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Haweswater is a dramatic landscape of high fells, rushing rivers, heath, meadow, bog and woodland and home to a host of upland wildlife, including England’s only resident golden eagle.
The RSPB has taken on the tenancies of two farms at Haweswater and is working in partnership with United Utilities to develop a system of land management that is focused on the delivery of improved water quality, wildlife, carbon storage and recreation, alongside food production.
Nature is in trouble in the uplands. Land management across large areas of moorland and fells in the Lake District has been focused on agriculture, driven by government incentives to increase food production after the Second World War. Combined with the drainage of peat bogs, this has had the unintended consequence of driving declines in homes for nature in the uplands, as well as affecting the quality of raw drinking water and the land’s ability to store carbon and mitigate against climate change.
Haweswater is one of the most important sources of drinking water in North West England, keeping the taps flowing for over 2 million people every day. Through the pioneering Sustainable Catchment Management Programme (SCaMP), which was developed in partnership with the RSPB, United Utilities have been addressing declines in raw water quality across their owned catchments by tree planting, blocking moorland drains, reducing livestock access to watercourses and improving farm infrastructure to enable livestock to be housed during the winter. All these activities not only contribute to improved water quality, but are also great for wildlife.
We all depend on the health of our uplands in one way or another, whether it is for the water we drink, the awe they inspire, the food we eat, the wildlife we cherish or the carbon we save. If our uplands are in poor heart, we all suffer. At Haweswater, together with United Utilities, we aim to restore a functioning upland ecosystem, rich in wildlife. The work carried out by SCaMP has laid the foundations, which should start a process of ongoing recovery. It’s a complicated and delicate balance and we don’t have all the answers, so we have established a land management trial at Haweswater to compare the benefits of different grazing levels, ranging from areas with no livestock to others more typical of the wider Lake District, alongside other habitat restoration techniques. The information we collect will influence our own ongoing management and will help us advocate policies that better reward land managers who can manage the uplands for all our benefit and actively supports the wildlife we love.
Haweswater provides many homes for nature. Wonderful mossy oakwoods come alive during summer with the return of redstarts and pied flycatchers. Red squirrels make their home here and are often seen. We are working with local squirrel groups to reduce the threat of grey squirrels establishing, which would threaten the red population. There is rare juniper woodland on Mardale Common, which in autumn can attract flocks of winter thrushes, with occasional ring ouzel thrown in for good measure.
Huge numbers of native trees have been planted in recent years. Most of the planting has taken place in areas dominated by bracken, which gives a good indication of where woodland would have grown historically and indicates the soil is suitably deep and dry for trees to flourish.
In the hay meadows, we are planting a range of wild flowers such as globeflower, knapweed and melancholy thistle, which are loved by butterflies and other nectar feeding insects.
We have blocked old drainage ditches in several valley mires, to restore their natural water levels. As well as being important stores of peat, these areas support lots of special wildlife. Look out for golden ringed dragonflies, carnivorous sundews and for tiny bog orchids.
Much of the common grazing land outside of the farm boundaries is dominated by species poor grassland which has limited value for nature in its current condition. In these areas, a combination of reduced grazing and tree planting should see the recovery of a rich mosaic of woodland, scrub, heath and bog. An important part of our work is recording these changes as they develop.
Lots of important wildlife, however, can still be found here. A steep walk up to Kidsty Pike could reward the lucky visitor with a sighting of the golden eagle, or perhaps a ring ouzel. On a fine day in summer you might see wheatears standing sentry on isolated rocks, or spot low flying small mountain ringlet butterflies. During autumn, red deer are hard to miss as the roars of stags echo down the valleys