KEG members originally formed to help with the entry to the Cumbria in Bloom Competition, but have evolved into an environmental group.
Our first actions were to demolish a dangerous and unsightly ex teenage den in the woods. We went on to formulate a plan to improve the path along the Raven Beck through Millie Bank and into Common Wood with the help of CCC highways team.
As we did our first tasks we noticed the amazing flora on Millie Bank and began to take steps to preserve that. Then we installed an information board to help tell others of the beauty on their doorstep.
Millie Bank is a rare remaining example of traditional Eden Valley Pasture. Its steepness has made it impossible to 'improve' by ploughing and/or treating with artificial fertiliser, and, as a result, it has retained its wealth of flowering plants. By mid-Summer, the pasture was a colourful blaze of flowers.
The field had been grazed for many years by Shetland ponies and the occasional sheep. Grazing ceased altogether 6 years ago after which there was a profusion of butterflies and wild flowers including some orchids. A survey dentified well over 130 species of flowering plants, grasses. We worked on Millie Bank for several years eventually replacing the fencing so it could be grazed. Once the fencing was complete the land agent has let the land for sheep grazing. They have made a big difference to the coarser species
But we are concerned that the sheep are left on too long and have eaten all the flowers. Recently we have received a reply to one of our many attempts to contact the land agent and are hopeful that he will in future agree to a regime of conservation grazing.
In addition to keeping up with things already started we have introduced a few new projects which have already been completed so cannot be included in the tour.
Millie Bank has many nectar rich plants where butterflies can feed and larval food plants special to each species. On sunny spring days, Orange Tips and Green-Veined Whites patrol, and Peacocks, Commas and Small Tortoiseshells emerge from hibernation to bask in the warm sunshine. Second generations of the last three species, together with Red Admiral, may also be seen in late summer and autumn. In high summer Ringlet, Meadow Brown, Small Copper and Common Blue offer a colourful spectacle.
Common Wood is naturally regenerated mixed woodland with a rich flora. In early spring, Wood Anemones and Bluebells carpet the ground, with Marsh Marigolds and Golden Saxifrage on wetter flushes. Later these flowers are replaced by huge swathes of Wild Garlic, and Dog’s Mercury which thrive in the deeper shade. Summer sees Herb Robert, Wood Cranes-bill and Woundworts flourishing in the sun dappled areas.
Dipper and Grey Wagtail frequent Raven Beck, with Buzzards over the nearby plantations. In spring, Common Wood echoes to the songs of Nuthatch and Tree-creeper and to the drumming of Greater-Spotted Woodpecker. Later, summer migrants, such as Willow Warbler and Blackcap, add their distinctive voices. In autumn groups of Siskin and Redpoll feed in the upper canopy, and, in winter, foraging parties of Long-Tailed Tits roam the woodland. Adjacent to Common Wood is a mature conifer plantation home to Goldcrest, Jay and Red Squirrel.
One of the joys of gardening is the way that it brings you closer to nature. Whether it’s a robin helping himself to grubs from freshly-dug soil, or a songbird providing music whilst we work, birds are an important part of the garden landscape. And while we may curse the pigeons who take our brassicas, most gardeners want to encourage birds in our gardens, particularly when we read of the decline in the populations of some of our native species. Indeed, the RHS lists blue tits as one of the control methods recommended for pests such as the codling moth. So, how do encourage them?
About once a year members of our environment group get together to make bird boxes. To simplify this, one of us will purchase the timber( which is not tantalised ) and cut out the pieces. Members of the group then fasten them together, with varying degrees of success. The finished articles are either auctioned off at our annual plant sale, or put up around the village. Some are now down by our wildlife pond on the allotment field, whilst others are in Common Wood, or in peoples gardens around the village. Over the last six years we must have spread over a hundred bird boxes around our village.
To encourage a variety of birds we make boxes with a range of hole sizes, from 25mm for tits to 45mm for starlings. Other species, such as robins, wrens, and spotted flycatchers prefer an open-fronted box, so we also make these. One year we concentrated on boxes for swifts, which have to be sited high on a building with an open approach, and these seem to be working - the skies over KO are currently full of these noisy visitors, and this morning we found an egg shell on the ground beneath an occupied box, so something seems to have worked. Our other swift box has been commandeered by starlings, who have bred successfully (and noisily, by our bedroom window!) for the last two years, even though we have told them that they are in the wrong kind of box.
We have also made bat boxes, and this year are planning to build homes for hedgehogs.
The scheme is still in its’ infancy, but we can already say that we haven’t seen any ‘old’ style slug pellets on our allotment field this year, and that other gardeners around the village have also traded in the nasty sort for the new alternative. Gardeners aren’t bad people, so once they see that the ‘new’ type work, we hope that they will stick to them. We have already handed in a boxful of metaldehyde - containing pellets to the County Council for disposal. We will obviously continue to monitor the situation, with periodic reminders, and a continuation of the amnesty scheme. It’s got to be worth a try.
Most gardeners swap plants with one another, and we all moan about the robbers who run garden centres, so six years ago we decided to try to hold an auction of peoples spare produce. Most of us produce too many seedlings ‘just in case’, and these often go to waste, so we encourage people to donate these, and any spare plants that they might have, and we auction them off to raise money for environmental projects within the parish.
It began small, but has steadily grown over the years, and is now a firm fixture in the villages diary, usually being held at the beginning of June. Sometimes things don’t go quite as we would wish - two years ago we were inundated with tomato seedlings, so that we were giving them away, so of course last year we had almost none. We do try to grow and sell plants to encourage pollinating insects, which are then spread around the area, and if there are too many we plant them in roadside verges or similar places. We also have some generous supporters - one local lad last year made us two lovely sandstone planting troughs, and this year we were given a Cercis siliquastrum, the Judas tree, which got the customers bidding. We also sell bird boxes, jars of home-made jam, and almost anything else that we can.
One of our local pubs Kindly gives us space to hold the auction, (and then sells a lot of drink to the customers, which encourages them to make generous bids.) The amount that we make varies, between about £250 and £500, all of which goes to support the work of our Environmental Group. Everyone has a good afternoon, and we all go home with a variety of new plants.
The landowner of Common Wood was concerned about the number of non native trees in the wood. Through the winter members of KEG felled sycamores and removed some of the wood, leaving some to enhance habitat. This year we repaired part of the path through Common Wood ourselves. The path had been eroded by another minor flood. It is in an area where the floods of 2012 left a huge bank of stone leaving the path at some points lower than the beck so liable to flooding. We repaired the path using some of the larger stones thrown up and some of the sycamore to weave an edge.
Storm Desmond resulted in KEG members and other volunteers picking litter to fill 100 blue bags and winning an RHSCumbria in Bloom Special award.
In Autumn 2017 a group of 7 picked litter from the higher reaches of the Parish round Renwick.
A litter pick was carried out by KEG members on March 18th 2018 on approach roads to K'o. 16 Eden bin bags of litter were collected. Sadly the very next day litter began to appear again.
Seen on a very littered road in Scotland: an illuminated sign which says "Litter picking risks the lives of road workers". Food for thought litter droppers!
I hope that rather than being an excuse for not cleaning the mess up that the message was "take your litter home - litter picking poses a serious risk to people who do clean it up". In 2018 a KEG group did one covering the village and all of the bottom half of the Parish. People went out at different times and deposited the bags at Langdon House for the collection arranged with EDC. There are now quite a few people who pick regularly This year we were joined by the Girl Guides who were allocated a safer area to pick and found a few bags worth.
We will pick around Renwick again in the Autumn.
We did calendars again last year and sold out quite quickly. We are receiving photographs for this years calendar. We select the winners together. The rule is you can’t pick your own!! When we have a short list we start putting pictures to months until we have the winning 12 plus the cover. Howard then assembles them on the computer and sends them to the printers. We sell them at the farmers markets, in the pubs and in the local shop.
Last year the main project for KEG was to help support and maintain our population of red squirrels. Martin Thomas, a KEG member has done a lot of work with small mammals. We worked with Penrith and District Red Squirrel Group and their warden, John Lisle. John came and assessed the area placing 2 and then a 3rd feeder along the Raven beck. We have a supply of food, from the Bird’s Bistro, at a discount and the feeders are topped up by members who walk up the beck regularly. We have purchased some trail cameras to monitor activity. These enabled Martin to spot the grey squirrels. Traps were set which have to be checked twice a day by law. One trap contained a hedgehog who was released after a struggle, with no harm to the hog but leaving a prickled Martin. We now have several volunteers who help monitoring. Some of the pictures are wonderful to see.
Martin gave a talk in the Church Institute which was attended by nearly 40 people including children with parents. To advertise the event we did a display in the shop window. This was greatly enhanced by some work from the school. Some pupils had done a lot of research into red squirrels and recorded their findings for us. There is a growing email list of people who receive regular updates and photos about the red squirrel population.
Awareness of the dangers greys can pose has been raised and people are regularly reporting sightings. Unfortunately we saw some evidence of squirrel pox and then fewer and fewer sightings of reds. We continue to monitor and hope.
About four years ago we started to tackle the allotments at the bottom of the allotment fields that had fallen into wilderness. This formed an Allotment Orchard group which consists of allotment holders, several of whom are also Keg members. The orchard was developed first followed by the wildlife area and pond.
Several people have contributed the following articles
The Orchard Dave Fernie
The orchard, started in 2014, was done in two phases by volunteers which transformed a neglected and overgrown site. The trees were donated, bought or grafted with the stipulation that the apple trees, which were to be the most numerous, should either be heritage varieties or those that would grow well in our challenging climate. This ended with a good eclectic mix.
We have three plums - Denniston’s Superb, Marjorie’s Seedling and Victoria (best dual purpose plum), Shropshire Damson (regarded as the best flavoured damson) and for pears we have Williams (probably the most grown pear in the world and Beth (small and well flavoured).
As for apples, which are the easiest to grow, we have Ribston Pippin (a parent of Cox’s Orange Pippin from Yorkshire), Red Falstaff (a comparatively new introduction), Sunset (the best variety to grow in Cumbria as a replacement for Cox), St Edmunds Pippin (regarded as the best russet), Spartan (well known popular variety), James Grieve (a reliable dual purpose Scottish Apple), and last but not least Chiver’s Delight (introduced in the 1920s, a Cambridgeshire apple that didn’t gain the popularity it deserved. This variety grows very well in the north of England, especially Cumbria, where the growing season is long, cool and moist which gives it a concentrated sweet/sharp flavour, which in my opinion is superior to Cox’s Orange Pippin, the aficionados benchmark for dessert apples. For culinary apples we grow four heritage varieties, the ubiquitous Bramley’s Seedling (from the early 1800s that gave rise to the only culinary variety that most people now know, and the parent of millions of grafted trees, that has recently come to the end of it’s illustrious life). Queen (a large apple raised in 1858), Keswick Codlin (very early, small, with good acid flavour) and Golden Noble (first mentioned 1769, Pontefract, Yorkshire. This variety was the favourite bar none of the Victorians, valued for its superb fruity, sharp flavour, that needs to be balanced with just a small amount of sugar - far less than Bramley’s - perfect for those wanting to cut down on sugar, and with the added bonus of not going brown when peeled and sliced. A good case for keeping heritage apples alive).
We have secured a rare dessert apple named May Queen and are doing our part to save this variety from going extinct and are trialing some new varieties that we have bred ourselves crossing two varieties of culinary apples.
Gardens and Allotments have a vital role to play in mitigating the alarming decrease in Britain’s bio-diversity. Our allotment field in Kirkoswald reflects our desire to help protect and encourage wildlife. To this end we have protected and augmented existing features and practices, and developed new habitats to encourage a wider range of species to visit and colonise. Through profits from the village environmental group’s plant sale we have been able to offer allotment holders free wildlife-safe slug pellets and distribute packets of wildflower seeds. Of course various forms of wildlife have always utilised the hedgerows and banks with nesting Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Blackbird and Song Thrush being long term residents. Likewise, Hedgehogs have regularly foraged for food, the latter species and Song Thrush being great eaters of garden pests. We hope that they will benefit from the safe slug pellets as unfortunately there have been poisoning incidents in the past.
Extra man-made artefacts have extended habitat provision. There is a log pile for wintering invertebrates, a hedgehog wintering “quarters” and nest boxes which are occupied by Tree Sparrows (a). The features of which we are most proud are the extensive “nectar banks” of suitable flower/wildflower species (d, h) and our large pond (c). Both of these are located in our recently created Wild-life Garden. The two years of its existence has seen it develop to maturity and attract a range of species. Hemp Agrimony (e) is a butterfly magnet in late summer, with one stand holding 17 butterflies of four species, on one memorable instance last August. The pond has attracted Dragonfly species like Southern Hawker to breed, together with three species of Damselfly, and the spectacular Broad bodied Chaser(f) to take up temporary residence. Great Diving Beetle (b), Common Newts, Frogs and Water Boatman arrived of their own accord, as did the Brown China Mark moth (g) which has an aquatic larva. Incidentally the Environment Group’s plant sales have also reflected the desire for more provision of nectar rich plants and a move away from the sterile “dabs of colour that have provided cold comfort for nectar seeking pollinators in the past. It is sad that garden centres and D.I.Y. garden departments continually shelve their responsibilities in this respect. As they do with a range of insecticides and herbicides which they push as being a necessary adjunct to gardening and horticulture. Our continuing aim at the allotments is to provide a legacy of enlightened good practice in terms of a balance of land use, which can be passed on to new younger allotment holders in future years.
a b c d
Raven footpath and broken field gates before improvement
Raven footpath after improvement
Orchard area before redevelopment
Orchard area during redevelopment
e f g h
Guide unit volunteer litter pickers
Red squirrel monitoring using automated trail cameras. This is done in conjunction with the Red Squirrel Warden
KEG volunteer litter pickers
Sycamore felling followed by native tree planting done by
K'o C of E School
Annual plant Auction at the
Bird box building.
Several different designs to suit different bird species
We built a dozen bat boxes as bat habitat is being lost. Bob Parker was kind enough to fit them for us.
15/01/2017 Flood damage to Raven footpath
Raven path repair workshop
03/02/2017 A litter pick was carried out by KEG members, members of the public and children from K'o School in the morning. An analysis of categories of litter were carried out by a group of children in the afternoon.
You can reach your own conclusions about who may be dropping what on village approaches. There was almost no litter in K'o itself. Click a litter image to enlarge
Several Keg Members enjoyed a walk and talk about identifying tree buds and bark. Many people can identify trees quite well when they are in leaf. Nigel and Lois made it seem simple identifying trees from looking at their unopened buds and their bark. Now we just have to try and remember it all.
Red Squirrel news This male red squirrel was seen near one of vthe two feeders we installed in Common Wood.
A number of KEG members got together at Nick and Ruth's and built a 13 bird boxes with holes or slots of different sizes and heights from the floor. This is to attract and suit different bird species. Most will be sited at members houses or the pond orchard to provide nesting spaces. A few will be on sale at the Plant Auction in June
We are using a squirrel mix which contains maize. None has been taken so far. Grey squirrels eat maize, reds do not. reds are taking the contents that they do like. The feeders don't just help the reds, they allow us to detect greys.
April 2017 update. whilst some allotmenteers were digging out undesirable plants from the orhard and wildlife area others were pond dipping to monitor species that have colonised the pond. Many thanks to Martin and Lois for identification and photos.
Phantom midge larva
When pond dipping, biologists use a white enammelled steel dish. They collect some pond water and observe that. Then a fine mesh net is used to collect species and tip them into the water. The white background makes the creatures collected easy to observe. Once recorded everything is returned to the pond. Aren't phone cameras great for recording species! 45 years ago we had to record by drawing.
Species books are still a useful aid here but internet connected phones would be too.
Pond scater with prey item
Water boatmen male and female mating?
Our local Squirrel warden, John Lisle accompanied KEG members on a walk along Millie Bank, Common Wood and Black Plains to see what natural red quirrel food and habitat was present and to look for evidence of reds themselves. John sited two feeders which Martin will keep topped up and monitor.
We are now members of Penrith & District Red Squirrel Group and are cooperating with their Squirrel Ranger, John Lisle. Martin Thomas is the KEG member coordinating information. If you see any red or grey squirrels please either phone Martin on 07765 888987 or John on 07841 449648 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with the date, time and location of the sighting. This is especially urgent with greys as they need to be controlled as most carry squirrel pox which they are immune to but it almost always kills red squirrels in a very painful manner.
More at http://www.penrithredsquirrels.org.uk
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