Boscastle Reflections Ten Years On

Ian Kemp, General Manager for North Cornwall, reflects on the Boscastle flash floods which devastated the village a decade ago.

Ten years ago my job took me to Boscastle only once every ten days or so. August 16th 2004 just happened to be one of those days.

The day after the flash floods revealed the extent of the devastation caused to Boscastle. Credit National Trust.

I had gone to the village for what should have been a routine meeting with our shop staff.  By mid-afternoon the river had swollen to the size of the Thames at Westminster and the shop staff and I found ourselves scrambling up steep valley sides to safety under the watchful gaze of an RAF helicopter rescue crew.

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Hambledon Hill and the story of human history in the UK

National Trust archaeologist Martin Papworth explains why Hambledon Hill is such a special place for the story it tells of the British Isles over thousands of years:

“Dorset is internationally renowned for its hillforts. Hambledon Hill is of pre-eminent significance and only challenged by Maiden Castle for the successive phases of Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age archaeological features contained within its ramparts.

A very special hillfort, Hambledon Hill is rich in human history.  Credit: Ross Hoddinott

A very special hillfort, Hambledon Hill is rich in human history. Credit: Ross Hoddinott

However Hambledon’s archaeological earthworks and buried features are far better preserved and more clearly visible on the ground than at Maiden Castle because they haven’t been ploughed.

Hambledon overlies part of an exceptional complex of Neolithic causewayed enclosures, used by academics and experts to illustrate the nature of our earliest farming societies over 5,500 years ago.

Hambledon’s remains include evidence for communal occupation, feasting, conflict, exhumation and burial. Finds of polished axes from the Lake District, Wales and Cornwall demonstrate its wide-ranging importance for trade and exchange at this time.

The continuing significance of Hambledon for burial is demonstrated by the Neolithic long barrow (around 3500-3000BC) that occupies the crest of the hill and the five Early Bronze Age round barrows (around 2200-1600 BC) that lie around it.

The visual impact of the site is enhanced by the drama of its massive sinuous ramparts and ditches. They follow the contours of the hill, replacing a Late Bronze Age (around 1000-800BC) settlement enclosure. Throughout the Iron Age, this imposing landscape statement developed as a complex of defensive earthworks with additional ramparts and gateway outworks added at various times from around 600BC. Within the defences are the terraces for over 300 round houses enabling visitors to walk down streets and visualise a thriving community.

Today’s stunning views across the Blackmoor Vale into Wiltshire and Somerset offer an immediate understanding of the prehistoric advantage of this strategic place.

Hambledon is the northern archaeological partner to Hod Hill which shares this chalk outlier defined by the rivers Iwerne to the east and Stour to the south and west. Hod has little occupation evidence from early prehistory but becomes increasingly dominant from around 300BC.

Hambledon holds the evidence for earliest British prehistoric settlement and Hod continues the story up to the Roman Conquest.

Hambledon and Hod are two halves of a whole and are of such importance that joint conservation ownership and management offers the best conservation protection for these exceptional sites.”

Dorset hillfort is the ideal home for nature

National Trust wildlife adviser Simon Ford tells us more about the rich wildlife that can be found at the newly acquired Hambledon Hill in Dorset:

“Hambledon Hill sits high above the River Stour in south-east Dorset. It has been cut from a steep chalk escarpment and the deep ramparts have provided the ideal environment for many species of plants and animals to thrive. They have also protected the wildlife from being lost to the plough. With 360 degrees of deeply incised banks, this has meant that whatever the weather, there is always some shelter from the elements.

A beautiful bee orchid caught in the summer light at Hambledon Hill. Credit: National Trust Images/Ross Hoddinott

A beautiful bee orchid caught in the summer light at Hambledon Hill. Credit: National Trust Images/Ross Hoddinott

The mix of species is very diverse, but includes characteristic chalk downland plants such as horseshoe vetch, harebell, common rockrose, squinancywort, salad burnet, common milkwort, small scabious, wild thyme and stemless thistle. Early purple, bee, pyramidal, common spotted and autumn lady’s tresses orchids have been recorded as well as notable species such as felwort, dwarf sedge, early gentian, bastard toadflax and meadow saxifrage.

Twenty-eight species of butterfly have been recorded including Adonis Blue, Chalk-Hill Blue, Brown Argus, Dark Green Fritillary, Grizzled and Dingy skipper, and Green Hairstreak. Glow worms are frequently recorded and there are records of white legged damselfly.

Brown hares are commonly seen and the grassland has a good population of skylarks, buzzards, kestrels and meadow pipits, while the scrub attracts blackcaps, white-throats, chiff chaffs and willow warblers.

The site is so important that it has not only been declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest but also a National Nature Reserve.

To ensure the site continues to be of top nature conservation value, the priority will be to maintain the correct grazing and to stop scrub from dominating the steep hillside.”

Partnership brings new hope for birds of prey in the Peaks

One of the UK’s most iconic birds of prey – the peregrine falcon – is showing signs of recovery at a key breeding site in the Peak District thanks to the partnership between leading conservation bodies, volunteers and stakeholders to protect these birds.

The peregrine was almost brought to extinction in the 20th century but initiatives to revive its fortunes have been encouraging and numbers are doing well in most parts of England.  For many years though the north east Peak District has been a black-spot for peregrines, and birds of prey generally.

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New garden created by an army of volunteers opens to commemorate First World War

A new half an acre garden of reflection created by 60 volunteers over the past eight months, opens today at Sandham Memorial Chapel in Hampshire, marking the centenary of Great Britain’s intervention in the First World War. Continue reading

Hydropower returns to Cragside and lights up history

A new Archimedes screw at Cragside in Northumberland will harness the power of water to relight this grand Victorian house just as its previous owner Lord Armstrong did back in 1878. Continue reading

Rare bee-eaters breeding on National Trust land on Isle of Wight

A rare bee-eater on the Isle of Wight; part of a breeding pair. Credit: Andy Butler

A rare bee-eater on the Isle of Wight; part of a breeding pair. Credit: Andy Butler

A pair of colourful and rare bee-eaters that have set up home on National Trust land on the Isle of Wight have become only the third record of this European bird to breed successfully in the UK in the last century.

Bee-eaters, which would normally be found nesting in southern Europe, were last recorded breeding in the UK in 2002, when a pair nested in a quarry in County Durham and two young successfully fledged. Before that, two pairs were recorded raising seven young in a Sussex sand-pit in 1955.

Bee-eaters, with their kaleidoscopic plumage, are one of the most beautiful birds in Europe.

The bee-eaters, which were discovered on the Island in mid-July, have set up home in the sandy hills of the Wydcombe Estate on the south of the Island in a small valley where the soft ground, rolling landscape and stream access provides ideal conditions for their nest burrow. The burrow could be up to three metres long.

Ian Ridett, National Trust Isle of Wight Ranger, said: “We have set up a 24-hour surveillance operation around the site to protect these rare visitors, as any unhatched eggs could be a potential target for egg thieves.

“We have had incredible support from the RSPB, Isle of Wight Ornithological Group and our volunteers and staff, some of whom have travelled from the mainland to help.

“The hot temperatures since spring have helped an above average arrival of bee-eaters, with more than ten seen along the south coast since May. With rising temperatures, the varied landscape and bountiful supply of insects on the Wydcombe Estate was obviously enough to tempt the bee-eaters to nest here.”

The adult birds have been spotted delivering food into the nest which indicates that the eggs have hatched. The chicks will not leave their underground nest site for another fortnight or so, so the number of chicks hatched is still not known. Bee-eaters traditionally lay clutches of four to nine eggs, and the first chick sighting is eagerly anticipated.

Matthew Oates, National Trust nature and wildlife expert, said: “The bee-eater is arguably the most stunning bird on the British list; it looks tropical.

“It’s really exciting to have these bee-eaters breeding on National Trust land, and we are pulling out all the stops to help the chicks safely fledge, whilst keeping the public up-to-date with their progress. As our climate changes it’s likely that we’ll see increasing numbers of new visitors on our shores.”

Keith Ballard, the site manager at the RSPB’s Brading Marshes reserve on the Isle of Wight, said: “It’s the stuff of dreams to have a rare nesting event like this on the Isle of Wight; and it’s looking like the initiative by the National Trust rangers to make the nest site safe is going to lead to success for these birds.

“There was a very real threat that these nesting birds could have been targeted by egg thieves, so it’s been quite a nervous period over the last 12 days. It has been a pleasure for the RSPB staff and volunteers to help with this operation.”

Further information on the Wydcombe bee-eaters can be found on Ian Ridett’s blog or by calling the estate office on 01983 741020.

A designated public viewing point has been identified overlooking the birds’ favourite feeding area so that visitors can get the best possible sightings of the exotic looking creatures. This will be carefully managed though, as the birds’ wellbeing and welfare takes priority.

National Trust reaction to new fracking rules

The Government is announcing today a bidding process for licenses on fracking – new rules will exclude World Heritage Sites, National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) from the round of licenses except in ‘exceptional circumstances’.

Forty per cent of the land owned by the National Trust is in the National Parks of England and Wales and the conservation charity owns large areas of land in AONBs. Here is the Trust’s reaction to the announcement from Richard Hebditch, Assistant Director, External Affairs:

“It’s right that the Government has recognised the concerns about fracking in special places like national parks and AONBs. We welcome the new planning guidance which will makes clear that applications should be refused in these areas other than in exceptional circumstances.

“But it’s not just national parks and AONBs that could be at risk but other special places too, which is why we’d like to see this approach extended to nature reserves and other wildlife sites like Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) as well.

“This is a significant change in approach from DECC. We hope it will reflect a much more cautious approach that recognises the risks of turning some of the most special places in the country over to industrial scale extraction of shale gas and oil.”

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.”