By Rachael Parkin
The Coppermines Valley, home to The Coppermines Lakes Cottages, is not only awe-inspiringly beautiful, but it is also important in a national context, being part of the newly listed UNESCO World Heritage Site, included in The Schedule of Ancient Monuments and is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Now the valley has become even more special having recently become home to the Coppermines Conservation Area.
The owner and founder of the Coppermines Lakes Cottages, Philip Johnston, acquired 65 acres of fell-side towards the southern end of the Coppermines Valley known as Foul Scrow. Since its acquisition in 2018, the level of grazing by animals has been dramatically reduced; allowing hundreds of seedlings of various trees, shrubs and plants to take hold. The aim of the conservation area is to allow and encourage rewilding.
Rewilding is the natural restoration of the land, encouraging more biodiversity in terms of plant, animal and insect life. It enables nature to take care of itself and encourages a balance between people and nature. Following steps to encourage rewilding, juniper, birch, alder and willows are now all to be found on the site with hundreds of new seedlings becoming established. Diverse flora, including the charmingly named, sneezewort, meadowsweet, yellow pimpernel, bog asphodel and quaking grass (which all sound like they would be at home flourishing in the grounds of Hogwarts) are all be found thriving on this modestly-sized patch of Cumbrian hillside.
The area is also rapidly becoming increasingly valuable to local wildlife, with a far more diverse range of birds and insects to be found here than on the average, heavily grazed, fell-side. A recent report conducted by South Lakes Ecology identified ten species of bird during one visit alone including the willow warbler, tree pipit, redpoll and whitethroat. And it’s not just our feathered friends who are benefitting; four species of bumblebee were found to be making the Scrow their home as well as the small pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly whose numbers are in decline elsewhere in the UK. Insects such as the buff-tailed bumblebee require a wide variety of wildflowers that blossom sequentially throughout the year – something that is often lacking on land where grazing is present, but which can be increasingly found amongst the regenerating vegetation throughout the Scrow.
The Coppermines Conservation Area has another very important function. During the 2009 “rain event” during which there was exceptionally prolonged and heavy rainfall, thousands of tonnes of earth was washed down the mountainside. This not only caused erosion to the fell-side but as a consequence the displaced earth then ended up in becks and streams, including Church Beck which runs from up in the Coppermines Valley to down into the village of Coniston, causing blockages and contributing to flooding. One of the main aims of the conservation area is to dramatically reduce future earth slippage. Scrub and tree restoration, and the root network which develops as a consequence slows the flow of water throughout the site. The slowing of the flow of water as it descends from the higher ground towards lower, populated areas via upstream land management methods has been shown to be vital in helping to prevent flooding during periods of sustained heavy rain like that which was seen in 2009.
The Scrow has an even bigger role to play however in the long-term future of our world. Rewilding is increasingly being understood as having a vitally important role in decarbonising the UK. Plants, trees and all vegetation play a vital role in reducing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. By encouraging a diverse range of vegetation and plants which absorb atmospheric co2 for photosynthesis this, in turn, all contribute to reducing the greenhouse gases warming the planet. With projects such as the Coppermines Conservation Area, whilst on a small scale individually, it is hoped that combined together they can contribute to ensuring that the outlook for our planet is a positive one.
The future of the conservation area looks bright; the longer the land goes without grazing the more biodiverse it will become. Planned deer fences will help protect the area even further and planting of additional varieties of trees and shrubs such as hazel, wild cherry and wych elm can provide new habitats for colonisation by even more species of insects and birds.
Everyone is welcome to visit the Coppermines Conservation Area and enjoy this unique corner of the Lakes for themselves. A public footpath runs across the site and whilst there is the “right to roam” throughout the fell-side it is important that visitors please stick to the footpath as much as possible to avoid trampling the seedlings and damaging the regeneration of the precious vegetation.
In the years to come it is hoped that the Coppermines Conservation Area will provide a template to demonstrate just what can be achieved by allowing and encouraging natural rejuvenation of the land and inspire other landowners. The long term aim is that the area will continue to thrive and flourish and function as a place from which wildlife, the landscape, the community and visitors can all benefit for years to come.