Hardknott Forest is a 600 hectare conifer plantation in the upper reaches of the Duddon valley in the Lake District. It was planted in the 1930s after strong local opposition.
Now, over 70 years later, the forest plantations are reaching maturity. After consultation with local people and organisations Forestry England has decided to restore the entire plantation into native habitats of oak and birch woodland, bogs and open ground. This initiative is a historic opportunity to create the largest semi-natural woodland in the Lake District, linking Hardknott Forest with the existing Duddon Valley Woodlands, a series of ancient oak woodlands that snake down the valley and all the way to the coast. The Restoring Hardknott Forest Project is a partnership between Forestry England and the University of Leeds.
Non-native trees are gradually being removed and replaced with native species such as oak. Some areas are regenerating naturally and we have seen holly, willow, birch and rowan all returning to the forest, with associated benefits for native wildlife. Other areas of the forest will remain as crag or bog.
The local area is known to support rare mammal species such as dormice, otters and red squirrels, and birds increasingly seen here include great spotted woodpeckers, jays and bullfinches. Monitoring of the wildlife and vegetation is an ongoing and fascinating part of the project. Days run from 9.30am to about 3.30pm. Tools and work gloves are provided but bring lunch, a drink and suitable footwear and clothing.
The North Face is a founding member of European Outdoor Conservation Association (EOCA), signing up when the Association began in 2006. EOCA is a conservation charity based in the outdoor industry. They currently have 158 members who are all companies in the European outdoor industry. They all pay a membership fee and EOCA spends 100% of this money on conservation projects around the world. To date, the EOCA has funded projects to the tune of €3.3million.
During 2019, The North Face decided to expand their Explore Fund into Europe and asked for EOCA's assistance in finding, assessing and managing conservation projects it could fund in the UK, Germany and Italy. The EOCA presented a number of conservation projects in the UK to The North Face and, through an in-country staff vote, the Hardknott Forest project was selected. A number of personnel from The North Face and EOCA travelled to the site in November last year and it was very exciting to see the huge benefits to the environment, wildlife and people that the actions they are funding will have. You can read a very short summary of the project here.
Since 2010, The North Face has been creating access and driving equity in the outdoors by funding hundreds of nonprofit organizations around two main themes: Enabling Exploration and Loving Wild Places.The North Face has teamed up with the European Outdoor Conservation Association to support the Hardknott Forest Restoration project. Find out more about The North Face Explore Fund here.
Revealing local crags
A byproduct of the Restoring Hardknott Forest Project is that an area of plantation trees has been removed near some crags - so that the crags are now more accessible and also more pleasant - being open to the weather rather than being kept dark and damp by the enclosing trees. In some cases these crags were completely unclimbable before the project began.
Many of these crags are described in the FRCC new routes in Duddon pdf. Here's a full list:
- Lower Brandy Crag (SD 226 988). (p.32 FRCC new routes list)
- Kepple Crags (SD 219 989)
- Mossup Crag (233 999) (p.56)
- Brandy Crag (West Brandy and Lower Brandy Crag) (225 989)
- Dropping Crag (226 993) (p.43)
- Upper Buck Crag (226 993). (p.47)
- Upper Buck Crag Slab
- Buck Crag (228 993)
- Crook Crags (233 999) (p.57)
- There is also good bouldering on Dunnerdale Boulders. All these boulders were completely in the plantation before it was cleared.
Volunteering and education
Note: Due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, Forestry England has issued the following guidance:
"Help stop the spread of coronavirus.
Stay home, stay safe – please do not travel to our forests."
Whilst the below volunteering advice may apply in normal circumstances, please contact them directly for further information.
In partnership with Forestry England, the Restoring Hardknott Forest Project is organising practical restoration activities and research. Local residents, children from local schools, volunteers from the University of Leeds, and the John Muir Trust have contributed hundreds of days of volunteer work so far. Volunteers from the Leeds University Mountaineering Society have also helped in the past and the project would certainly welcome other climbing clubs to the valley - one day climbing, one day helping to restore and protect the area!
Volunteer days are open to all and are a great opportunity to socialise and to learn about forest restoration, as well as contribute to creating more native woodland in Cumbria. Tasks include removing non-native trees, planting native species, collecting and propagating seeds, and the protection and maintenance of native trees.
Volunteer days start at Forestry England Birks Bridge Car Park (Landranger Map 96. Grid ref: SD234 995). The car park is on the minor road just south of Cockley Beck and north of Seathwaite.
Regular volunteer days
2nd Sunday of each month*
4th Tuesday of each month*
*Except July and August
Please get in touch before attending in case of cancellations due to bad weather.
What else do we do?
We also run occasional residential weekends, and we can organise days for schools, workplaces, community groups and special interest groups. Please get in touch for more information.