Fell Care Days - a force for good

Ruth Kirk, Fell Care Days officer, looks at the amazing and exciting work of the Fell Care Days' volunteers. A project that was shortlisted in the 2017 Park Protector Award.

FELL n. chiefly British: An upland stretch of open country. CARE n. the provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of something. DAY n. the period of light between dawn and nightfall; the interval from sunrise to sunset.

 

And so, working to this definition, on just one day at Coniston in the Lake District, 163 amazing volunteers ranging from 5 year old primary school pupils right through to active retirees came together to help safeguard the beautiful landscapes of this area through taking part in a whole host of practical conservation and learning tasks at one of Friends of the Lake District’s Fell Care Days. And this is what they achieved: 14 practical conservation tasks and learning activities completed, 42 bags of rubbish and 4 barrels collected, 16km of paths on the high fells cleared and 10m of path repaired, around 30sq m of rhododendron bashed, 30 oak trees planted and another 30 protected, 15m of wall under repair, and over 400 pieces of cake eaten to fuel volunteers through the day!

John Ruskin school pupils undertaking dry stone walling. Photo credit: Fell Care Days

Since the idea of Fell Care Days was dreamed up in 2011, these mass volunteering events have gone from strength to strength, seeming to fire up the imagination and enthusiasm of so people from so many different walks of life. In a culture that is so often focused on the individual and the material, Fell Care Days seem to tap in to a deep seated desire to feel connected again to the natural world of which we are all part, and to be able to feel a sense of real satisfaction from giving something back and making a difference to a place that has inspired past generations and continues to inspire people now.

It’s difficult to convey in words the swell of energy, the positive force for good and the impressive sense of concerted effort and action which embodies a Fell Care Day but here are a few snapshots from Coniston: 8am, a deserted car park at the ‘hub’, Coniston Sports and Social Centre, the sound of a babbling stream and welcoming signs being tacked on to the fence. Fast forward to 9am, the sound of feet crunching on gravel and voices grower louder, at first one or two, then a dozen, soon a small army of outdoor-clothed people, greeting, laughing, joining, preparing to get their hands dirty and their brows sweaty for the sake of the land. Suddenly a cacophony of excited schoolchildren, mingling with the gruff voices of long-standing National Park volunteers; people grouping, people coming, people going, off to set-to the tasks at hand before silence descends on the hall once again.

Coniston Primary School group litter pickers with their haul. Photo credit: Fell Care Days

Out across the Coniston landscape: at the Labyrinth, a small copse by the head of Coniston Water, fire crackles as it licks across the unwelcome branches of a felled rhododendron. Snapping loppers in gloved hands, doing what needs to be done to reduce the non-native species and restore the historic site.

Meanwhile, high up on the fells, strong arms wield shovels and brushes to clear upland paths of loose gravel and debris so the winter rains will flow through drains and slow the potential for erosion damage.

Swishing paddles curve through the water carrying canoeists from shore to shore, in search of the discarded wrappers, bottles, bags and detritus which sully the waters of this stunning lake. Novice paddlers and experienced old-hands, all with a common purpose to pick the litter, bag the rubbish and do their bit.

Like a jigsaw, stone after weathered stone finds its place as an age old dry stone wall is dismantled and carefully reconstructed to last another generation, and enclose another flock of sheep or herd of cows. A new generation of students from John Ruskin School are guided and tutored alongside experienced wallers in this most iconic of Cumbrian rural skills, passing the knowledge and heritage to the conservationists of the future.

3pm and the dirt-streaked volunteers begin to drift back in their groups having completed 14 different practical conservation tasks and learning activities. At the hub, steaming mugs of tea and mounds of every type of cake are on offer to restore energy to the weary troops. And most striking of all, the huge smiles and rising chatter of satisfied workers, telling their tales and reflecting on a job well done, of fells well-cared for and a day of camaraderie, fun and achievement.