Glenridding Common and the John Muir Trust

Banner Image © Paul Harris

Glenridding Common extends from the village of Glenridding to Swirral and Striding Edges and the summit of Helvellyn. Its land area, around 1,000 hectares, is equivalent to 1,540 football pitches! As common land, it is used for grazing sheep by a number of local farmers with commoner’s rights.

Glenridding Common also hosts a number of important habitats for rare plant and animal species. Its footpaths include the main routes to and from the summit of Helvellyn, one of the most popular walks in the Lake District. With these multiple users, it is not surprising that management of the Common can be challenging.

In the words of Pete Barron, Glenridding Common Manager for the John Muir Trust, “the challenge is how to manage recreational use and biodiversity in a working landscape”.

The John Muir Trust took over the management of Glenridding Common in autumn 2017 when it was granted a three-year lease by the Lake District National Park Authority. The lease has been extended for a year whilst discussions continue with local stakeholders about future management plans. Responsibility for the management of the Common is in the capable hands of Pete Barron, who spent 23 years as a National Park Area Ranger. Working alongside Pete is Isaac Johnston, the Ranger for Glenridding Common.

Vital footpath repairs and litter collection

When the John Muir Trust took over the management of the Glenridding Common they identified a number of priorities. As a matter of urgency they have carried out vital footpath repair in partnership with Fix the Fells volunteers and staff. They also employ two local contractors to oversee repairs to the surface and drainage on a 'stitch in time basis'.

Sadly, the Trust has also had to dedicate two-person-days a week to clearing litter, especially that left by irresponsible wild campers at Red Tarn. How about this for a day's litter picking on Helvellyn?

In 2021 our Glenridding Seasonal Ranger helped with increased visitor pressures over the summer. They walked over 378km over the three months of summer, talking to visitors, fixing fire burn patches, scattering inappropriate cairns, picking up 106kg of litter, and conducting 386 visitor surveys - made possible by the National Parks Safer Lakes funding.

A day's worth of litter picked by Isaac on Helvellyn © Isaac Johnston

Rare species

Mountain ringlet butterflies thrive on the purple thyme of the higher slopes of Glenridding Common, up to about 800m. The best time to see them is on warm sunny July days.

The rare ring ouzel breeds on the Common and their numbers increase in the autumn when birds on migration from Scandinavia call in to feed on the juniper berries.

Red Tarn, at the base of Helvellyn, is home to the rare schelley fish and also boasts England’s highest (in altitude) population of sticklebacks.

The Trust carries out regular surveys to mountain ringlet butterflies and the bird species present on the Common. It also surveys the arctic alpine plants.

Mountain ringlet © Pete Barron
Ring ouzel © Paul harris

Protecting juniper woodland

Glenridding Common is an important site for juniper woodland. Total juniper woodland in the UK is 400ha and Glenridding hosts 5% of this national resource.

In 2014 exclosures were constructed, with the agreement of the commoners, to protect areas of juniper woodland from grazing by sheep. The exclosures were improved by the John Muir Trust team and planted with trees such as aspen, rowan, silver birch and willow, which naturally grow alongside the juniper. Already the vegetation is significantly more dense and is providing an important winter food source for birds, small mammals and a number of moth species.

As Isaac Johnson explains, “trees are [also] immensely important for slowing run-off, storing water and consolidating the ground”. The people of Glenridding remember all too well, from Storm Desmond, what can happen when a landslip occurs, bringing rocks and boulders down the beck to the village.

Juniper on Glenridding Common © Pete Barron

Downy Willow – a success story

Downy willow should form an important component of the vegetation of the steep Helvellyn Crag that towers above Red Tarn but, largely due to grazing, there were only 23 downy willow plants remaining and unfortunately they were all female so could not reproduce. When the John Muir Trust took over the lease in 2017 they continued with the work started by Natural England to propagate and enhance this remnant population. The Trust committed to ‘repairing’ Helvellyn Crag by re-creating a viable population of downy willow and it is well on the way to doing so. There are now over 1,500 Downy Willow plants, grown from cuttings by staff of the John Muir Trust and Natural England, as well as by volunteer local growers. The willows are growing well and seeding and there is hope that they will self-seed and regenerate, which will be the ultimate success of this project.

Nine local volunteers have been involved in growing 5 rare montane willow species since 2018. Taking cuttings in the spring, willows are propagated from a stock plant and nurtured on throughout the year before being planted out onto high altitude ledges to increase remnant existing populations.

Downy willow spreading on the crags © Pete Barron

Arctic Alpines from seed

As well as propagating montane willows, the growers are also trying their hand at growing from seed some of the rare Arctic Alpine plants found on the Common, for example Alpine Cinquefoil, Water Avens and Purple Saxifrage.

Purple Saxifrage © Pete Barron

Request to all visitors

Please leave no trace, keep dogs under control (especially at lambing and bird-nesting time), carry out all forms of waste and return any stones you move to their original position.

A special note for climbers

The Arctic Alpine flora can be easily damaged by winter climbers if the turf is not frozen solid so a new monitoring system has been set up on the Red Tarn face of Helvellyn that allows climbers to assess the likely conditions before arriving at the crag. This is technical infrastructure in a remote location so has not been without its challenges. A new system was installed in 2021, in conjunction with the British Mountaineering Club (BMC) and Natural England, and a web page created to give up to the minute information on air and ground temperatures on Helvellyn.

by Anne Clarke


Conversation with Pete Barron, Manager of Glenridding Common

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