Recovery of the Manx shearwater on Lundy. Have the Welsh invaded?

Lundy

Lundy

We are celebrating the recovery of the Manx shearwater on Lundy Island. Owned by the National Trust and leased to the Landmark Trust, Lundy has always been famous for its seabirds. Lundy, in Norse, means Puffin Island and there are puffins there today. But the real gem is the Manx shearwater.  Most of these birds (over 90 %) breed on islands off the British and Irish coasts. Until a decade ago it was doing badly, almost certainly because of predation by rats. With just a few hundred pairs left on the island and their eggs and chicks eaten by rats, there was real prospect of losing them completely, as happened on the island of Canna (Inner Hebrides).

Back in 2002, the Seabird Recovery Project partnership of National Trust, RSPB, English Nature (now Natural England) and Landmark Trust was formed to try to save Manx shearwaters on Lundy. Our priority, removing the brown rats (common) and black rats (ship). Globally both are widespread and abundant. In Britain and Ireland the black rat is only found on a few islands and dockland warehouses – it is really rare.  How could we remove one of Britain’s rarest mammals from one of its few refuges? Our priority – indeed our global responsibility – was to rescue the dwindling population of Manx shearwaters on Lundy.

By 2013, nearly a decade after rat removal, there are now thousands of shearwaters breeding on Lundy, and their burrows are in many more parts of the island than when the rats were present. The speed of recovery has been remarkable. Manx shearwaters spend the first five or six years of life at sea, in the south Atlantic. The contribution of these home-bred birds to the increase must have been small  – it must have involved birds from other colonies. I reckon that shearwaters from the massive colony on the islands off Pembrokeshire have always visited Lundy, and they may have tried to breed. But until the rats went they were always deterred or their eggs and chicks were eaten.

Manx Shearwater (Omarrun)

Manx Shearwater (Omarrun)

Removing rats from islands with shearwater colonies does not always result in a quick recovery of the shearwaters. It did on Ramsey off Pembrokeshire, but it has not happened on Canna where rats were also removed about a decade ago. This is curious. Canna is next door to the huge shearwater colony on the island of Rum. Does Rum have enough birds to export to, and recolonise, Canna? We have high hopes rats will be removed from the Calf of Man (where there really should be lots of Manx shearwaters), and also on Scilly, to allow the recovery of this amazing bird. My hunch is that if  and when the rats are removed from the Calf, the shearwater population will recover quickly. We already know that Welsh island birds spend the later part of the summer in the northern half of the Irish Sea, so are in the area for some of the year. But where would immigrant shearwaters to recolonise Scilly come from? Recovery there may take some time. In the meantime, on islands where rats have been removed you seem to get a recovery of ground-nesting and other birds and large insects such as big beetles, so rat eradication from seabird island – however unpleasant – is an ecological win win.

Stop press – Great to see that the puffins on the National Trust’s Farne Islands have recovered from their low count in 2008. A stonking 40,000 pairs!

Granite stacks on the west coast of Lundy.

Granite stacks on the west coast of Lundy.

  • Dr David Bullock- Head of Nature Conservation at the National Trust

Puffin numbers rally after 2008 crash

Results from a three-month survey of puffins on the world famous National Trust Farne Islands, off the Northumberland coast, have shown an eight per cent increase in the number of breeding puffin pairs since 2008 when the last census showed a dramatic fall in numbers.

A team of eleven National Trust rangers carried out a full census of the population, which happens once every five years, across eight islands with the final figures showing that there are just under 40,000 (39,962) pairs of nesting puffins.

2003 was the peak year for puffins on the Farne Islands with over 55,000 (55,674) nesting pairs recorded and numbers had been steadily increasing since the 1960s. However the 2008 survey revealed a dramatic crash in numbers by nearly one third to just 36,835 pairs.

 David Steel, Head Ranger on the National Trust Farne Islands, commented,

“The results of the puffin census come as a real relief following some difficult years for them – with the flooding of burrows last year and a very challenging winter.  We had feared that the numbers of puffins would be down again as has happened on other colonies, including those on the Shetland Islands.

 “The bad weather during recent seasons has had some impact on numbers, but with a good nesting habitat secured by us and a plentiful supply of food in the area, numbers have been recovering pretty strongly, which is great news for the puffins and other seabirds.”

 Extreme weather has had a major impact on puffins in the north-sea in the last couple of years.  The 2012 breeding season was hit hard with the second wettest summer on record flooding many burrows, where puffins live.

Earlier this year, just as puffins were returning to the colonies in March, storms resulted in the deaths of thousands of seabirds along the coasts of north-east England and Scotland. Over 3,500 bodies were collected and ringing recoveries suggested that many of the birds involved were breeding adults from local colonies.

 Professor Mike Harris from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology added,

“The wreck was unusual in that it occurred when puffins were returning to their colonies and were close to land.  It’s likely that a very high proportion of the total number of birds that died were found, therefore exaggerating the severity of the mortality.

 “The Isle of May puffin population, 100 km to the north of the Farnes, has also shown no sign of a decline in numbers following the winter puffin disaster. Puffin survival over the last winter was not exceptionally low, despite fears after the wreck.”

The unmistakeable puffin with its bright beak and slightly comical walk is a much loved symbol of the British coastline. During the survey, which began in May, the rangers put their arms into holes to make sure that the nests are occupied.

Puffin census_infographic

 David Steel concluded,

“The poor spring weather affected the timing of the breeding season, with the birds that did survive, breeding late”.

“However this late start may result in puffins remaining at the colonies until later in the summer than normal, giving people even more opportunity to enjoy watching them.”

 For the first time, nest cameras have been inserted into puffin burrows to record the birds’ behaviour in intimate detail. The footage, along with details on how the rangers are progressing with the 2013 puffin census, can be seen at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/puffins or follow progress on twitter at #puffincensus.

Weekly Witter: The future of our heritage – under the microscope

Andrew Bush – Adviser on Paper Conservation for the National Trust finds that there is more than meets the eye down his microscope.

One of the favourite tools of my trade is a trusted digital microscope, not much bigger than a fat cigar but capable of up to 200 times magnification. It’s a very portable piece of kit, which is a good thing as I travel all over examining collections in any of the 200 or so historic properties on my patch. Although I have had it for a couple of years now, I am only just beginning to realise its wider potential use, of which more later.

A typical use for the microscope is to help me examine the condition of some of the Trust’s 1,400 portrait miniatures, many dating from the 18th century. The majority of these are painted in watercolours, with a very fine brush on wafer thin sheets of ivory. The ivory is so thin, and translucent, that it can be painted on the reverse to give subtle toning to the face as seen from the front. Sometimes a sheet of silver leaf was placed behind to give added luminosity.

As far as conservation and stability is concerned, the marriage of ivory and water based paints is not a happy one. It is the inability of the watercolour to keep a grip on the smooth surface of the ivory together with the shrinkage and expansion of this thin organic support that leads to flaking and splitting. This, along with keeping an eye out for mould growth, is the purpose of my visit…..At least I used to think that this was the purpose of my conservation assessments, things have changed.

Antoine Vestier (Avallon, Yonne 1740 – Paris 1824)  The Artist's Wife: Marie Ann Révérend, Madame Antoine Vestier.

Antoine Vestier (Avallon, Yonne 1740 – Paris 1824)
The Artist’s Wife: Marie Ann Révérend, Madame Antoine Vestier.

When I am carrying out a survey, I am usually with our collections in our showrooms and often the house will be open to visitors. If I am looking at something particularly delicate, or if distractions are to be avoided, I might be tucked away in a quiet corner, but increasingly I am working in front of the public, discussing what I am doing with anyone interested. It is this interaction with the visitors that I believe could potentially have just as much significance for the future well being of our collections, as any observations and recommendations for care or remedial treatment that I make in my reports. It is not only in raising awareness of the need for conservation, but showing that there are career opportunities in conservation. This is where my digital microscope has such a powerful role, it acts as a magnet to nearly every young visitor, and hopefully, who knows, for some of them it will be a way marker on a route to a career in conservation. Until I was at University I had absolutely no idea that a career as a conservator was possible, hopefully through the powers of microscopy others might cotton on faster than I did.

  • The Weekly Witter is a regular mouthpiece for our many specialists to talk about what’s on their minds at the moment.

Weekly Witter: Pests and pestilence at the Chelsea Flower Show

Stop the Spread

No it’s not about butter…but tree pests, diseases and invasive species in general. This is the subject of a ground breaking garden at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

“The garden will also have a black pool of water with a small living oak tree on a plinth in the middle at the end of the dead avenue.”

The National Trust has joined other organisations as a partner in the  Food and Environment Research Agencies  (FERA) garden designed by Jo Thompson to help raise the profile about the increasing threats we face but more importantly what we can all do about them.

The modern world we live in and our globe-trotting lifestyles combined with our increasing desire for ever more exotic food and plants is only increasing the chance of new pests and diseases and non-native species threatening our countryside, woodlands, forests and gardens.

“be prepared to be shocked… as there are dead (non living) trees at Chelsea for the first time…yes really!”

Since 2003 the National Trust has had to spend around £1m to deal with one disease alone, Phytophthora ramorum no small amount for a charity in these challenging financial times. But add in another 14 or so tree pests and diseases including the dreaded news making ‘Ash dieback‘ and the constant battle to keep our waterways and countryside clear of non-native species which sucks in vast amounts of staff time dealing with what is often a ‘fire fighting’ exercise, you can start to see why the Trust wants to help make a difference.

So was born the idea of working with others to raise the profile of these issues at the most famous garden show in the world, which in it’s centenary year is set to be a media show stopper.  But, be prepared to be shocked… as there are dead (non living) trees at Chelsea for the first time…yes really!  If you don’t believe me and you can’t go in person, check out our videos of the garden at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/chelseaflowershow or tune in to watch some of the television coverage which will be on BBC2 every evening of Chelsea week.  The garden will also have a black pool of water with a small living oak tree on a plinth in the middle at the end of the dead avenue.

But there is beauty as well as we know that this is not a lost cause and we can all do things to help prevent the spread of plant pests and disease.

Here are my top tips of some things we can all do to help ‘Stop the Spread’:

 Taking some simple steps when gardening or buying and planting new trees, can help reduce the risk:

Ask your nursery/garden centre for help: Wherever possible, buy home-grown trees and plants; they’re more likely to be “acclimatised” to our conditions and less likely to be a home for new pests and diseases or non native species. Don’t bring plant material home from holidays abroad.

Buy small and watch it grow.  Semi-mature trees often grown overseas pose a higher risk of introducing pests and diseases. So be patient and plant smaller trees instead – they’ll often establish quicker too.

Right plant; right place.  A healthy tree or plant is less likely to succumb to disease – try to match a tree to its preferred location, type and size of tree, soil type, available space.

Help it to establish itself.  Feed your tree but avoid over-feeding which can lead to vulnerable soft growth. Consider a mycorrhizal fungi planting treatment to encourage healthy root growth. Use a good stake and tie, but don’t strangle your tree!  Lower leaves in contact with the soil risk picking up disease, so remove them when you plant or use a good mulch.

Give it room to grow.  Space trees as widely as possible to ensure good air movement and reduce humidity.  Prune out any dead and diseased branches and dispose of the waste sensibly.

Keep clean.  Pests and disease are easily spread on soil and plant debris attached to footwear or on tools like secateurs and saws, so clean mud and leaves off regularly.

Don’t stop planting. The worst thing we can do is to stop planting trees. Simple measures like those above will help protect our beautiful woodlands and forests in these difficult times.

 Dispose of garden waste responsibly. Compost your waste properly or dispose of in a responsible way. Don’t dump garden or pond waste in the countryside or water courses

Top tip: When buying look for: healthy, vigorous trees and plants, not pot bound, not too much soft growth. Avoid signs of dieback, leaf spotting, insect infestation and mould growth. Look out for other non -native species species hitching a ride.

The team hard at work

The team hard at work

  • Ian Wright is the National Trust’s Gardens Adviser based in the South West of England.  He advises on all things horticultural at the 30 great gardens in the South West. He has built up an extensive knowledge of plant and tree pests and diseases over his 26 years working for the Trust and in more recent times produced guidance for staff aimed at preventing the spread of pests and disease.  Ian describes himself as ‘almost a tender perennial’ and now ‘lacking the appetite for true British winters’ after working in the favoured climate of the South West for so many years.  Potential sponsors take note… Ian’s greatest dream is to design a ‘Gold winning’ show garden for the National Trust at Chelsea…..any offers?
  • The Weekly Witter is a regular weekly mouthpiece for our many specialists to talk about the news, current affairs, and what’s on their minds at the moment.

Puffin count begins on the Farne Islands

A Puffin census has begun at the north east’s most amazing wildlife habitat, the windswept Farne Islands, as National Trust rangers attempt to find how many breeding pairs of these iconic birds live on the Islands.

The iconic Puffin

The iconic Puffin

The census takes place every five years and records date back to 1939 when 3,000 breeding pairs were recorded.

Until 2008, each survey since the census began 65 years ago showed a steady increase in pairs of puffins on the Farne Islands, but the last count indicated numbers had fallen by a third.

The 2008 survey recorded 36,500 pairs of puffins across eight islands compared to 55,674 pairs living on the Islands in the 2003 census.

This spring and summer a team of eleven National Trust rangers will be travelling between eight of the Farne Islands to carry out the mammoth task of counting every single bird.

Puffins nest underground in burrows, which means the rangers will have to put their arms into the holes to make sure that the nests are occupied during the comprehensive count.

 David Steel, Head Ranger for the Farne Islands told us:

“We’ve been monitoring a small section of the Farnes every year since the last census in 2008 and have seen a small increase in numbers in this area. We’re hoping to see an increase overall numbers this year but you can’t tell after the winter we’ve just had.”

 Factors for why the Puffins continue to flourish on the Farne Islands include better protection, good sources of food, a lack of ground predators and the availability of suitable nesting areas. However rangers on the Farne Islands fear that the extreme cold weather this winter which has led to a higher than average mortality rate may effect numbers.

David Steel continued:

“This March was the coldest on record since 1962 and this could impact on breeding numbers. The extreme winds affected the puffin’s ability to feed as they made their way back to their summer breeding grounds. It will be interesting to see the results of the puffin census which we will have available to share in July.”

For the first time, nest cameras have been inserted into puffin burrows to record the birds’ behaviour in intimate detail. The footage, along with details on how the rangers are progressing with the 2013 puffin census, can be seen at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/puffins or follow progress on #puffincensus.

Weekly Witter: Spring catches up

At last we had a decent May Day Bank Holiday, you all say.  Actually, that of 2011 was sunny, though spoilt by a penetrating north-east wind, and we have to go back to 2005 for the last genuinely good one.  Hopefully the nation made the most of Monday’s most welcome sunshine.

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Nature certainly did.  It went into rapid catch-up mode.  Until this last week spring had been running late, the latest it’s been since 1996, though 2006 also saw a late spring.  But spring can move fast when released, and in the space of a mere week the countryside has been transformed.  Blink, or spend a week on an intensive indoor training course, and you miss it.

Bluebells have come from nowhere, or at least from a state of serious retard, and are now at or approaching their peak in many places. But why do they matter?  The answer is simply because they flower en masse when spring it at its absolute zenith.  Our scented bluebell drifts therefore form the pinnacle of spring – add a distant cuckoo call or the vibrancy of the nightingale and you’ve reached what TS Eliot called ‘the still point of the turning world’ (Four Quartets, Burnt Norton).  Also, and more obviously, we have no other native plant that forms such stunning purple haze carpets (though devil’s bit scabious can perform a poor man’s version in September).  And our native bluebells are strongly scented.  We can get mildly intoxicated on the sight and scent of a bluebell carpet, especially on warm still spring afternoons – like Monday’s bank holiday.  To put it bluntly, bluebells are a legal and natural high.  They are especially good this year as some of the early spring flowers, with which they often grow, are still in flower – notably the pinky-white wood anemone or windflower, which are normally finished before the bluebells start.

nt-infographic-bluebells 2The trees are also, quite suddenly, breaking into leaf – and this seriously transforms the landscape.  The oaks are leafing late this year, so late in fact that they are coming out at the same time as the ash trees.  This may or may not be worrying, depending on how aware of, or convinced you are about, the rural saying concerning the leafing of ash and oak.  2013 could, of course, be the year in which Ash Dieback starts to do to our landscapes what Dutch Elm Disease did back in the early to mid 1970s.  We shall see, but in good spring weather there is always optimism – for spring is essentially about the fulfilment of promise, the promise of summer.  Perhaps we truly belong in summer?  Certainly, we are overdue a good summer.

Some migrant birds have arrived late, held up by northerly winds.  Two of the British Trust for Ornithology radio-tagged cuckoos arrived on our shores, found that the weather wasn’t to their liking – and promptly flew back south across the Channel.  Hopefully the warm spell has lured them back again.  It certainly brought a major flurry of arrivals – a major fall of common whitethroats over the bank holiday weekend, and more recently garden warblers.

In effect, spring is happening, all at once and all in a hurry right now.  It is impossible not to be moved by it.

National Trust invests £3.5m to put clean energy at the heart of conservation

An ambitious plan to provide clean energy to 43 of its historic properties was launched today by the National Trust in conjunction with green electricity supplier Good Energy.

The Trust will invest nearly £3.5 million in five pilot projects, including hydro, biomass and heat pumps, during 2013/14.

If the pilot is successful, the Trust expects to spend ten times that sum in a programme that will see it generate 50 per cent of its energy from renewable sources and halve its fossil fuel consumption by 2020.

This will enable it to reduce its energy costs by more than £4 million per annum, releasing more money for the charity’s conservation work.

The National Trust’s four million members will also be able to support the programme by signing up for renewable electricity with the charity’s energy partner, Good Energy. The company will pay the Trust £40 per year for each new customer signing up to its dual fuel tariff via the National Trust.

If 5 per cent of member households adopted the tariff it would raise £3.8 million for investment in a low carbon future and see 95,000 households powered by clean, green renewably sourced electricity.

 Patrick Begg, Rural Enterprises Director at National Trust, said:

“Through our work we show that renewable technologies can be made to work in some of the country’s most sensitive landscapes and historic environments.”

“Like householders everywhere we are facing rising energy bills. We spend more than £6 million each year heating and powering the places in our care.”

“By investing in renewable energy production we can reduce our energy bills and invest more in vital conservation work around the country. It will put renewable energy at the heart of conservation.”

Juliet Davenport, CEO of Good Energy, said:

“Britain is blessed with abundant sources of natural power and we hope people will be inspired when they see how National Trust properties can generate renewable power in harmony with the environment.”

“Together we hope to inspire people to switch to green electricity, reduce their energy usage and if possible generate their own renewable power at home.”

Good Energy is helping the Trust develop its renewable strategy, using its expertise in generating power from natural sources and its experience of supporting more than 46,000 small and medium sized renewable energy generators in the UK.

The National Trust spends nearly £6 million a year to heat and power its estate – 300 major historic houses, plus office buildings, visitor centres and 360 holiday cottages – and without action it forecasts that rising oil and gas prices would take this to £7.5 million by 2020.

The water-wheel at Aberdulais Falls viewed at ground level.

The water-wheel at Aberdulais Falls viewed at ground level.

However, the renewables investment programme is expected to reduce operational energy costs by £4.3 million from 2019 and provide an expected 10 per cent return on investment, thanks to lower fuel costs and schemes such as the Feed-in Tariff and Renewable Heat Incentive.

The Trust’s five pilot projects this year will trial a multi-site approach and prove business models:

Plas Newydd – 300kW marine source heat pump, providing 100% of property’s heat requirements

Croft Castle – 150kW biomass boiler, supplying 74% of property’s heating needs

Ickworth – 300kW biomass boiler, supplying 100% of estate’s heating needs

Craflwyn – more than 100kW hydro-generation, which will be sold back to the grid

Stickle Ghyll – 90kW hydro-electric project providing 30% of property’s energy needs

If the trial phase is deemed successful, the National Trust plans 38 further schemes tailored to individual properties and selected according to strict criteria.

Patrick Begg continued:

“Projects must offer strong financial returns, build energy independence and energy security, but also respect properties’ settings and historical significance, and improve conservation, wherever possible.

“A major focus of the programme will be to dramatically reduce the Trust’s reliance on oil from 20 per cent to 3 per cent. This not only protects it from volatile and rising prices, but also reduces the risk that oil spills will pollute water courses, gardens and buildings. Two of the trial properties, Plas Newydd and Ickworth, are the Trust’s largest users of fuel oil.”

The National Trust has been making steady progress pioneering the use of renewable technologies across the places it looks after.

Over the last decade more than 150 schemes have been installed across a wide range of technologies: wood (biomass), solar electricity and hot water, small-scale wind, hydro-electric, and heat pumps.

Following the development of these projects, there is now widespread recognition of the value and impact which well-built renewables initiatives can bring to local National Trust businesses.

This investment programme is part of a move to invest beyond small impact renewables towards larger-scale initiatives, which can make a greater contribution towards meeting local and national goals, as well as generating income for the Trust.

A curate’s egg of a curriculum?

There’s been a fair amount of coverage and comment recently on the Government’s consultation on the National Curriculum. Andy Beer, the National Trust’s Head of Visitor Experience and Learning, provides an overview of the questions we are asking ourselves as we draw up the National Trust’s response to the Government’s proposals:

The proposed new National Curriculum is an interesting reminder of the diverse interests of the National Trust. Just about every subject area touches on some aspect of our work. Coastal change, nature education, fostering a love of history, climate change, citizenship and identity are all things that bear closely upon our purposes as a charity.

So, how do we respond? Firstly, that it’s a bit of a curate’s egg. There are some good things, but also some areas that cause us, and others, some concern. We are compiling a response by talking to our staff, volunteers and partners, but in doing so here are some of the questions that we are asking ourselves:

The consultation document asks us whether we agree that “we should free teachers to shape their own curriculum aims based on the content of the programmes of study” and this seems an entirely laudable aim. However, if that is the ambition then why does the history curriculum not look like the geography curriculum? The latter is a broad framework, which appears to have been well received, whereas the former appears a prescriptive list of tasks, perhaps best accompanied by an atlas shaded in pink.

This leads us to a second question in relation to a history curriculum, for which the answer is self evident: “can we engender an understanding of chronology (a good thing) without teaching things in rigid chronological order?” The delight felt by the National Trust’s archaeologists that prehistory is now included in the curriculum has been somewhat tempered by the understanding that it appears to only figure between the ages of 5 and 5 and half. I sense we are underestimating the ability of children to organise information and, in doing so, might we squander the chance to fire them up about history?

Nature education is also an area we feel passionate about. The science curriculum places strong emphasis on the importance of first hand experience (something we would strongly support) and is also littered with the phrase “pupils should use their local environment throughout the year” and an increased emphasis on some basic skills of taxonomy potentially providing opportunities for learning about plants and animals. Is that sufficient?

Climate change is another thematic area of study that is not explicitly mentioned. Interestingly this forms part of a wider pattern of a move away from cross disciplinary areas of study. The curriculum looks as though it is split into separate silos, which is unhelpful given that most of the problems these children will face when mature cut across subject boundaries. That said, it will be very hard to teach “weather and climate” and the interaction of “human and physical processes on landscapes” without reference to it. However, it is a curious inconsistency that students will be required to know about the Heptarchy (I had to look it up) and Wycliffe’s Bible, but that knowledge of climate change is only optional.

Find out more about the government’s consultation on the National Curriculum.

Weekly Witter: Protecting the past, ensuring the future: NT green energy

Last week I visited Croft Castle to consider how we will swap from the existing oil heating for the castle and visitor facilities in the stable yard to a wood fuel system. This is exciting in its own right, as not only will we get the benefit of swapping to a renewable fuel (wood chip), which we can produce from our own estates, but it will also remove the risk of storing oil in this sensitive environment. But what made this visit particularly exciting was that it marked the start of a new journey for the Trust, where we are taking a planned approach to making a significant investment in renewable energy, to help us meet our energy policy commitment that, after a 20% reduction in total energy demand, 50% of the remaining heat and power will come from renewables.

“In looking after special places for ever, we believe strongly in the need to reduce our energy consumption, wean ourselves off fossil fuels and, where possible, generate our own renewable energy.”

Peter Nixon, Director of Conservation

Energy is, of course, essential to our operations, and we spend almost £6 million a year on electricity, oil and gas. By cutting our energy consumption and generating more of our heat and power from renewable sources we will have more to spend on conservation at our properties, and on countryside and wildlife. We will also be a more resilient and adaptable organisation, better placed to face the future whatever challenges come our way.

“We’ve installed over 150 renewable energy systems over the last few years”

Turbine opening event 025

The Archimedean screw on the River Wandle in London

We’ve installed over 150 renewable energy systems over the last few years – everything from small log boilers to district wood chip heating systems, and from photovoltaic panels in fields and on roofs to hydro power systems (the latest to be switched on is the only Archimedean screw on the River Wandle in London). Some of these have worked brilliantly – Wales’ PV outperformed its specified output by a considerable margin – and some less so – Nostell Priory is struggling to make its 300kw wood pellet boiler perform at anything like its best. But we will be using these lessons learnt to ensure future renewable installations deliver all the benefits we demand of them. And we are being demanding! The wide ranging benefits expected include, of course, reducing our dependency on fossil fuel and cutting our carbon emissions, but we also have criteria focussed on investment return, the impact on significance and setting, and the ability the project has to further our conservation performance – through enhanced woodland management for example.

We are using the initial phase of the programme to test out our delivery mechanisms before we hopefully embark on the full programme which will get us to our 2020 target.

So as the country worries about whether there is enough gas to keep us going over this cold snap, it feels exactly right that we should be looking to the resources on our estates to ensure that we can (carefully) keep the heat and lights on!

  • Lizzy Carlyle is Head of Environmental Practices at the National Trust, working to ensure properties, and the organisation as a whole, improve their environmental performance, be it in energy or water use, and waste production, minimise pollution risk, and make best use of their natural resources.
  • The Weekly Witter is a regular Monday mouthpiece for our many specialists to talk about what’s on their minds at the moment.
  • The installation of green energy systems like wind power can be controversial, to see the Trusts position on wind turbines please see here.

Comment: Late Spring

Spring is a variable feast, depending on how readily winter is prepared to let go, or not. Winter is holding on grimly, though it will eventually lose out, for spring will break through and lead us joyously into summer. Late springs are not that unusual. During the late 1970s and early 80s we had a run of them. More recently, the spring of 1996 was incredibly late, culminating in a particularly cold May, and those of 2008 and 2010 were also distinctly slow. So we’ve been here before.

An early Easter seems to tempt the weather to produce its worst. In 2008, Easter occurred even earlier than it does this year – and it snowed, and after a snow-free winter. The good news, though, is that a poor spring doesn’t necessarily lead to a dismal summer – the bad springs of 1983 and 1996, as examples, gave way to lovely summers. We are overdue a good summer… .

A slow and late spring is no bad thing, for flowers, leaves, insects, nesting birds and breeding amphibians can all get caught out when an early spring suddenly disintegrates into a cold snap. Slow and steady is perhaps best overall, though some hibernating animals can run out of fuel, so to speak, if their emergence gets badly delayed.

The flower count at Hidcote didn't quite go to plan...

The flower count at Hidcote didn’t quite go according to plan…

  • Matthew Oates has worked for the National Trust for over 20 years.  Although passionate about butterflies he is very much an all-round naturalist and is effectively the Trust’s resident naturalist. He works closely with the Trust’s network of ecologists and naturalist rangers throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland. He has recently been featured in his own program on BBC Radio 4 “In pursuit of the ridiculous”.

 

BBC: Spring equinox today but winter lingers

Guardian: Nature lies dormant ahead of first day of Spring