Ravenstonedale Kirkby Stephen Cumbria

Millennium Map Project. Weasdale Nurseries

Contributor: Andrew Forsyth
Newbiggin-on-Lune, Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria

Started back in 1950 by the late Alec Corder, the Nurseries are in the "mouth" of Weasdale on the site of what had been an old yeoman farm.

Where once there was open farmland, there is now well-established woodland that contrasts starkly with the open fell land and grazing pasture that surrounds it. With such a diversity of species of trees and shrubs growing both as nursery stock and as shelter for the nursery beds, there is a correspondingly diverse range of wildlife that takes advantage of the habitat provided.

Under pressure all around from the invasive greys, there is a stable population of red squirrels in the Nursery which are able to feed on the fir cones on the maturing conifers in the shelter belts. Other than the encroaching grey squirrel, the greatest threat to their (red squirrel) numbers is represented by the ever-present buzzards, which have been seen to pluck the unwary squirrel from the upper branches as they feed.

Roe deer have, in the past, been unwelcome visitors within the Nursery beds and, since fencing them out, the stock has improved enormously. Still able to benefit from the shelter of the surrounding trees, they are easily found here at most times of the year, but infuriate us all with their appetite for the plants in our gardens, being particularly partial to yew and rhododendrons. As anyone with livestock knows, yew is fatally poisonous to most ruminants, but roe can eat it with impunity. It has been suggested that they eat it as a natural way of controlling worms/fluke.

Rabbit and hare numbers swing quite markedly, influenced by predator numbers and, in the case of the rabbit, by the ever-present myxomatosis. Most of the Nursery beds are fenced against these two; hares have a habit of eating all the growing shoots on a plant and are very adept at reaching the higher branches by nibbling half-way through the stem at a lower level, until the weakened branch folds over under its own weight, bringing the juicy leaves into easy reach. Rabbits will just eat anything………

The following list (by no means exhaustive) of birds found in the Nursery reveals just how a few trees and bushes can influence the flora and fauna profile. Many of these birds are specialist feeders in their own way and can only become established when there is sufficient food available in their part of the food chain. The particular insect or rodent that they feed on is only there perhaps because a certain other insect or plant is there and that insect is only there because that particular plant is growing in the shade of a particular tree - and so the connections continue.

Birds seen in Weasdale

barn owl(?) fieldfare magpie shrike
blackbird firecrest mallard skylark
blue tit goldcrest meadow pipit snipe
bullfinch goldfinch merlin sparrowhawk
chaffinch greater spotted woodpecker* mistle thrush swallow
coal tit great tit oyster catcher tawny owl
common buzzard greenfinch partridge tree creeper
common grouse grey heron pheasant woodcock
crow grey wagtail pied wagtail wood pigeon
cuckoo jackdaw raven** wren
curlew kestrel redshank yellow wagtail
dipper lapwing redstart  

* The woodpeckers has discovered that the tin sheeting of the packing shed and the top of the central-heating oil tank make a far better racket than a dead branch, when hammered with a beak.)

** Unconfirmed, but its call was unmistakably raven-like - was too high an altitude to study.

A brief word about Weasdale Nurseries

The Nurseries are principally a mail-order business, sending tree and shrubs out to customers all over the UK and, occasionally, to the EU. Growing the stock in the open ground, ie not in containers, means that the plants are sold bare-rooted in the dormant season, which normally runs from leaf-fall in November until bud-break in March/April.