Blencathra from Eycott Hill nature reserve (c) Duncan Hutt
Eycott Hill isn’t one that comes immediately to mind when thinking Lake District fells, unless you are a geologist apparently. This small volcanic outcrop is the centre on a newly opened Cumbria Wildlife Trust reserve, visited on the day it officially opened. The hill is actually quite small and oddly only a couple of metres higher than the small car park for the reserve. The view out is to the surrounding Lake District hills such as Blencathra and Great Mell Fell in the near distance and south-west to the more distant Scafell range. These large hills frame the site and its upland type habitat seems to be entirely in place despite its relatively low altitude.
Great Mell Fell from Eycott Hill nature reserve (c) Duncan Hutt
Newly created meadow at Eycott Hill (c) Duncan Hutt
The path from the entrance to the summit crosses newly created meadows formed by spreading green hay from other local sites onto prepared and cleared ground which was perviously species poor. There are more areas to do but at least one field looked exactly as it should with yellow rattle, plantains, and hawkbits amongst the sward of wild flowers.
Lasallia pustulata (c) Duncan Hutt
Beyond the meadows the land opens out into a mix of acid grassland, small patches of heath, with heather and bilbery, and areas of fen and bog. The white splashes of cotton grass on these mires standing out from the mellow greens and browns around. Small craggy outcrops speckled the surface, the rock crevices home to parsley fern and lichens such as Lasallia pustulata, both west coast species barely found back at home in Northumberland. The summit itself was a windswept outlook and a painted lady bravely defended this vantage point from another foolhardy cousin that swirled past on the wind.
Small pearl-bordered fritillary (c) Duncan Hutt
Small pearl-bordered fritillary underwing (c) Duncan Hutt
Back below the summit the sun emerged more consistently from a sky that had doggedly held on to a plethora of grey and white mottled clouds. With the sun a few more butterflies emerged; the small heath defying the wind to flick past only to settle with a plunging descent to a seemingly random stem of grass, wings tight closed as it landed. Here too the rarer small pearl-bordered fritillaries darted past settling to show either their orange and dark brown patterned upper wings or the more mottled underwing.
Marsh cinquefoil (c) Duncan Hutt
The bogs and mires were home to an interesting range of plants like the colourful marsh cinquefoil, bogbean and spearwort and some more diminutive sedges such as the rather unimpressive few-flowered sedge (Carex pauciflora), a species that is uncommon outside Scotland.
Few flowered sedge (c) Duncan Hutt
The site had been overgrazed during a relatively short lasting ownership before the management was taken over by the Cumbria Wildlife Trust and it is only now beginning to recover from this interlude. The grazing was taken off completely for a while and is now being returned slowly and carefully using a small herd of Luing cattle, a hardy breed that will live here year round.
All going well this is now a site that is only going to improve in the years to come, much work has already been done and there is much more to do. It is a fascinating and almost unknown corner of the Lake District providing an almost secret vista out on to the rest of the world around.
Luing Cattle (c) Duncan Hutt