Celebrating 300 years of Capability Brown with the National Trust

2016 marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of one of the UK’s most celebrated landscape gardeners, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown.

A revered designer, entrepreneur and salesman, his nickname came from his fondness for describing country estates as having great ‘capabilities’ for improvement.

He designed landscapes on an immense scale which provided the must-have setting for country houses, surrounded by wooded belts, parkland dotted with trees, carefully contoured ground, and serpentine lakes that resembled artificial rivers.

Many of Brown’s designs can still be seen at National Trust places across England and Wales today, cared for by the conservation charity’s teams of gardeners and volunteers.

We’ve got plenty of activities taking place throughout the year to mark the anniversary and help you explore the landscapes of ‘Capability’ Brown.

Here’s just a small selection to show you what’s on offer.

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Springwatch comes to Stackpole

The National Trust’s Stackpole Estate will be in the spotlight this Friday as the coastal Pembrokeshire estate hosts BBC’s Springwatch at Easter.

The Easter special of the wildlife programme will see presenters Chris Packham and Michaela Strachan explore the estate and wider Pembrokeshire for early signs of spring.

As the coast and countryside begin to burst into life and colour, the Springwatch special follows the diverse flora and fauna, the conservation stories behind the landscape and the volunteers who dedicate their time to looking after special places like Stackpole.

The Trust hosted a beach clean at Freshwater West as part of the show, working in partnership with Keep Wales Tidy, Marine Conservation Society, Natural Resources Wales and Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.


Michaela Strachan speaks to Rhian Sula, Visitor Experience and Community Officer at the National Trust’s Stackpole Estate

Speaking about the programme, Mike Greenslade, the National Trust’s Manager of Stackpole, said: “We’re delighted to welcome Springwatch at Easter to Stackpole and are excited for the team to discover the seasonal sights, sounds and stories.

“Spring is when the estate truly comes alive and we hope that the show will help encourage more people to come and explore the landscape for themselves.”

The broadcast of Springwatch at Easter will see the launch of the BBC’s Do Something Great season, encouraging people to take action for nature.

Welcoming the BBC’s focus on volunteering Helen Timbrell, Volunteering & Community Involvement Director at the National Trust, said: “The National Trust relies upon the help of more than 60,000 volunteers to look after the special places in our care.

“Our places offer volunteering opportunities for everyone: from looking after rare breed cattle at Wimpole Home Farm in Cambridgeshire to helping to keep Pembrokeshire’s beaches free of plastic litter with the local community at one of our drop-in beach cleans.

“With the natural environment facing some real challenges over the coming years it’s more important than ever that we all get out and Do Something Great for nature.”

Springwatch at Easter will be broadcast on Good Friday (25th March) at 9pm on BBC Two. The programme will be repeated on Easter Sunday (27th March) at 6pm.

For more information on spring at National Trust places in Pembrokeshire, please visit nationaltrust.org.uk/pembrokeshire

MCS: litter on our shores increases by a third in one year

Beach litter increased by more than a third in just one year, according to Marine Conservation Society (MCS) figures released today.

Run over one weekend last September, the Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean saw thousands of volunteers survey and remove more than 275,000 pieces of litter from 340 beaches in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and the Channel Islands. Last year fourteen National Trust beaches took part in the survey.

Now in its 22nd year, the Great British Beach Clean allows us to identify trends in the amount and types of litter washing up along the coast. Volunteers count and collect every item of litter found along a 100 metre line on a beach.

Problem of plastic

Compared to the previous year, 2015 saw an increase of over 40% in the number of plastic bottles found by Beach Clean volunteers.

The sheer number of bottles found during the Beach Clean has convinced the MCS to lobby UK and devolved governments for a deposit return scheme which would offer consumers a financial incentive for returning single-use plastic, glass and aluminium drinks containers.

Responding to the MCS results Phil Dyke, the National Trust’s Coastal and Marine Adviser, said: “The MCS’s latest Beach Clean results show just how big a problem marine litter continues to be. As an organisation that looks after more than 750 miles of coastline in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, we have first-hand experience of the environmental and visual impact of litter on our shores.”

Unusual National Trust finds

Fourteen National Trust places took part in the MCS Great British Beach Clean last September, including Freshwater West in Pembrokeshire, Woolacombe in north Devon and East Head, west Sussex. At Formby on the Merseyside coast volunteers collected 62kg-worth of rubbish. A small plastic bin made an ironic find for volunteers at Woolacombe beach in Devon. Volunteers at East Head, Sussex, were surprised to find 6kg of micro-plastic (measuring 3mm in diameter) on an otherwise pristine-looking beach.

2015 saw the National Trust celebrate the 50th anniversary of our Neptune coastline fundraising campaign. Over the year our staff and volunteers uncovered some unusual pieces of litter at Beach Cleans across the country:

  • 23 bags of plastic bottles at Chesil Beach, Dorset
  • A toilet seat at Ayrmer Cove, south Devon
  • Dumped gazebo at Northey Island, Essex
  • A small plastic penis at Trenow, Cornwall
  • Diving flippers, a chaise longue and underpants at Blakeney and Brancaster on the Norfolk coast

Pink bottles

Plastic litter has long been an issue for the National Trust, but it only occasionally hits the headlines.

This happened earlier in the year when thousands of pink bottles appeared along the Cornish coastline from a container that had been lost at sea.

National Trust staff worked closely with local volunteers and other agencies to clear and dispose of over 7,000 bottles – with the manufacturer covering the disposal costs.

But as the bottles began to disappear so did the media.

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Ranger Justin Whitehouse removes pink bottles from Poldhu Beach (c)National Trust Images/Steve Haywood

National Trust Area Ranger on the Lizard, Justin Whitehouse, said:  “Litter doesn’t go away. If you visit a beach and there’s little evidence of plastic litter, it’s more than likely because somebody, usually a volunteer, has been there already and cleaned it.

“Plastic never biodegrades; it just breaks down into smaller pieces, presenting a growing threat to wildlife. But by doing our bit and reducing the amount of plastic we use or taking two minutes to pick up litter whenever we head to the beach, we can start to reduce this threat to our landscape and wildlife.”

Taking part in the beach survey really helps to track trends with the litter turning up on our beaches. Sign up now for the next Great British Beach Clean on 16th – 19th September 2016.

Spring fever

With the arrival of spring National Trust wildlife expert Matthew Oates muses on the changes this season of beauty brings:

Narcissus 'California' growing in March at Cotehele, Cornwall.

Narcissus ‘California’ growing in March at Cotehele, Cornwall.

“Spring has been officially ushered in by the equinox. Signs of it, of course, have been with us since before Christmas, as the first half of ‘winter’ was remarkably mild, December in particular. Had colder, more normal weather not arrived in mid-February, and persisted until recently, spring would now be in an even more advanced state than it is. A colder month has slowed things down, and led to unusually long flowering periods in many garden and wild plants, notably snowdrops. Had this slowing down not occurred all but the late-flowering varieties of daffodils would have finished by Easter, and an early Easter at that.

Many keen observers managed to find bluebells out in February, which is remarkable as it wasn’t long ago that March bluebells began to appear. Now, along the foot of warm south-facing banks the wild garlic or ramsons flowers are beginning – five or six weeks ahead of their traditional norm. Whatever next?

Bluebells and wild garlic growing in Skelghyll Woods near Ambleside, Cumbria.

Birds and insects have, though, been held back by those four chilly weeks. Many rookeries actually kicked off late, during the second week of March. The recent dry and intermittently sunny spell was too cold for most winged insects – no bad thing as they can be tempted to venture out before their allotted time, only to get caught out when the weather subsequently deteriorates and more normal conditions return. This jumping-the-gun has been a feature of recent springs (the exception being the late spring of 2013), and has been highly damaging.

Our wildlife is speaking to us loud and clear, stating how dramatically our climate is changing – particularly through mild winters. Our naturalists notice these changes. Now, more than ever, the UK needs its naturalists – and more of them – to become nature’s spokespeople and provide our decision makers with up to date information as to what’s going on.”

Soundscape transports you to the coast

Musician and producer Martyn Ware is today releasing an 82-minute coastal soundscape inspired by the hundreds of sounds submitted as part of the ‘Sounds of our Shores’ project, which ran throughout the summer of 2015.

Martyn Ware on Brighton beach

Martyn Ware on Brighton beach recording sounds for the sounds of our shores project. Credit: Tim Stubbings

Called “Sea Inside Us All” this ‘cinema for the mind’ takes listeners on a sonic journey into a world of rich, diverse and beautiful sounds from the stunning UK coastline.

The “Sounds of our Shores” crowd-sourced project was a collaboration between the National Trust, British Library and National Trust for Scotland that ran between June and September 2015 – part of a celebration of the National Trust’s 50th anniversary of the Neptune Coastline Campaign.

Martyn Ware, a founding member of The Human League and Heaven 17, said: “This project has been a delight to work on – it has been a genuine pleasure to create this unique composition featuring the amazing sounds that people have recorded around our magnificent and characterful coastline.

“I’ve tried to create an emotional journey around all the elements that connect us all to the coast and the seaside, and this has been beautifully enhanced by my son Gabriel Ware’s orchestral compositions.

“You will be transported to places of fond reminiscence and imagination with the help of this cinema for the mind.”

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Some of the sounds that made it on to the soundscape include the classic ghost train ride in an amusement arcade, the singing of a Cornish folk song and people walking along a shingle beach.

Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife and Environment Sounds at the British Library, said: “Martyn Ware’s ‘Sea Inside Us All’ beautifully encapsulates the importance of sound in our nation’s relationship with the British coastline. From waves and wildlife to amusements and industry, these sounds represent the many aspects of the coast that we hold dear.

“I cannot think of a better way to sum up the project than with this cinematic soundscape that celebrates the sounds of our shores so perfectly.”

All of the sounds submitted as part of the ‘Sounds of our Shores’ project, via audioBoom, appear on a unique sound map and will be added to the British Library Sound Archive.

More than 680 sounds were uploaded by hundreds of people from across the UK on to the sound map from around the 10,800 miles of coastline including the intensity of the Fog Horn on the Lizard in Cornwall to the drama of heavy waves on Orkney. These sounds captured people’s special connections with the coast, whether a place that they go on holiday with the family or a sound linked to a particular memory.

Kate Martin, National Trust Area Ranger at Formby, said: “This soundscape provides an instant feeling of calm in a manic world. It stirs so many pleasant memories and feelings from throughout my life and genuinely slowed my pulse and put a smile on my face.

“As the soundscape plays out I was transported to many different times of my life, from happy childhood seaside holidays, to foggy days working on the beach at Formby and many more besides. You really cannot overstate how evocative sounds are.”


National Trust secures £1m to invest in young people

The National Trust has been awarded almost £1m by the Big Lottery Fund to give young people the skills and opportunities to help care for local natural places across five cities in England and Wales.

The Green Academies Project 2 (GAP2) is one of over thirty projects that will benefit from the Big Lottery Fund’s £33m Our Bright Future fund.

Based at six National Trust properties and involving a wide range of local partners, GAP2 will work with young people aged 11 to 24 in Birmingham, south London, Greater Manchester, Newcastle and Wrexham.  The project will be delivered with support from UpRising, a youth leadership development organisation.

Proven model

The funding will allow us to further develop a volunteering model that has already proven itself in Birmingham.

Since 2009 the National Trust has offered training and volunteering opportunities to young people aged 11 to 19 in south Birmingham, working closely in partnership with Birmingham City Council’s Parks and Nature Conservation department and Birmingham Youth Services,

A dedicated training programme has given young people aged 16-19 who are not in employment, education or training the chance to gain NVQ-level equivalent experience in nature conservation management.

Young people on the programme have given more than 20,000 hours volunteering at National Trust properties and local green spaces in Birmingham, helping to plant four new orchards and laying over 350 metres of hedgerow.

Jacko teaches bug hunting with young volunteers

GAP student Jacko takes Birmingham teenagers on a bug hunt (c) National Trust/Dee Whittle

Volunteer success

Former Green Academies Project volunteers have gone on to enjoy careers in horticulture and nature conservation.

Father of two Allen Downing started volunteering with the Green Academies Project (GAP) in 2012.

“I’d gotten into a rut trying to get work”, he says. “But it wasn’t work I was really interested in. GAP has given me the chance to find out what I do enjoy doing.”

Since graduating from the Green Academies Project Allen has found work with the landscaping team at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham.

“I feel like I’ve moved forward as a person. I’m more confident speaking to people. I’m actually being paid to do what I enjoy.”

A movement for change

Dee Whittle, National Trust Urban Green Space Project Manager in Birmingham and leader for GAP2 in the city, welcomes the opportunity to extend the Green Academies project to other cities.

Young people can be among the most marginalised groups in our society. With the help of Our Bright Future and our local partners, we have the chance to support more people in England and Wales to shape their local and natural environment.

GAP2 will be based at six National Trust properties in England and Wales:

  • Birmingham: Clent Hills and Birmingham City (Back to Backs)
  • South London: Morden Hall Park
  • Greater Manchester: Dunham Massey and Quarry Bank
  • Newcastle: Gibside
  • Wrexham: Erddig

The six properties will be working with local partners in the education, youth and conservation sectors to develop volunteering programmes for young people, opportunities for young people to achieve informal or formal conservation qualifications and activities to engage the wider community with local green spaces.

GAP2 is part of the National Trust’s wider efforts to support people to look after the green spaces where they live. Over the coming decade we will be testing ways to connect people to their local green spaces and helping people to play a part in caring for these special places.

Surveys reveal coastal wildlife jewels in National Trust crown

Thousands of nature lovers and wildlife experts helped the National Trust record more than 3,400 species at twenty five of its places along the coastline of England, Wales and Northern Ireland in the charity’s largest ever wildlife survey [1].

From the world famous chalk cliffs at the White Cliffs of Dover to the dune-rich White Park Bay on the beautiful North Antrim coast, volunteers raced against the clock to record as many species as possible over either 12 or 24 hours.

The BioBlitz surveys, which were run across six months during 2015, recorded a handful of wildlife firsts at National Trust places. These included the first recorded sighting of Balearic shearwaters, Puffinus mauretanicus, at Blakeney on the Norfolk coast. At Freshwater West in Pembrokeshire a Slow worm, Anguis fragilis, was found for the first time since 1966 and at White Park Bay, Co. Antrim, volunteers discovered the rare Forest chafer beetle, Melolontha hippocastani. This was the first recorded sighting of the beetle in Ireland in over a century.

The surveys were organised to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the National Trust’s Neptune Coastline Campaign [2] – the conservation charity now owns 775 miles of coastline.

Dr David Bullock, Head of Nature Conservation, said: “The data from these bioblitzes will play an important part in giving us a greater understanding of the species that live along our coastline.

“The shifting nature of our shoreline means that we need to think ahead about what is happening to coastal habitats and how we might secure the future of the wildlife that lives by the sea. The National Trust is working alongside partners at coastal landscapes across England, Wales and Northern Ireland to create space for nature to move on a much greater scale.”

Four thousand people helped survey National Trust coastal places, including members of the public and wildlife experts from organisations that included the British Trust for Ornithology, Marine Conservation Society and Wildlife Trusts [3].

Gwen Potter, Area Ranger in Ceredigion, who led the bioblitz at Cwm Tydu on the Ceredigion coast, said: “Despite a bit of rain and quite a bit of wind, our visitors and volunteers had a great time looking for everything from tiny beetles on the beach to plants in our ponds, and starfish in the sea to fungi on a tree.

“We need to know more about our nature so we can protect it properly, but we also need everyone to feel they can get involved in spotting and recording our wildlife too. Thanks to everyone who helped from White Park to the White Cliffs this was the perfect opportunity for both.”

The wide-open expanses of Brancaster on the North Norfolk coast topped the survey with 1,018 species recorded on 20 June 2015. Second place went to Blakeney Point on the North Norfolk coast, followed by Brownsea Island in Dorset, Dunwich Heath in Suffolk and Cwm Ivy on Gower in South Wales.

Highlights from the 2015 coastal wildlife survey include:

  • The discovery of an oil beetle, Meloe proscarabaus, at Cwm Tydu on the Ceredigion coast in Wales; the first such record since 1994.
  • At Dunwich Heath on the Suffolk coast a water-vole was recorded for only the second time in more than 40 years.
  • On the Sussex coast at Gayles Farm near Birling Gap a Red-shanked carder bee, Bombus ruderarius, was recorded for the first time.
  • Nightjar and Dartford Warblers were both found on Brownsea Island in Dorset for only the second time since the 1980s.
  • A Jumping spider, Phlegra fasciata, was found at East Head, West Sussex, for the first time. There are fewer than ten sites for this spider in the UK.
  • The Forest chafer beetle, Melolontha hippocastani, was found at White Park Bay on the Antrim coast. This was the first record on the island of Ireland since 1915.
  • Otters were found at Murlough National Nature Reserve in Co.Down, Northern Ireland and at Cemlyn in Anglesey, North Wales.
  • At Freshwater West in Pembrokeshire a Slow worm, Anguis fragilis, was found for the first time since 1966.
  • The UK’s only venomous snake, the Adder, Vipera berus, was recorded at Ravenscar on the Yorkshire coast for the first time.
  • Balearic shearwaters, Puffinus mauretanicus, were recorded at Blakeney on the north Norfolk coast for the first time.

Moth expert Andrew Crory, who helped at the bioblitz in Murlough, said: “’Murlough is the best site for butterflies and moths in Northern Ireland, with over 700 species recorded, so you could be mistaken in thinking that there would be little in the way of surprises left at such a well-covered site.

“The beauty of targeted bioblitz effort came into play with the discovery of a new site for Sand Dart and other notable species such as Small Blood-vein and Grass Rivulet. A total of 174 moth species were recorded in the 24 hour period – perhaps the best moth-trapping session, in terms of species, in Northern Ireland’s history.”


For further press information please contact Mike Collins, Senior Press Officer, on 01793 817708, 07900 138419 or mike.collins@nationaltrust.org.uk, or Tom Seaward, Assistant Press Officer, on 07810 814848 or tom.seaward@nationaltrust.org.uk  

[1] The 3,400 species recorded across the bioblitzes have been broken down into the following categories:

Flowering plants 899
Lower Plants 396
Ferns 21
Terrestrial Invertebrates 1511
Marine Invertebrates 236
Terrestrial Mammals 37
Marine Mammals 5
Birds 173
Fish 39
Amphibians 7
Reptiles 4
Fungi 52
Other 15

[2] Established in May 1965 the Neptune Coastline Campaign has been backed by tens of thousands of people, enabling the National Trust to acquire 550 miles of coastline in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.  From the first ever site acquired with Neptune funds at Whiteford Burrows on Gower to the most recent acquisition of a one-mile stretch of the White Cliffs of Dover, Neptune has allowed the Trust to buy and care for special coastal places loved by millions of people in the UK. You can support our coastal work via: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/get-involved/donate/current-appeals/neptune-coastline-campaign/

[3] Some of the organisations involved with the BioBlitzes run at National Trust places last summer included, AONB Partnerships, British Trust for Ornithology, Bat Conservation Trust, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Butterfly Conservation, Wildlife Trusts, Biological Record Centres, Buglife, Bristol Natural History Consortium, Conchological Society , Marine Biological Association, Marine Conservation Society, RSPB, Seawatch Foundation, Shark Trust and Ulster Museum.