I am a mature student at the University of Cumbria studying in my final year for a degree in Wildlife & Media. If you can help me in any way with this project then please make contact, either by e-mail at dansencier@yahoo.co.uk or on 07731 758774.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

A slight holdup...

As many of you know, my 'Juniper Project' was due to be handed in for marking in May this year. It has been agreed by the University to allow a further year on this project with full funding. This is a major show of support by the University for which I am extremely grateful. I will be concentrating on 2 other modules until April so please bare with me, but don't stop feeding in information as you so kindly have been doing.

I will continue to work with the 'Cumbria Wildlife Trust' and the 'Fix the Fells' teams, giving regular updates on this blog. This means that I will be with them for another whole year and gives so much more time to research and film, not only Juniper but other aspects of their work.

To all those who have contributed so far, I still have all that material and it will be used. So stay with me, I am very much still on with this and I look forward to meeting many of you again over the next 18 months and beyond.

 Link to 'Juniper Planting' film which is now being used by Cumbrian and Yorkshire trusts. Have a look, it's far more exciting than you might think :-)

Saturday, 19 January 2013

CLICK HERE  For the much improved version of the 'Juniper Planting' film. I'm learning as I go along with this and it's great fun.

The filming the BBC, filming the National Trust went well last week and I'm putting a short film together on that over the coming weeks. Shooting the film is probably the most enjoyable part in all this, and second to that comes the viewing of the final piece. The bits in the middle, all the editing, converting, magic sound tricks, titles and music can take it out on your mind a bit. I'm still trying to stop singing 'Hill Billy Rock' and I now know all the words.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Finally, the film...

Finally, and a steep learning curve, here is the film I made on Lingwood Fell with volunteers from both the Cumbria Wildlife Trust and the 'Fix the Fells' team. Thanks to everyone on that day and especially Mike Douglas for leading the way.

Click here to see 5 minute film

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Blimey that was cold...

What a great day out on Friday and one that will live with me always. I set off from Penrith at 8am and the roads were fine until I started to drive out of Keswick. A sheet of ice greeted me then and just how I got down that hill in a straight line I'll never know. Steady away for the rest of the journey, through Grasmere, Ambleside and up then over the tiny ice track down into Langdale, finally reaching Blea Tarn car-park around 10 minutes late. 

There were 9 of us, all ages, both men and women from every background, but with one mission that day, to plant 300 Junipers on yonder hills. 
Mike first introduced everyone, then went through a bit of health and safety, though luck would play more of a part that day.

We had heavy spades, pick axes and 2 tubs of Junipers to carry what seemed like, a very long way. Oh, did I mention our lunches and cameras! We were all dressed warmly, we would need to be, it was bitterly cold and the breeze was cutting. We set off for the tops, treading carefully up the frozen fell tracks as the wind increased and the occasional snow shower whizzed by. After about an hour, we reached our destination and the view was spectacular. I explained to everyone that I was there to record all this on film and felt a bit of a cheat because I wasn't going to get as dirty as everyone else. That proved wrong after I lost my footing a few times!

The areas for planting were very carefully selected by Mike and then followed a quick demo on 'how to plant a 3 year old Juniper'. Then they started, five or more hours of graft in appalling conditions, but all seemed to love every minute of it. First clearing a small patch in the grass with the spade, then making a hole with the pick axe if the spade failed. Then lovingly popping the little shrub in the ground, patting the soil in around it by hand and treading all around to firm in the soil.
Mike knew exactly what the plan was to give these small plants the best possible chance of survival. He pointed to existing Juniper stands on nearby fells and we all listened with interest to his great knowledge on the subject.

There were worms up there, are they mad?

Lunch break was welcome, half an hour to drink some coffee, have a few sarnies and a bit of chocolate, though I gave up on my Snickers bar, it was frozen solid. I admired the way they all just got stuck in with such enthusiasm, they loved being there, not for any other reason than wanting to improve the Juniper crop for the pleasure of future generations; people who would never know the toil of that day. I got about 300 stills and 2 hours of film, perhaps 50% ruined by ice crystals forming on the lens and the light wasn't brilliant, but some good stuff. The sound quality was impossible, I would have liked to do a few short interviews, but when you think that on several occasions we were just blown off our feet, we were just feeling lucky to stay safe.

I came down from the fells that day feeling just amazing. Amazed that I had got up there, done the job, and got down safely, but also amazed by the sheer   resilience, dedication and determination of those 8 people. They might have had an easier day working in a Siberian open cast coal mine…hats off to them. You know I can't remember a single name, so please get in touch when you read this and I'll get some photos to you. Here's a few more for now…

Thursday, 6 December 2012


Last week I headed up to a place that I'd never been  before, and what a very pleasant surprise.
Arnside is a stunning little town, about 6 miles from junction 36 on the M6. I had an appointment to see Bill, and was greeted at the door by his lovely wife Shirley. I spent a couple of hours there and recorded a great interview in which Bill told me all about his childhood and family links to the Sedgwick Gunpowder Mills. He remembered keeping the raw ingredients, sulphur and saltpetre in the house, the latter was used for meat processing. He also remembered the gunpowder which they kept in a jar for personal use! Bill showed me a photo of himself as a young lad on a motorbike which he bought for £3 and he had so much history laid out on the table that I will have to visit again. He has done his own research and as far as Juniper is concerned, Bill doesn't think that it was a major source of wood for the charcoal, and that much of the wood was imported, brought in on the canal, which was diverted from its planned route to service the mill area. Much of this interview along with many others will form part of my final piece in trying to conclude the roll that Juniper had to play back in the days of the Gunpowder Mills.

It's cold outside, yes, but not as cold as I think I might be tomorrow! I am joining Mike and other members of the Cumbria Wildlife Trust on a walk up to Busk Pike (NY306 040). Not just for fun of course because they are going up to plant Junipers and I am tagging along to film and hopefully interview some of the planters. After all, why would you climb up there on a winters day, rather than sit at home drinking coffee?

If you can cope with it, winter on the Cumbrian fells is the most magical place, but come prepared, it's no walk in the park. 

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Cumbria Wildlife Trust...

I used to work for a living but I've never been this busy before! Monday saw me down at the HQ of the Cumbria Wildlife Trust, where I filmed and interviewed Mike, their Juniper expert. 
I showed him some of the vast amount of research that I'd picked up along the way and told him about some of the wonderfully helpful people I'd met. He gave a great detailed account of the 'Uplands for Junipers' project and a real insight into what he hoped to achieve in the coming years. My focus was suddenly back on Juniper after talking non stop gunpowder mills for the past month.

My letter went in the 'Westy' this week, and I've had three more contacts that I need to follow up, including a gentleman called Bill who lives in Arnside, who I am about to call now…

… and yes, I'm meeting at 1pm on Tuesday next.

After that I really need to hibernate for a few months and go through all the stuff that I've gathered.
But before then, on the 6th December I am off up to Lingmoor Fell, above Little Langdale, to film and interview some of the people who volunteer to plant Junipers. The best thing in doing an outdoor degree is that you get to see some amazingly beautiful places, but on the down side you spend a lot of the time back in the attic room writing about it!

Here's a link to something I heard on BBC Radio Cumbria this morning, it's only a few minutes long but worth a listen. So many people are involved in these great projects, so please get in touch if you'd like to join in.

If you don't see a blog posting for a little while then don't worry, I'm still here, just editing a lot of film, photos, soundtracks and scripts.

Contact me by e-mail at dansencier@yahoo.co.uk or on 07731 758774 and it'll be a pleasure to talk to you.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

More interviews, more information…

I had the pleasure of meeting Alice last week, a retired history teacher. 
She allowed me to interview her on camera at her home in Appleby on 6th November, and had an amazing wealth of knowledge. 
She wrote her thesis back in the 70's on the 'Low Wood Gunpowder Mill', its inception and early growth, 1798 - 1808, and allowed me to borrow this. Another fantastic book that she was able to loan me was a Ph. D by Robert Vickers, doctor of philosophy at Lancaster  entitled 'The South Lakeland Gunpowder Manufacturing Industry, 1764 - 1936. It was given to her by Doctor Vickers as a token of gratitude for all the help that she had given him with the work. I felt honoured to be trusted with it. It was almost as if there was nothing she didn't know about the subject and I shall be making a few visits back to Alice before the project is over. Apparently the gunpowder trade was heavily linked to the slave trade as there was a fortune to be made in both. She also told me that if I started calling it 'Savin' then the locals would know what I meant because 'juniper' doesn't mean much in Westmorland.

On Wednesday the 7th, I headed over to the beautiful village of Sedgwick to meet David, another mine of information. His family had been involved in the trade locally for many generations. 

He also allowed me to interview him on camera, with a steady supply of freshly baked cakes and biscuits from his lovely wife. He told me the history behind Killington Lake, which had been man made to keep the supply of water going to several mills in drier seasons. He also drove me around to look over the gunpowder mill on the edge of Sedgwick, and as I stood there I could feel the history seeping in from the surrounding area.
We were standing in Pig Willy Lane and looked up to see a pig looking down at us from the slope in the woods. OK you didn't need to know that! David is passionate about the industry and has helped English Heritage in the past on a major project to catalogue this local history for future generations.

Having now completed several interviews and picked up a vast amount of information, I am coming to the conclusion that we mustn't overplay the use of 'Savin' in the charcoal production. Yes it was used in plenty, but not as heavily as other woods. It was coppiced every 12-15 years to keep a good supply coming, but Juniper was seen as a specialist wood in the making of fine gunpowder for the gentry. I don't get the impression that the cumbrian hills were swamped with this tree, but there was certainly a lot more of it around than there was before the gunpowder boys got to work.

I think I've spent enough time on the road so next week will be all about working on the information that I've gathered so far. The week after that it's over to interview Mike, the 'Savin' expert of the Cumbrian Wildlife Trust, and hopefully he can arrange for me to go out with the planters one day?

Then I need to find someone who makes charcoal and I'm still looking for someone who still uses gunpowder to either fire canons or small arms! Not a big ask, do you think??  

Saturday, 3 November 2012

A day well spent...

On Friday, I went to Ambleside to meet up with Ian, a really nice guy who had some very useful information and a good knowledge of what I was searching for. Thanks for a great day Ian and for being so helpful. As it turned out, we had much in common, mainly to do with beer; where I spent half my life selling the stuff, Ian spent much of his delivering it :-)

We were soon up at Nellie's house, a wonderful lady in her early 90's who shared many memories with us. She was just a teenager in 1934 when the gunpowder mill at Elterwater closed. 

It made my day when she let me hold the medal that was presented to her father for long service. Can you imagine working for 40 years in a gunpowder mill and making it through?

After that we went up to see Hugh, another nice chap in his 80's with a vast memory of local history. He also gave me plenty of information to follow up on.

On the return to Ambleside we called in at the Langdale Estate which now stands on the site of one of the old gunpowder mills. 
I was trying to see if they had any old documents or deeds from way back. Christine in reception was very helpful and promised to pass my contact details on to the owners, but she also gave us another very good idea to follow up on.

Next week sounds as if it will be just as fruitful, with interviews in Sedgwick and Appleby, where I'm really looking forward to meeting up with David and Alice.

Let's finish today with a view of the back of that amazing medal…

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The travelling starts...

I would like to thank all those who have made contact since my letter was published in several Cumbrian newspapers. As a result I have arranged interviews in Ambleside and Sedgwick over the next week with the prospect of some very exciting new information. However, if you were going to call me but still thinking about it, then please pick up the phone because the more the merrier on this journey. What you have to say could make a real difference.

So let's make some….

To make gunpowder, or black powder as it is also called, you need – seventy-five parts saltpetre finely ground, fifteen parts charcoal and ten parts sulphur. 
All ingredients must be fine ground separately. This can be done by hand using a pestle and mortar. Never mix all three ingredients before grinding unless you want to turn you mortar into a canon and blow your hand off!
Once ground, the ingredients can be mixed with a small amount of water so that the mixture comes out as a paste, like biscuit dough. Stale urine can also be used as it improves the performance of the gunpowder. Then spread the paste onto a sheet of foil and let it dry for 2 to 3 days until it is a thin hard cake. Grind it up once again into the finest powder to make your “proper, fast burning gunpowder”.
When making your gunpowder never add any other ingredients or explosive powders unless you want to turn your gun into a grenade that can kill you or cripple you for life. Keep the black powder stored in steel, airtight tins in a cool, dry place, out of the reach of children.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Juniper on BBC news 2004...

Kendal Mountain Rescue play their part in saving the juniper (click here)

Free gin for juniper spotters! (click here)

Press release...

Several newspapers in Cumbria have agreed to publish this letter, either this week or next, so let's hope that some good information flows in as a result…

Can you help to shed light on the demise 
of Cumbria’s Juniper trees?
As part of a research project aimed at helping the Cumbria Wildlife Trust with their Juniper regeneration programme, I am trying to discover just how many of these amazing trees there were in our county before industry, the miners and farmers moved in.
At this time of year, the evenings are drawing in, the nights getting colder and outside, we hear the crack and bang of fireworks, but how many of you know that Cumbria was once the gunpowder capital of Europe? 
As a 3rd year Wildlife & Media mature student at the University of Cumbria, and in conjunction with the Cumbria Wildlife Trust, I am undertaking research into the rise and fall of this industry and looking to find out what effect this had on the Junipers of Cumbria.
The Junipers? Yes, that is why gunpowder mills started to spring up all over South Cumbria, because the best charcoal in the production of the finest gunpowder was made from Juniper wood. If I can establish the scale of gunpowder production, I hope to relate this back to how much charcoal, and thus how much Juniper would have been used. But we may have exported or imported both gunpowder and Juniper, so this will not be a simple task.
I already have information from an excellent book called ‘Gunpowder Mills of Cumbria’ by Ian Tyler, and also ‘The Leven Valley, a secret past’ by Ronald Mein & Richard Sanderson’, but I need more. I am trying to trace all three of these authors with a view to interviewing them. Can you help?
Do you have any relatives or friends that might know of anyone who had a parent who worked in the Gunpowder Mills? Perhaps you know someone who works or has worked in offices where old record books were kept; possibly churches, schools, company offices, council vaults; the list is endless. I am looking for old photographs, sketches or paintings that might show the landscape before these trees were felled, also old maps that showed the vegetation make up of these areas. Perhaps you have other ideas that you would like to share with me, so that I can produce an article that will eventually be free for all to read on-line. This is a very exciting project and I hope you will join me in bringing the past to life, so that we can help the Cumbria Wildlife Trust with the regeneration of this beautiful tree, and in return help the local wildlife that depends so much on it.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Just as well my wife Beverley had her ear to Radio Cumbria when driving to work on Monday morning. Click the link below for a very interesting clip that I lifted from BBC I-player regarding 'Low Wood Gunpowder Mills'. I have some contacts at the radio station after my campaign to improve our local hospital last year, so now might be a good time to make a few calls!

Click here it lasts about 5 minutes

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Information flowing in!

A very busy few weeks and some great research online has revealed some excellent links below. Plenty to follow up on over the winter! I must admit, when I started out on this I didn't think there would be much to go on, but there's a wealth of information if you look hard enough.

I scoured eBay and found a great publication, and also a signed first edition. It was the book 'The Gunpowder Mills of Cumbria' by Ian Tyler (2002). It was up for sale at £1! I put my max bid at £12 and just left it at that. There was nobody else watching it and I thought it was mine. A sudden interest and an automatic bid grabbed it for £12.80. BLAST!! 

Not all lost though, I managed to get a hardback copy, new condition, a reprint in 2010. I'm going to track down Ian Tyler and get him to sign it, after I've interviewed him. I can't tell you how much it cost me as my wife may read this blog!

It was a bad time in Cumbrian history to be a Juniper. Had they been able to, they would have all left the county. 
I now need to do a serious amount of reading before I venture out and examine some of these old sites. There are people to track down, doors to knock on and letters to write!









Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Meeting with Neil and Mike

Went down to Kendal on Tuesday to hook up with Neil and Mike at the Cumbria Wildlife Trust HQ. Rain was coming down in buckets as I left Penrith and it just got worse as I drove south; but well worth the trip. Neil and Mike are both really nice guys and as we chatted over a cup of tea I soon realised how very 'committed to the cause' they both are.

Mike knows more about Junipers than Santa knows about Christmas and I was given a great insight into the Uplands for Junipers Project(Link here)
I picked up more material to get me started on my research and came away with a bunch of   great ideas.
I think I may have to initially blanket bomb the Cumbrian Press to see if there is anyone out there who remembers the Gunpowder Mills in Cumbria, which apparently were around until as late as 1935! That would mean a 20 year old worker would now be into their late 90's, but it's not beyond the realms of possibility given the longevity of the Cumbrians! I might even trace someone who can remember their dad or mum talking about it. I plan to visit churches, town halls, schools, company records and anywhere else that could give me clues to these questions.

How much Gunpowder was produced in Cumbria?

How prolific were the Junipers back then?

How well managed was Juniper as a crop?

How many of the existing Juniper stands are from that era?

How much did we export or import of Juniper and/or gunpowder?

Mike gave me a great book written by Ronald Mein and Richard Sanderson called 'The Leven Valley'- 'a secret past'. I must contact Ronald to see if he can expand or give any other leads on the Low Wood Gunpowder Mills 1798-1935. There's a great article in the book which explains the process used to make gunpowder (don't try it at home). The 3 ingredients are sulphur, saltpetre and charcoal. The sulphur came from Mount Vesuvius, the saltpetre from India or Chile but the charcoal was made locally out of either birch, alder or juniper, the latter giving the best quality powder. I'll write up the whole process when I'm a bit further down the line, but already this is becoming a very, very intriguing journey.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

The story begins...

Finished my 2nd year with some very good marks and tracking on a 2:1. Now I can look forward to 3rd year, the BIG one, the year that I couldn't imagine when I had just finished the access course in June 2010. At the time I had been diagnosed with Prostate Cancer and on discovering the treatment that lay ahead, I had to decide whether to continue the degree or not. Now, after surgery, I have been in remission for over 18 months and will graduate next year! Graduate at 62!! 

What's this got to do with Junipers, you ask?

Well, as part of my 3rd year, I had to choose a media project for my final piece. This has been spinning around in my head all summer and I have had so many ideas, but it wasn't until yesterday morning that the lights suddenly went on! I made contact with Neil at the Cumbria Wildlife Trust (CWT), which I have been a member of for the past few years. He told me about their Juniper regeneration programme and e-mailed me over some stuff to read. I was hooked! I'm now going to meet Neil and Mike (Juniper expert) down in Kendal next week so that we can talk about the way ahead with this. 

The main thing I wanted to achieve when producing my final piece was that it would immediately benefit some charitable organisation and that people of all ages could see my work in the years ahead and learn from it. I didn't want to spend nearly 1000 hours on something that I would get a good academic mark for and then chuck in the back of the attic cupboards along with my 1st and 2nd year work. The idea now is that I will bury myself in research and then make a film on the use and decline of Juniper in Cumbria during the past century; also covering it's use in the 'gunpowder industry' and the regeneration work that's currently under way by the CWT. What a challenge!

What do I know about Junipers? Just about nothing! There are 67 varieties, (more than Heinz!) and if you Google 'Juniper' you couldn't find a more fascinating shrub. Unlike most plants, Junipers are either male or female, can be found worldwide and have been used by humans in medicines, industry and witchcraft throughout the ages.

You can watch the story grow here as I take this journey from today, through the Cumbrian winter and into next spring...