Let’s all take over the White Cliffs of Dover – Dan Snow

Landscape can be totemic. The Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls and Table Mountain have all come to symbolise the spirit of their nations. The UK is blessed with several iconic features that, to the romantically inclined observer, seem to reflect back something about ourselves, our history and character.  We have the Giant’s Causeway, the Great Glen and Cadair Idris, but few places loom as large in our collective consciousness as the White Cliffs of Dover. The brilliant white chalk has served for generations as a canvas upon which we have projected our national story.

As a child on a wave tossed ferry, reeking of diesel, they meant home and release from the tyranny of seasickness. Until the advent of aircraft a huge number of travellers arriving in Britain would have been greeted by the White Cliffs. They were seen and recognised by the crews of the millions of ships that have used Europe’s busiest shipping lanes for millenia. During the First World War British soldiers returning on leave from the Western Front yearned to see them, as confirmation that they were truly leaving the hell behind them and would see their homes once more. Bomber crews in the Second World War glimpsed them on a moonlit night, a ribbon of silver demarking the start of territory that remained free from the Nazi yoke. In 1940 a shattered army carried in frigates, ferries, barges, paddle steamers and tenders from the cauldron of Dunkirk saw the cliffs and knew they would live and fight again.

The cliffs welcome and reassure but they have roared defiance.  Despots like Bonaparte and Hitler have gazed across the narrows. The only site of their implacable enemy was the line of cliffs like barred teeth on the horizon, the manifestation of a stubborn island nation that would not be beaten into submission. From the cartoons of Gillray and his contemporaries, to the paintings of Turner and Dame Vera Lynn’s anthemic World War Two smash hit, the cliffs have been an instantly recognisable metaphor for Britishness.

The cliffs have played this role long before the great wars of the last two centuries. Caesar himself commented on them in his Commentarii De Bello Gallico, the first eye-witness account of Britain that survives in literature. His first impression was of a wild island with giant natural fortification. In 55BC his first expedition was met by “armed forces of the enemy on all the cliffs.” They rained javelins down on any ship that approached the shore. Disinclined to assault such a strong position he sailed north and landed on a more open beach. The Britons had tracked his forces and met his legionaries as they staggered out of the shallows, making this first recorded invasion the only opposed one in our history.

Many travellers, conquerors and tourists alike, have followed in Caesar’s footsteps. Henry II enlarged Dover Castle and created one of the world’s supreme medieval strongholds, its defences taking full advantage of the precipitous cliffs. Twice, the invading French were unable to penetrate the walls and seize what was rightly known as ‘the key to England.’ Monarchs such as Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth stayed there for a nervous foreign princess, like Henrietta Maria, the cliffs and the castle were her very first taste of a country that she would preside over as Queen.

A walk along the cliffs today is a walk through the layers of our history. Mighty ramparts which are older than the name of Britain, a Roman lighthouse towering three stories high, the castle, Second World War radar masts, the world’s first, which allowed the RAF to see beyond the horizon and meet the German raids head on with Spitfires and Hurricanes, the first electric lighthouse in the world on South Foreland, where Marconi carried out the first ever international radio transmission.

There is nowhere better on this island to ponder our past, with its contradictory mix of cooperation and defiance, of Englishness, Britishness and Europeaness, than the meadows atop the White Cliffs.  That is why I’m involved with a National Trust campaign to take advantage of an opportunity to acquire a key section of the White Cliffs. This not only means the actual cliffs themselves but also the stunning land on top of them. This will ensure that the cliffs are a place we can all visit, lie among the wildflowers and stare out to sea. Access will be guaranteed and conservation implemented. The National Trust is creating a truly public space on top of the national icon. We must seize this chance to secure them for future generations to enjoy. Now we have a chance to shape the destiny of the cliffs, as profoundly as the Plantagenet kings, the Victorian army or the wartime engineers. This year we can take them into our own hands and protect them, in the words of the National Trust motto, ‘for everyone, forever.’

This article first appeared in The Times on Wednesday 27 June




Make your mark on history and save England’s White Cliffs of Dove

A £1.2 million fundraising appeal has been launched by the National Trust in a bid to secure the long-term future of the world famous White Cliffs of Dover in Kent.

The appeal is the charity’s biggest ever coastal fundraiser and will help ensure that public access to the White Cliffs can be improved for future generations to enjoy.

It will also mean that this much-loved stretch of Kent coastline can be cared for in a way that will improve its habitat for local wildlife.

If the appeal is successful, the most iconic stretch of the White Cliffs – the 1.35km (just under one mile) sweep overlooking the port of Dover – will be looked after and managed for the benefit of the public and for wildlife.

It will complete the missing link of coastline under National Trust care, uniting a stretch of more than 7km (nearly 5 miles) between the Trust’s visitor centre and South Foreland lighthouse.

Fiona Reynolds, Director General of the National Trust, said: “Immortalised in song and literature, the White Cliffs of Dover have become one the great symbols of our nation.

“We now have a once in a lifetime opportunity to secure their future for everyone to enjoy.

“If we don’t raise the money then the future of the White Cliffs is uncertain and this stretch of coastline might one day be disrupted by inappropriate management or development.”

Standing proud at over 110 metres (taller than Big Ben or the same height as twenty-five London buses stacked on top of each other), the White Cliffs of Dover have witnessed many dramatic moments in England’s history.

These include the arrival of the Romans and the welcome return of British armed forces after the evacuation of Dunkirk during the second-world war.

The cliffs are also home to a rich array of rich wildlife including the Adonis blue butterfly, rare coastal plants such as oxtongue broomrape and sea carrot, and birds including skylark, the only colony of Kittiwakes in Kent and peregrine falcons.

Historian and television presenter Dan Snow, who is supporting the appeal, added: “For me it’s simple.  The White Cliffs of Dover are one of the country’s greatest and most iconic landmarks.

“When I heard that the National Trust had this opportunity to safeguard this crucial stretch of the Cliffs, I thought great.

“It’s brilliant that they have a chance to secure this important section of the cliffs, for ever, for everyone.”

Across England, Wales and Northern Ireland the National Trust looks after more than 720 miles of coastline. The Trust acquired its first stretch of the White Cliffs of Dover in 1968.

Hundreds of thousands of people come to visit the dramatic chalk cliffs every year with their wonderful views across the English Channel.

The funds need to be raised by the end of the year to help acquire this piece of the Kent coast and help with the conservation and management of the whole White Cliffs of Dover.

There are three easy ways that money can be donated to the appeal:

–        Make a donation online at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/whitecliffsappeal and you can choose to have your name engraved on our virtual White Cliffs of Dover.

–        You can text a donation to support the appeal.  For example, if you wanted to donate £5 you’d need to text ‘DOVR02 £5’ to ‘70070’. The amount that you wish to donate must be included in the text.

–        Make a donation over the phone by calling 0844 800 1895.

The Twitter hashtag #whitecliffs will be used on twitter to keep people updated about the progress of the appeal.


For further information and images please contact:

Mike Collins, Senior Press Officer, on 01793 817708, 07900 138419 or mike.collins@nationaltrust.org.uk

Stephen Field, Assistant Press Officer, on 01793 817740 or stephen.field@nationaltrust.org.uk


Notes to editors:

  • National Trust – The National Trust looks after more than 250,000 hectares of countryside, 720 miles of coastline and hundreds of historic places across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. For more information and ideas for great value family days out go to: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/

Famed Lake District inn becomes only Trust-run pub in the country

A Lake District landmark has just become a National Trust destination with a difference.

The popular Sticklebarn pub in Great Langdale now has the status of being the only Trust-run pub in the country. That means NT staff behind the bar, serving the very best local fare, and sharing their knowledge and expertise of the outdoors with the thousands of visitors who come to this valley

The National Trust already cares for a huge amount of land in Great Langdale, and owns several farms, car parks, a hotel and a campsite. The addition of Sticklebarn will provide a new focal point for the valley, as a destination in its own right, but also as a gateway to all this valley and its environs have to offer.

Visitors are already seeing the benefits of the Trust’s ownership. More than £40,000 has been spent upgrading the public toilets located between Sticklebarn and the neighbouring National Trust car park. They now have changing facilities, perfect for those who have been walking, climbing, biking and bouldering on the Langdale fells.

And a new menu is in place in the pub featuring some of the very best local food and beer. Visitors will be able to try the likes of Cumbrian tattie pot and steak and local ale pie after a hard day on the fells – with some of the food sourced from the very fields which surround the pub. Many of the beers on offer will be from Cumbrian breweries too.

Jeremy Barlow, the National Trust’s General Manager for the Central and East Lakes region, said: “The Sticklebarn has been a key part of life in Great Langdale for more than 40 years and is already a popular destination for walkers, bikers, climbers and campers, as well as day trippers.

“We’re really excited about the opportunities this acquisition will give us and the benefits there will be for visitors. Even the most frequent visitors to the Lake District often don’t realise exactly how much of this amazing landscape the National Trust cares for. Running the Sticklebarn as a Trust pub will raise our profile immeasurably in a valley which is renowned for its outdoor activities but, more importantly, it will place our expert teams at the heart of the action, sharing their knowledge about this region and what it has to offer.

“Great Langdale is the perfect destination and, thanks to our acquisition of Sticklebarn, you can now eat and drink there, as well as sleep there, play there, and find your own special place there – with the added benefit of being able to tap into the Trust’s expertise.

“‘Field to fork’ takes on a whole new meaning when you can see the farmland where your dinner was born and raised by some of the Trust’s tenant farmers. The aim is to source as much food as possible from, firstly, the Langdale valley, then Cumbria, then more widely across the region and the UK. The same will be true of the beers on offer with the majority coming from Cumbrian breweries.

“And not only will visitors enjoy the Sticklebarn’s location at the heart of the Lake District, but they will also know that all the pub’s profits will be used to care for and protect the land around them.”

National Trust statement on low flying jets near The Farne Islands, Northumberland

A National Trust spokesperson said: “We were very concerned about recent low flying aircraft over the Farne Islands and the disturbance these kinds of incidents can cause nesting birds. We have been working with the RAF to investigate this.

“The RAF have been very helpful and supportive and have worked hard to find a quick solution. We can now confirm that a no-fly zone is now place around the islands for the remains of this year’s breeding season and the colonies are therefore no longer at risk. The National Trust and the RAF will continue the dialogue to ensure a long term solution is in place for future years. We are grateful to the RAF for their acknowledgement of our concern and their speedy resolution.”

Heritage gardens benefit from major new plant conservation centre

Rare plants from National Trust gardens across the country will be propagated at a new Plant Conservation Centre that will improve the way one of the most important plant collections in the UK is cared for.

Opened today by international plantsman Roy Lancaster, the new 2.5 acre facility at a secret East Devon location will bring together plant propagation facilities, plant collection management expertise and facilities for training National Trust staff on all aspects of caring for the important plants in the gardens they look after.

The opening of the new facilities comes at a time when the spread of new plant diseases in the UK, in particular Phytophthora ramorum which causes Sudden Oak Death, have required an acceleration of emergency propagation to ensure the survival of threatened specimens and the supply of disease-free replacements.

The £700,000 Centre’s immediate focus will be to build on existing plant conservation work at Knightshayes Court [1], also in Devon, to help staff and volunteers record and identify the special plants that require priority propagation at National Trust gardens throughout the country.

Mike Calnan, Head of Gardens at the National Trust, said: “The National Trust’s portfolio of plants is of immense importance and is one of the most significant collections in the UK.

“The aesthetic, historic and botanical value of the plants is what makes the gardens we look after so special and give pleasure to more than 12 million visitors each year.

“This is the most important plant conservation initiative from the National Trust for more than 60 years and will have a legacy for decades to come.”

The charity cares for over 20 major collections of trees and shrubs including thirty National Plant Collections and hundreds of plants that were first raised or collected in the wild around the globe and planted in National Trust gardens over past centuries.

Roy Lancaster said: “The new Plant Conservation Centre is a hugely important development for the National Trust, creating for the first time a single facility dedicated to the vital work of conserving the important plants in its properties.”

In addition to the Centre’s work for the National Trust, a new bespoke propagation service for major private plant collection owners will be offered for the first time.

Nursery Manager Chris Trimmer said: “This is an exciting new commercial development for the Plant Conservation Centre. By offering access to our expertise and first class facilities we can contribute to important plant conservation work beyond the National Trust.”

Propagation services are also available to Trust countryside properties wishing to save or bulk-up rare native species.

The National Trust gardeners who will be working at the Centre recently propagated and helped save over 300 old Cornish apple varieties now successfully established in the ‘Mother orchard’ at Cotehele in Cornwall. [2]

Charlie Port, who worked for the National Trust at Knightshayes Court and is now one of the volunteers that will be working at the new Centre, said: “Working in the propagation unit is extremely rewarding.

“I’ve been involved with propagating plants for the Trust for 25 years now and during that time we’ve had thousands of successes.

“I get huge satisfaction from the idea that some of the plants I have handled will be around for hundreds of years to come.”


 For more information please contact the National Trust press office on 0844 800 4955.

Notes to editors
It has taken 18 months to set up the new facilities which include a quarantine unit, propagation facilities, growing-on glass houses and tunnels, offices and student accommodation.  Two full-time members of staff and five volunteers are directly involved on site and further plant survey and plant collection interpretation volunteers are involved at numerous properties throughout the National Trust.  An important aspect of the new site is its enhanced biosecurity and greater capacity for propagating plants.

The Plant Conservation Centre (PCC) is also home to the Trust’s plant collections specialist who advises on all aspects of plant surveys and data management. The Trust’s plant database now contains details of 300,000 plants from 80 of the Trust’s 200 gardens recorded so far.   Through the PCC, the Trust will continue to work with other organisations, such as the Royal Horticultural Society and RBG Kew, on joint national conservation initiatives.

[1] The National Trust first set up a propagation unit in 1982 at Knightshayes Court, near Tiverton, where nearly 25,000 rare and significant plants were propagated and distributed to Trust gardens over 30 years.  The new facilities will be able to process up to 12,000 plants at any one time. The vacated land at Knightshayes will now be used by the garden team to expand the kitchen gardens.

[2] Much of the Tamar Valley fruit industry prospered on land owned by the Edgcumbe family at Cothele so it is particularly apt that some of this land has now been dedicated to establishing an orchard of old Cornish apples. The Mother Orchard, as this eight-acre meadow at Cotehele is known, has been planted with 300 trees representing 120 apple varieties, all propagated from Mary and James Edgcumbe’s collection by staff who will be working at the Trust’s Plant Conservation Centre. Local cherries have already been planted, and pears and plums will follow in a second phase. 95 per cent of orchards have disappeared nationwide since 1950 and along with them rich ecosystems, precious genetic material and tangible links to our past. Thankfully projects like the Mother Orchard, and similar efforts throughout Britain, are stemming this loss of cultural and horticultural heritage.

The National Trust looks after more than 250,000 hectares of countryside, 710 miles of coastline and hundreds of historic places across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. For more information and ideas for great value family days out go to: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/

Roses set to beat the weather for a blooming good late show

Few sights in an English summer garden are quite as spectacular as a gorgeous display of roses, and National Trust gardeners are predicting a good show for late June and early July, despite the turbulent weather.

Roses traditionally flower in June, reaching their peak around midsummer’s day, but the recent unsettled weather may mean a later season in 2012.

David Stone, Head Gardener at the National Trust’s Mottisfont Abbey in Hampshire, said: “The roses are standing up remarkably well to the wet weather – unlike the gardeners. We are expecting that this weekend will see the start of a stunning display of shrub roses, especially if this dry weather holds.”

He added, “The extremely dry winter and warm spring were good conditions for roses to grow, so we’re hopeful of a good show. All being well, we should see flowering well into July this year.”

Mottisfont Abbey is home to one of Britain’s most renowned rose gardens, featuring the Graham Stuart Thomas collection of heritage roses. This National Collection, found in the walled garden, is a truly spectacular sight in the summer months.

 Discover more great National Trust rose gardens.