Biting Times…

Matthew Oates, the National Trust’s Nature and Wildlife Expert, explains how the hot, wet summer is affecting our biting flies:

Anyone who has been loitering in woods or by the waterside these last few weeks will have been eaten alive by biting flies. The Common Cleg (with just one g) Haematopota pluvialis, the smallest and commonest of our 30 or so native horse flies, has been unusually numerous this summer. Ask any horse owner, or horse. The females of these sleek grey beasts have a penchant for human blood. One scratch and the bite swells up.  Do not scratch it!

Trees in July at Dyffryn Gardens, South Glamorgan.Also abundant this summer is the Common Brown Horsefly Tabanus bromius. Park with open windows in a shady woodland car park on a hot day and your car will quickly fill up with them. Mercifully, they are more interested in horse or deer than man flesh. The biting fly equivalent of the Dalek is the Common Deer Fly Chrysops caecutiens, a piebald, triangular-shaped assassin with psychedelic eyes. It attacks the softest skin, usually eye lids – but flies round your head for several minutes before attempting to land, so you have to be seriously otherwise engaged to get bitten.  But yes, it’s also quite numerous this summer.

These beasts all breed in damp soil, or mud, in shady places. They abound during warm, wet summers – and this is a hot, wet summer. They’re having a fantastic time! Water tables have remained high, following the wet winter (so there’s little prospect of trees or shrubs suffering from drought this year). Also, most districts have been regularly topped up by periods of rain.

The puddles haven’t dried up. This means that the mosquitoes are also doing nicely, and may yet appear in greater numbers. They breed in warm, shallow water. Most people get bitten by ‘mossies’ in bed, on warm summer nights when bedroom windows are open.

Thunderbugs (or thrips) and flying ants have also put in appearances. The former are Visitors at Stourhead, Wiltshire, in September.plant feeders, but they make us itch like mad and somehow inveigle their way into computer screens and behind picture glass. Like flying ants, they’re creatures of hot harvest time weather. Worker wasps are just starting to appear, and may become numerous if the hot weather continues.

But all these creatures are symptomatic of a hot summer, and we are having
a hot summer. Don’t let them detract from your enjoyment of the sunshine – but remember your insect repellent and bite creams, and above all Never Scratch A Bite: it makes it far worse.

 

 

Asian super ants

Below is a statement from the National Trust about the presence of Asian super ants at Hidcote, Gloucestershire.

David Bullock, Head of Nature Conservation for the National Trust, said: “The ants themselves pose little direct threat to us as they don’t bite people or pets, but their habit of creating super-colonies means they pose a threat to native species by out-competing them for food and space, and their attraction to electrical circuitry means they could pose a fire risk.

“At Hidcote we are actively managing the ants in critical areas to make sure we don’t export them. We are encouraging research on their ecology and behaviour with a view to gaining a better understanding of how we can manage for the ants in the future.”

‘Get knotted!’ at Trerice’s new Tudor garden

Eight hundred young yew trees have been planted to map out the intricate design of a new Ladies’ Garden at Trerice near Newquay in Cornwall. Continue reading

Rare Silver-studded Blue butterfly reintroduced at Black Down

David Elliott, Head Ranger on Black Down, West Sussex, tells us about the ranger team’s latest project:

This year on Black Down a very important project has been taking place – we’ve reintroduced a species.

The species in question is the Silver Studded Blue Butterfly. This kind of thing doesn’t come along every day, in fact it’s only the second time I have seen it in my career. In fact it is only the second time the National Trust has ever reintroduced a butterfly to a site where it has disappeared, and I am a little bit excited about it!

Silver-studded Blue - Credit National Trust

The Silver Studded Blue is a proper little marvel. It makes its home on heathland, but it needs heathland in really good condition in order to be able to survive. Heaths have been disappearing at an alarming rate for more than a hundred years. The type of varied age structure within the heather that this butterfly needs is even rarer.

Continue reading

Taking a holistic approach to food production

Today see’s the publication of a major new report on food and farming in the UK, called ‘Square Meal’, by ten organisations, including the National Trust. Rural Enterprises Director at the Trust, Patrick Begg (http://twitter.com/NT_Pat), takes a look at the focus of the report and the challenges ahead.

“The last week has been one of soaring highs and depressing lows.

First, was the most inspiring of visits to Knepp Castle Estate near Horsham in West Sussex, where Charlie Burrell has been re-inventing a thriving, lowland estate. His 2,000 acres has gone, in just over a decade, from a scoured, arable/dairy financial black hole, to a landscape dripping with natural health and economic possibilities.

This was followed by the House of Commons debate on implementing the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) in the UK. It was a dispiriting and familiar trip around the threats to agriculture from administrative burdens and regulatory hurdles to the reinforcement of apparent entitlements to cash. These are issues, of course, and they do need to be dealt with.

But there’s a need for a much bigger debate and for thinking that breaks free from the bureaucratic and self-interested doldrums. We need to look beyond CAP and to address the constraints that farming’s dependency on it has created.

So we’ve been delighted to come together with a range of organisations to kick start the debate. The ‘Square Meal’ report , published today, sets out the scale of the challenges around food, nature, environmental protection, farming livelihoods, diet and health and challenges the political parties to rise to these in framing their manifestos for the forthcoming election.

There are a range of specific policy responses which we believe are critical to future progress. These include: ensuring public procurement leads in the purchasing of sustainably produced food; stopping using ‘production efficiency’ as the key metric for success; and making a much more effective and concrete response to the call for ‘bigger, better, more joined up’ habitats which Prof John Lawton enshrined in his vital report on the future of nature.

We’re also asking for much more leadership from Government. Without this, it’s hard to see how the big leaps we need can be made. We want a long term vision in place that blends the farming, food, environmental and social sectors much more coherently and we need Government to address market failures and to reward those delivering public benefit complemented by a properly embedded ‘polluter pays’ principle. We hope the ‘Square Meal’ report will kick-start this conversation.”

National Trust campaigns to connect 200,000 kids with the natural world

National Trust/ MischiefPR, Andy Fallon

Hugh Dennis lends his support to the 50 things to do before you’re 11 3/4 campaign

The National Trust is aiming to get 200,000 kids playing outside this summer as part of its commitment to connect the ‘cotton wool generation’ with nature.

By September the UK conservation charity hopes to have helped one in twenty of Britain’s 7-12 year olds (five per cent ) break their reliance on gadgets and computers for entertainment, and experience the simple pleasures of outdoor adventure.

Comedian and actor Hugh Dennis who is lending his support to the campaign says: “My most treasured childhood memories are of being in the outdoors so it’s a sad thought that kids today aren’t enjoying the experiences which we remember so fondly. There are so many simple delights to be had – and it doesn’t have to be a chore or ordeal to do either. Back gardens can be as much as a treasure trove for kids as the seaside or a local park.”

To mark the official start of its annual 50 Things to do before you are 11¾ campaign, the National Trust is hosting more than 1,000 activities and events over the school holidays to encourage families to experience nature. Showing the nation that getting outdoors doesn’t mean getting in the car, Rangers from the charity have also identified the top ten activities on the bucket list that can be done in a garden or local park.

Top 50 Things activities to do in a garden or local park
1. Climb a tree
2. Hunt for bugs
3. Create some wild art
4. Fly a kite
5. Play pooh sticks
6. Plant it, grow it, eat it
7. Build a den
8. Set up a snail race
9. Explore inside a tree
10. Make a daisy chain

The initiative follows new research commissioned by the charity showing that children aged 7-12 spend less time playing outside compared to any other generation. According to the findings, over half of today’s children (54 per cent) spend less than an hour outside each day, whilst one in four (25 per cent) get less than 30 minutes a day in the outdoors. This compares to their parents who spent an average of 2 hours 34 minutes outside each day as children. More than half of grandparents (53 per cent) spent over three hours playing outside when they were aged 7-12, compared to just six per cent of children today.

Despite this, a massive 85 per cent cite playing outside as one of their greatest childhood memories with 91 per cent admitting these experiences have nurtured their love of and need for green spaces in their lives.

Proving that 50 Things is and can make a difference, recent independent data commissioned by the Trust has revealed that half of kids (48 per cent) who have tried an outdoor activity on the list such as climbing a tree, building a den or flying a kite have a greater connection and bond with nature. Children who enjoy the simple pleasures of outdoor adventures are more likely to develop long lasting relationships with the natural world and care about protecting these special places for future generations.

To help families nationwide get involved the Trust has lots of tips and ideas for activities to do over the school holidays on its website as well as an app launching mid July, which will indicate activities on the list that can be done in the surrounding area.

Helen Meech, Assistant Director, Outdoors and Nature Engagement at The National Trust commented:

“We really want kids to enjoy being in the outdoors and to care about nature, so it becomes part of their life as they grow up. The memories made as a child stay with you forever, and if outdoor places are part of these memories then hopefully children will grow up wanting to protect these special places for years to come. I’m sure if nature had a voice it would say that it misses today’s children and wants to be part of their childhood adventures.”

The 50 Things to do before you are 11¾ campaign was first launched in 2012. To date over 90,000 of the nation’s youngsters have signed up to tackle the list. Children who complete all the 50 Things on the bucket list will receive a unique visit pass that will enable them and a parent to access over 200 National Trust places, helping them to develop that long term connection to the natural world.
To find out more about the 50 Things visit https://www.50things.org.uk/

National Trust joins State of Nature family

Back in May 2013 a seminal report was published by twenty-five of the leading nature organisations in the UK charting the decline of species across the UK in recent decades.

The High Peak Moors project is all about creating a better long term future for the natural world

The High Peak Moors project is all about creating a better long term future for the natural world

The National Trust has now joined this family as it seeks to celebrate the beauty of the natural world and work with partner organisations to reverse and slow down the rates of species decline.

National Trust Head of Nature Conservation Dr David Bullock is on the State of Nature steering group and other Trust staff from the wildlife and countryside adviser’s community will be involved.

According to the report, the State of Nature, 60 per cent of species have declined in recent decades and one in ten species are at risk of disappearing all together from these islands.

Dr David Bullock, Head of Nature Conservation at the National Trust, said: “The State of Nature report was a wake-up call to us all – about the fragility of nature and about the role of people in protecting the special places that nature calls home.

“We will bring our rich experience as major landowners and as naturalists to the table; working in partnership with other leading wildlife organisations.

“This coalition is a really important movement for the future of nature in the UK – a chance to think big and bold about how we secure the future of our species and habitats for future generations to enjoy.”
Across England, Wales and Northern Ireland the Trust cares for 250,000 hectares of land (the same size as Derbyshire) and 742 miles (1300km) of coastline. Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire, one of the first places acquired by the Trust in 1899, has an amazing 8,500 species and the Farne Islands off of the Northumberland coast is England’s largest seabird colony.

The Trust is working to look at how we manage land (uplands, lowland areas and the coast) as we grapple with the huge challenges of climate change. We’re thinking big about the challenges of managing large land holdings such as the High Peak Moors in Derbyshire, working with the Woodland Trust to restore ancient woodland at Fingle Woods in Devon and are planning species introductions and re-introductions in Surrey.

David Bullock, concludes: “At the heart of everything that the Trust does is connecting people and places. There is a real passion and interest in the natural world in the UK and the State of Nature coalition can play an important role in connecting and reconnecting people to the wildlife where-ever they live.”

You can follow the fortunes of wildlife at National Trust places by following the hashtag #NTnature on twitter or visiting: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/nature