Although there was snow on the surrounding fell tops, one or two signs of spring were starting to appear at Eycott Hill Nature Reserve on a guided walk earlier this month…
There were no Luing cattle on the nature reserve at the time of this walk, as the recent snow had been too harsh for the pregnant cows to graze well; though they left their traces– from trodden tracks to tangled fur on the fences.
Rachel, a student volunteer with Cumbria Wildlife Trust, led the walk with enthusiasm. She discussed the importance of hay meadows, and how they have declined by 97% in the last century. This is why Cumbria Wildlife Trust have strived to create new hay meadows at Eycott Hill, as part of the Coronation Meadows Project – a project initiated by The Prince of Wales to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation, aiming to create at least one new wild flower meadow in every county. Rachel explained the progress of the hay meadows at Eycott Hill, and how they are created and managed.
Cumbria Wildlife Trust use cattle to help manage the land across the nature reserve. As they walk, their weight tramples the ground to create patches of bare earth which allows seeds to grow in these areas.
Conservation grazing with cattle helps a variety of species to flourish and boosts botanical diversity. This is because cattle graze differently by pulling up tufts of vegetation with their tongues, rather than nibbling close to the ground like sheep. Cattle tend to browse, leaving tussocky swards for a more varied structure to the vegetation that benefits small mammals and insects.
Rachel had a wealth of knowledge to share with the group about the work to improve wildlife habitats, whilst members of Geo-Conservation Cumbria chipped in with supporting information about the ancient geology on the nature reserve.
On our journey, we took time to analyse some of the rocks and their formations present on the site.
- Limestone lies towards the car park, distinguishable by the sinkholes there.
- Volcanic rock is present around the middle section of the nature reserve, as you can see by the large ridges in that area.
- Skiddaw slate can be found on the far side of Eycott Hill, where the ground flattens out towards Mungrisdale.
These three types of rock are cleverly incorporated into the structure of the viewpoint that overlooks the wetlands, make sure to look carefully down at your feet as well as at the view!
We were excited to discover a few clumps of frogspawn, a welcome sign that spring is on the way!
On our return to the car park, we also noticed the heather and other shrub species, admired the determined rowan growing from a rocky outcrop, and even stumbled upon a bird of prey pellet that contained the remains of beaks, bones, and fur.
It’s a great feeling knowing that spring is on its way, albeit quite slowly! Next time you visit Eycott Hill keep an eye out for frogspawn, and see if you can spot wheatear as they arrive back at the nature reserve after wintering in Africa! We’d love to know when you spot #SignsofSpring so share your finds with us on Facebook or Twitter.