Rare ‘Ratty’ revival on England’s highest freshwater lake

Rare water voles are flourishing against the odds in England’s highest freshwater lake following a reintroduction programme by the National Trust last summer.

More than a hundred water voles, which were the inspiration for Wind in the Willows’ Ratty, were released onto streams around Malham Tarn in the Yorkshire Dales in August last year. It was the first time water voles had been seen on the lake in 50 years.

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A water vole at Malham Tarn, Yorkshire Dales. CREDIT: North News & Pictures Ltd/National Trust Images

And, in an adventure worthy of Ratty, Mole and Toad from the Kenneth Grahame classic, the water voles are spreading across the lake – in ways that National Trust rangers could never have dreamed.

Survey work has shown that the water voles – which are the UK’s fastest declining land mammal – have spread up to a kilometre from the original release site. Almost a year on from the original release, rangers will be reintroducing 100 new water voles to Malham Tarn.

Roisin Black, National Trust ranger at Malham Tarn, said: “With a mild, wet winter, we were worried that the water levels around the tarn may rise too high and flood the burrows. But it turns out that the voles have spread out across one side of the tarn.”

One vole has even been caught on camera in a favourite haunt for one of the tarn’s otters – one of the predators that will occasionally target water voles.

“An opportunistic otter might go for a water vole, but generally the can live very happily side by side,” Roisin said. “The presence of the otter helps deter the mink – which are behind water voles’ shocking declines.”

A hundred new water voles will be released onto the fenland surrounding Malham Tarn over the course of this week (starting 29 May). The water voles, which have been specially bred by expert ecologists at Derek Gow Consultancy, will be released in sibling groups and breeding pairs.

The release will be staggered over seven days due to the different needs of the groups and pairs. The animals will spend three or four days in large cages, placed on the fringe of the tarn. On the fourth and fifth day the cage doors will be opened. Food placed just outside the cage entrances will encourage the voles to leave the cages and build burrows. After the seventh day the cages will be removed.

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Ranger Roisin Black at Malham Tarn. CREDIT: Anthony Chappel-Ross/National Trust Images

The reintroduction is part of a plan by the National Trust to restore wildlife in the Yorkshire Dales. The charity cares for 8,000 hectares of woodland, meadows and moor in the Dales – England’s second largest National Park.

The water voles are helping to restore Malham Tarn’s sensitive lowland fen fringe – one of fifty ‘priority’ habitats handpicked by government as in need of support. The National Trust aims to create 25,000 hectares of new ‘priority’ nature habitats by 2025.

Ranger Roisin Black added: “The water voles area already changing the look of the tarn-side streams. The banks used to be straight-sided, almost like canals.

“But by burrowing into the banks, the voles have created much more natural-looking streams with shady pools that should be really good for invertebrates and small fish.”

National Trust rangers will spend the coming months surveying water voles, looking for signs like the animals’ ‘litter’ (excrement), burrows and nibbled grass ends.

“It will let us estimate the number of water voles we have here at Malham Tarn,” Roisin added.

How do you reintroduce a water vole? Six questions with Malham Tarn ranger Roisin Black.

Helicopter help for Lake District footpath repairs

More than three quarters of a million tonnes of stone is being flown by helicopter in a bid to fix some of the Lake District’s most popular paths.

Volunteers and rangers have spent the last six months gathering the stones, which will be lifted by helicopter to remote paths. Among the paths in urgent need of repair is the main tourist route up Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain, and a busy route to the summit of Helvellyn.

The work is being carried out on behalf of Fix the Fells, a partnership backed by the National Trust, Lake District National Park and other partners that has been tasked with repairing some of the Lake District’s most worn paths.

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A helicopter lifts bags of stone in the Ullswater valley. CREDIT: Adrian Mills/National Trust

The helicopter lifts will make a huge difference to the repair work, Fix the Fells programme manager Joanne Backshall said.

She said: “It will allow us to move heavy stones to areas that badly need them. Without the helicopter it would be impossible for us to carry out the work that is needed.

“Our teams of Fix the Fells Rangers, aided by our volunteers, have already hand-filled nearly 800 bags with stone, each bag weighing approximately 950 kg. These will be lifted in to place one by one by a Squirrel helicopter.”

The air drops will allow National Trust repair teams to then move the stones into place, stabilising the paths to prevent erosion and preventing them from becoming scars on the landscape.

The helicopter flights are taking place in Borrowdale, Ullswater, Wasdale and Grasmere, weather permitting.

Path erosion can see soil more easily wash off the fells and into streams and lakes and lakes. By repairing the stone paths, rangers will help slow soil erosion and prevent the paths from spreading out further.

PICTURES: New arrival for ‘Ronald’ the Farne Islands shag

An egg belonging to a Farne Islands shag christened ‘Ronald’ by a Year 4 class from Gateshead has hatched.
Sarah Lawrence, National Trust ranger on the remote Northumberland islands, said: “Ronald nests right next to the main jetty on Staple Island. He’s probably the most photographed shag on the island.”
Ronald the shag CREDIT Sarah Lawrence, National Trust

Ronald the shag sitting on top of ‘his’ nest on the Farne Islands, Northumberland. Credit: Sarah Lawrence/National Trust

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National Trust scoops Special Recognition Award at the Museums + Heritage Awards for Excellence

Last night (17 May) the National Trust was awarded a one-off Special Recognition Award at the prestigious Museums + Heritage Awards for Excellence.

Nominated by a panel of expert judges made up of some of the heritage sector’s most senior leaders, the National Trust was rewarded for its creativity in visitor engagement, remarkable growth in visitor numbers and its fostering of creative partnerships.

Helen Ghosh accepting the award (C) M+H Awards

Dame Helen Ghosh accepting the Special Recognition Award on behalf of the National Trust (C) Simon Callaghan

Dame Helen Ghosh, Director-General of the National Trust, accepted the award on behalf of the Trust and thanked the assembled guests and wider heritage sector for their support: “The fact that we are able to reach out and touch so many people is because of all of you and what you do on a day to day basis.

“We are enormously lucky for that support and to be able to spend more than we have ever been able to on conservation and experiences that move, teach and inspire.”

 

The conservation charity also won the Best Educational Initiative for Potter and Ponder: Sensory Experiences at Croome Court, Worcestershire. The project was described as a “remarkable, creative and innovative story of engaging children with severe learning difficulties” by the judging panel.

The Trust’s Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire, was shortlisted in the Project on a Limited Budget category for its Lost Treasures, The Imagined Mansion installation, but was beaten to the award by the Hallaton in the Great War Research Group.

The glittering awards ceremony was attended by hundreds of sector professionals. Now in its fifteenth year, the awards recognise the innovators and leaders in the museums, galleries and cultural heritage visitor attractions sector.

The awards were judged by a panel of sector experts including: Dr Diana Owen, Director, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust; Maggie Appleton MBE, Chief Executive Officer, Royal Air Force Museum; Stephen Duncan, Director of Commercial and Tourism, Historic Scotland; Bernard Donoghue, Director, ALVA; Diane Lees CBE, Director General, Imperial War Museums; Dr Matthew Tanner MBE, Chief Executive of the SS Great Britain Trust and Sam Mullins, Director, London Transport Museum.

To find out more about the awards, visit: http://awards.museumsandheritage.com/

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Heritage science gives visitors unique insight into roof conservation project at The Vyne

Scientists and archaeologists at National Trust mansion The Vyne in Hampshire are giving visitors a unique insight into their work as part of a £5.4 million project to save the former Tudor ‘power house’.

The Vyne, whose famous visitors included Henry VIII and Jane Austen, is undergoing an ambitious 18 month project to repair its leaking roof and crumbling chimneys, severely damaged in the storms of recent years.

As part of the project, partners including archaeologists, dendrochronologists and heritage science researchers from the University of Oxford are using high and low tech equipment to discover how this complex 500 year old building was constructed, then re-arranged over the centuries.

This is the first time the conservation charity has combined science and technology to this extent alongside centuries-old craft skills, which are being used to produce thousands of hand-made tiles and bricks for the project.

Visitors on rooftop walkway and contractors on roof below, © National Trust Images, Karen Legg

Visitors can watch the conservation work as it progresses from an all-access, 360° rooftop walkway. Protected by a huge weatherproof ‘shell’, the walkway looks down on dramatic views of The Vyne’s rooftops.

Monthly visits from a mobile heritage laboratory will also give visitors an opportunity to work alongside scientists from the University of Oxford, using a range of equipment to find out how they measure deterioration in historic building materials, and protect the nation’s heritage from decay.

National Trust archaeologist Gary Marshall says: “Through extraordinary scientific and technological equipment we’re finding out so much about The Vyne’s construction and we’re sharing our discoveries with our visitors.

“With a variety of different methods and technology we are able not only to pinpoint more accurately the date of The Vyne’s construction, and the materials the original builders used to create tiles and bricks, even insulation, but also show how we have made these discoveries and give visitors a chance to explore the science involved.”

Professor Heather Viles from the Oxford Rock Breakdown Laboratory explains: ‘We’ve developed a range of high and low tech kit that allows us to investigate the very serious problem of water ingress at The Vyne.

“We’ll be able to show visitors that by combining quite simple tools such as hand held moisture meters and Karsten tubes with more complex tech methods like 2D resistivity surveys, we can probe into the walls and locate areas of heavy moisture, but without causing damage.”

New dendrochronology analysis – the science of tree-ring dating – has revealed that some of The Vyne’s 16th-century timbers were recycled from an earlier building, most probably the ‘lost’ north forecourt. This was part of a larger estate that now lies beneath the north lawn.

Gary Marshall adds: “We have made some rather delightful discoveries too, such as a number of clay tiles sporting animal paw prints. Around 15 prints have been found to-date, made by Georgian and Victorian dogs of various sizes who must have walked in the wet clay while the tiles were being made all those years ago and been preserved for posterity!”

Close up of dog paw print on tile, ©National Trust Images, Karen Legg

The story of The Vyne’s roof continues inside the house where the spotlight is shone on 19th century owner William Wiggett Chute who inherited a building in great disrepair. However his extraordinary determination to save the neglected mansion secured its future.

 

PICTURES: Yorkshire gardeners measure giant Echium

Gardeners at Beningbrough Hall, Gallery and Gardens, near York, had to get their stepladders out this week to measure giant Echiums growing in the garden.

The plants, found in the Italian border at the National Trust-owned property, have reached a towering 4.3 metres high – the same height as a female giraffe.

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National Trust gardener Kate Wilkinson used a step ladder and bamboo pole to measure giant 4 metre Echiums at Beningbrough Hall, near York, during a regular survey of the garden. CREDIT: National Trust/Matt Clark

Kate Wilkinson, the gardener tasked with measuring the plants, said: “It wasn’t as straightforward as simply getting a tape-measure out.  I had to climb a stepladder, and even then it wasn’t enough. With the measuring tape attached to the end of a bamboo cane, I was just about able to reach the top of these amazing plants”. Continue reading

PICTURES: Rare dormouse snores in Surrey ranger’s palm

A snoring dormouse was caught cuddling her tail as it napped in a National Trust ranger’s hand at Holmwood Common, near Dorking.

Rangers from the conservation charity were looking for rare hazel dormice in the 50 nest boxes that have been placed on the Surrey common, which was once owned by William the Conqueror.

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National Trust ranger Sophie Parker discovered a snoring female dormouse cuddling her tail during a regular survey for the rare mammals at Holmwood Common, near Dorking. CREDIT: Sophie Parker/National Trust. 

Sophie Parker, National Trust area ranger at nearby Leith Hill, discovered the female dormouse at the end of April whilst checking the boxes under the supervision of a licensed handler from the Surrey Dormouse Group. Continue reading