Ecological Briefing Notes 2019

21st Jan 2019

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.


Marmot Dark Mountain 2017 copyright Steve Ashworth-2 1

Careful night time navigation ©Steve Ashworth 


We are keen to encourage personal route selection choices by participants on our events to further avoid the risk of local ecological disturbance. These Ecological Briefing Notes has been prepared for the 2019 Marmot Dark Mountains 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 2019 Marmot Dark Mountains event area is located within area of distinctive upland landscape towards the eastern edge of the Lake District. This extends across high level ridges and peaks of Martindale Common in the west of the event area across Bampton Common towards a landscape of traditional Cumbrian farmland on lower-level ground to the east. The event area mainly extends across hard, igneous bedrock of the Upper Borrowdale Volcanic group of rocks, derived from the same volcanic events that created the mountainous scenery of the Scafell and Langdale areas of the central fells region of the Lake District. Within the Marmot Dark Mountains event area this has resulted a series of high level, craggy ridges dissected by a series of steep-sided, glacial valleys that define the rugged mountainous character of the area.

The glaciated landforms and upland character of the area has produced a range of nature conservation interest sites. Those recognised by statutory designations comprise two areas of international nature conservation importance, and six sites of national nature conservation importance. Many of the designated nature conservation sites within the event area contain important examples of upland woodland habitat that have developed on steep glaciated valley sides. The event area also includes a number of habitats that, while not recognised through formal site designations, contribute to the general upland nature conservation interest of the Cumbrian mountains. These include patches of upland woodland, blanket bog, wet heath, upland becks, rock outcrop ledges, boulder-field and scree habitats of upland ridges and plateau.

The event area is crossed by a considerable number of existing hill paths and tracks, and use of these by Marmot Dark Mountains participants will help to avoid trampling disturbance of fragile upland habitats. Where courses require movement across hill land between paths and tracks this ecological briefing note provides recommendations for personal route choices that will help to avoid the risk of significant ecological disturbance. This ecological briefing note has also been produced to communicate the special upland environmental interest of the event area to enrich the experience of participating in the Marmot Dark Mountains event.


  • 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 hill running.


  • Extensive areas of dry acid grassland can include mosaics of other upland vegetation types such as blanket bog, heather-dominated heath vegetation and wet acid grassland creating areas of local vulnerability to a concentration of trampling by Marmot Dark Mountains participants.


  • Blanket bog is a localised but important habitat at several locations within the event area. Some of these areas comprise degraded blanket bog where bog vegetation has been lost and peat erosion gulleys (peat hags) have formed where and the underlying peat is being eroded.


  • Disturbance of blanket bog by runners churning through peat hags has the potential to trigger further peat erosion by de-stabilising the peat surface. Wherever possible, route choices in these areas should try to link strips and patches of surviving moorland vegetation between the peat hags. These are often quite well-drained, providing areas of relatively robust vegetation and resistant to the trampling effects of running.


  • In contrast to areas of degraded blanket bog, some locations on plateau landforms within the event area contain patches of high quality blanket bog with an intact vegetation surface that lack eroding peat hags. These are typified by areas of wet heath vegetation interspersed with shallow pools, often associated with Sphagnum mosses. These areas often comprise a mosaic of vegetation types that will include slightly raised areas of better drained peat with drier heather moorland vegetation. These will be far less vulnerable to disturbance through vegetation damage by trampling and should ideally be selected when making route choices for running through these intact blanket bog areas.


  • Areas of wet acid grassland will be encountered where impeded drainage occurs within relatively level hill grassland areas or where groundwater emerges at the surface as seepages across more steeply sloping ground. Wet acid grassland can be of special nature conservation interest, in particular where groundwater seepages 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.


  • Wet acid grassland at groundwater seepages on steep ground can be difficult to avoid where they cross valuable contouring lines. Avoidance of these areas could involve a significant route change and deviation from the desired contour level. Despite this, it would be ideal if damage to seepage zone vegetation could be minimised, often located within shallow gulleys, re-entrant features or associated with ground level rock outcrops that cross steep slopes.


  • 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 these terraces to minimise grassland damage.


  • Distinctive semi-natural woodland of very high conservation interest is present within the event area, including broadleaved woodland on crags and within steep-sloping ravine landforms associated with upland streams and rivers. Many of the broadleaved woodlands 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.


  • Where Marmot Dark Mountains courses pass small upland woodland fragments it is important that existing paths are used wherever possible.


  • 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 to the west of the event area support fragile montane grass-heath plant communities of high nature conservation value. Existing paths through these areas should be used where possible to avoid disturbance of these communities. Blocky scree often supports specialised plant communities that utilise the microclimate of sheltered spaces within the scree. Sections of Marmot Dark Mountains courses that cross these features should use existing paths where possible and should always minimise disturbance of scree blocks.


  • Specialised rock ledge plant communities are present at a number of locations within the event area. If Marmot Dark Mountains participants need to negotiate low rock outcrops great care should be taken to minimise disturbance of ledge vegetation.


  • 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 internationally and nationally threatened animal species such as otter and White-clawed Crayfish. 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 Marmot Dark Mountains participants at stream crossings, preferring the use of bridges and stepping stones to minimise bank disturbance when entering and climbing out of stream channels.