Reflecting on Bassenthwaite

P1010709 Yesterday an environmental project in the northern lakes, started in 2007, came to an end. Funded with  a Heritage Lottery grant for three years, Bassenthwaite Reflections has been a consortium involving DEFRA, the Lake District Planning Board, the National Trust, the Forestry Commission and several other bodies. The staff involved have done a great job.

The key problem identified had been the increasing degradation of water in Bassenthwaite which was an immediate danger to the wide variety of wildlife dependent on the lake. Most well known are the ospreys, which visit annually and the vendace fish from the Ice Age. The project covered the whole of the 350 square kilometre catchment area which feeds its water into Bassenthwaite stretching as far as Thirlmere and Troutbeck near Keswick.

Established to deal with these problems of polluted ground water, land erosion, mine waste, threats to wildlife, excess phosphates, algae growth on the lake and invasive species like Himalayan Balsam on watercourses, it’s run over 30 practical projects on the ground as well as events to alert people to the need for improving the environment.

It has also had a very successful educational programme to alert the community to what can be done by individuals to support a more bio-diverse environment. Details of some of these like the Miles without stiles programme and the Oakwood Volunteers scheme can be found on the project website.

There are also seven fascinating maps on a 1:7500 scale of the historical development of the woodlands round Derwentwater, showing springs, saw pits, charcoal burning platforms, hog holes and other features. These were part of the Hidden Heritage project and can be copied for some fascinating walks.

Another success has been the Dubwath Meadows project, just three miles from The Larches, near the Pheasant Hotel. This has created a marvellous habitat for birdlife with raised walkways through the marshy ground. (See photo at the top) Well worth a visit!

I talked this week to Amanda Hancock from the project, who also works for the Forestry Commission, about the future and was pleased to hear that the work will still be continued through the partner bodies involved and several voluntary groups. More current information can be found at the partnership website. Let’s hope that Bassenthwaite below Skiddaw and Ullock Pike (see photo below) will continue to delight us as it has done over the generations.

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Keswick Film Festival

Last weekend was Keswick’s 12th annual film festival, providing an opportunity to see 30 different films or related activities over the four days. Well organised with tickets available in advance and (usually) at the door, this should be a must for anyone interested in contemporary and classic films, which are not often shown in mainstream cinemas.

The choice was excellent and although we only made it to three, one couple I spoke to were attending over half the shows. For £45 a pass was available for all events.

A Passionate Woman (2010), first shown as a BBC TV series made a great start, with author/director Kay Mellor talking very openly at the end of the session about her mother and the genesis of the film.

The second La Pivellina (2009) was a charming Italian film about an abandoned young child, being taken under the wing of a circus family. Our third, Search for Shangri-La was an interesting series of film sequences taken in Tibet by UK political officers. These had been selected by the BFI to show the country’s customs and traditions pre-1950.

One event we were sorry to miss was the Short Film awards for film makers in Cumbria. Details are on the festival website, but one we liked the look of was Endangered Species: Fell Pony Breeders. A shot of these entrancing animals on the Howgill fells – taken from the video – is at the top of the page. There is also an interview on the festival website with the owners of the ponies.

U-turn on forests’ sell-off

P1010674 The Government’s plans to sell off 284,000 hectares of Forestry Commission lands – including the trees immediately above The Larches in the photo here – were first outlined last autumn, but have come under sustained cross party attack during the last few weeks’ consultation period.

The 500,000 signing the 38 degrees Campaign petition to oppose the plan indicate how the Coalition has upset so many different interests – walkers, cyclists, mountaineers, environmentalists, orienteers, horse riders, dog lovers, volunteers, naturalists and ornithologists to name just a few.  It’s hard to think of an issue better designed to create a wider constellation of opponents!

In all the Forestry Commission woodlands represent only 18% of all forested land in the country and yet it was implied that the sale was essential to improve and modernise the use of the nation’s forests. 

What has angered many is the lack of thought about the impact the sell-off would have on access and biodiversity. Creating forest amenities, ensuring good paths and promoting habitat suitable for wildlife like the red squirrel – as has been done here in Thornthwaite Forest above The Larches – is expensive. Private companies buying the land would see their profits reduced substantially to undertake this. 

IMG_9713 To its credit the Forestry Commission has responded to the demand for more recreational use by spending money and now in the north west raises more income from this source than from forestry activities. (See this photo of the 2008 Altura cycle trail launch event in Whinlatter Forest, only ½ mile from The Larches). As a result many Coalition MPs have been facing a simple question: “If it ain’t broke, why mend it?” Even their best answers have lacked all conviction.     

Last week the Government responded to the onslaught by announcing that the immediate selling off of 40,000 hectares was being postponed to allow consideration to be given to ensuring proper public access and wildlife conservation. 

P1010849 It was a crack in the wall but as experts and users alike made clear, this was unlikely to satisfy the environmental concerns of the thousands who use our woodlands. Yesterday in the House of Commons the Prime Minister drew a line under the subject. 

“Are you happy”, he was asked “with progress on this flagship policy?”  ”The short answer to that is, no.” he replied. (Guardian, 16 February 2011) The proposal was to be dropped; details will be following later in the week. Good sense has emerged at last! 

Who’s for marmalade?

P1020160 Answer: Lots of people according to the organisers of this week-end’s World Marmalade Awards event in Cumbria. Over a thousand entries have been submitted for the judging to be held at Dalemain near Penrith. Proceeds go to the Hospice at Home charity scheme.

I’ve been making my ‘Tango’ marmalade with Seville bitter oranges (Citrus aurantium) for over 25 years now – using an old family recipe as a starting point. There’s no doubt the home made stuff is far superior to what you buy in the shops, but it’s a bit of a slog. Pipping, juicing, slicing, slow cooking and potting can take a good six hours. See photo of the preparation stage; and below of the sliced fruit soaking overnight in the large copper pan.

Usually it involves late nights as I stir the bubbling fruit in the pan, hoping to get the rolling contents up to the correct heat for it to set. Is that crinkle of the juice on the cold plate enough? Too much and the contents in the pots are soon drying out; too little and you have to re-boil to stop mould developing.

Marmalade pan Marmalade manufacture is an ancient art and there is an infinite number of variations you can make in the recipe – cutting or slicing, adding lemons, more water, less sugar etc. The Daily Mail (13 January 2011)  reports an early example of a Portuguese quince jelly called Marmelada arriving in London at the end of the 15th century. Others say that the first marmalade was made in Scotland in 1700 when a ship carrying the oranges from Seville was damaged off Dundee and the cargo was sold off cheaply.  

This year with rising demand for my marmalade, I’ve splashed out on a new commercial size 15 litre 50-pot stainless steel pan, so have held back from the Cumbria competition. I need to make sure I have got it tweaked just right for the expanded production! Helen and John, who have been staying with us at The Larches over the weekend say the result is delicious with a great tangy flavour. Next year watch out for a good result for ‘Tango’ in the world awards!

PS If you want to try the recipe, reply to this blog and I will forward it to you.

Winter colour and shadow

P1020091 Forget the cold and snow. Winter is a great time in the Lakes for photographers. The trees bare their branches without shame, no longer sway to the Zephyr’s slightest touch, but bend only to the strong. The peripheral is stripped away. The sinews of the land and fells are there for the looking.

We sense the loss of vivid hues and fragrance from summer’s flowers amidst a near monochrome world – until the sun comes out. January has seen some cold weather at The Larches, but we’ve had some gorgeous sunny periods too. Seeing the railings in the garden light up one morning (photo below left) and set their mark on the bank behind was a delight.

The photo at the top shows the decking of the Belvedere with the forest behind. It’s a wonderful vantage point for viewing the marshes summer and winter – and for a quiet read. Below centre is an intriguing photo of the zig-zag shadows of the posts and latticed wires cast by the low-risen winter sun. Below right in the new rockery area beside the steps to the Belvedere is a hardy winter plant, Bugle now showing off its purple colours. You wonder why more people are not up here in Cumbria enjoying this feast!

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