Stanley Ghyll is “one of the finest waterfall ravines in the Lake District”. The humid, sheltered conditions within the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) protect a rich community of mosses, lichen, liverwort and notable rare ferns. The Beck, the waterfall and adjacent woodlands form the most important habitat for these plants in southwest Lakeland. Moreover, the awe-inspiring landscape and unusual biodiversity motivated exploration en-masse and Stanley Ghyll became a popular destination for tourism and artistic endeavour in the late Georgian and early Victorian eras.
The site was purchased by the Lake District Special Planning Board from the Ponsonby and Dalegarth Estate in 1994, with the object of preserving nature conservation interests and providing access opportunities for the public. From various historical documents and drawings we know that prior to the 1850s, rhododendron did not exist on the property. Bare granite and native species dominated the landscape and the waterfalls could be viewed and heard from a great distance. About this time, the property served as a nursery for the gardens of Muncaster Castle and the Victorian fascination with rhododendron saw the planting of many different species throughout the site in the spring of 1857. The common, invasive ponticum variety thrived in the steep sided ravine of Stanley Ghyll and in less than one hundred years, the property was a sprawling mass of densely packed, unchecked rhododendron growth; poisoning the soils, shutting out the light and the views and preventing the natural progression of the native species.
In 2019, we worked with volunteers and specialist contractors to begin removing two hectares of the invasive rhododendron to allow the native woodland to regenerate. As well as opening up the views to the waterfall, we also discovered a number of rock faces and trees across the site, and directly above the footpath, that had become unsafe. Rhododendron ‘root jacks’ rock, rendering it loose and unstable and obscures fallen or dangerous trees. Unable to make the site safe for the public at that time we closed a section of footpath from the third footbridge to the waterfalls. Specialist engineers identified that area - directly above the waterfall, viewing area and footpath - as a hazardous rock face, with imminent danger of rockfall.
To make the whole property safe, and to bring the SSSI back into good condition, we will now be carrying out a large-scale project to remove rhododendron and to make the rockfaces safe. Because of the dangerous nature of the works, the likelihood of vegetation and rock falling through the site during the works, and the difficulty of carrying out this works with the public present, we have taken the difficult decision to close the whole site to the public, including all the footpaths and most of the open access land, from 30 November 2020 to 31 March 2021.
The map below shows the extent of the footpath closure and open access land restriction. You can still use the bridleway at the northern end of the property, cross the bridge and the ford to explore the valley and you can enjoy the use of the picnic benches in the lower woodland.
FOR YOUR OWN SAFETY – PLEASE DO NOT TRY TO CROSS THE WALLS OR FENCES TO ACCESS THIS LAND
When Stanley Ghyll reopens to the public in time for Easter 2021, the site will be well on its way to much improved biodiversity. Eliminating the dense rhododendron canopy will encourage the growth of native vegetation and manifestly transform the site with birdsong and light. Crucially, the site will be have been thoroughly inspected and signed off by our specialist engineers so that visitors can once again, safely access the wonders of Stanley Ghyll.
In addition, we have recently submitted an exciting planning application for a proposed Victorian-esque, metalwork viewing station on the upper crest of the ravine. Full details of the application can be viewed online
If deemed appropriate by Development Control Committee on 2 December 2020, the proposed viewing station will provide unparalleled views of the upper reaches of the historic Eskdale Valley and Scafell Massif, an open view of the upper falls – previously hidden from the human eye by rhododendron for over 100 years – and the breath-taking opportunity to safely ‘walk out’ over the 150 foot ravine. Since the clearance of the rhododendron last year, people have wanted to get to the crest edge to get a better view and experience that sense of impending danger – just without the corresponding safety net. People will always be drawn to cliff edges to get a better view – and the viewing station will enable this to happen in a safe and thrilling fashion. It is hoped that the installation of a viewing station will create ‘safe excitement’ within the ghyll and provide an exhilarating yet aesthetically subtle addition to the current visitor attraction of Stanley Ghyll.
Thank you for your patience during these necessary health and safety works. Should you have any questions in the meantime, please contact Rec Cathey, Area Ranger: firstname.lastname@example.org
For further information about the site designation please see the Natural England Citation