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The Society Indoor meetings are held on alternate Thursdays
between September and March at 7.30pm
in the Crosthwaite Parish Room in Keswick.
Field outings are organised at various times through the year.
Visitors are always welcome to the Society's events
for which there is a small charge


Keswick Natural History Society

Talk by Chris Winnick,
Chair of Cumbria Branch of Butterfly Conservation

Keswick Natural History Society’s 2023-24 programme of talks got off to an excellent start on Thursday 5th October, with Chris Winnick, the Chair of the Cumbria Branch of the charity Butterfly Conservation talking about Butterflies in Cumbria. It turns out that Cumbria provides a home for an impressive range of butterfly species – no fewer than 42 of the 59 species known in the UK – thanks to its great variety of habitats, from limestone grasslands, through all sorts of woodland, to upland heaths and bogs. Chris’ talk focused particularly on the various species of Fritillary, some of which are very rare, others reasonably common.

Of course, butterflies, like so much of our natural heritage, are in decline; through loss of habitats, over-use of pesticides, and climate change. Chris offered insights into the immense complexity of the adaptations that many species have evolved, over many millenia, to find their own particular niche habitat. The loss of any aspect of this habitat can lead to the loss of that species – climate change is happening far too fast for species to adapt, in many cases.

One example is the High Brown Fritillary, Cumbria’s rarest butterfly, which is on the wing mainly in July. This species is entirely dependent on finding thick patches of violets, to lay their eggs, and for their caterpillars to feed on. To provide this, the Cumbria branch of Butterfly Conservation works very hard, in partnership with the Cumbria Wildlife Trust, to open up patches of woodland, so more light can reach the woodland floor; when this happens, typically, violets are amongst the first plants to flourish. But the violets then start having to compete with grasses, bluebells, wood sage, honeysuckle and so on; they start to thin out, and the High Browns stop using those patches to lay their eggs. So the effort has to be repeated regularly, to support the possibility of this lovely butterfly continuing to be able to live in Cumbria.

Not all butterfly species have such very specific requirements for their habitats, however. Those that are significantly less specialist, such as the Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary, can occupy a much wider variety of habitats; their numbers are declining much more slowly, in general. Some butterflies, such as grass-loving species, are actually doing very well. And of course, some new species are coming into Britain, and /or are gradually spreading northwards, as the climate heats up – the Ringlet and Gatekeeper are examples.

To try to support the populations of every butterfly species, Butterfly Conservation has developed a hugely detailed knowledge and understanding of where each species is occurring, the trends in their numbers, and the precise details of what they need if they are to survive and thrive. The Cumbria branch takes a systematic and scientific approach to recording and counting species across Cumbria, identifying where and why they are in decline, developing and testing recovery strategies, and putting those into practice, alongside partner organisations such as the Cumbria Wildlife Trust, Lancaster University, landowners and farmers, and with the inputs of many volunteers. Together they have recorded some spectacular successes, such as the Small Blue. This lovely little insect, our smallest butterfly, feeds solely on kidney vetch, a plant that thrives on barer landscapes such as limestone and brownfield former industrial sites. Ongoing efforts to reintroduce the plant on a number of suitable sites, and to release Small Blue larvae bred in captivity, have led to a great recovery in their numbers.

Anyone interested in finding out more will find a wealth of detail on the excellent Cumbria branch website https://butterfly-conservation.org/in-your-area/cumbria-branch . The branch works immensely hard to gather data, disseminate knowledge, encourage interest, and involve people in a number of ways. Each year, they organise guided walks (free) to a number of key sites; details are posted on the website in March.

All the butterfly photographs were taken by Tony Marsh.

The Natural History Society’s next talk will be on Thursday 19th October, at 7.30pm, in Crosthwaite Parish Room. The topic is Peatland Conservation. The speaker, Jack Brennand, from the University of Cumbria, partners with a local company to evaluate blanket peatland restoration projects using innovative 3D X-ray CT scans. He will explain his work and tell us how it is helping to provide a nature-based solution to the climate crisis.

Members get free entry to talks; the charge for visitors is £4.

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High Brown Fritillary (Underwing)

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High Brown Fritillary

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Ringlet (Underwing)

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Small Blue

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Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary



Just a few miles west of Keswick lies a gem of a nature reserve, with a fascinating past and a promising future. Dubwath Silver Meadows lies very close to the A66, on the opposite side of the road from the Bassenthwaite Lake Station restaurant. Members and guests of Keswick Natural History Society learnt a great deal of interest about the ecology of Dubwath Silver Meadows, past, present and future, on Thursday 2nd February from visiting speaker Mark Tilzey, an Ecologist at Coventry University, who knows the reserve very well and carried out the original survey of its habitats and species in 2009.

Mark made the point that Dubwath Silver Meadows is neither an entirely wild area, nor a heavily-farmed one. He described it as “half-wild” – an area used for many centuries as common land; an untamed but shared space; where we can still detect the relics of the medieval landscape and the commoners’ agricultural practices. Until the Enclosures Act of 1824 there was a very varied patchwork of land uses and habitats, including wetlands, hay meadows, grazing land, wet or “carr” woodland, dry woodland and hedgerows. Each patch would have provided a distinct habitat for Nature, attracting species of flora and fauna suited to the conditions prevalent in that particular habitat. Overall, this led to an area unusually rich in species.

When the Enclosures took the land away from common use and into private ownership, the exclusion of traditional agricultural practices led to the area being heavily colonised by species-poor scrub. So the variety of habitats, and of species, was significantly reduced. After World War 2, in common with farming practices and government policies of the time, artificial chemical fertilisers were applied widely to the land, much further reducing the number of species of flora and fauna, but increasing the yield of grass and silage.

Now, Dubwath Silver Meadows is being managed as a wetland nature reserve, with easy-access wheelchair-friendly boardwalks, and seats and hides in strategic locations, allowing for the quiet observation of wildlife. And an exciting new feature is a recently-planted hedgerow, hundreds of metres long, designed and to be managed in accordance with traditional methods. This will greatly enhance carbon sequestration and soil health, while providing a degree of flood mitigation, and shelter for livestock. In accordance with the traditional approach, annual mechanical flailing of the hedgerow will be avoided, allowing the natural regeneration of trees such as ash and oak. It is to be expected that, over time, it will slowly become ever-increasingly biodiverse: on average, hedgerows are colonised by one new species in every hundred years, and this can give a measure of the antiquity of the hedge. But as that is a long time to wait, volunteers are putting back a variety of appropriate species, including 420 tree “whips” supplied by the Woodland Trust, among them such less-common species as downy birch and crab apple.

The new hedgerow will take quite a few years to grow, and will be managed by traditional labour-intensive methods such as laying-down and coppicing. This will inevitably make it less attractive for a short time, but it will quickly become thick again, and more biodiverse and sustainable – a haven for wildlife, and another aspect of Dubwath Silver Meadows for visitors to enjoy.

marktilzly2 (371K) Mark Tilzey


Talk by Lee Schofield on Thursday 19th January 2023

“Fighting for Nature on a Lake District Hill Farm”

An exceptionally large audience – around 60 people – turned out in freezing weather on the evening of 19th January, to hear Lee Schofield’s talk “Fighting for Nature on a Lake District Hill Farm”, based on his fascinating book, “Wild Fell”. This describes the first ten years of the RSPB’s work at their two farms on Haweswater, where he is the Ecologist and Site Manager. And the audience were very well-rewarded! Lee is an excellent speaker, and has wonderful photos to illustrate his talk – and a truly inspiring tale to tell.

It was, though, quite shocking to hear his account of the very many ways in which the nature of the area – in common with so much of the Lake District, and many other areas - became so very degraded, particularly during the years after the Second World War. Not through design, but largely as the unintended consequence of well-intentioned government and EU policies to support hill farming and the production of food. In so much of our upland areas, this meant encouraging the removal of hedgerows, drainage of boggy land, and producing more and more sheep, but hardly anything else; plus the change from traditional hay meadows to grass grown for silage and cut earlier in the year, before ground-nesting birds have fledged.

One way and another, this had so many undesirable consequences, including increasing the risk of flooding downstream, the loss of many habitats and very many species of flora, with the land becoming covered in tough grasses, and supporting ever fewer invertebrates, birds and small mammals. Traditional mixed hill farms, with their cattle, fell ponies, pigs, geese, chickens, orchards, oats and vegetable plots, as well as sheep, became focused more and more exclusively on producing sheep. The coverage of trees – much reduced since Neolithic times – and shrubs such as juniper were reduced still further, as natural regeneration was thwarted by the grazing of sheep and deer. And a landscape that had, even in relatively recent memory, been so much more alive and varied, became so very much impoverished.

Sadly, all the effort to increase the food supply hasn’t even worked very well: despite an estimated 30% of the UK’s farmed land area being devoted to sheep, they provide only a few percent of the nation’s calorie intake.

But as Lee and his colleagues have amply demonstrated, much of the damage to Nature can be reversed - given time, determination, scientific knowledge, patience, working in partnership with others, and endless effort (and, of course, funding). The RSPB’s workforce at Haweswater and in the surrounding area have grown in number from 4 to 22, bringing economic benefits to the area, in addition to their efforts for Nature. They discovered a number of species of plants and flowers hanging on to remote crags, inaccessible to grazing animals, and these have provided local sources of seeds to grow and plant back into the landscape. They have started nurseries for native trees, to grow seeds from a few specimens surviving on ledges and gullies, to re-plant in previously wooded areas. Working together with landowner United Utilities, and alongside Natural England, the Environment Agency, Cumbria Wildlife Trust and neighbouring farmers and landowners, they are damming the drains to save and restore the peatlands (as both carbon sinks and varied habitats), and re-wiggling the becks to slow the flow of water, and encourage the return of all sorts of creatures including fish such as salmon and trout. Changes to grazing practices, including keeping sheep off some of the higher fells, and introducing small numbers of fell ponies and hardy cattle, are helping to restore the land to a healthier state. And with the restoration of habitats, the previously lost species are starting to return - sometimes surprisingly quickly. It may be too soon to hope for the return of golden eagles (still present in the area as recently as 2015, but now completely absent from England), but many other species are already starting to come back. There is hope that pine martens will be seen again, helping red squirrels to flourish; and beavers may one day be reintroduced. Red grouse have already returned, with the recovering heather; and tree pipits have moved into young woodlands.

One less-widely understood aspect of the conservation work in the Haweswater area is the collective effort to reduce the numbers of red and roe deer. With no natural predators, apart from Man, and their capacity to thrive in even the most impoverished habitats, deer numbers have risen very rapidly over recent years – to an unnatural and damaging level. But they, like the sheep, are indiscriminate browsers, and eat everything available, including young trees. Their current population density is far higher than would allow for trees to regenerate naturally, or newly planted trees to thrive. Because deer can roam freely across the landscape, deer management has to be collaborative, involving multiple landowners and managers. Culling takes place (as it does – very successfully - in many conservation areas in Scotland) to reduce their numbers and allow a much wider variety of vegetation the opportunity to come back – while also providing a healthy and ethical source of meat to take to market.

Overall, the RSPB’s work at Haweswater is an inspiring and hugely successful venture, and we can hope it will go from strength to strength, over coming decades.

The next meeting of the Keswick Natural History Society will be on Thursday 2nd February, in the Crosthwaite Parish Room, when Mark Tilzey will speak on “The change in the ecology of Dubwath Silver Meadows”.

Naddle Forest May 2018 Spike Webb (003) (1329K)
Naddle Forest May 2018 Spike Webb

Two sides of Haweswater Lee Schofield (002) (250K)
Two sides of Haweswater Lee Schofield


Report of the meeting on December 1th 2022

Keswick Natural History Society The speaker at the meeting of Keswick Natural History Society on Thursday 1st December was Mike Abbs, with a presentation entitled ‘An introduction to Dragonflies’ Mike is a volunteer with The Dragonfly Society and Secretary of Carlisle Natural History Society. Although an avid birdwatcher it wasn’t until he had a close encounter with a Golden Ringed Dragonfly 40 years ago, that his interest in Dragonflies and Damselflies begun. At that time there were very few reference books on the subject and research and identification, pre internet, was much more difficult.

The illustrated presentation, deftly took us through the differences between Dragonflies and Damselflies. The former is larger, and both have two sets of wings. At rest a Dragonflies wings are open, while a Damselflies wings fold back, giving them a more slender appearance. Dragonflies have much larger eyes, taking up most of the head, Damselflies eyes are smaller and always have a space between them. The flight of the Damselfly is weaker and fluttery. They both have extremely complex eyes with approximately 30,000 facets. This means that Dragonflies can detect the plane of polarization of light, no one is quite sure what the advantages of this is, but in other insects it is a means of navigation.

Dragonflies were some of the first winged insects to evolve, around 300 million years ago, long before the dinosaurs. The insects have a fascinating life cycle. The three stages are Egg, Larvae, and Adult. Unlike other winged insects they do not have a pupal stage and transition straight from a Larvae to an Adult. The males have a territory which they patrol until a female comes by and he grabs her by the head. To avoid cross breeding their genitalia fit together like pieces of a jigsaw. He may then guard her while she lays her eggs. Eggs hatch within 2-5 weeks or in some cases the following spring. The Larvae is a ferocious predator eating other insect larvae, worms, aphids, and it is possible that some of the larger Dragonfly larvae like the Emperor, will also take small fish! The Larvae lives for months and sometimes years underwater and undergo a series of moults as it grows. It is not fully understood what triggers emergence, although temperature is thought to play a part. Some dragonflies seem to co-ordinate their emergence and this is thought to help avoid predation. After the final moult the larvae climbs out of the water, it is extremely vulnerable at this stage. After finding a secure support they push themselves out of the larval skin. The wings and then the abdomen expand and start to harden. It can take a few days for the full colour to appear. For recording numbers of a species in a given area the discarded cases of the larvae (exuviae) is a reliable method.

Mike then went on to give us tips on identification. Eye colour, face pattern/colour Thorax stripes on top or sides, Abdomen markings, presence of a waist, all things to be aware of to narrow down identification. Habitat, some species have very particular needs, i.e. slow or fast moving water, or boggy areas. The time of year is also very significant, different species are on the wings at specific times. Global warming is affecting the emergence times of some species and species such as the Brown Hawker are also moving north, with new sightings always on the cards.

A sign of Summer, the Large Red Damselfly is probably the first to emerge in Cumbria. The Common Blue has a wine glass marking on the abdomen which distinguishes it from the similar Azure which has a U shaped black mark. The Emerald Damselfly has a metallic green thorax and a blue tip to its tail. The Common Hawker favours peat bogs with acid water. All these are present in Cumbria, as is the Banded Demoiselle which is spreading well, the Black Darter, and the Migrant Hawker. The Keeled Skimmer can be reliably seen near to the Bowderstone carpark, and the Beautiful Demoiselle in Grange in Borrowdale. The Downy Emerald can be seen at several sites in the Lake District, usually between May and June, it prefers water surrounded by trees.

Mike has been closely involved with the introduction of the White Faced Darter to Foulshaw Moss reserve in the South of the county. This species has declined because of the widespread degradation of peatland and is now in just a few isolated sites. This reintroduction has been a great success and there is now a thriving population. There are now plans to replicate the project at Drumburgh Moss on the Solway.

Unlike for the young Mike Abbs 40 years ago, there is a wealth of knowledge available today. The British Dragonfly Society web site is a useful place to start. The Cumbria Biodiversity Data Centre web site also has the Cumbria dragonfly Atlas, it is the place to record sightings.

A question and answer session brought the last meeting of 2022 to a close.

Banded Demoiselle Isel Bridge 1 small__01 (413K)
Banded Demoiselle Isel Bridge

Foulshaw Black Darter male (2 of 1)__01 (330K)
Golden-ringed Dragonfly emerging 1__01 (1276K)
Golden-ringed Dragonfly emerging

Migrant Hawker 2__01 (274K)
Migrant Hawker


Report of the meeting on October 6th 2022

A large audience attended the first meeting in the Keswick Natural History Society’s 22-23 season last Thursday to hear a presentation by Jim Bliss, Conservation Manager of the Lowther Estate near Penrith. Jim described a long history on the Estate of intensive farming practice, which was both failing to make a profit and was consistently degrading the environment and the nature that depended on it. A decision was made in 2018 to change tack and to move to, what is increasingly being termed, Regenerative Farming. This involves regenerating landscapes, eco-systems, the structure of soil and the myriads of microscopic creatures that live in it and, crucially, the bottom line of starting to make a profit. Another term might be Re-Carbonising the land, locking more Carbon up into vegetation and soil micro-organisms; something we desperately need to happen.

Lowther River Restoration copy (1704K)
Lowther River Restoration

The first step was to sell all the machinery and stock that an intensive sheep farming enterprise requires and replace it with traditional Long-horned cattle, which although small and relatively slow growing compared to some of the modern breeds, are hardy enough to stay outdoors all winter without any additional input or housing costs and who can safely give birth in a quiet spot in the open without the need for veterinary input. A multitude of relatively small fields have been opened out into five huge ones where the cattle can wander, usually unchecked, but when necessary, they can be herded relatively easily by the use of a satellite system delivering messages to neck collars which deliver a mild electric shock if they stray out of an area that has been drawn on a phone app map. (This system even gives a warning if one of the cattle has stayed in the place for more than a couple of hours, which can be the sign of an impending birth).

The absence of all-devouring sheep, extensive tree planting and the acceptance of shrub as a positive feature, is turning previous large areas of course grasses and very little else, into Woodland Pasture, sometimes messy to look at but increasingly rich in ecological complexity and bio-diversity. The cattle browse on tree branches, (there is good evidence of this having significant medicinal effects), as well as an increasingly wide assortment of herb and grass species. Even the usually maligned Field Thistle is tolerated, the cattle apparently love it, but it has also produced a significant increase in insect species, (for instance a three-fold increase in Moth varieties), and a consequent increase in the bird species that feed on them. The cattle tread seeds into the soil to encourage seedling germination and this ecosystem engineering is even more effectively performed by six Tamworth pigs a hardy breed that likes nothing more that exposing bare soil with their impressively tough snouts. Another superb example of a “Keystone Species” or “Eco-engineers”, are the two wild Beavers that Lowther was able to obtain on license for their release into a 26-acre fenced plot containing a narrow and shallow stream, a small section of woodland and some rough “improved grassland”. Within a very short period of time, “Dragonfly” and “Glen” as they are called, have created multiple dams which in turn have created small pools and channels in what is now a new wetland. Such saturated land has been shown to contain flood water for about 12 hours as opposed to a couple of hours in ordinary dry grassland. Amphibians have returned as have Lapwings, Teal, Snipe and even a Kingfisher.

Other projects include forestry that employs a technique of harvesting individual trees intermittently, hence avoiding the awful visual and ecological effects of clear felling, and experimental techniques to grow trees successfully without plastic tree guards. Some wonderful wild flower meadows, which in turn provide the nectar for the bees from 500 hives which provide a significant income stream from the sale of high quality honey, and the rewiggling of water courses and ponds in conjunction with the Eden Rivers Trust to help slow water flow and reduce flooding downstream.

wildflowerslowtherresto (946K)
Lowther River Restoration, wild flowers

Jim’s talk was highly appreciated by the audience but even more impressive is the pioneering and increasingly vital work he was describing.

The next talk for Keswick Natural History Society will be given by Chris Winnick, Chair of the Cumbria branch of Butterfly Conservation, and will be held in the Crosthwaite Parish Room, adjacent to the Coop car park at 7.30pm on Thursday the 20th October.

All are welcome whether members or visitors.


Report of the meeting on 3rd November 2022

Keswick Natural History Society had another good turn-out, despite inclement weather, on the evening of Thursday 3rd November, to hear a very interesting talk about Dynamic Dunescapes – Wildlife and Conservation. It turns out that the sand dunes with which we are all, no doubt, familiar - with their wind-blown, shifting shapes, and wispy clumps of marram grass, located between the sea shore and the more vegetated, fertile land - are a particularly specialised habitat, but the one that is most threatened in Europe. That habitat is home to some unique and rare species, which can only thrive in environments with very low levels of nutrients. But some 60-70% of the coverage of these sand dunes has been lost since the 1900s, for a whole variety of reasons, including well-intentioned but misguided management practices, climate change, the reduction in rabbit numbers, and colonisation by attractive but highly invasive species such as the Japanese rose (Rosa rugosa). And that, in turn, is threatening the survival of the specialised wildlife – and a well-loved recreational resource for people.

Cumbria Wildlife Trust is working in partnership with several other organisations, with Lottery funding, to restore a number of sand dune environments along the Cumbrian coast and down as far as Fleetwood. They are working to save such exotic and interesting species as Bee Orchids, Natterjack Toads, a weird fungus called the Dune Tulip, Small Blue butterflies, and the amazing Dune Tiger beetle – the second fastest beetle on earth, which can reach the astonishing speed of 2.5 metres per second (nearly 6 miles per hour) – among many others. And the preservation of the dunes also helps conserve the shingle nest sites needed by waders like the Ringed Plover and the Oystercatcher.

The Trust’s Holly Stainton outlined the impressive amount of work being put in to achieve this. They are working on 34 sites: creating “dune slacks” – troughs in the dunes which are at the level of the water table, and hold shallow ponds in winter which dry up in summer; removing invasive species; replacing sheep with conservation grazing by horses and hardy cattle; and monitoring the effectiveness of all this. They are also enthusing local people with what they’re doing, with talks, guided walks, and improved accessibility; and recruiting enthusiastic volunteers to help.

Fortunately, this will all be of benefit to people, as well as wildlife! The audience was relieved to learn that people’s enjoyment of sand dunes is more likely to do good, rather than harm, by contributing to the constant shape-shifting that goes on in the dunes; though of course this needs to be in moderation, avoiding sensitive areas, and keeping dogs on leads (and picking up their poo!).

The Society’s next talk will be about Natterjack Toads and Slow Worms, on Thursday 17th November, at 7.30pm in the Crosthwaite Parish Room. The speakers are Suzie Collinson and Ashleigh Toomey, who work with Cumbria Amphibian and Reptile Group. They will talk about their research into the conservation of these amphibians in this area. All will be very welcome; entrance for non-members is £4.

Northern Dune Tiger Beetle Vaugh Matthews copy (1344K) Bee_orchid_2_c_Janet_Packham copy (922K)
Northern Dune Tiger Beetle. Vaugh Mathews Bee Orchid. J Packham
ringed plover chick Benjamin Wimmer copy (606K) dune cup Holly Stainton copy (986K)
Ringed Plover Chick. Benjamin Wimmer Dune Cup. Holly Stainton

Keswick Natural History Society held its second Indoor Lecture of the season on Thursday 20th October 2022 with a change to the programmed speaker. The original speaker was unavailable and at short notice, thanks to our Chairman, Tony Marsh, the meeting went ahead with a presentation entitled ‘Mountains and Deltas: some Romanian Wildlife’.

Tony visited Romania last year, based initially in the Southern Carpathians at Vulcan. This is a mountainous region with limestone, which is home to many species of chalk loving flowers and plants, Carpathian Bellflower and Scabious to name two. Farming is one of the prevalent occupations in the area, some having Wildflower Meadows.

Many of the birds seen are also found in the UK, Woodpecker, Marsh Tit and Black Redstart, also spotted were Eagles and other raptors. The region hosts six species of woodpecker, some looking very similar to our Great Spotted. Butterflies and moths which are also found in the UK, such as Red Admiral and Scotch Argus. One highlight was a Chamois and although Wolves were not seen, their scat was! A wolf-dog was photographed, so named, as they guard the sheep and to avoid predation by wolves on themselves they wear protective collars. The shepherds have packs of dogs to help with protecting their sheep.

Bears are also found in these areas, some were seen with cubs, however the mother bears are very protective of their young as the males are known to kill them. If a male is spotted the mother will bark at the cubs, at which time the cubs will climb trees to escape.

The next stop was Tulcen on the shores of the Black Sea. The Tulcea Waterfront was quite industrial, but despite this there were plenty of water birds including Greater Flamingos and Avocet, again wading birds found in the UK, such as, Dunlin, Ruff, Little Ringed Plover, and Little Stint, alongside Greylag on Lake Chiolui Harsarlae. Here the accommodation was a “Floathel”, a large boat renovated to hotel standard for tourists. A small boat was also available to enable access to some of the smaller waterways where White Pelican and Cormorant were in abundance, alongside Dalmation Pelican, Purple Heron, Grey Heron and Egret. Falcons and Terns were to be seen in the trees or flying overhead, the largest of which was the White Tailed Eagle. Amphibians such as the Fire-bellied Toad, Snake-eyed Skink and Marsh Frog were spotted by the eagle-eyed guide

Keswick Natural History Society held its second Indoor Lecture of the season on Thursday 20th October 2022 with a change to the programmed speaker. The original speaker was unavailable and at short notice, thanks to our Chairman, Tony Marsh, the meeting went ahead with a presentation entitled ‘Mountains and Deltas: some Romanian Wildlife’.

Tony visited Romania last year, based initially in the Southern Carpathians at Vulcan. This is a mountainous region with limestone, which is home to many species of chalk loving flowers and plants, Carpathian Bellflower and Scabious to name two. Farming is one of the prevalent occupations in the area, some having Wildflower Meadows.

Many of the birds seen are also found in the UK, Woodpecker, Marsh Tit and Black Redstart, also spotted were Eagles and other raptors. The region hosts six species of woodpecker, some looking very similar to our Great Spotted. Butterflies and moths which are also found in the UK, such as Red Admiral and Scotch Argus. One highlight was a Chamois and although Wolves were not seen, their scat was! A wolf-dog was photographed, so named, as they guard the sheep and to avoid predation by wolves on themselves they wear protective collars. The shepherds have packs of dogs to help with protecting their sheep.

Bears are also found in these areas, some were seen with cubs, however the mother bears are very protective of their young as the males are known to kill them. If a male is spotted the mother will bark at the cubs, at which time the cubs will climb trees to escape.

The next stop was Tulcen on the shores of the Black Sea. The Tulcea Waterfront was quite industrial, but despite this there were plenty of water birds including Greater Flamingos and Avocet, again wading birds found in the UK, such as, Dunlin, Ruff, Little Ringed Plover, and Little Stint, alongside Greylag on Lake Chiolui Harsarlae. Here the accommodation was a “Floathel”, a large boat renovated to hotel standard for tourists. A small boat was also available to enable access to some of the smaller waterways where White Pelican and Cormorant were in abundance, alongside Dalmation Pelican, Purple Heron, Grey Heron and Egret. Falcons and Terns were to be seen in the trees or flying overhead, the largest of which was the White Tailed Eagle. Amphibians such as the Fire-bellied Toad, Snake-eyed Skink and Marsh Frog were spotted by the eagle-eyed guide

Committee member Pete Garner sent this message that I thought would be helpful to disseminate:
You and the committee may be interested to know that unfortunately there has been an outbreak of squirrel pox in Borrowdale. A sickly Red Squirrel was trapped by Gary & Donna Macrae @ The Hazelbank Hotel but it later died at the vets.
Hopefully this was an isolated incident. If anyone spots any grey or red squirrels please could you ask that they let Lynne Roberts know @ keswickreds@gmail.com We’ve removed quite a few grey squirrels around Seatoller & Rosthwaite and hope this is sufficient to contain a wider outbreak.


Meeting Report for 20th January 2022

Keswick Natural History Society received a zoomed talk by Isaac Johnston, Conservation Ranger for the John Muir Trust. The Trust is a conservation NGO with approximately 11,000 members and holds large landholdings in some of the most scenic and iconic wild areas in Scotland with a view to protecting, conserving and engaging people with wild land. Since 2017 the Trust has leased Glenridding Common, essentially the summit and the Eastern slopes of Helvellyn leading down to Glenridding village. There are two farms with grazing rights, but the numbers of sheep allowed are restricted and they do not overwinter on the fells, as part of a Countryside Stewardship scheme. There is also massive footfall from both walkers and fell runners, (the latter being particularly liable to stray away from recognized paths), with the iconic walk along Striding Edge and back down Swirral Edge being particularly popular. In spite of these pressures this is an area of rare, and in some cases, unique wildlife. The crags above Red Tarn, (flanked by the two Edges), hold small numbers of some amazing Alpine and even Arctic, plant and dwarf tree species. An example is Downy Willow, an attractive low growing tree with beautiful glaucous leaves. When first surveyed there were only 21 specimenss found on the crags, but fortunately it is relatively easily propagated via cuttings and following a great effort with Natural England and volunteers growing them on and then Trust staff planting them on suitable ledges, the current total is 2000! Without centuries of grazing pressures these Willows would be spread about the fellsides and not just confined to crags inaccessible to sheep. Isaac told us about a number of plant species with similar success stories stressing how for some of them, Helvellyn is the only site in England. An example of this being the Alpine Saxifrage which only exists where it can grow through mats of a specific species of moss.

Such diversity of plant life increases the population of insects, which in turn act as food items for wonderful mountain bird specialists such as Ring Ouzels: nationally declining, but doing well on the Common. There are strong colonies of Mountain Ringlets, a tiny butterfly, that can be seen flying just above the vegetation in large numbers on calm sunny days in July. Red Tarn holds interesting fish species, with not only the ubiquitous Brown Trout, but probably the country’s highest altitude population of Sticklebacks and the rare and enigmatic Schelly. There is even a population of the Arctic-Alpine Pea Clam in the Tarn; less than 3m in size; little is known about it.

Much of Isaac’s work is spent engaging with the public, whether walkers, wild campers or children’s outings organized by schools and the Outward Bound Trust. He even has to find time to work with Fix the Fells and the trust’s own volunteers in maintaining paths and in particular removing unnecessary cairns on the summit plateau and scattering the stones on either side of the path in a way that makes it awkward to walk on. This has produced a dramatic recovery of the unique vegetation, which had previously been trampled and killed off. The lease for the Common is now up for renew and we were left wishing that the outcome will be that the John Muir Trust can continue managing the area and preserving and enhancing the unique wildlife that resides there.

The next meeting of the Society will be on 3rd February and will be a Zoom presentation of a broad review of British wildlife “From Ardnamurchan to the Forest of Dean”

Meeting Report for xx th January 2022


Tom Mabbett, a Naturetrek tour leader, gave a presentation to the Keswick Natural History Society, concentrating on the UK and highlighting the natural diversity around us.

The first area he spoke of was the Ardnamurchan peninsula on the west coast of Scotland, just north of Mull. It’s a very quiet part of the world with beautiful scenery and plenty to see. The holiday venue is in Glenborrodale, close to Loch Sunart where a small population of pine martins are encouraged to feeding stations close to the building windows. Over the years they have become bolder, and may even appear in daylight, making it easy to distinguish individuals by the different markings on their cream-coloured chests. Otters are also favourites of the guests, with good views from the many miles of coastline. Other mammals are red deer, grey and common seals. White tailed eagles have spread from the Mull population and are now breeding here on the mainland. Golden eagles are also around, though they no longer breed in Ardnamurchan. Another favourite is the red throated diver in its spectacular summer plumage, which nests on inland lochs. Boat trips to the nearby Treshnish isles and Lunga reveal large seabird colonies nesting on the cliffs. Butterfly specialities are the Scotch Argus, Chequered Skipper and Pearl Bordered Fritillary.

Our next visit was to the Forest of Dean which Tom knows well as it is not too far from his home. It is situated near the southern end of the Welsh/English border and covers 45 square miles of mixed woodland. There are many bird species to be seen, with some real rarities. A great grey shrike has spent a few winters here. It is nicknamed the butcher bird and has a favourite thorn bush where it impales surplus food, such as rodents, birds and even amphibians to eat later, when hunting is difficult. This winter has turned up flocks of hawfinch, crossbills and bramblings.

Of course, the Forest of Dean is well known for its wild boar, now numbering around 1,100. The original animals were farmed escapes, but the woodland here is ideal for them. They are easier to spot at night, although their rooting activities are always noticeable under the trees. Adders are around too, especially in warm spring days.

Next on the list was the Somerset Levels, which was once an area of peat digging and crossed by the rivers Axe, Brue and Parrett. The land is now managed for wildlife, with islands for nesting birds, surrounded by marsh and reedbeds. This has encouraged such birds as bitters, marsh harriers, all 3 species of egret, bearded tits and various ducks. 14 years ago, common crane eggs were brought from Germany, hatched and reared at Slimbridge reserve and released on the Levels. After centuries of absence, cranes are now nesting here again, and these majestic birds now delight birdwatchers.

Another successful reintroduction is the large blue butterfly. This insect relies on the presence of red ant colonies to complete its life cycle, so the habitat had to be adapted to encourage the ants before the captive bred butterflies could be released. Winters in the Levels can also bring the starling murmurations, with up to a million birds whirling together at dusk, and often pursued by birds of prey, looking for an easy meal.

Naturetrek holidays in East Yorkshire include Spurn Point on the north bank of the Humber, where spring and autumn bird migrations often turn up rarities. Other good spots are Flamborough Head and Bempton Cliffs which are famous for spring and early summer seabird spectaculars.

Instead of focusing on travel, Tom then turned to encouraging members to explore their local surroundings, both by visiting a “local patch” regularly and by experimenting with camera traps.

From childhood he has frequented a nearby reservoir and observed increases and decreases of wildlife over the years. Wintering wildfowl have dwindled, probably due to an increased carp population eating the aquatic vegetation. However, reedbed spread has had a positive impact on reed buntings and reed warblers. Occasional exciting “twitches” have been grasshopper warblers and dotterel.

A few years ago, his family bought 10 acres of land, and Tom and his brother have been adapting it for wildlife. They have planted trees and hedges, erected 40 nest boxes, laid down felt and tin sheets for basking slow worms and have feeding stations for birds. A few years ago, he bought his first camera trap, which has been a great success, especially during lockdown. It can confirm sightings of wildlife which would almost never be seen without the camera. He showed us a number of examples, such as stoat, water shrew, water rail, muntjac deer and even an otter.

To round off his talk, Tom told us of an exciting find early in 2020 in his suburban garden-a European Orchard Bee- which turned out to be the first record in Gloucestershire. It laid eggs in the cavities of his bee hotel, so a new population may now be beginning.

His talk will certainly encourage members to become more vigilant locally, and even explore more of the interesting parts of the British Isles.

Meeting Report for 17th February 2022

There was a change to the advertised speaker at the KNHS zoom meeting on Thursday 17th February. Tony Marsh, who is the Chairman of the Society, stepped in at short notice and gave a talk entitled ‘My Local Patch: A Miscellany of Wildlife’ This focused on the wildlife he had photographed within one mile of his house near Keswick. Tony is a very accomplished photographer, and the talk was beautifully illustrated, showing his skill and his great powers of observation.

The areas covered were the river and bog area between Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite, Pow Beck and Braithwaite Moss, Newlands Beck, the old railway line along the A66 to between Portinscale and Keswick and the Site of Special Scientific Interest between the Derwentwater Hotel and Derwentwater. I can tell you it is possible to walk these areas and see only an occasional Mallard! Not so our intrepid guide. There were woodland birds, including migratory birds, with fantastic illustrations of a Redstart, Mistle Thrush, Garden Warbler and Willow Warbler. The importance of recognising birds by their song was touched on, a skill needed for the identification of many of the warblers. A series of shots of a pair of Dippers who nest in Tony’s patch highlighted his powers of observation. A Dipper, rotating a Caddisfly larva by spinning its head to rid the Caddisfly of its casing. This was followed by a video of it diving into deep, fast flowing parts of the river and coming up in the same place each time, despite the current. Photographs of mating, nest building, and rearing chicks all demonstrated a great empathy for the natural world. Along the river there are also Pied Wagtails, Common Sandpipers, Oyster Catchers, and a colony of Sand Martins. A shot of the Sand Martin nests showed a stoat climbing out of one of the holes, fortunately it didn’t appear to have anything in its mouth. A study of a male Mallard made us aware that this most common of Ducks is very handsome with closer inspection. Both sorts of sawbill can be seen along the river, Mergansers and Goosanders. They are called sawbills because of their long, narrow bills with saw-like teeth which are good for gripping fish. A picture of one perched in a tree reminded us that they are tree nesting ducks. Geese also frequent the river, Greylags, Canada, and Barnacle. There were shots of a skein of Pink Footed Geese possibly flying from the Solway to Morecambe Bay, and of Whooper Swans in the sunlight over Barf.

Moving on to Pow Beck with its grazing fields with rushes and tall Alder trees opening out into a wet grassy area. Here we had pictures of Grey Wagtail, Robin and Wren. A series of wonderful studies of a handsome Dog Otter, a female and two playful pups, delightful to see and it made us all very envious. The next photo was of a Mink which is not such good news. Every few visits Tony managed to see a Kingfisher, usually a blue flash, but with patience he had taken some super images. There was a video of a Kingfisher on a branch on a very windy day, the branch moving all the time, but the head of the Kingfisher remained perfectly stable. There followed pictures of insects. A Water Cricket, beautifully iridescent, skating on the water, Green Dock Beetles, Shield Bugs and Spiders, the photography showing intricate detail.

From Pow Beck onto Braithwaite Moss, looking towards Barf, there is another boggy area with Gorse bushes and Hawthorn. This is about half a mile from the Osprey nest at Blackwood Farm. Although not a regular on Tonys list he had managed a striking shot of the Osprey against a stunning blue sky. Another shot showed it carrying a surprisingly large branch from a dead tree, presumably to refurbish its nest. Early Summer mornings produced pictures of Reed Buntings. Meadow Pipits, Stone Chats, Willow and Sedge Warbler. The Grasshopper Warbler which can often be heard ‘reeling’ is notoriously difficult to photograph, so it was a treat to have such a clear image. There were pictures of Roe Deer, and perhaps more surprisingly Red Deer. Tony reported far fewer Dragon and Damselflies in this area, a shot of a Large Red being the only one. On to Newlands Beck, along its embankment and across to Blackwood Farm. The dry riverbed had pools which provided an opportunity to photograph trapped animals, such as the Brook Lamprey. It is a good area to watch insects such as the Red Soldier Beetles, there are also good numbers of Brown China Moths, Speckled Yellow Moths, and many micro moths. With the benefit of the camera, we could see their exquisite markings. Figworts with their tiny flowers are not the most exciting, until you see them up close that is. There is also a Figwort Weevil. This is a very strange little creature with an elephant like proboscis with antenna coming out halfway down! Blackwood Farm is an excellent site for Butterflies, and the Marsh Fritillary which has been reintroduced to Cumbria has been released there and is doing well.

Portinscale SSSI is an area of marshy grassland. A good place for seedeaters, Goldfinch, Bullfinch and Long tailed tits. Perhaps the most startling photograph from this location was a Sparrow Hawk with a Black Cap in its talons. A case of being in the right place at the right time, the photographer that is, not the poor Black Cap. There are Water rail in this area, they are very secretive, and the only picture was taken through the undergrowth. As Tony said ‘a work in progress’.

The Railway path from Portinscale to the Crosthwaite Roundabout is lined with mature trees and is bordered with wild garlic in the Spring. We saw some delightful pictures of a Goldcrest. This is a fidgety little bird, difficult to see clearly, so good photography showed up its unique markings. A shot of one in flight had a surreal quality. This is a regular walk into town for Tony, and I don’t think he ever forgets his camera. Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Song Thrushes, Red Wings, Buzzard, and atmospheric photos of a Speckled Wood Butterfly in slanting sunlight.

Back home, Tony’s Garden is small, but constant observation has provided an impressive list of bird species. The more common species can be seen with the addition of Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins. Stock Doves with their soft grey plumage and iridescent patch on the neck glinting in the sun. Siskins, Nuthatches, Tree Sparrows and only once a beautiful male Brambling. A pair of Kestrels mating, nesting, and bringing up their young, and pictures of an ethereal Barn Owl hunting in the fields below. To end this fascinating presentation there were pictures of fungi, Hair Ice, Large Bracket, Willow Brain and the soft shiny Jelly Ear.

This was a lesson in observation and enjoying the beauty of the world around us.

The next meeting is on Zoom and will be the AGM followed by a presentation by David Thomason entitled ‘Galloway and Nearer’.

Kingfisher with Stickleback copy (319K)

Meeting Report for January 2022

Keswick Natural History Society

Keswick Natural History Society Members were entertained by a fantastic and thought-provoking Zoom presentation given by Jack Ellerby from Friends of The Lake District. Jack is the Project Officer for The Dark Skies Project. His presentation started with a stunning photograph of The Milky Way over Catbells proving that Cumbria has a reasonable dark sky. Apparently, statistics show that only 15% of the population can see The Milky Way due to light pollution.

The focus of the talk was on how light pollution affects wildlife and people’s health. There is currently no legislation against light pollution, however, research proves that ‘dark skies’ are important for tranquillity, skyscape, astronomy and science. Humans need darkness to ensure good sleep, which is important to health. Some wildlife and insects need it for hunting, feeding, and pollinating. The impact of light pollution on wildlife is severe, migrating birds travel in the dark to avoid predation, they can become trapped in pools of light, getting disorientated, suffering from exhaustion and possible death. Mammals and insects are also affected, bats for instance need darkness to feed and insects are our main pollinators. Bats have been known to abandon roosts under bridges that are lit at night.

Jack is working with various Councils across the County to improve the current lighting system. Street lighting began approximately 300 years ago, progressing in the 20th Century due to electricity being widely used. The trend is to light up everywhere, footpaths, roads, industrial sites, etc. Only 22% of England has the darkest skies. Maps illustrated Cumbria’s hot spots; however, the County is classed at the 5th darkest in the UK. Jack is advising County Council Lighting Departments on how to change street lighting across the County to be more efficient without compromising safety. The project is not looking to go back to the Dark Ages but would like to see the public do their best to cut light pollution alongside large companies, new builds, and councils.

Light pollution is classed as light that is excessive, wasted light performs no function. Modern lighting has more glare, such as car headlights, street lighting and security lighting. Intrusive lighting is that which intrudes on neighbours or goes upwards into the sky. One example given, was that light pollution from Penrith intrudes as far away as Eycott Hill Nature Reserve. The newer downlighting does not affect the efficiency of illumination, it just focuses the light where it is needed. What is required to combat the current trend is light being efficient where needed. A simple solution is to shield the lights from above and by using lamps of the appropriate brightness.

Some Dark Sky areas are protected for scientific, educational, cultural heritage and public enjoyment. Northumberland, Exmoor and The Galloway Forest being good examples. Several areas in Cumbria are excellent in improving dark skies, pushing for legislation to ensure lighting is dark sky friendly to help the environment, wildlife and public health. Each year the Friends of The Lake District hold a Dark Skies Festival, more information on this is available at: www.darkskiescumbria.org.uk.

Meeting Report for December 2021

Keswick Natural History Society

Otters and Schelly in the Lake District by Steve Hewitt

Last week Stephen Hewitt gave a presentation based on otters and Schelly, also known as whitefish, which live in only four of the lakes in this area, one lake in Wales, and Loch Lomond.
In the past, otters remained common all over the UK, despite gradual habitat loss, mink introduction and human persecution. However, in the 1960s and 70s, numbers suddenly plummeted due to poisoning from the agricultural use of synthetic pesticides. When this problem was discovered and the chemicals were banned, otter numbers have gradually increased, and they are now present in every county, although in smaller numbers than before.
A few years ago, press reports told of strange instances where spawning toads were found dead or dying with both hind legs missing. Stephen and a vet friend decided to check this out at a site near Canonbie, where they found the affected toads along with many otter spraints (droppings). These spraints contained toad leg bones. The otters were catching an easy meal, but as toad skin is toxic, they were eating only the fleshy hind limbs and leaving the bodies and skin. Mystery solved!
This venture led on ten years ago to a study of otter interaction with Schelly fish on Ullswater. When out walking on the north shore in January, Stephen noticed a large number of otter spraints containing unusually large (1cm) fish scales. The area concerned is called Skelly Nab, so named for the historical netting of the fish in the winter months for human consumption. The Schelly is a large, deep water fish which only becomes available to a fishing otter when it comes up to spawn in January and February within 4 meters from the lake surface. The local otters have learned this and take advantage of easy meals. Stephen could map out the spawning sites by recording the affected otter spraints scattered along the Ullswater shores. This led on to walks along the shores of Haweswater, which showed that the spawning grounds were scattered along the south eastern shore. However, Brothers Water and Red Tarn, although Schelly are resident, show no sign of otter feeding on the fish.
During the study, there were no sightings of otters in daylight as they are mainly nocturnal, but a camera trap set up on Skelly Nab was successsful and Stephen showed a number of stills and video clips of otters, with interaction between them, foxes and badgers. The foxes and badgers were attracted to the remains of the fish meals. As many as 6 individual otters were identified, showing how plentiful the animals are. Stephen's findings will prove most useful to scientists in the future who are looking into the study of Schellys.

Otter (313K)

Meeting Report for November 2021

Keswick Natural History Society


The members of Keswick Natural History Society enjoyed a fascinating illustrated talk given by naturalist Steve Doyle on the birds and wildlife of the state of Florida. To some people a visit to Florida might be synonymous with a visit to Disney World but Steve after many visits has gained an impressive insight and knowledge of the amazing variety of wildlife inhabiting Florida's many swamps and waterways.

One of the birds familiar to us is the Osprey, in Florida it is a very common bird and can be seen nesting on trees and pylons by the roadside. Like much of the wildlife there they become very used to people and quite approachable, as a result they can be easily viewed and photographed. Ospreys can also be seen, along with Brown and White Pelicans, diving from a great height for fish into the waters off the west coast.

Further south, colonies of Manatees can be seen in the warm clear water of inlets where they come to breed.

The bird list of the birds of the Everglades is amazing in numbers and diversity. Many of the species are quite rare and difficult to see, like the Limpkin or American Bittern which is as elusive and as shy as our Bittern. Others perhaps are not very common but are not so secretive and might be more obvious, like the Wood Stork and the White Ibis. As for Herons, they are very common and wide spread, indeed there are 6 different kinds of Heron from the largest, the Great Blue Heron (which strangely can have a white form) to the smallest, the Little Blue Heron, which like it's larger cousin also has a white variant.

Anhinga (156K) Armadillo (245K)
Anhinga or Snake Bird cruising by! Armadillo ferreting
Osprey (151K) Red Cardinal (241K)
Diving Osprey Male Red Cardinal

There are many reserves within the Everglades where particular species may feature. These have names like e.g. “The Anhinga Trail,” features Anhingas or Snake Birds which are a primitive form of Cormorant also Purple Gallinules, birds very like moorhens and coots. Another one is “Shark Valley” a reserve featuring, not Sharks, as one would think, but it is well known for the large number of alligators to be found there. There are so many reserves to visit in Florida that a guide book is just as essential as a bird book.

Steve described many small birds to look out for including Painted Bunting, Red Cardinals, Blue Jays and many more which were expertly presented in his photographs.

As you would expect, swarms of many kinds of dragonflies and clouds of butterflies dart about in the warm air.

There are many varieties of snake, lizards and iguanas as well as tortoises and armadillo. When driving around, Skunks and Florida Foxes are regularly seen and Steve even had a lucky sighting of a Bob Cat.

Lastly while visiting Cape Canaveral, a good area for wildlife, including Roseate Spoonbill and American Avocet, Steve managed to squeeze in the sight of a rocket taking off!

In conclusion Steve said that his talk could only touch a very small part of the incredible variety and diversity of wildlife that calls this area home.

Meeting Report for 18th November 2021

Keswick Natural History Society

Keswick Natural History Society were grateful to Police Community Support Officer Peter Nichol who stepped in at the last minute to cover for his colleague to deliver a talk on Wildlife Crime in Cumbria. As the policing of wildlife crime is a specialist subject, Cumbria Police have a full time Wildlife and Environmental Crime Officer, supported by a small number of Wildlife Crime Officers based across the County, who fulfil this role in addition to their normal duties. Working in partnership with rural communities and farming communities there have been significant reductions in wildlife crime in recent years. A focus on rural and wildlife crime is essential, especially as the nature of crimes has recently attracted organised crime gangs from outside the county. The work of the officers is diverse, from badger baiting to sheep rustling, the theft of farm machinery to raptor persecution. There are always incidences of poaching to contend with. Salmon numbers have decreased markedly in the last decade because of poor water quality and loss of spawning habitat. Amazingly Salmon return to the same river where they were born to spawn. Members were heartened to hear that birds egg theft, which was such a problem in the 80s is much less so in recent years. Some of the work officers do has international repercussions. Ivory that is commandeered in Cumbria can help the worldwide push to decrease the value of Ivory and help to stop poaching.

Peter’s love of wildlife and his enthusiasm for its protection was obvious, he told many stories of his experiences as a support officer. One of his responsibilities is visiting schools to talk to the children about the importance of protecting the environment and everything in it.

Even when licenced Peter found it difficult to condone shooting, but he could see that there were certain benefits. Wildfowlers on the Solway can shoot a quota of birds. Like many hunters they are very environmentally aware. They make improvements to the habitat which benefits their sport, but also benefits other wildlife in the process.

Stopping wildlife crime is very dependent on the support and vigilance of the public, and members were encouraged to report any incidents of concern.

The next meeting of Keswick Natural History Society is at 7.30pm on Thursday 2nd December in Crosthwaite parish rooms.and will be a presentation by Steve Hewitt on ‘Otters and Schelly in the Lake District.

Meeting Report for 11th November 2021

The Keswick Natural History Society talk on last Thursday was given by Raegan Blacker, the Workington Nature Partnership Officer. Few people might associate Workington with prime sites for nature and bio-diversity but there are in fact a number of small reserves and other pockets of green areas that host a wide variety of species, some of them nationally rare and threatened. The flagship area is Siddick Ponds; incongruously situated immediately behind the Dunmail Retail Park, this is an area of lagoons and reedbeds which has a cycle path running down one side giving excellent views and accessibility. The reedbeds hold Kingfishers, Herons and Water Rails all year round, with Reed Buntings and Reed and Sedge Warblers during the summer and even Bittern in the winter. Kingfisher Harrington (607K) Otter on ice Siddick (137K)
There are regular sightings of Otters and for the last couple of winters spectacular murmurations of Starlings. Not far away at the post-industrial site of the Oldside windfarm is a strong colony of Small Blues, one of the country’s rarest and most threatened butterflies. That they are doing so well is down to extensive management of the site with strong growing vegetation being scraped away and multiple planting of Kidney Vetch, the food plant for the Small Blue Caterpillars. Much of this work is performed by teams of volunteers brought together and guided by Raegan

There are a number of other sites which are managed by the Nature Partnership and they are increasing every year, ranging from small areas of abandoned playing fields which are being transformed into wildflower meadows, rich with buzzing insects in the warmer months to the Harrington Reservoir Nature Reserve which is a remodeling of a silted-up reservoir into a valuable wetland complex where Kingfishers and Water Rail thrive. Siddick Pond Goosander (669K) Many of the smaller areas act as links in a chain of wildlife corridors, so important for the health of wildlife, and which are in turn supplemented by the cycle paths that cross the town.

A significant proportion of Raegan’s time is spent educating and enthusing school children and even providing them with Forest Schools experience, (she is a trained and accredited practitioner) where they can “develop confidence and self-esteem through hands-on learning experiences in a local woodland environment”.

There is much hard graft involved with the Nature Partnership, which is jointly funded by Workington Town and Allerdale Borough Councils, from keeping paths in good shape and clearing out the odd shopping trolley from the ponds to showing Natural History Societies such as ourselves around. So far in 2021 there has been about 2000 man/hours of voluntary work, which would have cost nearly £18,000 at minimal wage levels, but the benefits far transcend the monetary value and Raegan’s talk ended with a list of the pride in community, as locals involved in transforming their areas, the health and well being benefits for both volunteers and the wider community who have access to high quality green space, (hugely important over the past eighteen months), the teaching of skills and a future that looks brighter thanks to education and changed opinions. This tangible “social capital” is hugely impressive and that is before taking into account the significant contribution to natural habitats and the wildlife they hold.

Raeagan has been in the job since 2014, when the role was first launched, and with the help of Susan Cammish who was appointed as Nature Ranger two years ago, she has made a massive difference. It was a pleasure to hear such a positive nature story in the midst of COP26.

Keswick Natural History Society meets fortnightly from Autumn through to Spring in the Crosthwaite Parish Room, adjacent to the Coop car park. The next meeting is at 7.30pm on 18th November will be on “Wildlife Crime in Cumbria” and will be given by Samantha O’Key, the Cumbria Constabulary Wildlife Officer. All are very welcome although mask wearing and physical spacing will be encouraged. (See The Keswick Natural History Society. (keswicknathist.co.uk) for more details)