Landscape that inspired Thomas Hardy acquired by the National Trust

More than 200 acres of the sort of wild and windswept heathland that inspired Dorset’s most famous writer, Thomas Hardy, has been acquired by the National Trust. Slepe Heath in Dorset is the largest area of lowland heath that the Trust has acquired for more than a decade.

The magical Slepe Heath in Dorset. A landscape that inspired Dorset's most famous writer, Thomas Hardy. Credit: National Trust/Will Wilkinson.

The magical Slepe Heath in Dorset. A landscape that inspired Dorset’s most famous writer, Thomas Hardy. Credit: National Trust/Will Wilkinson.

As part of a conservation vision inspired by the landscapes featured in the novels of Thomas Hardy, Slepe Heath will connect the protected lowland heath of Hartland Moor, already looked after by the National Trust and Natural England, and the Arne reserve, owned by the RSPB.

A former forestry plantation, the 240 acres of heathland is a haven for wildlife attracting rare birds such as Dartford warblers, nightjars and woodlark.

Along with rare wildlife, visitors to Slepe Heath, which rises 30 metres above its low-lying surroundings, are treated to breathtakingly panoramic views taking in Corfe Castle, Poole Harbour and the Purbeck Hills.

Laurie Clark, National Trust Purbeck General Manager, said: “Slepe Heath is somewhere you can get that little bit closer to a true wildness. It’s a magical and wonderfully atmospheric place where visitors can experience Hardy’s fictional Egdon Heath, the setting for the Return of the Native.

“Dorset’s heathland is among its crown jewels in terms of both wildlife and landscape. By looking after Slepe Heath we can ensure that this heathland remains open and protected for everyone to continue to enjoy.”

The previously separated Hartland Moor and the Arne reserve have been protected by conservation cattle grazing. This £650,000 acquisition, which was made possible by a legacy for the purchase of unspoiled countryside or coastline in Dorset, means that the two sites can be united into a single grazing area, as envisaged under the Wild Purbeck Nature Improvement Area announced by the Government in 2012.

Wild Purbeck is one of 12 Nature Improvement Areas across the country, designated with the aim of bringing significant benefits to nature conservation at a landscape level.

As well as Hartland Moor, the National Trust also manages nearby Studland and Godlingston Heaths. All three are national nature reserves.

Isle of Wight bee-eaters rewrite the record books

Bee-eaters nesting on the Isle of Wight have raised eight chicks – the most successful breeding attempt by these birds, normally found in the Mediterranean, on record in the UK.

Three chicks have now fledged from one nest, on National Trust land, and another five chicks have fledged from a second nest.

Bee eater

Bee-eaters on the Isle of Wight. Credit Danny Vokins.

An adult bee-eater was first spotted at Wydcombe on 15 July by National Trust dragonfly survey volunteer Dave Dana. And chicks were first sighted a month later on the 15 August. There were originally thought to be nine chicks but one has not survived.

Dave Dana, a National Trust Volunteer on the Isle of Wight, said: “I’d just come from counting golden-ringed dragonflies at a stream and I thought ‘that bird looks a bit different!’

“Its flight path seemed almost triangular. I didn’t really appreciate the bird until I got home and looked at the photos. I’d always wanted to see a bee-eater in this country but I never thought it would turn out to be a major wildlife event.”

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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.”

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.

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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 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