Due to the remote location, the lack of a public road up the valley, and its management by the Forestry Commission, the National Trust and United Utilities, Ennerdale is relatively unspoiled. Ennerdale Water has not been as affected as other lakes in the National Park by construction, activity on the lake or the trappings of tourism.
There are two biological Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) in the valley:
- Pillar and Ennerdale Fells SSSI. Pillar and Ennerdale Fells is also protected as a Special Area of Conservation, being one of the ten SSSIs which underpin the High Fells SAC.
In 2003 the valley's three major landowners formed the Wild Ennerdale Partnership. Working with Natural England, the Government's advisor on the environment, the project has a vision "to allow the evolution of Ennerdale as a wild valley for the benefit of people, relying more on natural processes to shape its landscape and ecology". The project managers have a commitment to maintaining the economic culture of the valley with small-scale forestry work and farming (low-density cattle grazing is replacing sheep).
- Arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus)
An increase in numbers of this species. The fish spawn in the River Liza, and have benefited from the rewilding of the river.
- Natural woodland.
The habitats protected by Pillar and Ennerdale Fells SSSI include natural woodland such as Side Wood, an example of old sessile oak woods. The trees of Ennerdale are important as an example of altitudinal succession (from "native upland birch-oak woodland at 120 m on the shores of Ennerdale (Water) the vegetation changes through sub-montane heaths and grasslands to montane heaths along the summit ridge at an altitude of 890 m").
The condition of the SSSI´s habitats has been assessed as "Unfavourable - Recovering". As a result of the Wild Ennerdale project, there has been a blurring of the divisions between the wooded and non-wooded areas in the valley, although there is arguably not a natural tree line as such. (A natural tree line occurs in only a few places in the British uplands such as Creag Fhiaclach in the Cairngorms: in the Lake District the climatic tree line is estimated to lie at about 535 m.).
Possible introduction of predators
In 2013 George Monbiot published Feral, a book on rewilding, in which he argued that Ennerdale is not very wild in comparison with projects in other countries. He draws attention to the lack of predators in the valley to control the numbers of grazing animals such as deer. In this interpretation, rewilding implies the presence of carnivores to reduce herbivore pressure and enhance trophic diversity.
In March 2015, the Lynx UK Trust announced that Ennerdale was one of three locations in England and Scotland where it wanted to trial the reintroduction of wild Eurasian lynx (a species which preys on deer). However, by 2017 the Trust was proposing Kielder Forest as the preferred site for such a trial.
So far as is known, there are no resident pine martens in Ennerdale, but there is evidence that the species is present in Cumbria. There are discussions about its reintroduction to the valley and breeding boxes have been installed.
Ennerdale has two youth hostels, "Ennerdale" and "Black Sail". Black Sail (high up the valley near Black Sail Pass), has been described as England's loneliest youth hostel. In 2008 the Youth Hostels Association announced that it would withdraw the warden from Black Sail as the Forestry Commission would no longer maintain the access track as a result of the Ennerdale rewilding project. However, after protests from members the YHA decided to retain the warden service, while at the same time seeking to reduce the hostel's ecological impact.
Bowness Knott is a geological Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
Proposed nuclear waste facility
In June 2012, it became clear that Ennerdale (specifically the Ennerdale granite to the south of Ennerdale Water) had been identified as a potential site for a Geological Disposal Facility for the UK's high and intermediate level nuclear waste. Two other sites had also been identified - Eskdale and the Solway Plain. Ennerdale was not named by the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely (MRWS) Partnership; rather it referred to the 'granitic rocks forming part of the Lake District Batholith'. These are the Ennerdale and Eskdale granites, formed around 450 million years ago in the Ordovician Period. This was stated in (publicly available) document 285 of the West Cumbria MRWS, a letter written by Dr Dearlove, the consultant geologist recruited by MRWS. Three smaller surface exposures of the batholith occur at Shap, Threlkeld and Skiddaw, but these are too small to be considered for the Geological Disposal Facility. In January 2013, Copeland and Allerdale Borough Councils voted to proceed to the next stage (4) of the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely (MRWS) process, but this was vetoed by Cumbria County Council. In September 2013, The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) announced its proposed changes to the MRWS siting process. These included removal of the right of veto from county councils, and a diluted role for parish councils.
- Pillar and Ennerdale Fells SSSI Natural England.
- "Ennerdale (England)". Forestry.gov.uk. 2016-10-22. Retrieved 2017-04-02.
- "Wild Ennerdale – Shaping the Landscape Naturally". Forestry.gov.uk. Retrieved 2 April 2017.
- "Rare Arctic charr making Lake District comeback". 2010. Retrieved 2017-06-22.
- "Site Name: Pillar and Ennerdale Fells" (PDF).
- "Montane scrub". Retrieved 2018-03-23.
- Feral: searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding. Monbiot has also mentioned Ennerdale in his on-line journalism, for example: The Naturalists Who Are Terrified of Nature
- Dickinson, Katie (March 2015). "Reintroduction scheme could see lynx roaming Lake District for first time in 1,300 years". Westmorland Gazette. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
- Should wild lynx be introduced to Ennerdale?. March 2015.
- Halliday; Parveen. "Plan to return the lynx splits friends and families in Kielder Forest community". The Guardian.
- "Pine marten evidence found in Grizedale Forest". Westmorland Gazette. 2011.
- "Pine marten". Retrieved 2018-03-30.
- Brett, Suzanna (21 November 2012). "Two years at Black Sail". www.theguardian.com (The Guardian). London. Retrieved 12 July 2013.
- "HOT STORIES — Live for the Outdoors". Livefortheoutdoors.com. Retrieved 2017-04-02.
- "grough — Hot meals back on menu after Black Sail u-turn". Grough.co.uk. 2008-11-21. Retrieved 2017-04-02.
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