Cumbria is the best place to live in the UK if you love wildlife, according to BBC Wildlife magazine. The magazine has surveyed wildlife records across the UK, as well as the percentage of land protected and the variety of habitats to come to its decision. According to BBC Wildlife “When it comes to variety, beauty and abundance of wildlife, Cumbria is the county with everything”. If it's the best place to live, it's also the best place to visit.
BBC Wildlife is not alone in its views. Many resident and visiting wildlife enthusiasts already recognise the “variety, beauty and abundance of wildlife” and the need to support and get involved in conservation projects. Central to what is on offer in the Lake District and Cumbria is the Lakeland landscape and environment. This supports the abundance of rich, and sometimes rare, wildlife. In order to protect what we have for future generations conservation is key. The Lake District National Park, The National Trust and the Forestry Commission direct the county's conservation efforts supported by other agencies and voluntary groups. The Tourism & Conservation Partnership is bringing the conservation message to those involved in tourism in the Lake District, and making it easier for visitors to support conservation projects in the area.
The opportunities to observe wildlife in the Lake District are fantastic. Endangered red squirrels can be found in Cumbria. Look out for them in the conifers in Dodd Wood or in Whinlatter forest. Their survival is not guaranteed with current estimates suggesting that only about 5,000 reds are left in Cumbria. The work of the Red Alert North England Project is crucial in monitoring and checking the advance of the greys. They call on the public's help in reporting sitings of both red and grey squirrels in an attempt to preserve areas in which red squirrels can live unchallenged.
Whilst red squirrel numbers threaten to decline, the numbers of otters in Cumbria encouragingly has grown in recent years. By the 1980s otters had almost disappeared from Cumbria, due mainly to toxins in pesticides. There are now growing numbers particularly in the Eden Valley, on the Solway Plain and on the northern stretch of the west coast of Cumbria. Conservation efforts, for example, in helping to build stone wall otter holts, appear to be reaping rewards.
Cumbria is rich in birdlife. Over 200 species of bird are recorded in Cumbria in any one year. Many visitors to the Lake District in recent years have shared in the excitement of ospreys breeding in craggy woodland near Bassenthwaite Lake. The Lake District Osprey Project has made viewing these wonderful birds accessible, through telescopes in Dodd Wood and via the webcam display at the Whinlatter Visitor Centre.
Ospreys are not the only big birds to be seen circling the Lakeland fells. Look out for buzzards, peregrines and Kestrels. A visit to Haweswater may even reward you with the sight of a golden eagle.
If plantlife is your particular interest Cumbria's flora is surprisingly rich given the northern latitude of the county. Over 1300 species of plant have been recorded, mainly because of the varied habitats of the area. The fells to the north of Keswick are acidic and whilst they support less plantlife than some of the southern Cumbrian coastal areas, the heather cover in late summer is spectacular, and rare lichens are found on rocks in some of the more remote areas of the north western fells. Fungi are bountiful in wooded areas in and around Keswick during the autumn months.
A major focus of conservation is maintaining the delicate balances that exist throughout the landscape and natural environment of the Lake District. In the past farming, mining and forestry have all left their mark. Today tourism has a very real impact. A walk along any of the many footpaths in and around Keswick will reveal signs of erosion. The Fix the Fells project was set up to raise funds for repairs and coordinate the efforts of volunteers to keep footpaths and access open . It's an ongoing project. Pollution, including water pollution, is also a concern. A conservation project is underway to improve the deteriorating water quality in Bassenthwaite Lake, the fishing ground of the ospreys. This and similar projects are tackling threats to the habitats that support the wildlife of the Lake District, with the expectation that Lakeland will continue to be a really great place to enjoy the natural world.