End of year Q&A with the RSPB Haweswater team

This year has been difficult for us all, but one thing is for certain – natural spaces and the wildlife hiding within have been even more important for us all, even the RSPB Haweswater team.

Here’s a personal insight into the favourite wild moments of 2020 and exciting prospects for 2021 from Senior Site Manage Lee, Warden Spike and Visitor Development Officer Heather.

During lockdown many of us enjoyed close connections with nature. Can you remember one that stuck with you?

Finding early purple orchids in verges and field edges near my house, thanks to spending more time closer to home and exploring places I hadn’t been before. Also getting into moth trapping in the garden and the excitement on my kid’s faces when they saw their first poplar hawk moth.

My most memorable wildlife moment surprisingly involves a mammal, and not a bird! Walking back down Naddle Valley one day in the summer I spied a buck Roe Deer in the trees staring right at me. Although a common sight here, the dappled sunlight on his rich copper coat and the perfect roe antlers, combined with his unblinking stare transfixed me. He seemed almost mythical… We stared at each other for what seems ages before he effortlessly turned and disappeared in the green haze… wow! 

Working from home this year, I was able to take closer notice of intricate seasonal changes on daily walks, something which I realised I hadn’t ‘made time’ for, for a while. Each day I walked past a Horse Chestnut tree, and took a photo of a particular group of buds, which developed in time into leaves. Once the candles (flowers) appeared, I put the photos together to see just how much the tree had changed as the leaves unfurled and grew. Despite the world standing still, nature continued to tick by all around us.

Roe Deer, as decribed by Spike (Heather Devey)

When you were able to return to Haweswater after the first lockdown, what was it that you were most pleased to return to? 

Getting into the woods again. I’d almost forgotten how wonderfully tangled and mossy they were, full of red squirrels and woodland birds, like some sort of alternate dimension.

Best thing about returning to work in June was being back in the spring to enjoy Naddle Forest in all its glory, I missed it in May and realised what a rare and special habitat these ancient woods are. 

Naddle Forest, and all it’s beasts, birds and botanical wonders lurking within (looks like I’m not the only one!). Walking through the amphitheatre of Swindale Valley was also something I’d missed, it’s the most stunning place in summer.

Naddle Forest, as described by all! (RSPB)

We all know Haweswater is a special place, but is there one thing that’s reminded just how special it is this year? 

The strength of our partnerships. Early on in lockdown, the Environment Agency approached us to say that because many projects had been put on hold due to Covid, they had funding available. We found a way to safely deliver a major new piece of river restoration in Swindale with this funding, working with the Environment Agency, AquaUoS, United Utilities and contractor Ebsford Environmental. This was a project that we’d been wanting to do for several years, and it was really down to the strength of the relationships between RSPB and the other partners enabled it to it happen. 

Running the social media accounts through the year has shown – even more than I already knew – just how special Haweswater is to so many people. We were all incredibly disheartened by the instances of ‘fly-camping’ through summer, in an already challenging year, but tens of thousands of people reacted to this online and in the press, offering their support and sharing stories of why Haweswater was special to them. I can’t describe how vital this support was in boosting the RSPB and United Utilities teams dealing with this on the ground (so thanks!)

Swindale wetland creation, as described by Lee (RSPB)

What are you most looking forward to at Haweswater in 2021? 

Bringing four new people into the team, thanks to our successful Defra Green Recovery fund. We’re showing clearly that our model of land management at Haweswater is not only great for the environment, but also for the local economy and community, providing many more job opportunities than were here in the past.

I’m really looking forward to getting back into survey work after a year off due to covid-19 restrictions, and seeing how some of the species here are doing. Also helping with the establishment of our new tree and wildflower nursery, which we’re developing thanks to the Defra Green Recovery Fund. 

I’ve really missed leading wildlife experiences this year, and I can’t wait to get back to it! We welcomed hundreds of people to our Badger Hide in 2019, and it was so special to introduce people to their first badgers on our beautiful reserve. So I’m really looking forward to reopening our hide, and hopefully welcoming back some of our trusty Badger Hide Volunteers and welcoming new ones. Very excited to welcome back our third party experiences providers too, our extended Haweswater family!

Haweswater Badger, as described by Heather (Mike Harvey)

If you could recommend one thing for visitors to bring to Haweswater, what would it be?

A wildflower guide. There are so many wonderful flowers at Haweswater, especially in the spring, and too many people walk past without noticing them. A wildflower guide is a great way to force you to slow down and appreciate the intricate and beautiful details of nature under your feet.

Visitors should bring respect for the landscape and not leave any trace of their presence when they leave. (Spoken like a true Warden, he’s not wrong!) 

A picnic, waterproofs, and a sense of adventure (okay, three things). There are no visitor facilities at Haweswater, but by preparing properly visitors can enjoy a whole day in this wild corner of the Lake District. Always good to plan a walking route before coming to make the most of the stunning routes, and worth downloading the What 3 Words app.

Haweswater Reservoir (Mike Harvey)

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