The Furness Fells, and in particular the Rusland Valley, provide a fascinating background to the Reserve. The influence of man’s early domestic industries, such as sheep farming, the wool trade and the coppicing of the woodlands for the production of charcoal, iron and gunpowder are evident throughout the valley. A Bark-Peelers Hut and Pitstead have been constructed in the woods, and an old Potash Pit, used in the process of making soap for the woollen industry in Kendal, has been rebuilt to show something of the lifestyle and activities common in the woodlands until the early part of this century. The JSCF with help from Cumbria Woodlands have also purchased a modern steel charcoal kiln, which is used from time to time as the supply of ‘feed’ timber from the Reserve allows, and helps illustrate the differences between charcoal making ‘then’ and ‘now’.
Wildlife in the Rusland Valley is rich and varied. Red Deer have roamed the Furness Fells since time immemorial, but are now vulnerable to man’s pressures and the Reserve provides them with a safe haven. Large groups gather at certain times of the year, particularly during the rut and they can often be seen on the edges of the Moss, or grazing the adjacent pastures. Roe Deer, Fox, Badger, Otter, Stoat, Weasel, Brown Hare, Adder, Grass Snake, Common Lizard, Slow Worm and many small rodents can all be found on the Reserve, and great care is taken to guard against unnecessary disturbance, giving visitors a fairly good chance of seeing some of them.
Several Species of Bats can be seen in large numbers through the summer months, coming from their roosts under the slates of the buildings at dusk, or hunting in the woods and over the tarn.
Bird Species are numerous and species recorded include Common Buzzard, Sparrow Hawk, Kestrel, Merlin, Hen Harrier, Barn Owl, Tawny Owl, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush, Redstart, Redpoll, Hawfinch, Crossbill, Stonechat, Snipe, Curlew and Woodcock. Summer visitors to the valley include, Swallow, House Martin, Pied Flycatcher, Spotted Flycatcher, Willow, Garden and Marsh Warbler and Chiffchaff, to name but a few. The variety of habitats also enables Buntings, Pipits, Titmice and Finches to flourish.
Wildflowers are profuse, and those of the woodlands and the Fen, Lagg and Mosses are of particular interest to botanists. Large clumps of Royal Fern thrive on the Lagg, a variety of mosses and lichens colonise almost every available surface, and a profusion of fungi put on a fabulous display in late summer and autumn.
Butterflies and Moths are to be found in abundance with many different species being recorded over the years, including Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Silver-washed Fritillary, Purple Hairstreak, Green Hairstreak, Meadow Brown, Green-veined White, Small White, Orange Tip, Small Copper, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Comma, Brimstone, Holly Blue and Speckled Wood. There are also several species of damsel and dragonfly, including the Beautiful Demoiselle.
The Study Centre, originally a traditional Lakeland Stone Barn, the Study Centre was converted into a Deer Museum and Naturalists Study in the early 1970’s. In 2007, it underwent refurbishment to form a Study Centre and Interpretation Centre for all the flora and fauna to be found on the Reserve. It now houses information, field guides, species lists and exhibits relevant to Hay Bridge, and is for use by visiting schools, groups and Society members.