Turning water into light

Andrew Sawyer, Property Curator at Cragside, explains how they’re recreating history with the return of hydroelectricity:

Cragside Curator Andrew Sawyer

In 1878 a miracle was performed at Cragside in Northumberland when Lord Armstrong turned water into light to make it the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity.

He achieved this by lighting arc lamps, for his picture gallery, with power derived from a neighbouring brook.

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Hydropower returns to Cragside and lights up history

A new Archimedes screw at Cragside in Northumberland will harness the power of water to relight this grand Victorian house just as its previous owner Lord Armstrong did back in 1878. Continue reading

Rare bee-eaters breeding on National Trust land on Isle of Wight

A rare bee-eater on the Isle of Wight; part of a breeding pair. Credit: Andy Butler

A rare bee-eater on the Isle of Wight; part of a breeding pair. Credit: Andy Butler

A pair of colourful and rare bee-eaters that have set up home on National Trust land on the Isle of Wight have become only the third record of this European bird to breed successfully in the UK in the last century.

Bee-eaters, which would normally be found nesting in southern Europe, were last recorded breeding in the UK in 2002, when a pair nested in a quarry in County Durham and two young successfully fledged. Before that, two pairs were recorded raising seven young in a Sussex sand-pit in 1955.

Bee-eaters, with their kaleidoscopic plumage, are one of the most beautiful birds in Europe.

The bee-eaters, which were discovered on the Island in mid-July, have set up home in the sandy hills of the Wydcombe Estate on the south of the Island in a small valley where the soft ground, rolling landscape and stream access provides ideal conditions for their nest burrow. The burrow could be up to three metres long.

Ian Ridett, National Trust Isle of Wight Ranger, said: “We have set up a 24-hour surveillance operation around the site to protect these rare visitors, as any unhatched eggs could be a potential target for egg thieves.

“We have had incredible support from the RSPB, Isle of Wight Ornithological Group and our volunteers and staff, some of whom have travelled from the mainland to help.

“The hot temperatures since spring have helped an above average arrival of bee-eaters, with more than ten seen along the south coast since May. With rising temperatures, the varied landscape and bountiful supply of insects on the Wydcombe Estate was obviously enough to tempt the bee-eaters to nest here.”

The adult birds have been spotted delivering food into the nest which indicates that the eggs have hatched. The chicks will not leave their underground nest site for another fortnight or so, so the number of chicks hatched is still not known. Bee-eaters traditionally lay clutches of four to nine eggs, and the first chick sighting is eagerly anticipated.

Matthew Oates, National Trust nature and wildlife expert, said: “The bee-eater is arguably the most stunning bird on the British list; it looks tropical.

“It’s really exciting to have these bee-eaters breeding on National Trust land, and we are pulling out all the stops to help the chicks safely fledge, whilst keeping the public up-to-date with their progress. As our climate changes it’s likely that we’ll see increasing numbers of new visitors on our shores.”

Keith Ballard, the site manager at the RSPB’s Brading Marshes reserve on the Isle of Wight, said: “It’s the stuff of dreams to have a rare nesting event like this on the Isle of Wight; and it’s looking like the initiative by the National Trust rangers to make the nest site safe is going to lead to success for these birds.

“There was a very real threat that these nesting birds could have been targeted by egg thieves, so it’s been quite a nervous period over the last 12 days. It has been a pleasure for the RSPB staff and volunteers to help with this operation.”

Further information on the Wydcombe bee-eaters can be found on Ian Ridett’s blog or by calling the estate office on 01983 741020.

A designated public viewing point has been identified overlooking the birds’ favourite feeding area so that visitors can get the best possible sightings of the exotic looking creatures. This will be carefully managed though, as the birds’ wellbeing and welfare takes priority.

National Trust reaction to new fracking rules

The Government is announcing today a bidding process for licenses on fracking – new rules will exclude World Heritage Sites, National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) from the round of licenses except in ‘exceptional circumstances’.

Forty per cent of the land owned by the National Trust is in the National Parks of England and Wales and the conservation charity owns large areas of land in AONBs. Here is the Trust’s reaction to the announcement from Richard Hebditch, Assistant Director, External Affairs:

“It’s right that the Government has recognised the concerns about fracking in special places like national parks and AONBs. We welcome the new planning guidance which will makes clear that applications should be refused in these areas other than in exceptional circumstances.

“But it’s not just national parks and AONBs that could be at risk but other special places too, which is why we’d like to see this approach extended to nature reserves and other wildlife sites like Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) as well.

“This is a significant change in approach from DECC. We hope it will reflect a much more cautious approach that recognises the risks of turning some of the most special places in the country over to industrial scale extraction of shale gas and oil.”

Biting Times…

Matthew Oates, the National Trust’s Nature and Wildlife Expert, explains how the hot, wet summer is affecting our biting flies:

Anyone who has been loitering in woods or by the waterside these last few weeks will have been eaten alive by biting flies. The Common Cleg (with just one g) Haematopota pluvialis, the smallest and commonest of our 30 or so native horse flies, has been unusually numerous this summer. Ask any horse owner, or horse. The females of these sleek grey beasts have a penchant for human blood. One scratch and the bite swells up.  Do not scratch it!

Trees in July at Dyffryn Gardens, South Glamorgan.Also abundant this summer is the Common Brown Horsefly Tabanus bromius. Park with open windows in a shady woodland car park on a hot day and your car will quickly fill up with them. Mercifully, they are more interested in horse or deer than man flesh. The biting fly equivalent of the Dalek is the Common Deer Fly Chrysops caecutiens, a piebald, triangular-shaped assassin with psychedelic eyes. It attacks the softest skin, usually eye lids – but flies round your head for several minutes before attempting to land, so you have to be seriously otherwise engaged to get bitten.  But yes, it’s also quite numerous this summer.

These beasts all breed in damp soil, or mud, in shady places. They abound during warm, wet summers – and this is a hot, wet summer. They’re having a fantastic time! Water tables have remained high, following the wet winter (so there’s little prospect of trees or shrubs suffering from drought this year). Also, most districts have been regularly topped up by periods of rain.

The puddles haven’t dried up. This means that the mosquitoes are also doing nicely, and may yet appear in greater numbers. They breed in warm, shallow water. Most people get bitten by ‘mossies’ in bed, on warm summer nights when bedroom windows are open.

Thunderbugs (or thrips) and flying ants have also put in appearances. The former are Visitors at Stourhead, Wiltshire, in September.plant feeders, but they make us itch like mad and somehow inveigle their way into computer screens and behind picture glass. Like flying ants, they’re creatures of hot harvest time weather. Worker wasps are just starting to appear, and may become numerous if the hot weather continues.

But all these creatures are symptomatic of a hot summer, and we are having
a hot summer. Don’t let them detract from your enjoyment of the sunshine – but remember your insect repellent and bite creams, and above all Never Scratch A Bite: it makes it far worse.

 

 

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.”

‘Get knotted!’ at Trerice’s new Tudor garden

Eight hundred young yew trees have been planted to map out the intricate design of a new Ladies’ Garden at Trerice near Newquay in Cornwall. Continue reading