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The Legendary Wildlife Of The Lake District

The Lake District is full of wildlife wonders. From Fox and Badger, to Otters, Voles and more. But what are some of the more legendary characters from the area that Peter Rabbit grew up in? Let's take a look at some of the rarities you might find on your travels through one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Vendace

Have you ever heard of the Vendace? Probably not. It’s one of the rarest freshwater fish in the world, and is categorised as Endangered on a global level, meaning less than 250 mature individuals worldwide. More closer to home, the UK has only ever recorded 4 populations of Vendace — the Lake District is home to 2 of those, at Bassenthwaite Lake and Derwentwater. Here however, the situation for Vendace is worse, and is now a UK Biodiversity Action Plan priority fish species and is Critically Endangered, with fewer than 50 mature individuals thought to exist in a 4 known locations.

High Brown Fritillary

The High Brown Fritillary (Argynnis adippe) graces the diverse landscapes of South Lakeland, nestled in the picturesque Lake District of Cumbria, England. This striking butterfly, with a wingspan ranging from 56 to 72 millimeters, finds its haven in the region’s marshy areas, woodland clearings, meadows, and moorlands. The larvae of the High Brown Fritillary sustain themselves by feeding on the leaves of specific violet species, contributing to the delicate ecological balance of the area. Conservation efforts in the region focus on maintaining suitable habitats, controlling invasive species, and ensuring the availability of nectar-rich flowers and essential larval host plants. As the adult butterflies take to the wing during the summer months, from June to August, conservation initiatives play a crucial role in preserving the delicate dance of the High Brown Fritillary in the enchanting landscapes of South Lakeland. Strongholds of these beautiful and rare butterflies can be found a little further from Lakeland, in Morecambe.

High Brown Fritillary – Butterfly” by naturalengland is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Natterjack Toads

The Natterjack Toad (Epidalea calamita), a unique amphibian native to the United Kingdom, stands out with its distinctive yellow stripe running down its back. These toads, smaller than some of their relatives, thrive in coastal environments, favoring sandy habitats such as sand dunes, heathlands, and salt marshes, much like Sandscale Haws. Particularly adapted to breeding in temporary ponds and dune slacks, Natterjack Toads announce their presence with a distinctive and loud call described as a rasping “nack-nack-nack.” Their coastal habitats play a crucial role in their life cycle, providing suitable conditions for breeding and ensuring the continued presence of this fascinating species in the UK.

Natterjack toad (Epidalea calamita), Schiermonnikoog, Netherlands” by Frank.Vassen is licensed under CC BY 2.0

This rare and endangered toad also has a trippy defence up its sleeve — bufotenine, which is a tryptamine alkaloid, is secreted through the skin of the Natterjack, deterring any would-be predators from putting it on the dinner table. Bufotenine is chemically related to DMT (dimethyltryptamine), a well-known psychedelic substance found in certain plants and used traditionally in some indigenous rituals, such as in ayahuasca rituals, where people who drink this natural cocktail die a spiritual death and are ‘reborn’. That said, we don’t suggest you go around licking Natterjack toads.

Osprey

Ospreys have become a captivating presence in the Lake District, particularly around Esthwaite Water and Rusland Moss. In the early 2000s, ospreys made a remarkable return to England after an absence dating back to the 1830s. The successful breeding near Bassenthwaite Lake in the Lake District marked a turning point in their resurgence. Ospreys typically arrive in April and stay until early September, utilizing specially erected nest platforms at Dodd Wood near Bassenthwaite Lake. The Lake District Osprey Project, in collaboration with partners such as the Forestry Commission and the RSPB, played a pivotal role in this success, establishing nest platforms and providing a safe environment for breeding.

Osprey” by szeke is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Esthwaite Water, situated between Windermere and Coniston Water, and the lesser-known Cogra Moss near Workington are among the locations where these majestic birds can be observed. While the Lake District Osprey Project was disbanded in 2022 due to its achievements, the legacy continues with offspring spotted in various regions, showcasing the successful re-establishment of breeding pairs beyond their initial nesting site at Bassenthwaite. Visitors and enthusiasts have opportunities to witness ospreys in action, especially between June and August, when these birds engage in active hunting to feed their young chicks. The Osprey Safari at Esthwaite Water provides a unique experience for those eager to observe these spectacular birds in their natural habitat. Foulshaw Moss Nature Reserve also offers a chance to see ospreys from a special viewing platform, highlighting the importance of preserving diverse habitats for their continued success in the Lake District.

Red Squirrels

These charismatic creatures, once under threat from the encroachment of the larger gray squirrel, have found refuge in carefully managed woodlands and conservation sites. Organizations like the Red Squirrels Northern England (RSNE) project have played a pivotal role, working collaboratively with local communities, wildlife enthusiasts, and volunteers to create safe havens for red squirrels.

Nowadays, lucky observers can spot red squirrels frolicking and foraging in various locations within the Lake District and South Lakeland. Woodlands, nature reserves, and specially designated conservation areas have become red squirrel strongholds. Iconic sites such as Grizedale Forest, Whinlatter Forest Park, and Claife Heights provide ideal habitats for these native squirrels to thrive. In recent years, a population in woodland near Grasmere has nearly doubled over a 6 month period.

These success stories highlight the positive impact of targeted conservation initiatives, habitat restoration, and community engagement. As a result, red squirrels have not only managed to hold their ground against the gray squirrel competition but have also recaptured parts of their historic range in the region.

While challenges persist, such as the ongoing threat of the squirrelpox virus, the resilience and adaptability of red squirrels in South Lakeland showcase the potential for harmonious coexistence between humans and wildlife. The efforts to protect and preserve these iconic creatures underscore the importance of maintaining the delicate balance of ecosystems in this picturesque corner of the Lake District. There’s also some suggestion that red squirrels are developing resistance to squirrelpox, but nothing concrete has established itself yet.

What sort of wildlife have you uncovered in the Lake District?

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