National Trust rangers go head-to-head in fight for Countryfile Magazine’s Nature Reserve of the Year award

North Sea puffins will take on Dorset lizards this month, as two National Trust nature reserves go head to head in a battle to be crowned Countryfile Magazine’s Nature Reserve of the Year.

The Farne Islands, off the Northumberland coast, and Dorset’s Studland Heath National Nature Reserve appear on the shortlist of five nature reserves chosen by BBC Radio 4 presenter Brett Westwood.

A puffin on the Farne Islands, Northumberland.

A puffin on the Farne Islands, Northumberland. The Farne Islands has 23 nesting species of seabird, including thousands of puffins.

Countryfile Magazine readers have until 28 February to vote for their favourite reserve. And National Trust reserve managers have already been pressing their claims to the crown.

Gwen Potter, countryside manager on the Northumberland Coast, manages the Farne Islands. Sitting a over a mile off the Northumberland coast, the islands are home to around 37,000 pairs of puffins – as well as a team of rangers who live full-time on the islands for six months every year.

Gwen, who was previously a ranger in mid-Wales, said: “When you arrive on the Farne Islands by boat what first hits you is the smell of more than 82,000 pairs of birds. But the smell is soon forgotten when you feel Arctic terns swoop over your head, puffins waddling oblivious across the boardwalks and shags tripping over their own precious pieces of seaweed as they bring them back to their nest.

“The Farne Islands have had rangers for 189 years. These rangers have helped the islands to be what they are today – but they would be nothing without their seabirds and seals.”

But the Farne Islands face stiff competition from Studland Heath. The 1,500 hectare heathland on Dorset’s Isle of Purbeck boasts all six species of native reptiles – including sand lizards and adders.

David Brown, ecologist for the National Trust on Purbeck, said: “I don’t think there is anywhere else in Britain that better balances what a nature reserve is supposed to be. It is an inspiring breathing space for millions of visitors each year, yet it still retains a feeling of wildness and a breathtaking range of exceptional quality habitats for thousands of native species.

“Change is the only constant at Studland – as new dunes are constantly being formed that enclose lower lying wetter areas. As nature takes over they become colonized by some of our rarest plants and animals. We know of at least three species that occur here and nowhere else in England.”

Nature Reserve of the Year is just one of 12 categories in the Countryfile Magazine awards.
Among the landscapes cared for the National Trust up for awards are:

  • Embleton Bay, Northumberland (Beach of the Year). Cared for by the Trust since 1961, the huge stretch of sandy beach offers views of imposing Dunstanburgh Castle – as well as glimpses of rare wildlife such as otter, little tern, purple milk-vetch, grey partridge and hare.
  • Malhamdale, Yorkshire Dales (Holiday Destination of the Year). Limestone cliffs tower over the beck and fields at Malhamdale, near Skipton. It’s a short walk from Malhamdale is England’s highest freshwater lake, Malham Tarn – home to otters and water voles.
  • Porthucurno, Cornwall (Beach of the Year). Underneath this famous Cornish beach once ran the first submarine telegraph cables – used for sending messages from Britain to India. The beach was donated to the National Trust by the Cable and Wireless plc in 1994.
  • Lake District (Landmark of the Year). National Trust rangers and tenant farmers care for a fifth of the fells and farmland in the Lake District National Park, including England’s highest peak Scafell Pike and Beatrix Potter’s home at Hill Top Farm.
  • White Cliffs of Dover (Landmark of the Year). An iconic landscape, the best way to experience the White Cliffs is on a clifftop walk to South Foreland Lighthouse – built in 1843 and now in the care of the National Trust. If you’re visiting in summer you might catch a glimpse of the chalkhill blue butterfly and pyramidal orchid.

Polls for the Countryfile Magazine awards close on 28 February. To vote visit

Marking 10 years since the MSC Napoli was grounded at Branscombe, Devon

What do you do when a large tanker containing thousands of gallons of oil is left beached and broken just metres from your beach?

That was the challenge facing rangers at Branscombe, east Devon, on Sunday 21 January 2007.

The stricken MSC Napoli after shedding its cargo, now washed up on the beach at Branscombe, Devon

The MSC Napoli was grounded off the Devon coast ten years ago. Credit: David Levenson / National Trust Images

Days before, the 275 metre long container ship MSC Napoli had broken its back in storms of the Cornish coast.

Tugs battled through stormy conditions trying to tow the ship to Portland harbour, Dorset, when coastguards took the decision to ground her just off Branscombe beach – rather than risk worse damage in deep water.

But the vessel leaked 200 tonnes of fuel and around 200 containers – a tenth of the total number strapped to the ship.

National Trust rangers helped with the clear up along the Devon and Dorset coast.
And the crash helped transform the conservation charity’s approach to planning for marine disasters.

Simon Ford, the National Trust’s Wildlife and Countryside Adviser in the South West, said: “I remember I was at the office when we heard about the Napoli. The rangers at Branscombe rushed down to the beach and we drew together our own team to support the emergency services’ effort.

“There were hundreds of thousands of mars bars completely smothered in oil washing up on the beaches throughout east Devon and Dorset, along with a multitude of other items from car parts to enormous shipping containers.


Oil-slicked Mars Bars litter the beach following the grounding of the MSC Napoli ten years ago. Credit: Simon Ford / National Trust

“At the time I was working on a marine plan for Cornwall, planning the National Trust’s response in the event of a disaster off the Cornish coast.

“The ship grounded just as I was completing the plan for Cornwall and extending it to Devon.

“When it happened we were caught off guard.

“But because we had the draft plan from Cornwall we knew what we had to do.

“We rushed through, trying to use the information from Napoli to guide our plans for all National Trust places.

“We changed our planning processes as a result, taking into account marine pollution – cargo as well as oil.

“We made sure that every single National Trust coastal site in the UK have an emergency plan.”

Sheep graze peacefully above the aftermath of the MSC Napoli shedding its cargo, now washed up on the beach at Branscombe, Devon

Sheep graze in front of debris cleared following the Napoli disaster Credit: David Levenson / National Trust Images

The oil slick claimed the lives of many birds such as cormorants and guillemots .

But the long-term impact of the disaster on the area’s wildlife was not as bad as conservationists initially feared.

In the immediate aftermath it was thought that the scaly cricket (Pseudomogoplistes vicentae) had vanished from Branscombe beach.

But the rare insect, which is nocturnal and lives on shingle beaches, was rediscovered 18 months after the MSC Napoli was grounded.

Simon said: “We’ve learned the lessons of Napoli and previous tanker disasters, making sure that the damage to wildlife on sea and land is kept to a minimum.

“We’re as prepared as we can be for the next Napoli.”

Norfolk’s Blakeney retains crown for hosting the largest grey seal colony in England

Blakeney Point on the north Norfolk coast is once again home to England’s largest colony of grey seals, National Trust rangers have confirmed.

The breeding season at the Norfolk nature reserve ended this month, with rangers from the conservation charity saying that 2,366 grey seal pups have been born on the colony since November.

This represents a one per cent increase on last year, when 2,343 pups were born. Early indications show that the seal colony fared well following last Friday’s tidal surge.

National Trust rangers have volunteers have conducted counts of the seal pups on the reserve since 2001, when just when just 25 pups were born.


The National Trust’s Blakeney National Nature Reserve on the North Norfolk coast has retained its status as England’s largest seal colony. Over 2,000 grey seal pups were born on the reserve this winter, rangers from the conservation charity have confirmed. CREDIT: Jemma Finch / National Trust Images

Ajay Tegala, National Trust ranger on the north Norfolk coast, said: “We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of grey seal pups being born at Blakeney Point in recent years. But in the last two years it would appear that the numbers have become more static.

“Thankfully the pupping season had finished before last Friday’s tidal surge, which meant that a large number of pups had already dispersed.

“We’re pleased that all the effort the National Trust team has put into caring for the Point is helping to create a healthy environment for these beautiful animals and that they continue to return and pup here.”


National Trust rangers and volunteers spend several months counting the seal pups at Blakeney National Nature Reserve. CREDIT: Jemma Finch / National Trust Images

With lots of space and no natural predators, Blakeney Point offers the perfect breeding site for grey seals. Rangers are starting to see them spread from the beach further into the reserve – adding to the challenge of counting the pups.

Grey seal pups are born on land, with white coats and are fed on their mother’s rich milk for up to three weeks. In this time, they triple in size and shed their white fur.

Ajay added: “With their beautiful white fur and cute faces the pups are definitely one of main highlights of the year that the whole team looks forward to.

“It’s a real privilege and joy of the job to be able to get up close and personal with the colony – and one that I never tire of.”

Seal colonies have fared well around the UK this year. The National Trust’s Farne Islands in Northumberland reported record numbers with the arrival of 2,295 pups – possibly because there were fewer storms during the pupping season. 1,959 pups were born at Donna Nook, which is cared for by the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust.

Ranger Ajay added: “As the final seal pups are weaned, we’d continue to encourage anyone wishing to see them to enjoy one of the boat trips that regularly operate from Morston Quay. That way visitors still get the opportunity to see the seals close-up without disturbing the colony.”

National Trust outlines ambitions to build a bright future for hill farming, nature and heritage in upland communities

The National Trust today pledged to work in close partnership with farmers to build a ‘bright’ post-Brexit future in which upland hill farming can thrive, nature can be revived, and cultural heritage is protected in some of Britain’s most beautiful landscapes.

Helen Ghosh, the director general of the National Trust, said livestock farming would continue to be right at the heart of the charity’s plans for managing upland areas, and that its tenant farmers were essential partners in helping to restore the health of the natural environment.



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GALLERY: January snow makes for picture-perfect scenes at National Trust places

With many parts of the country seeing inches of snowfall, wintry weather has left many National Trust blanketed in white – although high winds have forced some properties to close today (Friday 13 January).

The sun has gone and it has begun to snow here at Waddesdon!

A video posted by Waddesdon Manor NT (@waddesdonmanor_nt) on




WEST SUSSEX: Belted Galloway cattle at Harting Down in the South Downs much on silage. By grazing the downs, the cows are helping to cut back scrub and encourage wildflowers to thrive. CREDIT: @TheSouthDownsNT / National Trust




BUCKINGHAMSHIRE: More snow was on the way when former ranger Rachel caught this sunrise in the gardens at Cliveden this morning. Credit: Rachel Forsyth / National Trust


TYNE & WEAR: Souter Lighthouse on the Tyne & Wear coast was a beacon on otherwise white cliffs. Ranger Mick said: “This is the first snow we’ve had for a few years.” Credit: Jason Thompson / National Trust


KENT: A moat and high walls proved good defences against the snow for Bodiam Castle and Ightham Mote. Credit: Janet Gardiner / National Trust.


KENT: A moat and high walls proved good defences against the snow for Bodiam Castle and Ightham Mote. Credit: Ightham Mote / National Trust.


WEST SUSSEX: Snow in the gardens at Nymans. Icy conditions forced staff to close the house and gardens to visitors this morning. Credit: Simon Toomer / National Trust


WEST SUSSEX: A tree sighs under the weight of recent snowfall at Gumber Farm in the South Downs National Park at dawn. Credit: @TheSouthDownsNT / National Trust


LAKE DISTRICT: A light dusting of snow on the fells at Millbeck, Great Langdale, was spotted by National Trust water adviser John Malley yesterday. Credit: John Malley / National Trust


YORKSHIRE DALES: Rangers at Malham Tarn were forced to leave at 10:30 yesterday morning as the snowfall became heavy. Malham Tarn is England’s highest freshwater lake and home to water voles and otters. Ranger Roisin wasn’t worried about the snow, which is the first of 2017, damaging the estate’s wildlife. “We find that snow is the only thing that comes out early,” she said. Credit: Roisin Black / National Trust

National Trust and LGiU survey shows lack of democracy in local planning system

A survey of over 1,200 ward councillors in England, carried out by the Local Government Information Unit, and commissioned by the National Trust, reveals councillors’ view that the planning system works in the interests of developers over councils and local communities.

The survey found that:

  • Over half of councillors say that sites that are not in line with the Council’s plan are being approved for housing in their area;
  • There are also concerns about Green Belt release and the loosening of the planning system through the introduction of permitted development rights for home extensions, office to residential use conversion, barn conversions and other changes of use;
  • Councillors also have concerns about the under-resourcing of planning teams.

In debates on the future of the planning system the views of councillors are often overlooked – and yet, as local decision-makers, and an important link with local communities, they have an essential role to play in ensuring development is sensitive to the needs of an area.

Key survey findings

  • 72% of councillors say that the system is too weighted in favour of developers at the expense of local communities;
  • Half of councillors say sites that are not in line with the local plan are being approved for new housing;
  • Half of councillors believe planning departments are not adequately resourced;
  • 58% of councillors with Green Belt in their area think that their council will allocate Green Belt land for housing in the next five years;
  • The National Planning Policy Framework does not appear to be having the positive impact it was intended to have on design quality – with only 18% of councillors feeling design has improved since the NPPF was drawn up, and only 12% of councillors think that the loosening of planning restrictions has had a positive effect.

Housing White Paper

There are concerns the new Housing White Paper, expected later this month, could make matters worse, if it sets rigid housing numbers for local plans which don’t take account of local factors such as Green Belt and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

As the Government puts the final touches to the Housing White Paper, the National Trust and LGiU hope that Ministers will take a number of sensible steps to improve the confidence that councillors have in the way the planning system works, including:

  • More resources for Local Planning Authorities to help get local plans in place;
  • Stronger Government backing for councils setting design standards;
  • A smart approach to meeting housing need which allows councils to recognise local constraints and focuses development in the most appropriate places.

Jonathan Carr-West, Chief Executive of the LGiU, said: “The planning system is one of the fundamental pillars of local democracy, allowing communities to help shape the physical structure of the places they live. Councillors are the most important link between communities and that system. Our survey with the National Trust shows that many councillors feel that this democratic tool is at risk of being undermined.”

Ingrid Samuel, Historic Environment Director at the National Trust, said:“It’s now almost 5 years after the Government’s planning framework was adopted, so it’s worrying that councillors feel it hasn’t delivered the localism that was promised. If ministers are serious about Local Plans being at the heart of the planning system, then they should invest in council planning teams and use the Housing White Paper to give them the tools to deliver good quality housing in the right places.”