Thursday, 26 May 2011

Helicopter Lifts at Stickle Ghyll

Last week started off with helicopter lifts at Stickle Ghyll. The lifts had been scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, so Monday morning we went and put some signs out to let everyone know that we'd be moving rock in the area. Although the pilot had managed to fly down from Inverness that morning, the wind on higher ground was just too gusty and he wasn't very keen to be flying with a tonne bag of rock underneath his helicopter so we rescheduled for Tuesday.
The following day proved to be much better, the wind had dropped nicely but unfortunately there was some low cloud hanging around. Low cloud makes for difficult flying conditions, especially when you're getting in close to the crags, as you really need to have good all-round visibility. The cloud didn't really cause us any problems until around lunchtime when it suddenly dropped lower and forced us to stop for around an hour until it lifted again. Except for that delay the lifts went relatively smoothly and we got all 98 bags flown by the end of the day.

Moving Rock at Stickle Ghyll

Once the lifts were out of the way, we set to work on repairing the section of path just before the stepping stones, which we'd completed a couple of weeks ago. The section that we needed to repair had become badly eroded, as during really heavy rainfall the beck often overflows at the stepping stones. When this happens the water then runs down the path which has caused it to be gradually washed away over the years.

Section of path in need of repair

When we bagged up the pitching stone prior to the helicopter lifts, we also filled up several bags with extra large "landscaping stone". Landscaping stone is generally used next to the edge of the path to stop people from wandering off it and causing erosion damage. So during the lifts, we flew in a few bags of landscaping stone specifically for this section of path. With the rock now in place, we moved the stone into position to the edge of the path forming a revetment to help retain the footpath. We then replaced the damaged section of the original footpath with some new larger rock. We are hoping that by building a substantial revetment and using this bigger rock the path will be more equipped to stand up to the beck overflowing. Time will tell.

After repair, showing retaining stones next to the path

The path after repair, looking towards the stepping stones

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Repair work at Mickleden and Stickle

Last week we were again joined by the Fix the Fells volunteer lengthsmen for a work party. We generally run at least one work party each month where the lengthsmen get hands-on experience of footpath repair work.  Last weeks session was again held at Mickleden and nine volunteers came along to help out. In a similar fashion to last months work party the weather was not on our side. Despite the poor weather, between us all we completed a good amount of pitching and also replaced some stepping stones, with something a little more substantial, as the old ones were starting to get washed away.

Lengthsmen pitching at Mickleden

As we've been waiting for the helicopter lift at Stickle Ghyll, so that we can get the rock moved to site for this years work we are still fairly limited to what we can do up there. We therefore decided to make use of some stone that had been moved on a previous lift, but we'd not had the opportunity to use. 
A section of path had started to become undermined so we'd had some large rocks dropped nearby so that we could build up the edge of the path and prevent it from collapsing.

Under-cut footpath at Stickle Ghyll

Although we didn't have to move the rock too far (it can just be seen towards the top of the photo, next to the path) it wasn't the easiest to get into position, as rolling it over the path and off  the edge proved quite challenging to do in a controlled manner. Once the first rock was in place at the bottom of the slope we positioned the others behind it. We then tightened all the rocks against each other and also to the path, finally we filled in the gaps with rubble and topped it off with some soil.

Footpath after repair work

We've still got to put some grass seed down around the rocks to help everything stabilise and blend in a bit better with its surroundings but at least the path is safe from falling out now, preventing a much larger job than if we'd needed to rebuild the whole section of path.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Stepping Stones at Stickle Ghyll

This week we finished off repairing the stepping stones at the top of Stickle Ghyll. The original stepping stones had been in place since the mid-1990's but had slowly moved over time when the beck had been in full spate. This meant that to get from one stone to another was a bit too much of a jump, and in addition to this some of the stones were set a little low so when there was a lot of water in the beck it became almost impossible to cross.

Stepping Stones in need of some attention

With a diversion in place so that any walkers could cross safely without interruption we set about winching some new stones into place. We used rock from higher up the beck and also moved about the original stepping stones into new positions. We started off using a 1.5 tonne tirfor winch, but it soon became apparent that it wasn't up to the job, so we moved on to our 3.5 tonne winch.
Preparing to winch one of the stones 

After five days of grunting and straining away the stepping stones were almost finished, and we were preparing to winch the last rock.

The last rock almost in place

So now when you're next up Stickle Ghyll the job of crossing the beck should be much easier. We could really do with a few days heavy rain to give the stones a good test but we're not in any real rush for that right now!

The completed Stepping Stones

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

An introduction to a few upland birds

With recently completing the new bird feeding station at Stickle Ghyll car park and the fresh arrival of many of our spring migrants it seemed like a good time to highlight a few of the birds that we regularly see up on the higher fells.

Probably the bird that's most likely to grab your attention is the wheatear. The wheatear is a striking bird and is often seen in flight showing off it's white rump with a black 'T' on it's tail, sometimes giving it's characteristic 'chat' call. The wheatear is often quite approachable and tends to perch upright on rocks making it relatively easy to observe. It's song is a quite pleasant warble mixed in with creaks and rattles which regularly incorporates mimicry. It tends to nest in a crevice or hole in amongst boulders. The wheatear is an Amber Listed species being catergorised as a Species of European Conservation Concern.

  Male wheatear

Next up is the ring ouzel. A close relative of the blackbird though slightly smaller and slimmer, the male can be easily recognised by its white bib. It's call is a 'tac-tac-tac' reminiscent of the blackbird, and it's song is similar to that of other thrush species. It tends to breed in ghylls, scree and other rocky areas.The ring ouzel has suffered recent population declines (over 50% in the past 25 years) and is a Red List species and of highest conservation priority.

Male ring ouzel

Possibly the most common bird up on the fells is the meadow pipit. It's very similar to many of the other pipits (being small brown and streaky) but once you get on to the fell tops it's very unlikely that you'll see any other pipit species. It nests on the ground in dense vegetation and can often be heard by it's 'sreep' call or by  it's song 'tsee-tsee tseek tseek tsee-er tsee-er'. The meadow pipit is also on the Amber List as it's population has declined between 25% and 50%.

Meadow pipit

Finally the skylark. The skylark could possibly be confused with the meadow pipit though it is chunkier with a thicker bill and has a crest that may be raised, it is also much less common. It is famously known for it's display flight, when the male rises vertically into the air where it sings melodiously often for several minutes. It may also be heard by it's liquid 'chirrup' call. Another ground nester, the skylark has also suffered dramatic population declines (over 50% in the last 25 years) and is therefore another Red List species.


Of course there are many other birds to be found on the fells, such as the chaffinch or wren, but the few highlighted above would not be found in your average garden, and with a little effort should also be relatively easy to identify.