A nature-first, minimalist approach is helping to create a wilder valley in England’s Lake District
The remote Ennerdale Valley lies on the northwestern edge of the Lake District National Park in Cumbria. For over a decade, the landscape here has been evolving more naturally. This is thanks to less intensive human intervention and more reliance on natural processes. Greater local community involvement has helped the process.
Wild Ennerdale is a partnership between the main landowners in the valley - the Forestry Commission, National Trust and United Utilities. Natural England, the government's advisor on nature conservation, is also a partner.
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The partnership's vision is 'to allow the evolution of Ennerdale as a wild valley for the benefit of people, relying more on natural processes to shape its landscape and ecology’.
Thick Sitka spruce plantations blighted much of the valley after planting began in the 1920s. In 1965, Alfred Wainwright wrote about ‘a dark funereal shroud of trees’ in Ennerdale. Forestry tracks carved up the land, and like much of Britain sheep had grazed the remaining land to the bone.
Since the formation of Wild Ennerdale in 2003, the conifer forest has seen significant change. It's becoming more diverse and interesting. Native broadleaves are extending and increasing through planting and natural regeneration.
Sheep numbers have been reduced across the valley. Areas of intensive grazing in the valley bottom and forest have given over to beneficial cattle grazing by native Galloway cattle. This has allowed the valley bottom to become more open and wild. The removal of boundary fences has helped this blurring of the open space/forest boundary.
There has been successful reintroduction of the Marsh Fritillary butterfly into Ennerdale. This had been extinct in Cumbria. The partnership has also been restoring natural aquatic processes. The removal and re-engineering of bridges has allowed fish passage and gravel movement. The River Liza now has more freedom to chomp on the forest. A piped watercourse has been restored to its original course to benefit a protected habitat.
The partnership has reduced the impact of forestry tracks by decommissioning a section of track and removing a bridge.
Slowly, these 4,300 hectares are feeling wilder and more natural. Wild Ennerdale is showing that nature can do more with less intervention, with just a helping hand.