We’re committed to protecting the wild environments we love to explore. It’s why we work with several organisations that help us do just that. This includes Fix the Fells, who are based in the Lake District National Park and dedicated to combating erosion in the area.
But what exactly do Fix the Fells do? Who better to help us understand the work that Fix the Fells undertakes than ranger Caroline, who has volunteered with the organisation for 10 years. Caroline initially juggled volunteering alongside a role in the NHS but, in 2021, she made the decision to quit her day job and work full-time for Fix the Fells instead. Keep reading to find out how she initially got involved with this work, what it involves and why she is so passionate about it…
What do you love about the Lake District?
I think I have the best of both worlds. I live in the Yorkshire Dales and work in the Lake District National Park. I love the variety of landscapes in the Lake District and how they change through the seasons. I particularly like walking and exploring the fells on the outer edges of the Lake District. They tend to be quieter.
We often head out onto the fells very early in the morning when there are very few people around. There is probably a misplaced sense of satisfaction to be gained from heading down off the fells when people are only just starting to venture out for the day.
How did you start volunteering with Fix the Fells?
Most of my memories throughout my life involve being outside from helping on my grandfather’s farm, building stone dams across streams, to walking up Cat Bells in wellies. When I heard about Fix the Fells the idea of being out and working on the fells and learning new skills really appealed to me.
I started volunteering with Fix the Fells 10 years ago. At the time I was working in the NHS as a Macmillan nurse. It can be hard trying to volunteer whilst also working, especially having days off coincide with any planned activities. Fix the Fells is one of the few organisations that offer volunteering opportunities throughout each week, which makes it so much easier to volunteer.
How would you describe the work you’ve been involved in?
The aim of Fix the Fells is to look after and repair the upland footpaths in the Lake District National Park in order to protect the landscape and the wildlife. The footpaths are subject to erosion from a combination of the volume of footfall, the weather and the gradient. As a result of these forces, erosion scars can develop and if they are left unchecked, these can become very deep and very wide - causing scars on the landscape. The aim of our work is not about improving the paths, accessibility or safety, it is about repairing damage in a sustainable way.
As a member of the Northern footpath team based in Borrowdale, we undertake a programme of works each year that consists of building and repairing paths using stone to create pitching or using subsoil to create a defined path line. We create new drainage channels by building stone cross drains and digging drainage channels to take away the water from the paths. We also spend time using landscaping techniques to repair and revegetate eroded areas.
The work is very physically demanding. On a daily basis we spend a lot of time digging, moving large amounts of soil, stone and turf in order to complete our work. You have to be fit just to walk up the work site which may be over an hour's walk, often carrying all your own tools such as a shovel, mattock and pinch bar, plus food and drink for the day and preferably a bit of cake. You also have to be quite resilient to the elements as it can range from being freezing cold and blowing a hooley, to sunny and balmy in a day. It does help, particularly as I am based in Borrowdale (significantly the wettest place in England) if you are quite happy to get wet and covered in mud on a regular basis.
It is highly rewarding work just seeing what you have created when you finish building a section of pitching or drain which will hopefully be there for years to come!
What have been some of your favourite restoration projects?
As a volunteer we usually worked in pairs, but as a staff member you work by yourself on your own section. So, at present, my favourite has to be the first section of pitching that I built by myself which is on the Old Man of Coniston. I even marched my husband up there so he could admire it!
You became an Assistant Ranger in 2021. What is the difference between this role and volunteering?
As a volunteer I did not appreciate how much organisation such as liaising with outside agencies for permission to work on sites, and how much preparation is required to develop the work plan for the footpaths to be worked on through the fell season. As a volunteer, unless I was leading a work party, I simply turned up and worked.
As a staff member, I am now involved in the process, completing the path surveys and job specifications, carrying out the risk assessments and leading volunteer work parties. The other difference that comes to mind is that volunteers usually work in pairs if they are doing stonework, such as building cross drains. As a member of staff you work by yourself and have your own section of work to complete so you work more independently. However there are colleagues on hand to ask for assistance if there is a particularly large stone to move.
A part-time temporary seasonal position came up with Fix the Fells in 2021. I thought that working part-time as a ranger would be a good way to gain further insight into the job. It also meant that I could keep working part-time as a Macmillan nurse which would provide me with a living when the ranger contract ended. I really loved my seasonal post. I used to look forward to the days I was working. When the job finished for the season I really missed the work. When a full-time post became available I decided just to go for it. Sometimes you can think about a change for too long and opportunities pass you by.
Do you have any advice for anyone planning to visit the Lake District?
I know it has been said time and time again but if you are heading out into the fells make sure you go prepared with enough layers, a map and compass, food and drink. Plan your route. We often get asked by walkers if they are on the right route. Sometimes they are completely in the wrong valley. Check the weather forecast. It can be nice and warm in the valleys but, on the tops, the weather conditions may be very different.
One of the problems recently has been the amount of rubbish left on the fells. If people can carry tents and camping equipment up a fell then they are perfectly capable of carrying it all down again. Please take your rubbish home.
To find out more about this inspiring organisation, including essential advice on how you can support their work, don’t miss our podcast. You can also discover more about the organisations we are committed to supporting on our dedicated Further.Forever. page.