Thursday, 10 April 2014

Western Weekend Two of Wildlife & Whatnot

I went back to the west coast : the Irish sea, Cumbria, and the Arnside & Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. I tried to be clever and forward thinking, using up the return portions of train tickets from last time, and only paying for the little gaps between them (York to Keighley, Grange to Barrow, Bardon Mill to Newcastle). 

So this trip started off, after seeing my folks (but missing my nephews by half an hour, doh!), with a walk up Ingleborough (one of the Yorkshire 'three peaks' that I'd not been up before). I have a Walking Group Leader Award you see, which is one of those semi-professional qualifications you are supposed to keep up to date with practice. In this case, walking up a big hill for 4 hours counts as practice, and I was a bit overdue getting some in.

I won't tell the full story of my travels - nothing remarkable happened - but if you click on the pictures you will get the kind of details I recorded in my diary. On this occasion, the peak was in mist, I was on top twice as quickly as I expected, and I now intend to go back and do the 3 peaks along with the other mass-mindset hordes who see it as the only hillclimbing challenge worth doing with their lives. That's not what it is for me, I wish to emphasise, but I've felt this year I am getting a bit older so doing the occasional more-challenging physical activity has started to seem more relevant. Mortality and idle sofasitting need a bit more of a push away than they used to.

I love local newsletters, based upon a parish, and I also quite loved the heritage walk leaflet done for Bentham (a town I had never heard of before, but which had a handy train out of Yorkshire and was jolly nice). So with a pritt stick I bought in Carnforth, I spent some happy hostel evenings ripping and prittsticking sections into my sketchpad. I recommend this as a form of task-orientated meditation!

And on to Arnside & Silverdale AONB, a place that last week's travelabout made me rather keen to visit. It really was rather nice. Albeit not the lakes, and not fully remote, it is chockful of wooded headlands, peaceful sands, wildlife reserves and all that tourist leaflet stuff that I ripped out (below). I stayed in an ex youth hostel that was officially shut, and which wasn't sure if I was going to turn up (at about 10pm, and which had 3 excellent chatty kids climbing up the wrong side of the stairs and telling me all about the accident that happened with their van that day).

Next day (we're up to Tuesday now) was the Irish Sea Marine Conference in Grange (remember I stayed there last week, seeing the green woodpecker etc..). So I re-met my pal Tammy, and some lovely Wildlife Trust / Barrow Wildside people from the previous event. It was interesting: I was impressed with Cumbria Wildlife Trust, and their North West Wildlife Trusts' alliance - they had a sense of strategic leadership and vision that my local version doesn't always convey. They also had a slightly less overwhelming corporate-feudalism thing going on (the wildlife trusts are very beholden to profit-making [powerful] companies involved in environmentally destructive activity, and this sets up an uneasy tension that has led me to drift away from active regular support).

The above, on the left, is the better audience picture I drew on the day, and on the right an example of my notes when I am paying close attention. The host location was the very plush, and rather convincing, big Netherwood hotel with wooden panels (below) and bridge-playing old guests snugged away in the lounges, plus dynamic smiling graduate trainees on an excellent marine science programme (funded as a heritage skill which, Tammy pointed out, is rather canny of them).

I learnt rather less about wildlife, ecology, geography/geology and science than I hoped, as quite a few talks were more about funded schemes and the aims of those organisations who provided speakers to the conference. Other talks were about perceptions and PR. But I learnt stuff, and my mind was stimulated, even as I felt acutely the fact that these people here were the keen and the converted. The great thing about the old Access to Nature programme (that the previous blogpost followed to Barrow), was that it was all about getting other people engaged with nature - actual activities, near where 'normal' people live, and shining a light on local richness rather than just building visitor centres at reserves based on the very best spots (such as Leighton Moss, which I did visit and did love, and South Walney which I still haven't made it to). 

As a funded programme, Access to Nature was able to achieve more than what the stable organisations like the Wildlife Trusts and RSPB can in their usual running, with their keen members pursuing their minority-interest (birdnerds like me). And as a funded programme, the funding has now gone and ace projects like the one in Barrow have just stopped, leaving only the keen birdnerds & our like still active. There needs to be an equivalent effort put in longer term, otherwise all that we are left with are the visitor reserves, it seems to me. I could go on and qualify these opinions (on a more fundamental level I believe in volunteering much more than I believe in staffed organisations) but, meh, chat to me about it if you'd like to properly dissect my rant.

After the conference, Tammy & I had a nice scramble and sands walk around Humphrey Head. Then I slept at the shut hostel again and took the slow train back up around Cumbria, stopping for a walk and watch at Millom. And I do intend to come back again. I could see the Midland hotel over the sands in Morecambe, and I read a local history book (from 1985, with rusty staples) which talked about the great guided walks that take place over the entire estuary (& which used to run as a timetabled coach service before the railway was built). That is what I now intend to come back for, next time. Where else can you walk for 7 kilometres on top of the sea - a sort of sea, anyhow, that dries out on the surface except for shifting channels and quicksands. Let me know if you wanna come too.

And Spring this week brought me sightings of my first house martins, one swallow, a willow warbler and some marsh harriers. Amongst the more isolated (rarer) birds, I heard (but didn't see) a bittern and bearded tits, and despite knowing I probably won't be believed, I also saw a hen harrier slowly wandering up the coast. Hen harriers have been wiped out as a breeding species in England, so I had never seen one before and we need to do something pretty much now to stop them being royally fucked. I had no expectation or hope of seeing one, so that moment I did is a little private joy that I will carry around with me now all year. Reason enough to grow a beard and carry binoculars with you when you go wandering along the Irish Sea.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Weekend trip about Wildlife and the Outdoors

I managed to get a free trip, paid for (I hope) by an old funder of one of the projects I work on. As it was the end of March, the weekend before payday, I was stretching my resources a bit but it was really interesting. I persuaded my friend Tammy (pictured) to come along with me, so we met on the early train going through Bardon Mill, and so started the day chatting to a couple of good folk on their way to Carlisle (Roger from the Hexham Civic Trust, and another guy from the Citizens Advice Bureau).
Coffee in Carlisle station, then the slow train round the coast of Cumbria - something I wouldn't want to do every day, but which was quite a treat for a day off, as you see a lot of interesting country that makes you really want to explore. Wanting to explore is a good emotion to hold in your heart. I hope to make it good by going back that same route in a week's time, and getting off at the more interesting stops.
Our destination was Barrow, for the final celebration event of a project there called Barrow's Wildside. It was my first time in the (windswept, otherwise pretty run-of-the-mill) town, but the event took place centrally, in the Forum which is right up next to the indoor market where we got some lunch. And it was a packed day, with speakers and workshops and information stands that got us all fired up for the wildlife and natural sites around the area.
This chap is an ex forester who trained in medical science, called Edward Wilson. I drew him as he talked about the beneficial effects of woodland on mental and physical health. A particular report he recommends as a benchmark is here.
This chap is a stuffed Eider duck that shared the room with us - we saw living Eiders too, on the bit of water that separates Barrow from Walney ( which is a place I really want to visit properly now).
Sue Thurley who organised the event gave a workshop on propagating wildflower seeds (above) and the ranger from the South Walney Reserve updated the local wildlife enthusiasts about changes to the dune systems of the area (below), after heavy swells and storms had moved shingle and scraped off vegetation, leading to new potential nesting sites and informing what access and conservation work they will be doing there.

After this event, Tammy headed back up the trainline and I went on to Grange over Sands, just a little way back east along the railway. It's a weird place that I've never been to before. Golf course and massive hotels, with beautiful coastline and tons and tons of wildlife. And also, of the thousands of faces I saw, every single one was white - one of those bits of the outdoors where some communities just don't get to.
In the morning, I went out birdlistening, and while I didn't see the hawfinches I was looking for, I did manage to identify two bird species by song, which is something I would have had no hope of doing a year or two back. Efforts made in paying attention are not that exciting to report, but I feel I have a richer experience of the natural world these days, and am icreasingly nerdy about just how I pay attention.
I then carried on to Keighley, where I got the steam train up to Haworth for the BMC Equity Symposium
My artist friend Jean works in this hostel, but was actually away in New York this one time I have visited. I arrived too late for workshops, so went for an (unsatisfying) wander till tea. Even Haworth is turning into suburbia it seems, with new housing streets taking up all the old fringes.
I don't know quite how Haworth - so steep and high-feeling - has managed to attract the great community and buzz of visitors that it has. I really liked the atmosphere, of both the symposium and also of the town. It also lacked the mono-ethnic weirdness of Grange, so I felt much less claustrophobic. Plus, it's always good to be back in Bradford. It's chauvinistic I know but I think people from around Bradford are the best!
Finally, here's a sketch I made of a talk on Spirituality and the Outdoors. The chap speaking is from a very different background to me, so I felt something of a gulf in experience in the references he drew from, but he was great, and the audience was too: the discussion that followed had a few backtingly moments as experiences and perspectives were shared. I cannot record them accurately here, and this post is mainly just to share the pictures, but I left the event rather inspired and also kinda reassured that there are good people out there doing the right thing. Maybe that's the best impact you can get from events like these.