Wild Fell: Haweswater's Story
Nestled at the eastern edge of the Lake District National Park, RSPB Haweswater is undergoing a transformation. Together with landowner United Utilities, work is underway to restore a landscape of flower-rich meadows, burgeoning woodlands, squelchy bogs, crystal-clear rivers full of fish under a sky full of birds.
Since 2012, the RSPB has been running two farms to showcase how sustainable farming can work hand-in -hand with conservation to benefit wildlife, water and people. Lee Schofield, the RSPB's Site Manager at Haweswater, has documented the highs and lows of this visionary work in Wild Fell, a book published by Penguin/Transworld on 24 February 2022.
Wild Fell Video
A brief history of Haweswater
With its soaring fells, rushing streams and patches of rich temperate rainforest, Haweswater may look serene, but its landscape has seen huge changes over the last century.
The valley of Mardale was flooded in 1935 to create Haweswater reservoir, which supplies water to over 2 million people. The valley’s tranquillity made it appealing to golden eagles, which set up their only territory in England in 1969. This is when the RSPB first became involved, protecting the eagles, helping them rear their young in peace.
"When the last golden eagles in Haweswater’s short lineage tragically died, the RSPB were already hard at work restoring the landscape, in the hope that one day they might return."
As in many other parts of the uplands, much of Haweswater’s dramatic scenery had suffered as a result of heavy grazing by sheep and deer, pushing trees and wildflowers, insects, birds and other wildlife into ever-shrinking fragments. In 2012, after years of working closely with landowner United Utilities, RSPB took on the tenancies of two farms, which along with their associated areas of common land, cover around 3,000 sprawling hectares.
When, in 2015, the last golden eagles in Haweswater’s short lineage tragically died, the RSPB were already hard at work restoring the landscape, in the hope that one day they might return.
Haweswater is home to a host of special upland wildlife. The mossy woodlands of Naddle Forest are the jewel in the crown, with pied flycatchers and redstarts making the journey from Africa each Spring to nest among the ancient oaks as well as the resident red squirrels.
Returning natural meanders to historically straightened watercourses has brought salmon back, laying their eggs in pristine gravels, where dippers and common sandpipers fly overhead. Above them in the crags, ring ouzels, ravens and peregrines make their nests.
Hay meadows teem with melancholy thistle, globeflowers and wood cranesbill, busy with bees and butterflies. Rewetted bogs provide a home to skulking snipe, feeding between hummocks of vibrant sphagnum moss, cranberry and cottongrass.
To keep the landscape rich and healthy, Lee and his team ensure the right levels of grazing by cattle, sheep and ponies. Trees and alpine flowers are grown from local seed in the on-site nursery, then planted out onto the fells to help restore a diverse mosaic of habitats.
Helping nature; helping people
The RSPB's work at Haweswater benefits people, as well as wildlife. Restoring the peat bogs by blocking up drains means they are even better stores of carbon, helping in the fight against climate change. Making Swindale Beck more naturally curvy again has slowed down the flow of water and reduces the chances of flooding further downstream.
"We use traditional skills, but there are new opportunities for local people too"
"Since we took on the management of the two farms, we now have double the number of people employed on site," says Site Manager Lee. "We use traditional skills, such as livestock management and dry-stone walling, but there are new opportunities for local people too, such as low-impact ecotourism, science and research."
The making of Wild Fell
Nature conservation is not always easy. In his book Wild Fell, Site Manager Lee Schofield gives a personal account of the work at Haweswater, warts and all. "Wildlife isn’t faring well in our uplands, but it doesn’t have to be this way,” he says. "Most of all, Wild Fell is a story of hope. By learning from others, with hard-work and determination, perhaps Haweswater’s grand landscape will one day be fit for eagles again."
A whole team effort
The RSPB works closely with landowners United Utilities at Haweswater, and with lots of other partners to make the area as rich in wildlife as possible. Nature conservation takes a lot of dedicated effort and we'd like to thank all of our volunteers and supporters, who help make this happen. Find out more about the Haweswater project.