About bathmic

I work in PR for the National Trust and love the outdoors and natural world. All views in this blog are my own...

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.”

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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.”

 

Slowing the flow of water as it leaves the hills

Over the last few winters we’ve seen the impact of major flooding on communities and the landscapes across the UK. Nigel Hester, project manager at the National Trust, reflects on some of the lessons from a major flood demonstration project in north Somerset:

The weather this winter has been characterised by a series of storms battering the UK with gales, mountainous seas and record amounts of rainfall, causing misery, damage and disruption to homes, businesses, infrastructure and the landscape.

 

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Water flowing through the village of Allerford on the River Aller; one of two villages that have been at risk of flooding as the waters head down from the hills of Exmoor

In recent years, there has been a shift in focus in flood risk management recognising that, in addition to conventional flood measures, more can be achieved by allowing the land to function more naturally. This natural flood management is at the core of an exciting demonstration flood project at the National Trust’s Holnicote Estate in Exmoor.

The project, core funded by Defra, has been running for 6 years and shows how working with nature, introducing some careful natural flood management interventions, and working in partnership, can contribute to reducing local flood risk and, importantly, provide a range of other benefits for the environment and local communities.

The target area for the work is based on the whole catchment approach, working from source of the rivers Horner and Aller high on Exmoor down to the Bristol Channel, using natural features to slow down or store flood water before it reaches the downstream villages of Allerford and Bossington.

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One of the bunds, helping to store the water when the river levels rise, helping to reduce the risk of flooding in the villages of Allerford and Bossington

Since 2011 a range of natural flood management measures have been undertaken including moorland drainage interventions, woody debris dams, woodland creation, leaky weirs and flood storage areas on the floodplain.

Partnership work with farmers has also focused on improved soil management to reduce run-off and soil loss during rainfall events. In addition, it has been critical to have an extensive hydrological monitoring network in place to provide high quality rainfall and flow data to capture the effects on any land management changes made.

The extreme weather events in recent years have been a good test of the natural flood management measures implemented and the key outcomes are very positive. During a severe storm in late December 2013, when the ground was already waterlogged, there was a 10% reduction in the flood peak reaching the downstream villages.

In the extremely wet winter of 2013/14, there was no flooding in the vulnerable catchment villages that have experienced regular flooding in the past. The insurance value of the properties at risk is estimated at £30 million yet the capital costs of constructing the flood storage area were £163,000, a small cost in comparison.

Despite the high rainfall experienced so far in 2016, people’s homes have remained dry and the river has remained in its channel. The work has not finished at Holnicote; there are still lots of opportunities to slow the flow even further by encouraging the land to act as a natural sponge and the National Trust is committed to finding ways to continue this work into the future.

Shell founders house goes green

A National Trust property, once owned by the family that founded the Shell oil company, has made the switch from oil to a renewable energy heating system.
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Upton House, in Warwickshire, was using 25,000 litres of oil each year to heat the estate. It now produces the equivalent energy from two new wood pellet boilers, which is enough to heat eleven average sized houses. This will save £6,000 a year on heating bills and 55 tonnes of CO2 emissions.
 
The successful completion of the Upton House and Gardens project is the first milestone in the Trust’s £30 million investment programme in renewable energy, announced last year, to heat and power some of its historic places [1].
 
The estate and gardens were gifted to the Trust by owner, and then Shell chairman, Lord Bearsted, in 1948.
 
Ed Wood, the Trust’s renewables project manager at Upton House, said: “The irony that the estate was owned by a family whose fortune was built on oil was not lost on us when we started our project to take Upton off this fossil fuel.
 
“In the past, oil was the most effective way to heat the property. Times have changed and to lower our carbon emissions and meet our targets to generate 50 per cent of all energy we use from renewable sources by 2020 we felt it important to change our energy source here.”
 
The property removed four oil boilers, and in doing so, the associated risks of oil leaks. The new biomass boilers, with the wood pellets sourced from the UK, are heating the house, property offices, the squash court gallery, restaurant and cottage. 
 
Julie Smith, General Manager at Upton House, said: “Installing the new heating system has met the energy needs of this wonderful country house with appropriate consideration for the heritage of the property and gardens.
 
”It took just eight weeks to install and clearly shows how we are committed to safeguarding our heritage and helping to protect the natural environment.”
 
Mike Hudson, Renewable Energy Director for the National Trust, said: “This is a great example of what support from the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is enabling the Trust to do. Schemes like these cut carbon, promote local sustainable wood management and work in harmony with the natural and built environment. They work for the local environment and economy and support national energy and climate change ambitions.”

Cyril Diver: a natural hero

National Trust wildlife expert Matthew Oates explores the life of naturalist and wildlife pioneer Cyril Diver.

“Few of Britain’s remarkable naturalists achieved as much as Cyril Diver (1892-1969). During the 1930s he and other volunteer experts meticulously surveyed, mapped and recorded the wildlife of the heath and dune system on the Studland peninsula, near Swanage in Dorset. They had a fantastic time, and also saved the site from development. A civil servant, Diver went on to draft much of our country’s initial wildlife legislation, and devise and lead the Nature Conservancy. This country owes him big time, yet he is largely forgotten.

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Cyril Diver and friends surveying Studland on the Dorset coast in the 1930s

Eighty years on, the National Trust has led a three year project to resurvey the peninsula, with close reference to the Diver archive material. As in the 1930s, specialist surveys were conducted by volunteers, both experts and beginners, though coordinated by a project officer. They had a fantastic time too, and have pioneered the citizen science approach to advanced wildlife recording, much of this in partnership with techy students from Bournemouth University. There is nothing naturalists love more than survey work, especially in a place as rich as Studland Peninsula.

The place has changed too, massively. Major changes commenced when Studland was taken over for tank training during the Second World War, and then when Rabbits died out to myxomatosis. A new sand dune has developed since the 1930s, and major changes to the ponds, swamps and mires have occurred.

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Cyril Diver in Dorset in the 1930s.

Recent surveys found 620 species of vascular plants – a quarter of the UK’s native flora, an increase from 465 in Diver’s time, though a few rarities have disappeared. Diver didn’t survey the lichen flora, due to a scarcity of experts, but recently over 340 lichen taxa have been found, including 29 major rarities. Insect-wise, today’s beetle surveys comfortably outscored Diver – 777 species, compared to 239, though 56 of Diver’s 239 were not re-found. Diver found 325 species of moth, the recent surveys found 611 but failed to re-find 105 on Diver’s list. And so on… . The recent surveys discovered two species new to Britain, though others may await confirmation. All this data will fascinate scientists, particularly climate change specialists, and will be celebrated at a conference at Bournemouth University on March 21st.

Now, more than ever, this nation needs its naturalists, to provide data to help us understand the burgeoning issues of climate change, new species colonisation and impending ecological change. We need more in-depth studies along the lines of the Diver Project, and to recruit and equip a new generation of inspired naturalists. The National Trust has a key role to play here, and will do so.”

Telling tree stories

A new campaign launched today is calling on people to share their stories of why trees and woods matter to them.

Coppice and thicket scrub in the north east section of Hatfield Forest, Essex.

The history of Hatfield Forest in Essex dates back over a thousand years

The stories will be collected together in a Charter for Trees, Woods and People and published in November 2017, 800 years after the original Charter of the Forests was signed by Henry III, restoring people’s rights of access to the Royal Forests.

The National Trust is one of 43 organisations involved in the campaign, led by the Woodland Trust.

At a time of unprecedented pressures on trees and woods, the charter will record the relationships between people and trees, setting out the enormous benefits woods provide the UK economy and society.

As a national charity caring for 25,000 hectares of woodland and thousands of ancient and veteran trees in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, The National Trust has  seen first-hand the impact of climate change and diseases like Ash Dieback.

But we also know from the millions of visitors to our woods, parks and gardens every year that people feel a real love for trees – and are fascinated by the stories of trees like the Dorset sycamore under whose branches the Tolpuddle Martyrs reputedly met or the majestic 1,000 year old Quarry Oak at Croft Castle in Herefordshire.

Ashridge Estate, credit National Trust Images, Michael Caldwell

Ashridge is the Chilterns comes live with the autumn colour every year and its one of the best National Trust places for ancient trees

Ray Hawes, Head of Forestry at the National Trust, says: “How people value trees and woods is changing”, he says. “In the past they were valued mainly for the tangible products they provided, like timber and fuel.

“Today, many people say they love trees. Millions of people enjoy visiting woods in the UK without always realising the wider contributions that these places make to society as a whole and what needs to be done to maintain woods for future generations.

“Healthy woods have many uses and can be adapted to changing needs, but there are increasing challenges to maintain them in a condition which will enable this.”

By encouraging people to share why trees matter to them, the campaign launched today aims to capture the value of trees to people’s lives – as well as connecting people to the work that goes in to keeping our trees and woods healthy.

The campaign will recruit a network of local ‘Charter Champions’ from across the UK to represent their communities in the development of the charter. Funding will be available to help local groups in events and projects aimed at reconnecting people and trees.