2018 Ecological Briefing Notes
Ourea Events’ races are located in Britain’s greatest upland areas that often contain features of outstanding biodiversity value and importance. Occasionally, the features that provide this interest can be vulnerable to the wear and tear that may result from the passage of event participants. The risk of ecological damage is carefully assessed during early stages in the planning process for each event, when every effort is made to avoid sensitive ecological interest areas that could be disturbed by the event.
We are keen to encourage personal route selection choices by participants on our events to further avoid the risk of local ecological disturbance. This Ecological Briefing Note has been prepared for the 2018 ROC Mountain Marathon event to identify key ecological interest features that contribute to the special character of the event area, with route selection comments to help minimise the risk of localized ecological disturbance.
The 2018 ROC Mountain Marathon event is located within an area of the Lake District National Park that has a wild and remote character. The solid geology of the event area mainly comprises slate, where glaciation and river erosion has created a distinctive topography of steep-sided valleys defined by high elevation ridges and peaks. A variety of distinctive upland wildlife habitats and vegetation types are present within the 2018 ROC Mountain Marathon event area that include one extensive area of International nature conservation importance, and one extensive area of National nature conservation importance.
The event area contains one of the largest expanses of upland heather moorland and blanket bog in the Lake District. In addition, higher elevation ridges and peaks support important areas of montane grass heath vegetation. Montane scrub, rock outcrop, scree, hill lakes and river valley habitats are all present within the event area, combining to create an area of diverse upland habitat interest. This is reflected in the most diverse upland breeding bird assemblage in West Cumbria.
- Dry acid grassland is a widespread vegetation type within the event area, where centuries of livestock grazing has converted heather moorland to open grassland. These areas provide a relatively robust vegetation type that can generally withstand the trampling effects of fell running.
- Extensive areas of dry acid grassland within the event area can include mosaics of other upland vegetation types such as blanket bog, montane grass heath vegetation, wet acid grassland and montane Juniper scrub, creating areas of potential vulnerability to a concentration of trampling by participants on the ROC Mountain Marathon event.
- Blanket bog is an important feature of several locations within the event area. Disturbance by runners churning through blanket bog has the potential to trigger peat erosion by de-stabilising the peat surface. Wherever possible, route choices in these areas should try to link strips and patches of moorland vegetation that typically extend through blanket bog areas. These are often quite well-drained, providing areas of relatively robust vegetation and resistant to the trampling effects of running. Cushions of moorland vegetation can be linked as ‘stepping stones’ across blanket bog areas.
- A variety of boulder field and scree habitats are present within the event area that are potentially vulnerable to disturbance. Ice-shattered boulder fields on the highest mountain tops often support fragile montane grass-heath plant communities of extremely high nature conservation value. Existing paths through these areas should be used to avoid disturbance of these communities. Blocky scree often supports specialised plant communities that utilise the microclimate of sheltered spaces within the scree. ROC Mountain Marathon courses that cross these features should use existing paths and should always minimise disturbance of scree blocks.
- Specialisedrock ledge plant communities are present at a number of locations within the event area. If ROC Mountain Marathon participants need to negotiate low rock outcrops great care should be taken to minimise disturbance of ledge vegetation.
- Areas of wet grassland will be encountered on courses where groundwater emerges at the surface as seepages across more steeply sloping ground. Wet grassland and seepages can be of special nature conservation interest, in particular where groundwater seepages from base-rich rocks provide conditions for communities of specialised mosses, liverworts and other specialised plants. These vegetation types can be vulnerable to persistent disturbance effects of trampling and should ideally be avoided wherever possible by selecting routes that keep to dry acid grassland to by-pass wet grassland patches.
- Groundwater seepage vegetation patches on steep ground can be difficult to avoid where they cross valuable contouring lines. These vegetation types are often located within shallow gulleys, re-entrant features or associated with ground level rock outcrops that cross steep slopes. Avoidance of these areas could involve a significant deviation from the desired contour level. Despite this, it would be ideal if damage to seepage zone vegetation could be minimised.
- On hillsides, soil movements within dry and wet acid grassland areas can develop well-defined micro-terrace systems, often referred to as sheep walks or trods. These typically follow contours and can provide extremely useful running lines. Grassland vegetation at the edge of these micro-terraces is often friable and easily broken off. Care should be taken when using these features for contouring to avoid running on the edge of terraces to minimise grassland damage.
- Distinctive montane Juniper scrub of very high conservation interest is present within the event area, typically on steep sloping fell sides. Where routes require participants to pass through or in close proximity to areas of Juniper scrub great care must be taken not to disturb individual scrub plants or scrub understorey vegetation.
- Specialised rock ledge plant communities are present at a number of locations within the event area. If participants need to negotiate low rock outcrops great care should be taken to minimise disturbance of ledge vegetation.
- A variety of boulder field and scree habitats are present within the event area that are potentially vulnerable to trampling disturbance. Ice-shattered boulder fields on the highest mountain tops often support fragilemontane grass heath plant communities of extremely high nature conservation value. Wherever possible existing paths through these areas should be used to minimise disturbance of these communities. Blocky scree often supports specialised plant communities that utilise the microclimate of sheltered spaces within the scree. Routes that cross these features should use existing paths where possible and should always minimise disturbance of scree blocks.
- Remnants of distinctive semi-natural woodland of high conservation interest are present at scattered locations within the event area, including broadleaved woodland within steep-sloping ravine landforms associated with upland streams and rivers. Many of these woodland patches are of great importance for the mosses and liverworts that grow on tree trunks and boulders on the woodland floor. The microclimate of ravine woodlands often maintains vegetation comprising highly specialised mosses, liverworts and other plants.
- The event area has several hill lakes that are generally of considerable nature conservation interest. Often this interest is associated with specialised vegetation areas that develop at the margins of hill lakes. Ourea events do not require participants to enter any water body within the event area, and all lake margin vegetation should be avoided by runners.
- The event area contains a complex network of streams and rivers, some of which are potentially vulnerable to ecological disturbance from repeated crossing by runners. Some of the rivers within and surrounding the event area are covered by very high level nature conservation designations, including watercourses that could support wildlife species of international and national nature conservation importance. In many cases, the nature conservation interest of these rivers and streams concerns use of the banksides by these animals. As a consequence, great care should be taken by participants at stream crossings, minimising bank disturbance when entering and climbing out of stream channels.
- The nature conservation value of streams and rivers often extends to include wetland habitat and vegetation types that have developed along the margins of these watercourses. To ensure that damage to these habitat and vegetation strips is minimised, runners handrailing streams and rivers should avoid following watercourse margin flood plain areas.