After a successful fundraising campaign, Eycott Hill became a nature reserve in April 2015. Now, Cumbria Wildlife Trust are partway through a project to make it a better place for people and wildlife, so what do you need to know?
Where is Eycott Hill?
It’s near the village of Mungrisdale, halfway between Keswick and Penrith. Turn off the A66 by the Sportsman’s Inn and drive through Berrier. The free car park is on left, and, if you prefer two wheels, there’s cycle parking too.
What makes Eycott Hill so special?
Well, the site has a fascinating geological history with volcanic activities that date back to about 460 million years ago. These ancient lava flows make the nature reserve a Site of Special Scientific Interest, along with the nationally rare sedges and Sphagnum mosses that grow there. Wetlands formed between these lava flows, where a diversity of species thrive in close proximity due to the unusual drainage pattern from the acidic and calcareous patches. This is fantastic because it means that plant species which prefer different conditions can grow fairly close together at Eycott Hill.
What is the project about?
Cumbria Wildlife Trust were lucky enough to secure funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and WREN to make better habitats for wildlife, and encourage people to enjoy this new nature reserve.
Staff and volunteers have worked tirelessly, with some of the biggest achievements being:
- More than 8,000 trees planted
- Almost 900m of drystone wall repaired
- Over 700m of new hedgerow planted
- Artificial drainage channels blocked
- New flower-rich hay meadow created
Bridges and boardwalks have also been constructed to protect the bog, which now allows sundew, grass-of-Parnassus, and Sphagnum mosses to flourish.
The improvements are vast at Eycott Hill since I first visited, with more and more flora emerging across the reserve. I can only wait with excitement to watch the site grow into something even more amazing in the following years.
Why should YOU visit?
- It’s FREE! There are no entrance fees or parking costs to worry about
- Cumbria Wildlife Trust provide geology booklets, plus trail leaflets with a story walk to entertain the young ones
- You can discover new geocaches on the site by using your smartphone or GPS device
- There is a waymarked route to the summit of Eycott Hill, where you can explore the mosaic of habitats present along the way
- Plenty of events and courses run here throughout the year
What to expect:
Spring is the best time to see mountain pansies and wood anemones, or catch a glimpse of orange-tip butterflies and four-spotted chasers. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a cuckoo or two! Personally, I love to see the vivid violet – or sometimes yellow – mountain pansies that add a bit of colour to the landscape; but mind where you tread as the frogs can be very active in the wetland areas.
Summer boasts an array of colours in the flower-rich meadows. In the newly restored hay meadow, spot species such as yellow rattle, eyebright, red clover, and melancholy thistle. In the skies, you’re likely to see skylarks and meadow pipits – I’ve seen a couple flutter by the lonesome rowan tree on a few occasions.
As the trees change colour in the Autumnal months, keep your eyes peeled for the county flower of Cumbria, grass-of-Parnassus, as well as devil’s-bit scabious. These are two of my absolute favourite flora species on this reserve, identified by the striped ivory white flowers and purple ‘pincushion’ flower heads that emerge amongst strands of sedge and grass. Don’t forget to watch out for ravens and buzzards that soar overhead.
The winter months see short-eared owls, with the beautiful backdrop of snow-topped mountains in the near distance. On a clear day upon Eycott Hill, you might see rays of sunlight beaming down to thaw the surrounding landscape, or watch the flurry of snow approach from behind Blencathra.
How to get involved:
Cumbria Wildlife Trust host various events throughout the year, including guided walks, so why not join in? Get out your calendars and view the What’s On guide for a list of upcoming events.
Want to do more for your environment? Become a volunteer and attend regular conservation days to help with tasks – like tree and wildflower planting, drystone walling, vegetation surveying, or wildlife monitoring.
The guided walks are great for getting out of the house and breathing in the fresh, Cumbrian air. Brace yourself for snow, rain, or sunshine, for Eycott Hill is a delight in all weathers. I’ve been on several now, and the weather has been different every time which makes each experience so unique.
I also highly recommend attending special event days, where Cumbria Wildlife Trust host a number of creative and educational courses and workshops throughout the year. Or, sign yourself up to listen to a talk and get to know other like-minded individuals – I have had great fun and met so many new people this way. What are you waiting for?