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Páramo in the squirrel woods

By early 2014, I had been monitoring and photographing red squirrels in West Cumbria for about 18 months. It rains in Cumbria (sometimes heavily) and I found that my existing waterproofs did not provide the required level of protection and comfort. April 2014 saw me in Scotland and the weather forecast, unseasonably warm, suggested that my trip, carrying heavy camera equipment, was likely to be a distinctly uncomfortable experience. I bought my first Páramo jacket, a Cascada, for the trip, was delighted with the results, and soon bought my first pair of Cascada directional trousers. My comfort level immediately improved.

The autumn of 2015 saw me considering the purchase of my own plot of woodland, having spent a year working in the small wood, belonging to the owners of the guest house, where I stayed monthly. I had got the bug and hoped that I was doing something which would benefit the red squirrels.

I bought my wood at the end of 2015; only 3.5 acres, and with no definite indication of resident red squirrels, but the challenge was to bring it under a measure of control after many years of neglect. It was, however, just over 5 miles from where I stayed and not being a driver, I had to undertake a round trip in excess of 10 miles and be prepared to work for several hours whilst there.

Peter embracing the elements in his Velez Adventure Light Smock

Whilst trips to my wood were generally planned for dry (or drier) days, I had to be prepared for what the elements might throw at me. Heatwaves were easy; wicking base layer and directional trousers since my route included two streams which had to be forded, giving the opportunity for getting wet trousers, plus a fleece or windproof for added protection in the cooler wood. Winter months were more of a challenge, I generally wore a long-sleeve wicking base layer plus a medium or heavyweight smock top. In addition, I would take either an insulating gilet layer or Torres jacket and a fleece, depending on how cold and windy it was likely to be in the wood. I found all the Páramo items to be excellent and the ability to ‘mix and match’ gave great flexibility.

The first sightings

The good news is that, in September 2016, I did have red squirrels visiting my wood and they were there in each subsequent year, although their visits and mine did not always coincide and only one proved to be friendly. Over the years, I progressively removed the masses of rhododendrons, originally planted as ground cover amongst the conifer trees, but which had grown to a height of 25 feet in places; all done with hand tools. One stump I prepared as a feeding and photographic location, for the squirrels, in the autumn of 2016; it was to be November 2020 when my patience was finally rewarded and the friendly ‘Daniella’ posed for me.

When not in my own wood, much time was spent either in the guest house garden, or in one of the neighbouring woods, which I helped to monitor on behalf of the West Lakes Squirrel Initiative; an organisation set up to protect the endangered red squirrel. The joy of observing and photographing wild animals being coupled with the potential frustration of long and fruitless waits, in September 2020 I sat in one of the woods on my Birthday and waited … in the steady rain. Well wrapped up in various layers of Páramo gear, I was almost cheerful; after more than two hours, the two resident squirrels duly arrived and posed for photographs. My most recent visit to this wood, in December 2020, saw ‘Grant’ the male squirrel posing nicely on a lovely mossy tree root.

‘Grant’ in the woods

The joy of wearing Páramo is that I generally don’t have to think about what I am doing. Prone on wet grass, photographing a squirrel, no problem as the gear quickly dries out. Obviously, if I was working in a wood where there were brambles or thorns, I needed to be careful. Halcon Trek trousers are more robust for woodland work and I generally packed these in addition to a pair of directional trousers for each trip to Cumbria.

Peter in the woods

Of course, Páramo gear is not just for wildlife trips. During the various lockdowns of 2020/1, I exercised daily. The varying weather conditions enabled me to experiment with a variety of clothing combinations, knowing that I was only three or four miles from home if I made the wrong selection. Snowy conditions were great and I found that the combination of long-sleeve base layer, plus Torres heavyweight insulating jacket, was perfect if I kept on the move. Warmer, but potentially damp, winter days saw me settle on a sleeveless base layer, lightweight fleece and medium weight smock jacket much of the time. Compared with most people, I feel the cold so generally wear more layers but with good ventilation when necessary.

At the time of writing, my next trip to Cumbria is planned for late May 2021. It may turn out to be rainy, or possibly a heatwave. Heatwaves are good, as I can cut down on the number of base layers; washing and drying clothing where I stay. My ‘mix and match’ of Páramo gear will start to be assembled about a week beforehand, with a final decision on the day before I depart.

Peter Trimming

1 thought on “Páramo in the squirrel woods

  1. An interesting and positive result. I used my Paramo gear for four years whilst leading D of E groups on expeditions. I always recommend it.

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