Finally, the return of the Great British Summer

After six consecutive poor summers, a hot July and August helped to turn around the fortunes for much of our wildlife, say experts at the National Trust.

The winners of the year were warmth-loving insects, particularly butterflies, moths, bees, crickets and grasshoppers, many of which fared really well. The distinctive tree bumblebee, which only started to colonize in the UK in 2001, expanded considerably, crossing north of Hadrian’s Wall for the first time.

Tree Bumble Bee B hypnorum Savernake, credit Matthew Oates

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CAP and future proofing farming

National Trust Rural Enterprises Director, Patrick Begg, reflects on the announcement today by the Government on how its carving up funds from the Common Agricultural Policy:

I wonder in life if there’s always a slightly misplaced sense of relief whenever dodging a metaphorical bullet?  Perhaps that’s why the announcements today on England’s Common Agricultural Policy settlement has solicited an initial huge sigh of relief followed by a more reflective, at least in me, air of disquiet about the general direction of travel.  

It’s refreshing that DEFRA has battled hard to bolster support for agri-environment schemes and the promised staged move from 12% to 15% of funds transferred from Pillar 1 to Pillar 2 (if delivered) will be a positive move [1].  Also, the emerging design of the new green farming schemes looks progressive and in many ways enlightened.  In fact, there’s a sense that the concept of fundamental environmental protection and enhancement lying at the heart of the future of a sustainable farming system has retained and even strengthened its currency in DEFRA.  Owen Paterson has stuck to his mantra of “public goods for public money.”

But if you delve deeper the Government’s core focus on the short term growth agenda in the countryside at the cost of long term viability of farming is still a major concern.  The late interventions from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Treasury to try and divert vital funds within Pillar 2 away from  farming that benefits nature to Local Enterprise Partnerships-led rural growth schemes confirms this persistent threat.  And make no bones about it, in real terms, over the course of the next 7 years, there will be less cash available to encourage the style of farming that safeguards and nurtures soils, water and wildlife and delivers real public benefit for the investment of huge sums of public money.  We cannot be pleased with that overarching truth.

No-one can disagree that environmental quality is the fundamental building block of a healthy and resilient countryside and that it lies at the heart of farming’s future.  Likewise, sustaining and increasing public support for farming and its role in delivering a rich and beautiful landscape must be critical.  Yet every indicator tells us that England’s natural environment is under pressure and in decline like never before.  We also know that people have become disconnected from the natural world and the outdoors at an alarming rate.  

Without well-resourced and robust long term plans for improving the quality of the environment, it’s hard to see how farming’s future, and the sense of instinctive public support that it enjoys, can be secured.  DEFRA needs to continue to fight, make and win the case for a broader and deeper commitment to future-proofing farming and securing its environmental foundations, whether through direct or indirect subsidies.


[1] Pillar 1 is made up of direct subsidies that go to farmers and Pillar 2 consists of money from the Rural Development Programme which supports schemes to improve the farmed environment, boost rural economies and improve competitiveness.

National Trust Reaction to Government’s farm funding deal in England

Patrick Begg, National Trust Rural Enterprises Director, said: “Defra have done well to rescue the Common Agricultural Policy settlement from being a complete disaster for the natural environment. But for the long term our fears are growing: cash available to support greener farming will be less for the next 7 years and the legacy may be a further decline in the health of soils, water and wildlife.

“Analysis by Defra has showed that agri-environment schemes deliver the best benefits for the public and support a more sustainable long-term future for farming. Now, the challenge for Defra is to ensure that direct subsidies for farmers are as “green” as possible and that they follow through on the intention to increase funding for agri-environment from 2018.”

To see the full announcement made by Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, click here

Government planning policy puts England’s Green Belts at risk, suggests new research

A view of the valley parkland and beyond to the Bath skyline

Half of the councils in England with Green Belt land are preparing to allocate some of it for development whilst brownfield sites throughout the country are overlooked, suggests research published today by the National Trust.

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Stonehenge transformed by new visitor centre

The long-awaited Stonehenge exhibition and visitor centre will open on 18 December.

Stonehenge VC_0043

The new Stonehenge exhibition and visitor centre, a sensitively designed modern building, is located 1.5 miles away from Stonehenge and designed by leading practice Denton Corker Marshall.

For the first time, visitors will have a proper introduction to one of the world’s most important prehistoric monuments – set within the landscape looked after by the National Trust.

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UK birds in a perilous state

National Trust Animal Ecologist, Peter Brash, responds to the results of the annual Breeding Bird Survey.

A press announcement last week chimed loudly with me. Built on data drawn up by BTO volunteers in their annual Breeding Bird Survey, the latest State of the UK’s Birds report made for familiar but mostly grim reading. There was a resonance with me for two reasons. Firstly, many of the alarming trends use 1970 (the year of my birth) as a baseline. Secondly, when I started birdwatching at age ten almost all of the sharply declining species could be found breeding within two miles of my suburban home. This is the tragedy, these are not obscure rarities lamented only by experts, this is our avian heritage. Once common and everyday species could be hurtling towards extinction.

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Investigating Rembrandt – confirming the true authorship of a potential grand master

Christine Sitwell, Paintings Conservation Adviser at the National Trust talks about her first visit to the Cambridge conservation studio where work is being undertaken to see if one of Rembrandt’s self portraits, previously thought to have been done by one of his pupils, was really painted by the grand  master himself.

Christine Sitwell, Paintings Conservation Adviser at the National Trust with the Rembrandt self portrait which is undergoing further testing in an attempt to verify its true authorship.

Christine Sitwell, Paintings Conservation Adviser at the National Trust with the Rembrandt self portrait which is undergoing further testing in an attempt to verify its true authorship.

The five months investigative work has been funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery.  The painting usually resides at Buckland Abbey, near Plymouth in Devon. Continue reading