Red squirrels, freshwater pearl mussels and juniper trees are among the vibrant residents of the UK’s new ‘super’ national nature reserve.
Ennerdale in the Lack District — roughly 7,400 acres of land flanking lakes, forests and mountains — has long been prized as one of Cumbria’s best beauty spots.
It’s one of the Lake District’s more far-flung locations, with no public road leading to the western valley meaning it’s relatively untouched.
Natural England, which advises the government, said the status given today would protect the area and make it the ninth-largest nature reserve in England.
This makes the valley among the newest ‘Super NNR’s’ in England, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said.
Ennerdale is home to rare wildlife that also includes slender Arctic charr that has survived in the UK since the Ice Age and unsurprisingly is found in nippy waters.
Towering Atlantic oakwoods wrap around the valley, making it a refuge for red squirrels that have long been threatened by American grey squirrels.
Between 100 to 150 red squirrels live in the woodlands, according to the National Trust. There are only 140,000 left in the UK, down from 3.5 million in the 1870s.
Rare mountain plants such as the shrubby cinquefoil and alpine saw-wort, known for its clumped purple flowerheads can also be found in Ennerdale.
For wildlife officials, Ennerdale is something of a balancing act. They have sought to restore native trees and woods, rebuild the river and plant juniper while also carving out an area for sustainable grazing by hardy cattle.
The area is managed by the Wild Ennerdale partnership, including landowners Forestry England, the National Trust, United Utilities and Natural England.
Tony Juniper, chairman of Natural England, said: ‘Wild Ennerdale is a diverse and varied landscape which supports some of our most unique and precious wildlife, including red squirrels, the freshwater pearl mussels that dwell in the river there and which can live for 100 years, and the Arctic charr — a fish that has hung on in the valley since the last Ice Age.
‘We have been working with partners for some years to improve this already amazing place and its declaration as a National Nature Reserve will enhance the spectacular landscape, wildlife and habitats, safeguarding them for the future while providing space for people to get close to wild nature.’
Rachel Oakley, speaking on behalf of the Wild Ennerdale Partnership, said landowners were delighted to achieve NNR status for the valley.
‘We are constantly reminded of the nature and climate crisis we face now and for the future and this announcement shows how working together and prioritising nature can reap rewards for us all,’ she said.
‘These landscapes are constantly evolving and need to be fit for purpose to adapt and respond to the many challenges we face.’
Oakley added: ‘Nature can thrive if given space and a helping hand and we are seeing tangible results of that in Ennerdale.’
The first ‘super’ NNR in the UK was the Purbeck Heaths in Dorset, knitting together 11 wildlife havens home to sand lizards, warblers and butterflies.
Environment minister Trudy Harrison said: ‘Ennerdale Valley is a haven for fish, birds and insects and provides much-treasured access to green space for local people.
‘The declaration today strengthens our commitment to nature’s recovery and our ambitions under the 25-Year Environment Plan to leave the natural world in a better state than we found it.’
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