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.

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