Wild Ennerdale

The view up Ennerdale from near Bowness Knott (c) Duncan Hutt

Waterfall on Smithy Beck (c) Duncan Hutt

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.

Abandoned waymarker with lichen colonisation (c) Sally Hutt

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.

Old oak wood near the top of the lake
(c) Duncan Hutt

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.

Drone fly (Eristalis sp.)
(c) Duncan Hutt

Wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa)
(c) Duncan Hutt


About thehutts

The Hutt Family from Northumberland
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4 Responses to Wild Ennerdale

  1. vivinfrance says:

    There is always a dichotomy about this type of project: the world evolves, we can’t turn back the clock, and maybe we shouldn’t try. Care and conservation are surely the most to be hoped for?
    Gorgeous pictures.

  2. Its interesting to read your comments and your photos do capture the western end of the valley well.Thank you for sharing your experience.

    I agree that the lakeshore from Bowness Knott up the valley has changed little. We have identified 4 Wild Zones in the valley with the eastern valley, middle and southern valley being the most wild. The zone between Bowness Knott and Gillerthwaite will always be less wild because of service and customer traffic to and from the hostels. If you walk beyound the lake you will find much that has changed. We have removed hundreds of metres of fences and now have three herds of cattle roaming and grazing extensively 900 hectares of forest, valley bottom, mountain and river. We have reintroduced Marsh Fritillary and at the far east end of the valley the majority of mature conifres have been removed and native woodand is being planted.

    With regard to access we have stopped promoting and maintaining the Nine Becks walk and the Smithy Beck walk has been reduced to shorter hour long waymaked trail. We believe the valley has many miles of rights of way and permissive paths which give people access to all parts of the valley. In addition we operate an open access approach across the valley and encourage people to explore off the beaten track. Last year we published new leaflets guiding people around the valley including Round the Lake Trail, Sawdust Lonning Trail, Smithy Beck Trail and Liza Path as well as Bike the Big Valley and a guide to visiting some of the Historic Monuments. These are available from our website, YHA and tourist information centres. We hope to install visitor information boards at Bowness Knott and Bleach Green this year. They will provide information to visitors about the waymarked trails, activity leaflets and the wider Wild Ennerdale vision.

    I think you are right to mention the need for patience as in my experience any landscape change of the order we are encouraging takes 10 to 15 years to start to become visible.

    Our vision of wildness is not pure ecological and recognises the many centuries of human influence on the valley. We believe that for most people it is the structure of the valley that determines the sense of wildness more than the individual species involved. Although clearly we are promoting native species the non native trees in the valley do support wildlife and provide a forest habitat.

    For more information please visit our website http://www.wildennerdale.co.uk or come on one of our guided walks see http://www.wildennerdale.co.uk/events .

  3. thehutts says:

    We obviously need to venture further up the valley next time and perhaps then the ideas and concepts behind the project will become more clear. And, yes, we need to wait and see the changes occur over tens of years. Perhaps over time ‘wild grazing’ can become truly wild and natural processes can begin to develop, though in Britain this is still almost impossible while the ‘rules’ get in the way.

  4. I did the Nine Becks walk many years ago with my wife and young children. It is so sad that it is no longer in use. My children found it a very significant walk and still talk about some 30+ years later.

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