Hiking for Curlews

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As August has been so stupidly busy, I’m only just managing to process the Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge I completed earlier this month with Sacha and James! Thanks to all your generous donations we raised over £2,000 for the BTO Curlew Appeal, which will go towards the continued monitoring of this iconic wading bird and, ultimately, contribute to the continued conservation of the curlew in years to come. Thank you!

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The YTP route takes on the peaks of Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough, and comprises around 26 miles of hiking over challenging terrain. I’d love to say I trained every day for months, but in reality I just did a few little walks and completed one 21-mile walk through the South Downs before the final hike. I’m pretty healthy but certainly not uber-fit, so I was slightly apprehensive about whether or not we’d actually finish. Thankfully Sacha and James shared this sentiment.

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Surprisingly, most of the route was actually enjoyable. The peaks were separated by long stretches of hills and flat ground, which allowed us to rest our muscles between each mountain. I discovered that walking up the peaks was far better than walking down; the worst part of the route was the last five miles from the top of Ingleborough back to the pub. Two of these miles were downhill, and by the end we had completely crippled our knees. At this point we’d also run out of whiskey and Kendal mint cake so it was fairly miserable. Love you, curlews.

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Despite the pain, the landscape was majestic. For miles all we could see were the undulating ripples of the Yorkshire Dales, full of sheep and dry stone walls. Yet half way through we realised something; although it appeared green and pleasant, the land was almost barren of wildlife. I was walking with an ecologist and an excellent naturalist, and we were hoping to find at least a few butterflies, birds or wildflowers. Unfortunately the landscape was heavily managed for sheep, and while the grassy views were pleasing to the eye, the lack of wildlife was unnerving. The only birds we saw were two grouse, a kestrel and a few wheatear, and our only butterflies were hiding in a nature reserve, where sheep were kept out and the plantlife was more diverse.

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We managed to complete the hike in 11.5 hours, and aside from the last few miles it was an awesome experience. And I have never been so grateful to get to a pub! I ordered a huge pint of dry cider and a goat’s cheese lasagne, and we all just sat in a quiet slump filling ourselves with carbs. Huge thanks to the lovely people at Ingleton Hostel who provided me with great advice, cups of tea, a warm bed and hot shower.

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Thanks to the BTO for all their support in helping us complete our challenge and raise money! The curlew is one of Britain’s fastest declining bird species, with a 46% decline in numbers between 1994 and 2010 alone. The causes of this worrying trend remain unclear, but with Britain holding around 28% of Europe’s curlew populations, it is vital that something is done now to protect the species. Thanks to everyone who supported our challenge – you are awesome.

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The view from Ingleborough

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