More than 7,400 acres of water, forests and mountains in the Lake District, which support “some of our most unique and precious wildlife”, have been given “super” special status as a nature reserve. Wild Ennerdale in Cumbria has been formally designated as one of the first of its kind in England.
The Government said the designation was part of its plan to leave the environment “in a better state than we found it”.
The land will become the largest super national nature reserves (NNRs) in Cumbria and the ninth largest in England overall.
The Wild Ennerdale partnership, which was formed 20 years ago, brings together Forestry England, the National Trust, United Utilities and Natural England.
All are aiming to allow natural processes to create wilder landscapes and ecology in the valley.
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Their efforts have been managed so far with sustainable grazing, efforts to restore the area’s stock of native trees and planting juniper, which is intended to help natural recovery.
The super NNR will protect over 3,000 hectares of the Ennerdale region.
Tony Juniper, chairman of Natural England, described the area as “a diverse and varied landscape which supports some of our most precious wildlife”.
He noted that it was home to red squirrels, freshwater pearl mussels “which can live for 100 years”, and Arctic charr – “a fish that has hung on in the valley since the last Ice Age”.
Mr Juniper added: “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 they were delighted to achieve NNR status for the valley.
She said: “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.
“These landscapes are constantly evolving and need to be fit for purpose to adapt and respond to the many challenges we face.
“Nature can thrive if given space and a helping hand and we are seeing tangible results of that in Ennerdale.”
The first super NNR was designated in 2020 – Purbeck Heaths in Dorset. A second, in the Somerset wetlands, was established earlier this year.
The latest designation is timed to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the first NNRs being established to protect England’s most important wild habitats in 1952.
Trudy Harrison, an environment minister, 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.”
She added: “Support from local communities is essential for the success of National Nature Reserves, and it’s vital that we work together to protect the future of these wildlife habitats.”
Ennerdale – not to be confused with the popular TV soap – is one of the remotest valleys in Cumbria.
It is also home to some historically significant archaeological finds, including a collection of Bronze Age cairns – a collection of stones used for agriculture – and medieval settlements.
Charcoal deposits found in a 2020 archaeological survey suggested deforestation was taking place in the area as early as the Stone Age, meaning human intervention could have started as far back as 11,000 years ago.