The concept of ‘re-wilding’ at Ennerdale seems a slightly odd one. In most cases where the idea of allowing nature to take its course has been suggested it has been based on a semi-natural habitat; the aim has been a slow reversion to a true natural state (whatever that may be). At Ennerdale the work is starting from an almost entirely unnatural start point with plantations of spruce, pine and larch from which this wild state will come. There is grazing in a pilot area but still by farmed livestock, far removed from the ideas of natural systems that have been pushed so hard in parts of Europe.
It’s probably 10 years since Duncan had walked along the lake shore from Bowness Knott. Little seemed to have changed – perhaps that’s the whole idea behind the process, slow steady reversion; after all nature conservation is a very impatient business demanding instant woodland creation or immediate colonisation by target species.
It appears that the process of re-wilding has also meant that the old trails (Smithy Beck and Nine Becks) have been largely abandoned, presumably to provide a more wild experience, and yet the forest is still punctuated by forest roads. The result of this less formal access seems to be that the vast majority of visitors do not venture beyond the road that follows the lake shore. In exploring some of the old paths (now hard to follow) we met one other walker, while on the lakeside road were many tens of walkers and cyclists. The idea behind this informal access may be an ideal but even in many of the real wild places around the world there are concessions to provide a few formalised routes to enable everyone the chance to experience part of the wilderness.
It will be interesting to see how things develop over the next 10 years and beyond. It was hard not to come away rather underwhelmed by the whole concept which is so different from the reversed priorities of re-wilding seen in other parts of Europe: natural ecosystem experimentation with limited but formalised access to experience it, against the Ennerdale unnatural ecosystem with limited public access.
There is much going for the valley, with its lack of road (though there was plenty of traffic along the lakeside track on our visit) and relics of ancient oak woodlands, signs of old settlements and historical industry, small waterfalls and views across the valley. Flowers such as primrose and wood anemone provided splashes of colour and insects were in flight in the periods of warm afternoon sunshine feeding on the blackthorn.