Year of strong grass growth was bad for bees and butterflies

Bee and butterfly numbers have slumped after a tenth year of unsettled weather, National Trust experts have said.

Mild winter and spring weather led to extremely high grass growth, leading to a good year for farmers with livestock and for making silage or hay. But the grass growth meant a difficult year for warmth-loving insects, including common meadowland butterflies.

The assessment comes as the National Trust marks ten years of its annual weather and wildlife review, which is aimed at understanding how changing weather patterns is affecting wildlife at its places.

Common blue butterfly

Common blue butterfly. Credit Matthew Oates/National Trust Images

The conservation charity is working with its tenants and partners to reverse the alarming decline in UK wildlife, with 56 per cent of species seeing their numbers fall in the last 50 years. Continue reading


Cotehele dormouse among the Guardian’s pictures of the year

The Guardian has chosen a National Trust ranger’s picture of a dozing dormouse as one of its pictures of the year.

James Robbins, a ranger on the Cotehele Estate, Cornwall, was carrying out his final dormouse survey of the year when he stumbled across the sleeping dormouse in late October.

Dormouse at Cotehele

National Trust ranger James Robbins was carrying out his final dormouse survey of the year in late October on the Cotehele Estate, Cornwall, when he found a Hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) dozing ahead of its winter hibernation. Britain’s dormice are threatened by habitat loss – but at Cotehele conservation work in the woods mean that numbers are booming. Credit: National Trust Images/James Robbins.

James, who is a licensed dormouse handler, believed the dormouse was dozing ahead of a last meal of nuts and berries before its winter hibernation.

He told the Guardian: “It was a perfect autumn day, bright and crisp and cold. You’re never guaranteed to find a dormouse, so I was excited to open the first box and find one straight away. I could see the beautiful rich colour of its fur, its chest going in and out.”

Rangers on the Cornish estate have carried out extensive work to improve the woodland habitat for wildlife.

James said: “Nationally, Britain’s dormice are struggling – but in one undisturbed wooded valley at Cotehele numbers are booming.

“We’ve recently coppiced hazel trees in the woods and grazing by highland cattle has helped create the perfect habitat for these mammals.”

Browse the Guardian’s best photographs of 2016.

Tackling prejudice and celebrating with pride: National Trust explores LGBTQ heritage to mark anniversary in 2017


Themes of gender and sexuality will be explored and celebrated by the National Trust in 2017 as part of the nation’s commemoration to mark 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality.

LGBTQ heritage has an important place in the history of the conservation charity and the places in its care.

The acquisition last week by the Trust of a copy of the novel Orlando, signed by Virginia Woolf to the cousin of her lover Vita Sackville-West, highlights the commitment to LGBTQ heritage that runs through many Trust places. Orlando, inspired by Sackville-West’s family history at Knole in Kent, tells the story of a gender-changing character whose life spans the 400 year history of the house.


Copy of novel ‘Orlando’ signed ‘Eddy, with love from Virginia’, Oct 1928

During 2017 as part of its ‘Prejudice and Pride’ programme the Trust will tell the stories of the men and women who challenged conventional notions of gender and sexuality and who shaped the properties in which they lived.

A number of events will be taking place at properties with LGBTQ connections and the Trust will also be involved in community-focussed celebrations including Pride festivals around the country.

Over the course of the year, online and published resources will be available including a podcast series and a new guidebook exploring LGBTQ heritage in Trust places.

Tom Freshwater, National Programmes Manager at the National Trust says: “Our places span large historic mansions to small workers’ cottages across England, Wales and Northern Ireland so we have a unique opportunity to bring together those stories that unite them and show how deeply and widely LGBTQ heritage goes back into our shared history.

“Some of the stories are well known already, such as the relationship between Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf, but some have not been explored or fully told until now. This anniversary is giving us the opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the contribution of the people and the places that meant so much to them and offer a greater understanding, accessibility and higher profile for LGBTQ heritage.

“We are pleased to be working in partnership with University of Leicester Research Centre for Museums and Galleries who are bringing their expertise to the Trust in researching and sharing LGBTQ histories in a heritage context.”

The exterior of the north front of Sutton House, London. Constructed in 1525, the house was remodelled in 1700, and has additions dating from 1904.

Sutton House will hold a year of exhibitions, activities and events.

Sarah Waters, author of the bestselling Tipping the Velvet and a contributor to the Trust’s forthcoming LGBTQ articles and publications says: “These days we can all be a bit bolder about exploring and enjoying the UK’s rich heritage of sex and gender diversity. And I’d argue that without an awareness of that heritage our experience of certain National Trust properties is incomplete.”

Among the National Trust properties taking part are:

 Sutton House, Hackney

Sutton House will hold a year of exhibitions, activities and events around the theme ‘Sutton House Queered’. Working with a number of community partners, the programme will unpick themes of exploration, anarchy and campaigning and include a range of displays and trails ranging from Alice in Wonderland to 1980s squatters. Events begin in LGBTQ history month in February. 

 Hanbury Hall, Worcestershire

Hanbury Hall will be focussing on their collection and, in particular, the dramatic Sir James Thornhill wall paintings that adorn the staircase which include depictions of Achilles and his lover Patroclus. Hidden stories will be shared revealing tales of classical love in Ancient Greece and satirically, Queen Anne’s Court. From March onwards. 

The ceiling painting and top of the Painted Staircase in the Hall at Hanbury Hall, Worcestershire. The Staircase was painted by Sir James Thornhill (1675-1734), c.1710. The ceiling painting is a political allusion and depicts an assembly of the classical deities and a portrait of Dr Sacheverell. Mercury is depicted falling between the ceiling and the wall.

The ceiling painting and top of the Painted Staircase at Hanbury Hall

Smallhythe Place, Kent

The former home of actress Ellen Terry will shine a spotlight on her daughter Edy Craig who lived with two female partners in the Priest’s House. Playwrights, Pioneers, Provocateurs will highlight a number of objects in the house, and a production of Wilde Without The Boy, a dramatisation of De Profundis, the letter/s written by Oscar Wilde to Lord Douglas from prison, will take place in the Barn Theatre on 9th and 10th June.

Knole, Kent

Knole will be celebrating Virginia Woolf’s iconic novel ‘Orlando’, inspired by her lover Vita Sackville-West, who was born and brought up at Knole. A copy of the book, signed by Woolf for Vita’s cousin Eddy Sackville-West recently acquired at auction, will form the centre piece of events which include a partnership with Cinelive and the British Film Institute. A week of events begins Tuesday 27th June.  


The west front of Knole, Kent. The central gatehouse was built by Henry VIII between 1543 and 1548, with later additions to the west front in the seventeenth-century.

The west front of Knole, Kent. 

Simon Murray, Senior Director of the National Trust says:

“Our spotlight on LGBTQ heritage is an important one and we have chosen it to begin our ‘Challenging Histories’ programme. Over the next few years we will be exploring some of the complex and often more difficult aspects of the history of our places, stories we have perhaps shied away from but which are important to our understanding of their history.

“In 2018, to mark the centenary of the first Act of women’s suffrage, we will be looking at the role women have played in shaping our places but also how they were often excluded; in 2019, 200 years after the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester, we will look at places which have been the scene of important national events such as Runnymede, Tolpuddle and Mam Tor.

“The programme will be built on new research and will, we hope, stimulate contemporary debate on issues that have their roots in the past but are of continuing relevance today. We will create a programme of events and exhibitions that will be of interest to new and existing audiences alike and remind us all of the importance of our cultural heritage and how vital it is to care for it for future generations to enjoy.”

Read more about LGBTQ activities around National Trust places in 2017.



The 12 walks of Christmas: festive strolls are key ingredient for harmonious family get-togethers

With a staggering 43 million Brits[1] set to head outdoors and enjoy a festive walk with their family and friends this year, it’s no surprise that almost two thirds of the UK (62%) describe a festive walk as a tradition they enjoy every year.

This year, however, the National Trust can reveal that a refreshing winter walk is also the perfect recipe for harmonious family get-togethers – as a whopping 82% of Brits reveal walking to be an enjoyable, bicker-free festive activity.

Looking over the Half Moon Pond and weir of Studley Royal Water Garden in winter from the Surprise View towards Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire

A frosty winter landscape at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden, North Yorkshire. Credit National Trust Images/ Andrew Butler

With many families cooped up at home together over the holiday period, new research by the charity has identified the kitchen as a key spot for hot heads and quick tempers, with preparing Christmas dinner most likely to create some friction (39%), alongside readying the house for guests (37%) and collectively deciding what to watch on TV (22%).

Conversely, a refreshing festive walk is viewed by Brits as one of the most enjoyable family activities over the festive period, with families half as likely to bicker in comparison to when they’re spending time together at home.

Better yet, a significant 70% of Brits believe a walk over the festive period is the perfect way to spend quality time together as a family.

To celebrate the nation’s love for a festive stroll, the National Trust have pulled together their top ‘12 Walks of Christmas’, so everyone can get outside and enjoy the season together.

  1. Botallack Mine, West Cornwall
  2. Corfe Castle, Dorset
  3. Box Hill, Surrey
  4. Stowe, Buckinghamshire
  5. Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire
  6. Mam Tor, Peak District
  7. Lyme Park, Cheshire
  8. Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden, North Yorkshire
  9. Sticklebarn and the Langdales, Cumbria
  10. Brandelhow and Derwentwater, Cumbria
  11. Hafod y Llan, Snowdonia
  12. Giant’s Causeway, Ulster


The Trust has also created a film to accompany the list, highlighting 12 of the most recognisable moments of a festive walk. To enjoy the film for yourself, head to:

Picture Credit Should Read: Doug Peters

70% of people believe that a festive walk is the perfect way to spend quality time with their family.  Credit National Trust/PA

Imogen Tinkler, Walking Comms Officer at the National Trust comments:

“It’s fantastic to hear that 43 million people are planning to head out for a festive walk with their families over the Christmas period, and better yet that this activity is an annual tradition for so many. A refreshing walk provides the perfect bonding experience, and an ideal opportunity to take in the beauty of the great outdoors at this time of year.

“We hope our 12 Walks of Christmas provides some walking inspiration, and look forward to welcoming everyone to our places and walking trails over the Christmas holidays. Here’s to continuing to share in this festive tradition with them!”

To find out more about the National Trust’s 12 Walks of Christmas, visit

For the best knowledge to help you get outside and enjoy being closer to nature this winter, you can view top tips from Cotswold Outdoor, the Trust’s official outdoor retailer, here:

People enjoying the snow at Box Hill, Surrey

Visitors enjoying a festive walk at Box Hill, Surrey. Credit National Trust Images/ John Millar

[1] Based on UK population as calculated by the Office of National Statistics, and survey results revealing 66% of Brits plan to go on a festive walk over the Christmas period this year.

Sycamore Gap crowned England’s Tree of the Year in Woodland Trust poll

Sycamore Gap has been crowned England’s Tree of the Year, after winning a fifth of the votes cast in the Woodland Trust’s annual poll.

The Northumberland tree is nestled within a dip in the landscape along Hadrian’s Wall.
The tree, which is cared for by the National Trust, is known as the “Robin Hood tree” following a cameo appearance in early-nineties Hollywood classic Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

More than 2,500 people voted for Sycamore Gap in the Woodland Trust’s Tree of the Year poll.

Visitors at Hadrian's Wall and Housesteads Fort, Northumberland.

Sycamore Gap in the Northumberland National Park has been crowned England’s Tree of the Year in a Woodland Trust poll. Credit: John Millar/National Trust Images

Having been crowned England’s favourite tree, the Sycamore will receive a care grant of £1,000. The grant can be used to arrange a health check from an arboriculturalist, provide interpretation or educational materials or hold a celebratory event in honour of the tree.

Sycamore Gap will also be entered into the European Tree of the Year competition in early 2017.

Andrew Poad, General Manager at the National Trust’s Hadrian’s Wall, said: “Sycamore Gap is included within the six miles of Hadrian’s Wall that the National Trust cares for, with the help from members, donations and visitors.

“The National Trust looks after lots of important trees including a 2,500 year old Ankerwycke Yew near Runnymede in Surrey and Newton’s Apple, which triggered the great scientist to form his laws of gravity. The Robin Hood tree has become an iconic image for Northumberland and is a wonderful stop-off point for those walking alongside the Wall.

“The grant will be used to better understand the health of the tree and take any remedial actions required to protect its roots which are increasingly becoming exposed due to the numbers of people passing under its boughs to experience this stunning landscape.  As with all of the trees we care for, we want to protect it for future generations to enjoy.”

The National Trust looks after ancient and notable trees across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Rangers, foresters and volunteers have identified over 30,000 ancient trees at National Trust places.

They include the 2,500-year-old Ankerwycke Yew, under whose boughs it is believed the Magna Carta was signed in 1215, and the apple tree at Lincolnshire’s Woolsthorpe Manor that inspired Sir Isaac Newton’s discovery of gravity.

Discover more about Woodland Trust’s Tree of the Year competition at  

Swimming cows make a dash for island pastures on Strangford Lough

The grass was definitely greener on the other side of the lough for a herd of cattle in County Down, when they attempted to swim back to their island grazing pastures last month.

Eight cows took to Northern Ireland’s Strangford Lough after their return to the mainland from a stint grazing on Darragh Island.

Farmers have moved cattle between the islands on Strangford Lough for generations, in the pursuit of fresh grass.

And National Trust rangers regularly transport sheep and cattle between the 12 islands the conservation charity cares for on the sea lough.

Will Hawkins, National Trust ranger at Strangford Lough, said: “We had a tricky job getting them on to the barge. We left a group of cows on the mainland and we were just coming back with the others when a few of the cows decided to swim back to the boat.”

After a few seconds in the water they changed their minds and headed back to the mainland.

“The cows like being on the islands,” Will said. “Other than a couple of kayakers there’s nobody else on the islands. The cows are free to roam.”

The grazing cattle help rangers encourage wildflowers to grow on the islands.

“The way the cows graze and ‘poach’ the ground with their hooves means we get flowers like dog violet coming through.

“It’s like a sea of purple on some of the islands in the spring.”

The cattle belong to the Dines family, one of the last Strangford Lough farming families to graze their animals on islands.

Lighting up the night with Wallington’s 1000 Christmas trees

This Christmas, the National Trust are hosting over 760 events and celebrations across the country, from winter markets to festive craft workshops and beautiful light displays.

To mark the start of the seasonal celebrations, the charity is showcasing 1,000 handcrafted and decorates Christmas trees at Wallington, a stunning 17th century mansion and grounds in Northumberland.


Credit: National Trust

The trees have been dressed by a team of 33 volunteers and staff, who have spent an incredible 744 collective hours preparing the festive decorations.

The centrepiece of the display is the 115-year-old 40ft Nookta Cypress tree, which stands in front of the main house. It takes a team of arboriculturalists on cherry pickers two days to hang 6,000 LED bulbs that transform the tree, with a further 6,000 lights adorning branches across the rest of the estate.

Wallington was donated to the National Trust by the Trevelyan family in 1942, and since then the charity has been working to preserve and protect the 13,000-acre estate.  The seasonal display was inspired by the Trevelyan family’s unique ‘Book of Trees’ which was kept by three generations – capturing the life cycle of trees around the property.

Robert Thompson, the House Steward for Wallington said: “The celebration of an old tradition – decorating the many trees we have here – really makes for a memorable experience for our visitors. It also highlights the incredible work the team do behind-the-scenes to make Christmas a special time for everyone.”

“We want our guests to experience the nation’s oldest Christmas stories and enjoy the places that keep these traditions alive.” said Leanne Ricketts, the National Trust’s Christmas Project Lead. “It’s only with the support of our visitors and members that our volunteers and staff can dedicate thousands of hours bringing the traditions of our places to life, and paving the way for families and friends to create their own Christmas with us.”

The National Trust Christmas in numbers:

  • 1,350,358 people visit National Trust sites during the festive season
  • 762 Christmas events and celebrations will take place at National Trust sites across the country
  • A team of 33 volunteers and staff at Wallington, have spent an incredible 744 hours collectively preparing the festive decorations
  • More than 1,000 trees will be showcased across the Wallington estate, with over 12,000 twinkling lights – 6,000 of which can be found displayed on the 115-year-old, 40ft Nookta Cypress tree.