in 1991 so the fence was still working and the ground flora had established with most of the bracken dying back from shade from the flourishing trees.

The Bracken which was never chemically attacked was being replaced by Broad Buckler Fern and Wood Sorrel which grew under the Bracken any way. Grasses such as Sweet Vernal established in the rows once the weeding took place on the Bracken and is still present today in open areas. Mosses make up the most shaded areas on the ground and now on the bases of the trees along with lichens.

Breeding birds through the years have included Long eared Owl, Tawny Owl, Woodcock, Carrion Crow, Willow Warbler, Robin, Chaffinch and Redpoll. With no mature trees there are no hole nesters but nest boxes would have brought species in like the tits and even Redstart which nest in the mature shelter belt close to. Buzzards are in the shelter belt along with Sparrowhawk. Mammals are mainly Rabbits and Roe Deer which were never a problem while establishing the planting but are certainly a problem for the new 570 acre planting which now borders my old planting.

Even with tubes less than 90% of the trees have established in the new planting all planted in Bracken. What was lacking was the labour to weed and replace [beat up] the lost trees. Plastic tubes wee used and these are often invaded by the Bracken swamping the young tree before it can grow. Other trees that have grown out of the tubes have been grazed off at the top of the tube. A single ash had the buck Roe Deer marking its territory on it so how long before the small tree is ringed barked!!

My trees and the new ones were all planted direct into the ground with no ploughing so it was amazing to see a wind blown Birch showing a clear stone floor with its root plate high in the air! Some of the others showed peat but how far were they from this stone floor! Wind blow is great for breaking up the upland 'Iron pan' caused by 1000's of years of rain taking minerals down to a hard surface. The torn roots pull up the ground and allow other roots to penetrate further down in what soil there is.

My birds that day were female Sparrowhawk, female Merlin which is very early in the year for an upland bird which normally winters away from the fell, Woodcock and Robin. The rain started and my pictures were not blessed with sunshine but I walked back by Tindale Tarn and had a mix of duck like Pochard, Wigeon, Goldeneye, Goosander, Teal, Mallard and Tufted Duck. I visited a reed bed and witnessed a small Starling roost but no birds of prey were present as they dropped into roost only after 10 minutes! What a place I live with so many great habitats so close to visit!

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