Field Notes: High level planting on Helvellyn

Glenridding Manager Pete Barron reports on the team's latest adventure - planting montane scrub and arctic-alpines in the Lakeland Fells

Pete barron   montane willow safely planted out on helvellyn detail

It was a little later than our usual montane willow planting ‘season’ in September, but the high crags in the coves of Helvellyn were still accessible for planting out this year’s crop into October.

Three of us (Isaac and I were joined by Simon, our expert and great supporter from Natural England) set off with a couple of hessian bags each. The bags from Booths our local supermarket are ideally sized and shaped to carry eight 4” pots containing a valuable cargo of downy willow, tea leaved willow and a rare cross between tea leaved and dark leaved willow all taken from originals from the local crags.

Our cuttings are grown on by a super supportive group of volunteer growers who live in the Ullswater valley. They propagated the willows last year, along with rare plants grown from seed such as bitter vetch and alpine cinquefoil that we were also carrying.

Once high up, having passed shepherds gathering their sheep off the fell, we located appropriate ledges free from grazing animals to plant our treasure. Great care is required in these steep locations and no risks were taken as we were watched by a ubiquitous raven, soon joined by a group of eight others - probably some of this year’s juveniles getting familiar with their patch.

Suddenly a flock of meadow pipits appeared, or so we thought. Closer inspection identified them as twite, a rare bird for the Lakeland fells, probably on passage and a bird more likely to be seen on John Muir Trust properties in the north west along with flocks of starling on the crofted coastal areas.

Having safely planted our shrubs and extricated ourselves from the rock and ledges, we made notes of where to come in the future to see these lovingly nurtured willows and alpines. Pictures would have to suffice for now to show our volunteer valley growers the result of a job well done.

To finish a satisfying day, we first heard and then saw a flock of ring ouzel - the mountain blackbird - ‘chacking’ away among themselves while feeding on the ample rowan and juniper berries. At this time of the year it is highly likely that they are Scandinavian birds on passage and fattening up on the berry crop before moving on towards North Africa.

The project to safeguard the rare downy willow - driven by Natural England and supported by the John Muir Trust on Helvellyn - is now showing results. The montane shrubs are flowering and we await our first self-seeded willow on the crags in the not too distant future - now that will be a result!

Pete Barron - alpine cinquefoil planting
Photos by Pete Barron show montane willow safely planted out on Helvellyn (top) and Alpine cinquefoil planting (above).