Far less visited by tourists and today with no public access by vehicle, the dramatic valley of Ennerdale is home to one of the longest running rewilding projects in the UK. Starting in 2003, the Wild Ennerdale Partnership began to reduce sheep numbers in the valley, allowing the landscape and ecology to evolve naturally, and to turn the valley, to an extent, into a wilderness. Galloway cattle have been introduced into the forests. They graze differently than sheep and their heavy plodding disturbs the ground and helps bury seed, encouraging many species.
The rewilding process curiously received a boost when in January 2005 violent storms swept across Northern Europe, felling in Ennerdale alone 27,000 trees, principally planted conifers, creating glades and opening up space for native trees. Tens of thousands of the millions of sitka spruce planted here from the 1930s have also been chopped down, while some 25,000 native broadleaved trees and 5,000 junipers have been planted, and it has been pointed out that the name of Ennerdale itself may well come from the Norse for “Juniper Valley”. Heaths and bogs have been restored, releasing in the latter caterpillars of the rare marsh fritillary.
Another strand to the project has been to remove man-made obstacles along the River Liza, allowing it to choose its own course. The freed gravel beds of the river has helped one of the rarest freshwater fish in Britain, the Arctic Char. The species is a relic from the last Ice Age, now marooned in Britain’s deep, cold glacial lakes. The Ennerdale chars are the UK’s only migratory population and instead of breeding in the lake itself, swim up the Liza to spawn in a few nights in November (great video here).