Size does matter

So we soon learned as many hands made light work yesterday removing tree shelters on The Cluster. Done alone, it can be a slightly soul destroying task. Done as part of a group and it immediately becomes tolerable… enjoyable even as you work together to liberate each tree from its outgrown PPE.

This time our volunteers were an enthusiastic group of Raleigh International alumni, some of whom hadn’t seen one another since their scientific expedition to Indonesia, back in ’86.

With their help, we managed to remove, separate, and sort out several hundred tree shelters, ties and stakes for recycling and reuse elsewhere on The Cluster.

Separating and sorting HQ

The visual difference to the landscape was immediate, as was the very satisfying feeling you always get from ‘tidying up’!

Shelters be gone!

Tubex sells tree shelters (tubes) in packs of five – ranging from smaller to larger in diameter so that they slot inside one another – and this is how they’d like them returned for recycling.

Our ‘that’s interesting…’ observation of the day was that most of the reusable tree shelters were the largest size; reusable because they could be removed intact from saplings that had failed. The smaller sizes more often than not, had to be slit to be removed from still-flourishing trees. Is this a common trend? If so, why bother with the largest sizes at all? Is it merely a P&P convenience? (Off to research…)

Many thanks to Jeremy and his Raleigh International group for making a real difference on the ground!


Woolly jumpers

You may remember that last winter we planted a lot of willow to try and stop some of The Cluster ending up in the North Sea? See here…

After the floods three years ago, a large land slip started which with every proceeding flood caused more to be washed into the Arkle and more land to slip and be lost. So we decided to plant the area to try and stabilise it somewhat. ‘Soft engineering’ I believe it is called. Hundreds of willow went in with some being planted in the river itself. 

Despite another very dry spring and summer (so far) they have nearly all grown (95%+). This is good. But as usual there is a ‘this is bad’ side. Although we have almost managed to keep sheep off The Cluster, the odd one or two still find their way in and this summer they have beaten a track to our new willows and have managed to nibble any foliage they can get at. Willow (Salix spp.) are well known for their medicinal effects and so I can only assume that we have been party to sheep in pain! (Look up the medicinal properties if you think I’ve finally lost it).

Some of the willow in the river now hopefully safe from nibbling

As we’ve been removing quite a bit of fencing recently I decided to erect a temporary barrier to see if we could give the willow a better chance of making to next winter, when we intend to plant more willow in the river itself as the sheep don’t appear to enjoy wading for their medicine. Time will tell.

Because sheep numbers are now very low, we have noticed a lot, nay an ‘explosion’ of alder regeneration. There is a lot in and around the willow we planted (sheep don’t seem to nibble it currently) and a lot on The Cluster generally. Alder, like willow, needs damp ground and the places where it is springing up are exactly the places that are most vulnerable to erosion from the river. It’s almost as if nature knows how to look after itself.

Alder natural regeneration (hoorah!)

Funny that!

Martin WW

A little rain must fall…

But why does it have to be 5 1/2 inches in just over three hours?

Three years ago today we had a bit of a shower which caused huge amounts of damage to both The Cluster and the surrounding area. TV crews flooded in (sorry) to the area to document and incorrectly report what was going on.

A search online will reveal hundreds of photos and reports that show the devastation of the event and how a community came together (albeit briefly) to repair the damage to lives and property. But below are some more personal ones. Firstly from on our Cluster and then a few from the locality. I was pleased to be able to find a use for my daughter’s old beach toys which she had long since grown out of, and which within minutes of being put outside the Bridge Inn at Grinton, were being enjoyed by a new generation of children!

Clockwise: Heggs track, Heggs ford, Heggs track, Castle barn.

All the above pictures were taken the following day. The pictures below show just how high the water had got at some properties. Amazingly and thankfully there were no casualties.

The Bridge Inn beach with a couple of properties from Fremington showing how high the water got.

Martin WW

A moist update.

It rained! Seriously. It did. Honest!

It was therefore a bit muddy as we removed another few hundred meters of wire and posts from the Castle end of The Cluster. This fencing was erected some years ago to keep stock out of the alder woodland but floods and erosion had severely damaged it to the point that some it was now buried under flood debris.

It is surprising how much difference removing a fence makes to the feel of a place. We saw that last weekend too with our group of volunteers.

The wire netting we remove will be reused elsewhere to protect natural regeneration/planting spots from errant sheep and the posts will either be reused if good enough or cut and used for fuel.

The old fence line

There is still a few hundred meters to remove, including a rather awkward stretch which is partly underwater. That should be fun!

We’re also making progress with our planting scheme up the hillside with access now enabled through some of the landslips that occurred three years ago tomorrow. I will post some pictures of what exactly happened three years ago tomorrow if I get chance.

All in all a positive few days on The Cluster, including a few new records posted on iNaturalist.

The spoils…

Martin WW

PS. I was just getting some pix sorted for tomorrows post on the flooding three years ago and found some (post said flood) of the fence we removed. So I thought I’d treat you to them…

Before and after…ish


You wait ages for a blog to come along…

Just a reminder that we try and enter records of things seen on The Cluster (or indeed anywhere else) on Its a simple to use app which has a feature where it attempts to identify what you’ve photographed. Anything that is recorded on The Cluster will automatically appear in our ‘Project’ window in iNaturalist so we can see what you’ve seen.

Martin WW

Would Sophia Loren approve?

“A woman’s dress should be like a barbed-wire fence: serving its purpose without obstructing the view.” ~ Sophia Loren

Saturday found a group of volunteers assembled on The Cluster in cloudy but warm conditions to bang things and pull out things.

The ‘banging’ involved making sure that some of the trees we planted earlier in the year (see ) were still upright as the drought and recent winds have loosened some of their stakes.

The fence line to be removed

The ‘pulling out’ refers to the removal of a 100m stretch of fencing and a gate which was erected some years ago to protect an area of new planting. We are trying to remove as much old fencing as possible on the lower part of The Cluster, so it becomes one large area.

Rain was forecast around lunchtime (yes ‘rain’…not something we’ve seen in recent months) so we cracked on and had the fence removed and trees all checked by the time it started spitting. We wandered along to Heggs House for our lunch and a drink. ‘Lunch’ lasted a long time with a great discussion about issues affecting farming, conservation, payments for land management with solely environmental benefits and how to pronounce ‘Monbiot’.

Lunchtime chat in the Heggs Farm ‘annex’.

After wandering back in the dry, we loaded all the old posts and rubbish into the Mule (that green thing on the right, below) and headed home.

Although it’s good to get tasks completed on these volunteer days, they are as much a social occasion as a work occasion. They give like minded folk a chance to explore ideas, learn and pass on personal experience. One gent (this was his first volunteering day here) had been working on a very interesting project in Devon and his experience with river restoration there was relevant for The Cluster as well as his experience with the new subsidy schemes…he even apologised for talking too much…none of us minded, it was all good stuff.

So if you fancy coming on a volunteer day please get in touch.

Martin WW

PS. I’ve just noticed that one of our group was being silly when the group pic was taken. This behaviour WILL be tolerated in future!

In Search of Ronnie and Reggies*

Last Thursday saw a team of volunteers from the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust get their feet wet in search of our native White-clawed crayfish. Some old faces re-appeared from last year’s day surveying with the Wild Trout Trust as well as some newbies to The Cluster. The lower the river the better when searching for crayfish (for which you need a license as our native crayfish is a protected species). The Arkle didn’t disappoint. We’ve had very little rain in the dale recently and I can’t really remember it being any lower.

A crayfish surveyor in their chosen habitat.

So what is a crayfish? To quote from the website “the UK’s only native freshwater crayfish, the White-clawed crayfish is in decline due to the introduction of the non-native North American signal crayfish. This invasive species has brought disease to which our indigenous crayfish has no natural resistance. An omnivorous crustacean, the White-clawed crayfish eats invertebrates, carrion, water plants and dead organic matter. It inhabits small freshwater streams of a depth less than 1 metre, hiding underneath stones and rocks and in small crevices where they forage for food.”

So now we know the crayfish is an ‘omnivorous scavenger’, what do they look like? Well here is a comparison between our native crayfish (good) versus an American signal crayfish (bad) pinched from Malvern Hills Crayfish Group (hope they don’t mind?)

So what did our intrepid explorers find? Did they find any native crayfish? Did they find any American signal crayfish? Well the answers are lots, no and no.

There were a large amount of caddisfly larvae (caddisfly are an interesting wee beastie which really deserve a blog of their own…well ‘about them’ may be a better way of putting it as the last time I looked there weren’t any caddisfly blogs currently online), lots of bullhead (small fish also known as ‘Miller’s Thumb’) but sadly no native crayfish. But on a positive note, no invasive Americans were found. 

Thanks to the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and their Crayfish Stakeholder Officer and to the volunteers who also did a bit of a clear up (mainly washed down plastic silage wrap) as they went. 

*Krays…(you’ll have to look it up if yr young!)

Martin WW

Alder Alder everywhere…

Will reducing the grazing pressure on the Cluster make a difference? Like everything we do and don’t do on our site, we simply won’t know until we try.

This summer marks our third officially stock-free year and it’s definitely been the most flora-filled yet.

Alder is naturally regenerating along the banks of the Arkle Beck, popping up on the sides of seasonal gills and thriving in damp nooks and crannies across the site.

As for common spotted orchids, we’ve never been privy to such a flush.

Be sure to keep your eyes peeled as you wander leisurely along the shaded riverside footpath…

yellow star for alder, purple circle for orchids on site map above

For updated records and locations of all of our sightings, have a peek at our iNaturalist project page, and feel free to add your own observations!

Happy wandering, Liz 🙂

And we’re OFF…

Many many years ago, before Covid even thought about humans, even before the Arkle beck threw its toys over its banks in spectacular fashion, a couple of folk had an idea to renature their bits of Arkengarthdale. “Let’s do some habitat restoration”… “Lets plant some trees”…Let’s…” (well you get the idea) and so The Cluster was born. 

In those intervening years we have gone through many ideas, many plans and even more meetings. We’ve had a few dead ends, a lot of changes of direction, a few disappointments but also many positive meetings with many folk who have almost all been right behind what we hope to achieve on The Cluster.

We have organised and attended lots of meetings, many on-site, some in our living rooms via Zoom et al and even one at the The Tan Hill Inn. We started planning our Fremington Edge planting via the English Woodland Grant Scheme (EWGS). That morphed into the English Woodland Creation Offer (EWCO) so we jumped through the hoops for that. Then it was suggested that we look at the Growing Back Greener (GBG) grant scheme which offers a bit more flexibility for planting and financing, but less money. We have been working with a chap from the National Park YDNPA (as well as many others), for a few years on these various schemes and he has had the onerous task of keeping us all up to speed with them and what they were offering, as well as doing all the behind the scenes ‘stuff’ that any planting scheme can’t (or shouldn’t) go ahead without. The ‘planting’ had to be planned very carefully. We’re not planting ‘woodland’ in the traditional sense, but a mosaic which has been described as “quasi woodland/wood pasture/scrub” which historically is exactly how it was. We needed to have open areas where the ground flora was still good and which will become valuable sheltered habitats once the trees have grown a bit. We decided to plant a montane species, creeping willow which occurred here many years ago, on the higher ground. We decided to plant some yew which has a historical association with the area. They will join the few ancient yews which still exist on Fremington Edge, some of which are thought to be a thousand years old. We will plant more densely lower down to simulate the colonisation which would occur naturally but which will also help with our wider natural flood management efforts. We had to take into account modern threats to trees, climate change, introduced diseases etc and try and create a resilient scheme that stands the best chance of success in our rapidly changing climate situation. 

‘Right tree, right place’ is an adage often heard. In addition to the above, the wrong place might be on archaeologically valuable sites, of which there are many on Fremington Edge, on sites where it may adversely core populations of certain bird species, where it might adversely affect important ground flora, where it might be visually ‘inappropriate’ and many many more that my brain can’t recall currently. All these aspects have to be covered, so that what is basically your money, is been spent wisely and that our actions will be of an overall very positive benefit to you, but more importantly to the local biodiversity (without which we are all the poorer and more vulnerable). This process might not work all the time, but it’s as much as we can currently do to make sure we are doing the right thing. Therefore a big thank you must go to ‘our chap from the Parks’ for getting us to where we are at today, as well as everybody else who has so far been involved and worked so hard to get this scheme off the ground (or indeed ‘in’ the ground).

What it looks like at the moment…

So where are we at today?

Well the work on the ground has now started. Hoorah!

First job will be to do some ground levelling works to repair where scree slopes have slipped. These have all been approved by the YDNPA planning department. This will improve our access on Fremington Edge so we can plant the trees more easily but more importantly we will be able to access those trees to help look after them on what is a very difficult site. It will also make the removal of the tree shelters in a few years a lot easier. Unfortunately we have had to go with plastic shelters.There just isn’t a reliable alternative as yet. Believe me, we looked and looked for an alternative but in the end all parties felt plastic was the only current viable option. We are trialling a few ‘TreeHugger’ shelters which are made of cotton and pine resin to see how these cope on such an exposed site. We are removing the old fencing along the boundaries which is to be replaced with brand spanking new, which will enable us to keep stock out until the trees are established and to keep rabbits out (and in, hence a lot of rabbit control will be taking place in the near future).

We will try and keep posting on how things are progressing (with plenty of pix) but if anyone wants a closer look or has any questions etc, please get in touch (via the comments) and we will happily answer any questions/concerns.

Martin WW. 

Night the Second

“Night, her sable dome scattered with diamonds”

I arose from my Couch of Death just before seven. A good nights’ sleep. The oystercatchers were as noisy as usual come chucking out time but there was little else to trouble my fleeing consciousness. 

There was a hungry wind as dawn broke, but by the time I escaped my mundane shell of a tent the wind had subsided and a pleasant hour was spent mooching about. A common spotted orchid, which was close to an access track had its flower head removed by rabbits I presume. It was close to an active burrow which is currently a stranger to the noise of slaughter. Hopefully we can remedy that this next winter. 

I checked a couple of nest boxes. The occupants long gone. I couldn’t tell what kind of female bird had once reared her brood here. Time has taken her away and hid her from my sight. I’ll keep a closer eye next spring.

Odd place to build a nest.

A few yards away I heard a soft ‘suuueet’ repeated at intervals. A flitting bird in an alder settled for a moment and revealed itself as a willow warbler. It was carrying insects to feed to its nearby brood. I couldn’t see the nest and left what was now two birds, busied in their families. I left the wood and stood looking up towards Fremington Edge, where no doubt in times long past, strong winged eagles would have held territory. Only a couple of jackdaw were seen. Suddenly my phone awoke and I realised I was back in coverage. Now here I could bemoan modern technology etc, but I choose to use it. There were emails to do with today’s big ‘kick-off’ meeting. They’d been travelling in silent majesty along their ordered ways to me and all arrived in a cacophony of buzzes and pings. A good job I read them, a couple of things still to clear up. I walked on.

Our ancient crab apple has small fruits on, I’ll try and remember to taste them when they’re ‘ripe’. No doubt my face will try and turn itself inside out, but it has to be done. Further on I notice another couple of common spotted orchids. Not seen them here before. They do have a habit of popping up in unexpected places…thankfully. 

Common Spotted Orchid

I return to the tent and with direful hunger craving had some breakfast, before wife and I set off to meet our partners for the last time before work starts on our big renaturing scheme on our bit of Fremington Edge, which I’ll tell you all about in the next blog (which will be a Blake free piece).

Martin WW

ps…If anyone is a tad confused by some of the language contained within this blog entry, I’ve slipped in quite a few references from ‘Night the Second’ by William Blake. As it was the second night we’d spent in a tent on The Cluster it seemed rather apt…if a tad silly, but enjoyable to write (sat here in the sun on The Cluster). I promise it won’t happen again…well not in the near future anyway. The italicised quote is not Blake btw.