Firstly apologies to the rampant hoards who had signed up for volunteering tomorrow. God* has decreed that Saturday will be the wettest day of the winter so far (*other deities are available). Whether this will turn out to be correct, remains to be seen. But it was with a heavy heart that we decided earlier today to call tomorrow’s planting fest off. I’d even bought the ingredients for a stunning soup -fest.

So we now have a load of alder and willow that need planting in the very near future. We will be planting these next week, so if you fancy having a gentle play next week and being a major contributor to saving life as we know it (other opinions are available) please let us know.

And to finish on a more positive and uplifting note, here’s a wonderful portrait by John Singer Sargent.

Martin WW

Scrubbing up pt 2.

Shelters and canes have now been procured courtesy of The Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust and Tees Swale Naturally Connected. Many thanks.

As we have bare-rooted hawthorn to plant asap (125) we have decided to make Monday a ‘flash planting’ (this is possibly the first use ever of this is according to Google’s Ngram viewer?)

Meet at noon at Castle bridge if you fancy helping, but let us know beforehand if poss. If you fancy some fun (its a surfaced track but a bit steep lower down), feel free to drive to the ‘meet’ spot (4WD only).

Scrubbing up.

Yesterday saw our first public volunteer day of the new year. We were working in the lee of some woodland which kept the cold north-westerly wind away and we also had a bit of sun for company.

We are currently short of ’scrub’ on the Cluster. It is a very valuable habitat and our aim is to increase the amount we have through management and planting.

We used all the guards we had (more on order) which gave us an early finish, so we had a walk around the Cluster, a veritable ’guided tour’ in fact.

We have another volunteer day coming up a week tomorrow where we might be finishing the planting if we haven’t got the remaining plants in before that.


Natural Flood Management (NFM)

Earlier today we had a very interesting and illuminating online meeting with various partners to talk about our plans for NFM work on the cluster. We are working with Durham University to model the outcomes of proposed works and we saw a presentation of how any measures would affect peak flows in the area.

The works proposed would all have a positive effect in reducing flooding risk and we are now looking forward to starting works as soon as consent from the Yorkshire Dales National Park has been granted.

As well as reducing flood risk, the new scrapes, ponds and leaky dams will be of great benefit for biodiversity (and residents lower down the Arkle hopefully).

We will blog about this in more detail in the coming weeks.

Volunteer Days 2022

Here is a list of our volunteer days for the next few months. We start at 10 am and will be providing hot drinks and soup (always vegan but we can hopefully deal with other likes/dislikes/allergies/intolerances etc, let us know) and cake.

27/1. Hedge planting

5/2. Tree shelter removal

17/2. Exclosure moving/building

28/2. Exclosure moving/building

19/3. Tree shelter removal

25/4. General river bank tidy up from winter floods

All the above are weather dependent and tasks could change.

if you are interested in helping on any please get in touch


First Work Party of 2022

Yesterday saw volunteers from Sustainable Swaledale and Operation Raleigh Alumni tree planting and creating a new hedge line. An enjoyable day was had by all apparently.

The new hedge was planted close to a dry stone wall line that was completely washed away in the flood in July 2019. Rather than re-wall, it was decided to plant a hedge, which once established will be a lot more resilient to future flooding events.

The other task was to plant some trees in a field to try and recreate the ancient wood pasture which once covered the cluster (see earlier blog entry). We believe that by using trees in fields that are grazed (silvopastural agroforestry) we can benefit nature but also respect the local heritage of sheep farming. Although we only intend to graze lightly (and not with sheep) this system is used successfully in other places with large benefits to the local landscape and wildlife. This also helps reduce flooding believe it or not!

Huge thanks Christa from Tees Swale Naturally Connected for all her help and for providing our trees etc. Also many thanks to Carol Douglas from Together for Trees, and to Rob MacDonald from Sustainable Swaledale.


‘Calling all volunteers!’

Winter is in full swing and we’ve finally sat down together and planned our list of volunteer days for the remainder of the season.

Between the end of January and the end of April, there are plenty of exciting tasks to get involved with, along with the ‘mundane but necessary’. All are incredibly beneficial for the habitats we’re seeking to renature, and each very rewarding in its own right!

So, what are the tasks and what are their benefits?

Removing tree guards

After 5-10 years, tree guards begin to split. Removing them before they start to disintegrate or begin to hamper growth is essential – both to safeguard the health of the tree, and to ensure the guards can be properly disposed of and recycled.

Replacing damaged tree guards and stakes

Self-explanatory this one. If the damaged guards haven’t done their job yet, they need to be replaced with something fit-for-purpose.

Removing redundant fencing

Our intention is to graze the entire site with a handful of native breed cattle, allowing them the liberty to move around freely. This, we hope, will maximise the potential for natural regeneration, as well as stimulate the creation of a diverse range of ecosystems. Certain sections of internal fencing are now redundant and removing them would allow easier movement across the cluster.

Repositioning grazing exclosures & erecting new ones

Tees-Swale have kindly funded the materials to create several 2mx2m mesh grazing exclosures across the site. By protecting certain areas from constant grazing by our unnaturally large rabbit population, we hope to allow a greater variety of species to emerge. In effect, these exclosures will showcase what different areas of the site ‘could’ look like with a more balanced ecological food web. A few exclosures were erected last spring. These need to be moved to new areas, and several new exclosures need to be built and sited.

Litter picking/general tidy up along the Arkle Beck

Just when you think you’ve collected the last piece of black agricultural plastic… Due to the constant ebb and flow of the Arkle, the bits and pieces that wash up, get tangled in tree roots, and emerge from beneath the silt is never-ending. Filling bags with rubbish is a quick and easy feel-good boost!

Sounds good. What are the dates and how do I sign-up?

Our winter volunteer dates are: 27th Jan, 5th Feb, 17th Feb, 28th Feb, 31st March, 25th April.

You can sign up for any of these by completing our contact form or emailing us at

Tasks for each date will be confirmed by email nearer the time, along with arrival info and anything else you need to know. Days will run from approx 10am-2pm, with tea, coffee and cake provided!

Hope to see you on the cluster soon!



Wednesday June 16th dawned bright and clear. A good day for playing in rivers. We hosted the Wild Trout Trust with Prof Johnny Grey and a happy band of volunteers.

We were split into three groups, electro-fishing, water chemical analysis and invertebrate sampling, and then spent the next few hours enjoying the attention of midges and other jewels of our river environment.

We only have the results of the electro-fishing at the time of writing which can be found on our ‘Archive” page.


Prince’s Youth Trust Visit 14th June

Today we hosted a visit with some young folk from Darlington. The day didn’t start well with the bus driver being told by his ‘masters’ to drop them off at the wrong place. But through good luck and gravity (they were dropped off upstream of the cluster) we all assembled an hour or so later than initially planned.

Their day was meant to consist of a bird ringing demonstration with both nest boxes glared into and mist nets watched, followed by lunch and an afternoon doing ‘navigation’ on Fremington Edge.

Roger, a local National Park ranger introduced them to the idea behind ringing and the why’s and wherefores before our group of 18-25 yr olds giggled there way along to the first nest box.

As we approached a male pied flycatcher was on the nest box. Once carefully opened by Roger (a licensed bird ringer) he ringed each of the 8 chicks and invited a couple of our visitors at a time to get a bit closer and watch.

We then wandered down to where John (the gent who rings for me usually) had set up some mist nets. These are very fine nets which birds are unable to see. They fly into them and are carefully ‘extracted’ (yes that’s the technical term) and then their biometrics are taken, that is they are aged, sexed, weighed and wing measurements etc taken before being ringed and released. One lucky person got to give a robin its freedom.

By the time we got back to Heggs for lunch it was too late to do the afternoon’s activity, so we had a leisurely lunch and a good bit of banter.

Afterwards we said goodbye to a group who I genuinely believe had enjoyed their day (if their reactions were anything to go by).

Hopefully we can repeat this sort of thing with other youth groups. If we don’t engage, we’ve got no chance of getting folk to care.

The pitfalls of wildlife recording.

June 13th. Warm, muggy and now decidedly midgey.

Whilst we were having a wander around yesterday, a kind gent was trying to install some ‘pitfall’ traps to sample creepy-crawlies. I hope you appreciate my technical terms?

Pitfall traps are designed to catch insects, spiders, flies etc so they can later be identified. They do kill whatever falls into them, but this is currently the standard way that records are collected. It’s certainly uncomfortable having to take specimens, but it leads to a much better understanding of the biota (the things that live there) of an area than anything else. The ‘greater good’ argument. They are basically a cup, buried to the lip so creatures fall and are killed with a solution in the cup. Not ideal..BUT watch this space, as we are going to trial some DNA sampling this summer. More on this in a later blog.

After the earlier walk I offered to help install a series of traps. Digging them in next to the river we were attacked by midges. But when those were installed we moved onto less midgey territory. Once installed we decided to look for a rare spider that has recently been spotted in Swaledale. Getting our feet wet on a roastingly hot afternoon (for us upland types) was rather pleasant. Below is a pic of a spider similar (probably) to the one we were looking for.

The pitfall raps will be removed next week and results will be published here and on our ‘archive’ page.

We also found another oystercatcher on eggs and a pair of Large red damselfly.