“Thursday’s RIGHT OUT”*

The weather Gods have blown our next volunteering day on Thursday into submission, so were having to CANCEL.

All the forecasts are now predicting winds gusting over 50mph with some saying up to 70mph therefore it would be neither safe nor comfortable.

Our next day is on the 28th of Feb (two weeks today) so if you can join us please let us know.

Stay safe peeps.


(*Its a quote from a rather wonderful Monty Python Sketch btw)

Oh dear😥

Well the Gods don’t seem to want us to host volunteer days at the moment do they? We sadly had to cancel our last day because of dreadful weather and it seems to have started a trend. We can cope with a bit of wind, but it’s not looking very good for Thursday is it?

We will make a decision whether to go ahead with our day on Tuesday.


Its looking very unlikely that we can go ahead on Thursday. All the forecasts say ’very’ windy, and as we will either be working near trees or out in the open, this doesnt bode well for safety or comfort.

(Update added 16:46 13/2)

Awls and owls.

As our Saturday with volunteers had to be cancelled due to the weather forecast (which was correct if perhaps a tad understated) we had a few jobs to do this week.

We continued on with the planting of our new scrub with some willow and alder in the wet and damp bits. Some of this will protect a wall between the Cluster and Castle Farm, from flood water, as it gets damaged every few years.

We are trying a different technique for planting some willow ’setts/stobbs’ (c18” pieces of willow which are hammered into the ground leaving about 6” above ground to grow into new willows). As these are very prone to rabbit damage, we have used old tree shelters and tied them to the willow with biodegradable string, using the willow as a stake. Fingers crossed, the willow will grow and in a couple of years time we can remove the shelters and reuse them.

After doing the planting we went for a walk towards the Heggs end of the cluster. We noticed our first barn owl out hunting. We watched it for a while and as it drifted off we set off walking again well chuffed!

Unbelievably within a couple of minutes we saw another hunting. We could still see our ’first’ in the distance. I managed to grab a couple of ’record’ shots with my phone but will have to return with a camera in the near.

We enjoyed that walk.

(If you are wondering what the ’awl’ bit refers to in the blog title, well its what I used to make a hole through the tree shelters to thread the string through)



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 term..it 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 heggs.castle.cluster@gmail.com.

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!