How woodland devastated by Great Storm of 1987 bounced back on its own

AS 110mph winds raged across southern England, Britain’s Great Storm of 1987 wreaked devastation across scores of National Trust woodland.

Hundreds of thousands of trees – some aged more than 400 years old – were lost, on 3,000 acres across 58 sites. The landscape had been torn apart, and the conservation charity faced the biggest outdoor repair job in its history.

“It was a battle zone” says gardener Alan Comb, who had started work at Emmetts Garden, Kent, just a week after the storm hit. “There were trees sticking up like totem poles”.

Martin Sadler, now a Senior Gardener at Petworth, says, “I was only 18 and I’d never seen anything like it before. The trees came down like dominoes.”

During the aftermath of the storm, the Trust took several approaches to managing the clean-up and restoration of its woodlands. Some of the devastated areas were cleared, others were replanted, and non-intervention zones were left alone to regenerate naturally.

In the untouched areas, trees that seeded naturally were allowed to grow and, in many cases, are developing faster than those that were planted. This learning affected the way the Trust now manages the land in its care.

Tom Hill, National Trust Trees & Woodland Officer in the South East, said, “Today, we work much more closely with natural ecological processes and, where possible, allow damaged woodland to regenerate naturally. The National Trust looks after more than 25,000 hectares (62,000 acres) of woodland, 36% of which is in London and the South East, so it’s vital that we continue to evolve our approach to woodland management to help it to thrive.”

Most of the trees that fell at Knole in Kent were left as deadwood, which benefited fungi, plants and wildlife, as well as the trees that grew to replace them.

Ninety-five per cent of the woodland surrounding Emmett’s Garden in Kent was destroyed in the storm. Although the gardens have been replanted and woodland regenerated, remaining tree stumps and fallen specimens act as a continuing reminder of what happened.

Down the road, Toys Hill, the former home of National Trust founder Octavia Hill, lost 98 per cent of its trees. After the clean-up, some of the areas left alone flourished spectacularly, benefitting ecosystems and wildlife.

Light allowed in by the removal of so much of the canopy caused dormant seeds to burst into life, including native clematis, honeysuckle and heather – unseen in the area for more than a century.

Birds and dormice also benefited. The woodlark and nightjar population increased, and little owls, tawny owls, buzzards, hobbies and sparrow hawks exploited the more open woodland.

The storm also exposed tree rings hidden for centuries, enabling the Trust to date them and reveal more about the history of the special places in its care.

David Bullock, Head of Nature Conservation at the National Trust, said, “The fallout from the Great Storm helped the Trust to understand that sometimes, in order to restore a healthy, diverse natural environment, the best approach can be to do nothing at all. Now more than ever, it is important that we find the right balance between human principles for land management, and letting nature take its course.”

“We’re conscious that as the climate warms, we are likely to face more extreme and unpredictable weather. We will respond to this through active conservation work, like providing trees with more space to take stronger roots against high winds, and giving areas the opportunity to regenerate and recover naturally.”

In the years following the storm, the Trust planted 500,000 trees, preferring young saplings to semi mature trees due to faster establishment. Where necessary, the Trust resurrected garden drainage systems to provide optimum growing conditions and selected species better suited to extreme weather.

Through careful management of the land in its care, The Trust is working to reverse the decline in UK wildlife, aiming to restore 25,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat by 2025.

 

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Extreme weeding – fighting an aquatic invader at Claremont

In an extreme case of weeding, amphibious tractors are this week tackling almost 16 tonnes of invasive weed in the lake at the National Trust’s Claremont Landscape Garden.

The vehicles, an amphibious cross between a tractor and a tank, are armed with giant rakes to remove the carpet of Crassula helmsii – also known as New Zealand Pigmyweed – that is covering the man-made serpentine lake at the Surrey garden.

Extreme weeding at Claremont, photo Dee Durham/National Trust

The non-native weed reproduces rapidly and, without natural competition in the UK, can quickly spread out of control, overtaking a waterbody and blocking out light for other flora and fauna.

The harvesters have been busy collecting the weed and depositing it in a huge pile on the island in the centre of the lake. Here it will rot down quickly, creating compost, while allowing any fish and invertebrates scooped up to make their way back into the lake.

The lake is 27,000 m2 and it could take almost two weeks for the surface to be completely clear of the aquatic invader. There is currently no known way to entirely eradicate the weed, so gardeners at Claremont will manually remove the weed throughout the year using nets and waders. 

Claremont Landscape Garden, photo Hannah Elliott/National Trust

Tim Rayfield, Senior Gardener at Claremont, said: “By using the large harvesters, we’re able to control the Crassula with minimum impact on the lake and its eco system.

“It’s one of the more unusual ways that we conserve this amazing landscape garden, and it’s great to be able to see the trees reflected in the water once again.”

 

Diamond spider presumed extinct discovered for the first time in almost 50 years

A spider presumed extinct in Britain for almost half a century has made a remarkable comeback thanks to habitat restoration.

Two National Trust volunteers were astonished to find the rare Diamond spider (Thanatus formicinus) while searching for arachnids in heathland at Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire.

The spider has only been recorded in the UK on three occasions, all of them in the South of England, and not since 1969. The discovery was made by volunteer rangers as part of ongoing ecological monitoring of the park.

Lucy Stockton, who made the discovery with fellow volunteer Trevor Harris, says, “The spider ran away from me twice but with persistence and some luck I caught it; at the time I had no idea that it would turn out to be such a rare find. Upon closer inspection our spider had a conspicuous ‘cardiac mark’, a black diamond shape on its abdomen, edged with white that helped us to identify it.”

“We were thrilled to have discovered this new resident of Clumber Park and to prove that this species is definitely not extinct in the UK.”

The last recorded sightings of the Diamond Spider occurred in Legsheath and Duddleswell, in Ashdown Forest, in 1969. The arachnid was also found near Brokenhurst, in the New Forest, at the end of the 19th century. Its habitat includes damp areas with moss, purple moor grass and heather. Its English name derives from the thin black diamond on its back.

The National Trust is working on an £8.5 million restoration programme to revive parts of Clumber Park, which includes restoring areas of heathland and other important habitats for wildlife. This is part of the conservation charity’s wider ambition to restore 25,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat by 2025.

Matt Shardlow, Chief Executive, Buglife, said, “We are absolutely delighted that this pretty little spider has been re-found, we had almost given up hope.  It is a testament to the crucial importance of charities like the National Trust saving and managing heathland habitats.”

Dr Helen Smith, Conservation Officer, British Arachnological Society, said, “This species is classified as ‘Critically Endangered’, and it was thought possible that it had become extinct in Britain – its conservation at Clumber is now a very high priority. The discovery highlights both the importance of the Clumber heathlands and the invaluable contribution made by volunteers in recording spiders and providing the information needed to help conserve our rarest species.”

Matthew Oates, the National Trust’s Specialist on Nature, said: “This remarkable discovery shows that diligent amateurs can strike gold here in the UK, by surveying the less well studied elements of our flora and fauna.  In this era of species decline, climate change and arrival of new species, the nation needs a vast new army of naturalists, to discover and monitor what’s going on, and so inform our decision makers.”

Experts from the national Spider Recording Scheme confirmed the spider’s identity.

Green light for Sutton Hoo transformation as National Trust is awarded £1.8 million National Lottery grant

Bold plans to take one of the UK’s most significant historical sites into the future are set to go ahead after the National Trust learnt it has been awarded a £1.8million National Lottery grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to help transform the way it tells the story of one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time.

Home to the burial ground of the Anglo-Saxon King Raedwald, Sutton Hoo near Woodbridge in Suffolk has been fascinating visitors from around the world ever since its hoard of treasure and royal secrets were discovered by a local archaeologist in 1939.

Now, thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, the National Trust can move ahead with plans to transform the experience of visitors and help them discover more about the people who settled here and those who went on to lead the archaeological digs that uncovered the world famous finds, including the Sutton Hoo helmet.

Sunset over the famous burial mounds at Sutton Hoo. ©National Trust Images_Justin Minns

The news of the successful grant bid follows two years of planning and the funds will go towards the total project cost of £4million.

Plans include building a 17 metre observation tower to give views over the entire burial ground and to the River Deben beyond, revealing the fascinating story of this evocative landscape. It was from the River Deben that an Anglo-Saxon ship was hauled up the valley before it formed the burial chamber found in Mound One, where the famous treasure was discovered by Suffolk archaeologist Basil Brown.

A new route around the site will allow visitors to walk in the steps of the Anglo-Saxons.  Tranmer House, the former home of Edith Pretty who instigated the dig that would lead to the discoveries, will be transformed with a new exhibition exploring a timeline of multiple discoveries and the ongoing research at this and other archaeological sites.

Enhanced guided tours, thought-provoking activities and installations, innovative interpretation and creative programming will all sit alongside a schools education programme.

In addition, partnership working with archaeological bodies, the British Museum and the local community will all help to bring both the landscape and Exhibition Hall to life.

The project, called ‘Releasing the Story of Sutton Hoo’, will enable the National Trust to create an experience that helps visitors discover more about this internationally significant site and how its stories have captured the imaginations of people the world over.

The dig at Sutton Hoo in 1939. ©British Museum

Allison Girling, Property Operations Manager at Sutton Hoo said: “We welcome visitors with a wide range of interests and knowledge to Sutton Hoo and these plans are all about sharing more about the history of this special place, helping visitors delve deeper into the lives of the Anglo-Saxons who settled here, the people who discovered them and to learn more about what it is that makes Sutton Hoo so fascinating.

“From why the Anglo-Saxons chose to bury their king here and how their lives and traditions have influenced English culture for generations, to how the determination of one remarkable woman led to the discoveries in the first place, there are so many stories to tell at Sutton Hoo and thanks to National Lottery players who make these grants possible, we’ll be able to move forward with our plans.”

Allison added: “We’ve been working with Sutton Hoo’s teams of staff and volunteers, regular visitors and supporters, the local community and the National Lottery to shape the future for Sutton Hoo and together we want to create an experience that really brings history to life whether you’re visiting for a family day out, to discover what’s on your doorstep or to support academic research.”

Replica of the richly decorated Anglo-Saxon helmet found at Sutton Hoo. ©National Trust Images_Andreas von Einsiedel

Robyn Llewellyn, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund in the East of England said: “Sutton Hoo is an incredibly significant treasure trove of Anglo-Saxon heritage and it’s exciting that thanks to National Lottery players, this fascinating site will be transformed for visitors from near and far. This is a great opportunity to share this amazing place and put people of all ages at the heart of a story which spans 6,000 years.”

The Trust has also been given permission for plans to transform the welcome centre and car park.

The £4million project is being made possible thanks in part to support provided by members and visitors and the National Trust is aiming to raise a further £560,000 in order to complete the project.

The project is scheduled for completion in 2021.

Great news for Fell Foot Park in Cumbria as Heritage Minister John Glen announces £684k National Lottery funding

Fell Foot Park on the shores of Lake Windermere is to be transformed, thanks to a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant of around £684,000 made possible by National Lottery players.

The news, announced by Heritage Minister John Glen while on tour of Cumbria today, will mean that the National Trust, owners of the site, will be able to restore key elements of this much-loved country park as part of a six year wider National Trust masterplan to turn Fell Foot into a flagship destination in the North.

Visited by over 150,000 people a year, this popular but under-resourced park originally formed the majestic grounds of an early 19th Century Lake District villa landscape, framed by crags, ancient woods and water on the south-east shore of Lake Windermere. While the villa has long since gone, its boathouse complex (one of the largest surviving in the Lake District) and arboretum remain, and it is these historic features, along with restoration of the parks landscape and improved visitor access, that National Lottery funding will benefit.

Fell Foot features sweeping lawns, rowing boats, a café and shop. Activities currently include wild play, family camping, swimming and running events. The park is one of the few places where the public can access the southern half of England’s longest lake, now in a new UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Fell Foot project will involve the conservation of five boathouses, making them flood resilient and suitable as multi-use community spaces. The Gasometer Cottage will be restored to provide office space and a reception area, the arboretum and park landscape restored (including new pathways and better drainage), while access to the waterfront will be improved and visitors will be able to enjoy new sheltered spaces and play facilities. The National Trust will also create four new jobs and 8 volunteering roles to run the project.

Heritage Minister John Glen said: “This funding is wonderful news for Fell Foot and will help transform the park, preserve the stunning arboretum and restore its beautiful historic boathouses. Our heritage should be open to everyone and, thanks to National Lottery players, this project will enable even more people to discover and enjoy the fascinating stories that can be found here at Fell Foot.”

Nathan Lee, Head of HLF North West, said: “This is excellent news not only for Fell Foot Park, but the Lake District and Cumbria as a whole, and I’m delighted to be here today with Heritage Minister John Glen to welcome the news. Thanks to National Lottery players, we can now preserve these wonderful boathouses, secure the long-term future of the arboretum, and provide employment and volunteering opportunities for the community. We are really excited about this project which we hope will see many more people discovering and enjoying the fascinating stories that can be found at Fell Foot.”

Mike Innerdale, the National Trust’s Assistant Director of Operations for Cumbria and North Lancashire said: “We’re thrilled that the National Lottery is supporting our vision for Fell Foot. We want to provide exceptional opportunities for people to re-connect with each other and the great outdoors, and make precious memories for generations to come. For nearly 70 years local people have been coming to enjoy access to the lake, the wonderful views and the parkland. This funding will help us tell the extraordinary story of Fell Foot, provide access to new areas, respond to winter flooding and lift the visitor experience to a new level.”

Heritage Minister John Glen also visited National Lottery funded projects at the Wordsworth Trust and the Windermere Jetty Museum while in Cumbria.

Dame Vera Lynn praises British people after support for £1m appeal secures future of White Cliffs

Dame Vera Lynn praised the generosity of the British public after £1m was raised in just three weeks to help protect the future of the White Cliffs of Dover for the nation, for ever.

Over 17,500 people made donations to the appeal to help the National Trust secure 700,000 square metres of land immediately behind the clifftop between the South Foreland lighthouse and Langdon Cliffs, which the conservation charity acquired in 2012.

The Trust said it would work to restore internationally important habitats such as chalk grassland, preserve existing historical features, and maintain access routes for visitors.

Dame Vera, whose 1942 song about the cliffs helped forge her reputation as ‘The Forces’ Sweetheart’, said she was delighted with the public reaction to the appeal.

In a letter to the charity, she said. “My thanks to everyone who embraced the campaign to protect this national icon. The White Cliffs of Dover are a significant landmark and it is so encouraging to know that they will now be protected for future generations.

“Over many years, I have been a supporter of the National Trust and the vital work that they do in preserving our heritage and landscapes – long may this continue.”

The stretch of land is crucial for nature and wildlife, with over 40 species of flowers and grasses per square metre. It also provides the perfect habitat for butterflies like the Adonis Blue and Marbled White, and birds including the peregrine falcon and skylark.

In addition, the site has a number of Second World War features, including several buildings and two large gun emplacements. The Trust hopes to start work soon to make the structures water tight and accessible for visitors.

The Wanstone gun battery was the largest ever built in the British Empire. In the Second World War, it deterred invasion, supported D-Day and closed the channel to enemy shipping. The site also includes the D2 heavy anti-aircraft battery which played an important role in the Battle of Britain and protected the early radar towers at nearby Swingate.

In addition to the public appeal, which included a significant contribution from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, the Trust was able to use legacy donations from its Neptune Fund to help fund the purchase.

Virginia Portman, General Manager of the White Cliffs of Dover, says:

“We have been absolutely blown away by the public’s response to our appeal. Over 17,500 people have made donations in the last few weeks and thanks to their generosity, this wonderful landscape now belongs to the nation, for ever.

“It underlines once again how the White Cliffs has a special role in the nation’s heart – and is part of our heritage and identity.

“We now look forward to starting work on the project that will restore habitat and land conditions for wildlife, and provide better access for the public. The area also has fascinating war-time stories that we look forward to telling over the coming years.”

Clara Govier, Head of Charities at People’s Postcode Lottery, says:

“I am delighted that players of People’s Postcode Lottery are able to help secure the future of the White Cliffs of Dover. It is so important that we protect sites like this for future generations to enjoy and I applaud the National Trust for all that they do.”

The Trust launched the public appeal on 4 September with a deadline to reach the £1 million target by 22 September. Any donations that came in after the appeal deadline, or after the appeal reached £1 million, will support ongoing work to protect this precious coastal landscape.

Surging support for National Trust sees memberships and visits soar to a historic high

The National Trust is more popular than at any time in its history after the charity’s tally of members soared to 5m.

The conservation charity has welcomed a million new members in the last six years alone, having previously taken 86 years to reach its first million.

A record-high of 24.5m people visited the National Trust’s paid-for entry properties and an estimated 200m trips were made to its coast and countryside last year.

The surge in support for the Trust has meant more money than ever before has been poured back into looking after the 500 places the Trust cares for on behalf of the nation.

Tim Parker, the charity’s chairman, said: “The National Trust is truly unique. There is no other organisation like it in the world, a charity the looks after historic homes, beautiful landscapes and coastline for the nation, for ever. That’s something I’m proud to be a part of, and something I sense our members, our volunteers and visitors are proud to be part of too.

“We now have more members and visitors than at any time in its history, with a million people joining in just the last six years alone.

“That suggests the country’s love affair with its heritage and great outdoors has never been stronger. In the busy, noisy world we now live in perhaps it’s never been more important to escape to the peace, beauty and inspiration of our places.”

Thanks to the growing support, the conservation charity – independent of government and funded entirely by membership, visitor income, donations and commercial activities – has doubled the number of curators.

The conservation charity also completed a number of major projects this year, including a multi-million pound conservation studio at Knole in Kent, urgent roof repairs at Dyrham Park, near Bath, and the restoration of Quarry Bank Glasshouse in Cheshire.

And in a drive to help wildlife recover in its countryside, the Trust aims to create 25,0000 hectares (the equivalent of 33,000 football pitches) of new habitats by 2025.

Helen Ghosh, the director-general, promised conservation will remain “at the heart of all we do”.

“We’ve never lost sight of our core purpose. Conservation and access drives everything we do. I’m pleased to say we’re  now spending more money than at any time in our history on funding vital conservation work at the historic houses, countryside and coast we look after for the nation,” she said.

“We can only carry out this programme of maintaining, repairing and improving our places thanks to the support and generosity of our supporters, members and donors.”

The extra income generated from visits and memberships, combined with an improved commercial performance, helped fund the rising cost of looking after the 300 historic houses, 250,000 hectares of countryside and 775 miles of coastline in the Trust’s care.

The annual report reveals a record £139.3m was spent on maintaining and improving some of Britain’s best-loved places in 2016, a 15% rise on £120.8m spent the previous year.

A further £255m was spent on the day-to-day costs involved in operating over 500 National Trust places across Wales, Northern Ireland and England.

Donations and gifts from legacies also rose as generous supporters pledged a combined £73m to the charity last year, helping to fund a number of different projects including a campaign to reinvigorate Churchill’s legacy and secure the future of his former Chartwell home.

Around 96% of Trust visitors scored their experience as enjoyable last year – well above the industry average. However the number who rated their visit as ‘very enjoyable’ fell to 56%, and the Trust is working on strengthening its programmes of events at properties and improving facilities, like tea shops and car parks.

Helen added: “We’re not complacent and know there’s still room for improvement. We know some properties can become crowded over certain key weekends in the year, which can affect visitor enjoyment and we know that people’s expectations continue to grow. We’re working hard to address these issues, but we’re confident that the Trust is in good health and the figures show that the overwhelming majority of people enjoy visiting our places.”

ends

Notes to editors

The charity was founded in 1895, but it took the organisation until 1981 to reach its first million members. The charity reached four million members by the end of 2011.

Amongst the major conservation projects undertaken last year were:

  • A £19.8m state of the art conservation studio was opened at Knole in Kent. Part of the largest building and restoration project in the National Trust’s history, the studio houses a dedicated team of conservation specialists who work on paintings, furniture and objects from the property in front of some of Knole’s 149,000 annual visitors.
  • At Dyrham Park, near Bath, a £4m project to replace the leaking roof was completed.
  • Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire: The return of the 18th-century state bed to Kedleston Hall marked the completion of a 30-year restoration of the state rooms. Highly skilled traditional craftsmanship has brought back to life the decoration, precious gilt furniture and works of art. 1,500 metres of bespoke silk damask have been hung on the walls in the state apartment alone, painstakingly recreated from surviving scraps of the original fabric.
  • 7,400 individual hand-blown glass panes – described as completing a jigsaw with missing pieces – to restore a rare glasshouse at Quarry Bank in Cheshire. Built in the 1820s, it is one of the earliest surviving curvilinear cast-iron glasshouses in the country and provided a wealth of produce for the owners.
  • £10m was invested in buying land, property and artwork for the nation, including: The Liddesdale, a clinker-built electrically powered canoe built by Horsham & Co. for the Astor family in 1920 for Cliveden, Buckinghamshire; several envelopes and an invitation addressed and signed by Benjamin Disraeli (1804–81) and Mary Ann Disraeli (1792– 1872) for Hughenden, Buckinghamshire; a copy of the novel Orlando by Virginia Woolf (1882–1941), with an inscription by the author to Edward Sackville-West, 5th Lord Sackville (1901–65).