How woodland devastated by Great Storm of 1987 bounced back on its own

AS 110mph winds raged across southern England, Britain’s Great Storm of 1987 wreaked devastation across scores of National Trust woodland.

Hundreds of thousands of trees – some aged more than 400 years old – were lost, on 3,000 acres across 58 sites. The landscape had been torn apart, and the conservation charity faced the biggest outdoor repair job in its history.

“It was a battle zone” says gardener Alan Comb, who had started work at Emmetts Garden, Kent, just a week after the storm hit. “There were trees sticking up like totem poles”.

Martin Sadler, now a Senior Gardener at Petworth, says, “I was only 18 and I’d never seen anything like it before. The trees came down like dominoes.”

During the aftermath of the storm, the Trust took several approaches to managing the clean-up and restoration of its woodlands. Some of the devastated areas were cleared, others were replanted, and non-intervention zones were left alone to regenerate naturally.

In the untouched areas, trees that seeded naturally were allowed to grow and, in many cases, are developing faster than those that were planted. This learning affected the way the Trust now manages the land in its care.

Tom Hill, National Trust Trees & Woodland Officer in the South East, said, “Today, we work much more closely with natural ecological processes and, where possible, allow damaged woodland to regenerate naturally. The National Trust looks after more than 25,000 hectares (62,000 acres) of woodland, 36% of which is in London and the South East, so it’s vital that we continue to evolve our approach to woodland management to help it to thrive.”

Most of the trees that fell at Knole in Kent were left as deadwood, which benefited fungi, plants and wildlife, as well as the trees that grew to replace them.

Ninety-five per cent of the woodland surrounding Emmett’s Garden in Kent was destroyed in the storm. Although the gardens have been replanted and woodland regenerated, remaining tree stumps and fallen specimens act as a continuing reminder of what happened.

Down the road, Toys Hill, the former home of National Trust founder Octavia Hill, lost 98 per cent of its trees. After the clean-up, some of the areas left alone flourished spectacularly, benefitting ecosystems and wildlife.

Light allowed in by the removal of so much of the canopy caused dormant seeds to burst into life, including native clematis, honeysuckle and heather – unseen in the area for more than a century.

Birds and dormice also benefited. The woodlark and nightjar population increased, and little owls, tawny owls, buzzards, hobbies and sparrow hawks exploited the more open woodland.

The storm also exposed tree rings hidden for centuries, enabling the Trust to date them and reveal more about the history of the special places in its care.

David Bullock, Head of Nature Conservation at the National Trust, said, “The fallout from the Great Storm helped the Trust to understand that sometimes, in order to restore a healthy, diverse natural environment, the best approach can be to do nothing at all. Now more than ever, it is important that we find the right balance between human principles for land management, and letting nature take its course.”

“We’re conscious that as the climate warms, we are likely to face more extreme and unpredictable weather. We will respond to this through active conservation work, like providing trees with more space to take stronger roots against high winds, and giving areas the opportunity to regenerate and recover naturally.”

In the years following the storm, the Trust planted 500,000 trees, preferring young saplings to semi mature trees due to faster establishment. Where necessary, the Trust resurrected garden drainage systems to provide optimum growing conditions and selected species better suited to extreme weather.

Through careful management of the land in its care, The Trust is working to reverse the decline in UK wildlife, aiming to restore 25,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat by 2025.

 

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Diamond spider presumed extinct discovered for the first time in almost 50 years

A spider presumed extinct in Britain for almost half a century has made a remarkable comeback thanks to habitat restoration.

Two National Trust volunteers were astonished to find the rare Diamond spider (Thanatus formicinus) while searching for arachnids in heathland at Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire.

The spider has only been recorded in the UK on three occasions, all of them in the South of England, and not since 1969. The discovery was made by volunteer rangers as part of ongoing ecological monitoring of the park.

Lucy Stockton, who made the discovery with fellow volunteer Trevor Harris, says, “The spider ran away from me twice but with persistence and some luck I caught it; at the time I had no idea that it would turn out to be such a rare find. Upon closer inspection our spider had a conspicuous ‘cardiac mark’, a black diamond shape on its abdomen, edged with white that helped us to identify it.”

“We were thrilled to have discovered this new resident of Clumber Park and to prove that this species is definitely not extinct in the UK.”

The last recorded sightings of the Diamond Spider occurred in Legsheath and Duddleswell, in Ashdown Forest, in 1969. The arachnid was also found near Brokenhurst, in the New Forest, at the end of the 19th century. Its habitat includes damp areas with moss, purple moor grass and heather. Its English name derives from the thin black diamond on its back.

The National Trust is working on an £8.5 million restoration programme to revive parts of Clumber Park, which includes restoring areas of heathland and other important habitats for wildlife. This is part of the conservation charity’s wider ambition to restore 25,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat by 2025.

Matt Shardlow, Chief Executive, Buglife, said, “We are absolutely delighted that this pretty little spider has been re-found, we had almost given up hope.  It is a testament to the crucial importance of charities like the National Trust saving and managing heathland habitats.”

Dr Helen Smith, Conservation Officer, British Arachnological Society, said, “This species is classified as ‘Critically Endangered’, and it was thought possible that it had become extinct in Britain – its conservation at Clumber is now a very high priority. The discovery highlights both the importance of the Clumber heathlands and the invaluable contribution made by volunteers in recording spiders and providing the information needed to help conserve our rarest species.”

Matthew Oates, the National Trust’s Specialist on Nature, said: “This remarkable discovery shows that diligent amateurs can strike gold here in the UK, by surveying the less well studied elements of our flora and fauna.  In this era of species decline, climate change and arrival of new species, the nation needs a vast new army of naturalists, to discover and monitor what’s going on, and so inform our decision makers.”

Experts from the national Spider Recording Scheme confirmed the spider’s identity.

Great news for Fell Foot Park in Cumbria as Heritage Minister John Glen announces £684k National Lottery funding

Fell Foot Park on the shores of Lake Windermere is to be transformed, thanks to a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant of around £684,000 made possible by National Lottery players.

The news, announced by Heritage Minister John Glen while on tour of Cumbria today, will mean that the National Trust, owners of the site, will be able to restore key elements of this much-loved country park as part of a six year wider National Trust masterplan to turn Fell Foot into a flagship destination in the North.

Visited by over 150,000 people a year, this popular but under-resourced park originally formed the majestic grounds of an early 19th Century Lake District villa landscape, framed by crags, ancient woods and water on the south-east shore of Lake Windermere. While the villa has long since gone, its boathouse complex (one of the largest surviving in the Lake District) and arboretum remain, and it is these historic features, along with restoration of the parks landscape and improved visitor access, that National Lottery funding will benefit.

Fell Foot features sweeping lawns, rowing boats, a café and shop. Activities currently include wild play, family camping, swimming and running events. The park is one of the few places where the public can access the southern half of England’s longest lake, now in a new UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Fell Foot project will involve the conservation of five boathouses, making them flood resilient and suitable as multi-use community spaces. The Gasometer Cottage will be restored to provide office space and a reception area, the arboretum and park landscape restored (including new pathways and better drainage), while access to the waterfront will be improved and visitors will be able to enjoy new sheltered spaces and play facilities. The National Trust will also create four new jobs and 8 volunteering roles to run the project.

Heritage Minister John Glen said: “This funding is wonderful news for Fell Foot and will help transform the park, preserve the stunning arboretum and restore its beautiful historic boathouses. Our heritage should be open to everyone and, thanks to National Lottery players, this project will enable even more people to discover and enjoy the fascinating stories that can be found here at Fell Foot.”

Nathan Lee, Head of HLF North West, said: “This is excellent news not only for Fell Foot Park, but the Lake District and Cumbria as a whole, and I’m delighted to be here today with Heritage Minister John Glen to welcome the news. Thanks to National Lottery players, we can now preserve these wonderful boathouses, secure the long-term future of the arboretum, and provide employment and volunteering opportunities for the community. We are really excited about this project which we hope will see many more people discovering and enjoying the fascinating stories that can be found at Fell Foot.”

Mike Innerdale, the National Trust’s Assistant Director of Operations for Cumbria and North Lancashire said: “We’re thrilled that the National Lottery is supporting our vision for Fell Foot. We want to provide exceptional opportunities for people to re-connect with each other and the great outdoors, and make precious memories for generations to come. For nearly 70 years local people have been coming to enjoy access to the lake, the wonderful views and the parkland. This funding will help us tell the extraordinary story of Fell Foot, provide access to new areas, respond to winter flooding and lift the visitor experience to a new level.”

Heritage Minister John Glen also visited National Lottery funded projects at the Wordsworth Trust and the Windermere Jetty Museum while in Cumbria.

Dame Vera Lynn praises British people after support for £1m appeal secures future of White Cliffs

Dame Vera Lynn praised the generosity of the British public after £1m was raised in just three weeks to help protect the future of the White Cliffs of Dover for the nation, for ever.

Over 17,500 people made donations to the appeal to help the National Trust secure 700,000 square metres of land immediately behind the clifftop between the South Foreland lighthouse and Langdon Cliffs, which the conservation charity acquired in 2012.

The Trust said it would work to restore internationally important habitats such as chalk grassland, preserve existing historical features, and maintain access routes for visitors.

Dame Vera, whose 1942 song about the cliffs helped forge her reputation as ‘The Forces’ Sweetheart’, said she was delighted with the public reaction to the appeal.

In a letter to the charity, she said. “My thanks to everyone who embraced the campaign to protect this national icon. The White Cliffs of Dover are a significant landmark and it is so encouraging to know that they will now be protected for future generations.

“Over many years, I have been a supporter of the National Trust and the vital work that they do in preserving our heritage and landscapes – long may this continue.”

The stretch of land is crucial for nature and wildlife, with over 40 species of flowers and grasses per square metre. It also provides the perfect habitat for butterflies like the Adonis Blue and Marbled White, and birds including the peregrine falcon and skylark.

In addition, the site has a number of Second World War features, including several buildings and two large gun emplacements. The Trust hopes to start work soon to make the structures water tight and accessible for visitors.

The Wanstone gun battery was the largest ever built in the British Empire. In the Second World War, it deterred invasion, supported D-Day and closed the channel to enemy shipping. The site also includes the D2 heavy anti-aircraft battery which played an important role in the Battle of Britain and protected the early radar towers at nearby Swingate.

In addition to the public appeal, which included a significant contribution from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, the Trust was able to use legacy donations from its Neptune Fund to help fund the purchase.

Virginia Portman, General Manager of the White Cliffs of Dover, says:

“We have been absolutely blown away by the public’s response to our appeal. Over 17,500 people have made donations in the last few weeks and thanks to their generosity, this wonderful landscape now belongs to the nation, for ever.

“It underlines once again how the White Cliffs has a special role in the nation’s heart – and is part of our heritage and identity.

“We now look forward to starting work on the project that will restore habitat and land conditions for wildlife, and provide better access for the public. The area also has fascinating war-time stories that we look forward to telling over the coming years.”

Clara Govier, Head of Charities at People’s Postcode Lottery, says:

“I am delighted that players of People’s Postcode Lottery are able to help secure the future of the White Cliffs of Dover. It is so important that we protect sites like this for future generations to enjoy and I applaud the National Trust for all that they do.”

The Trust launched the public appeal on 4 September with a deadline to reach the £1 million target by 22 September. Any donations that came in after the appeal deadline, or after the appeal reached £1 million, will support ongoing work to protect this precious coastal landscape.

Squirrel Nutkin thrives again: Conservation project revives squirrel population from 99% grey to 100% red

Threatened red squirrel numbers are thriving against the odds on one of Britain’s largest estates after painstaking work by a National Trust ranger.

The population of reds at Wallington, Northumberland, almost disappeared entirely in 2011 after grey squirrels moved into the area, bringing with them the deadly squirrel pox virus.

However, the estate is now home to over 170 red squirrels and is one of the most popular places to visit by tourists eager to spot the animal made famous by Beatrix Potter’s Tale of Squirrel Nutkin.

Across Britain, the plight of red squirrels is rife and, with only 15, 000 left in the England, conservation projects are the only way to safeguard their future.

Threatened by disease and a loss of habitat, red squirrel numbers have fallen in the UK from approximately 3.5 million and those that remain are constantly under threat from non-native greys. 23rd September marks the beginning of Red Squirrel Awareness Week, designed to highlight the decline.

The National Trust’s largest agricultural estate was overrun by grey squirrels until a conservation initiative transformed it to contain only reds. Wallington Hall is one of the last remaining strongholds for red squirrels in England.

In Glen Graham, the Trust recruited its first red squirrel ranger to head a new conservation project to revive the native reds. Former neighbourhood investigation officer Glen began monitoring the numbers of both species and co-ordinated grey squirrel control. The work had dramatic effects, the red squirrel population gradually began to resurface, and greys were eventually eradicated entirely.

Glen says, “The constant presence of rangers, alongside the support of visitors and volunteers, is crucial to safeguarding red squirrel populations. Looking to the future, contraceptive methods and new technologies could provide long-term solutions but in the meantime, we need public buy in to protect one of Britain’s best loved species.”

Overcoming difficulties

The project has not been plain sailing and invasions of grey squirrels have led to outbreaks of squirrel pox. But by responding quickly, Glen has helped the population of reds to recover and grow again.

Glen Graham adds, “Looking after the reds has become more than a job, and it’s the animals and changing seasons which dictate my schedule. I’m delighted with the progress we’ve made here for red squirrels and hopefully, we can emulate this success at other sites across the country. The reds are so popular with tourists and locals alike, and form a key part of the UK’s woodlands landscape.”

Other National Trust sites where red squirrels can be found include Borthwood Copse on the Isle of Wight, Brownsea Island in Dorset and Aira Force in the Lake District.

David Bullock, Head of Nature Conservation at the National Trust, says, “Red squirrels are facing a constant battle and those National Trust sites where they can be still found are increasingly important.  We are grateful to and rely on our dedicated rangers, the support of volunteers and partnerships with other environmental organisations to make sure the red squirrel has a future in the UK.”

Red squirrels have lived in the UK for around 10,000 years whereas greys were introduced from North America in 1876. They grey squirrel is largely accepted as the central reason for the decline of red squirrels, competing for food and shelter and transmitting the deadly squirrel pox virus. Once infected, they die of starvation or dehydration.

Natural water management scheme could be important new source of profit for upland farms post-Brexit, and protect vulnerable communities from flooding

England’s struggling upland livestock farmers could earn over £15,000 profit a year by entering into private water management contracts with businesses and organisations in areas susceptible to flooding, according to new analysis by Green Alliance and the National Trust.

Upland farmers are losing £10,800 a year, on average, and it is feared that many will go out of business when Common Agricultural Policy subsidies end in 2022. But a new report shows that a new private market in water management services could be a source of profit for upland farmers, ensuring they can continue as the stewards of some of the UK’s most treasured and inspiring landscapes. The market would be based on a new model called a Natural Infrastructure Scheme, first proposed by Green Alliance and the National Trust in 2016, centred on the provision of ecosystem services such as natural flood management.

Drawing on the latest data and modelling, the analysis uses a hypothetical scheme in north west England to demonstrate how it could work and who would benefit. This area is home to nearly 1,800 upland livestock farms. The example revealed that:

• A scheme managed jointly by a group of ten upland farmers, selling natural flood management services, would be able to protect a downstream town against a severe 1 in 75 year flood event, and reduce levels of water pollution.

• In this example, susceptible organisations downstream would buy into the scheme, such as Network Rail, the local electricity supplier and the local water and sewerage company [4]. These organisations would otherwise spend £11.23 million over a 15 year period to achieve the same level of protection from flooding and water contamination.

• Creating and operating the Natural Infrastructure Scheme would cost the farmers £6.53 million over 15 years. This includes lost agricultural income from the land used for the scheme.

• The overall cost saving from the scheme would be £4.7 million. Split equally between the buying organisations and the farmers, the buyers would save £2.35 million between them over 15 years, and the ten farmers would each earn £15,658 in profit per year for 15 years.

The new report urges the government to help this new market to take off, including encouraging alternative approaches to flood risk planning and procurement and setting a framework and targets in the forthcoming 25 year plan for the environment to stimulate the market.

There is also a key role for post-Brexit agricultural policy, in nurturing new market-based mechanisms to support sustainable farming and land management.

In 2017-18 the National Trust and Green Alliance will be working with leading land managers and water companies to test the NIS concept in a real setting.

Mat Roberts, group sustainability strategy director at Interserve, said:
“The disruption to agriculture and environmental management caused by exiting the EU presents an opportunity for new markets for ecosystem services.  The science and economics that underpins these can’t currently compete with CAP payments.  The NIS could help release private investment, enabling the UK Treasury to co-invest alongside the private sector in the uplands of the UK. This would help sustain fragile rural communities, improve infrastructure resilience, start to reverse biodiversity loss and increase carbon sequestration.”

Patrick Begg, rural enterprises director of the National Trust, said:
We believe the current farming subsidy model needs fundamental reform.  Rather than being paid for how much land you happen to farm, a new model which delivers clear public benefit from public money is within reach after Brexit.  But there’s an even bigger prize to be had.  The NIS will open up new avenues for business to play its part in restoring a healthy, functioning natural environment.  We need to grab this chance to make farming fit for the future whilst safeguarding our countryside for future generations.”

Paul Tipper, head of wastewater network and strategy at United Utilities, said:
“Catchment management allows us to work in partnership with farmers and landowners to deliver water improvements more efficiently than through traditional approaches. We have been exploring a number of innovative funding mechanisms and the natural infrastructure scheme is a welcome addition.”

Laura Mann, project lead for EnTrade, an online platform that facilitates efficient catchment spending, said:
“The NIS scheme is an excellent approach to deliver multiple benefits in a catchment in a cost efficient and environmentally beneficial manner. It complements the work that EnTrade has been doing in partnership with Wessex Water and United Utilities to obtain multiple outcomes in a catchment while also supporting farmers and the local economy.”

Shaun Spiers, executive director of Green Alliance, said:
“The Natural Infrastructure Scheme concept is economically viable and has so much to offer for farmers, businesses and communities at risk of flooding, as well as being environmentally beneficial. It’s amazing it hasn’t been thought of before. By facilitating this market, the government could help support some of our most vulnerable farmers through the Brexit transition, improve the resilience of vital infrastructure at lower cost, and improve the environmental health of some of our most historic landscapes, without increasing the burden on the public purse.”

Arctic tern booming in population thanks to resolute conservation efforts

A tiny bird which clocked up the longest migration ever recorded is booming in population thanks to conservation efforts on a stretch of coast recently bought by the National Trust.

More than 500 Arctic terns – and five internationally threatened little terns – have fledged thanks to rangers camping out on 24-hour watch against predators, such as stoats and foxes. In the previous year just two Arctic terns and five little terns, vulnerable to high tides and marine pollution, managed to take flight.

The National Trust has been carrying out the extensive conservation efforts for decades to keep the birds going on the Northumberland Coast.

This summer the charity acquired 200 acres of land at Tughall Mill for £1.5million to ensure its vital conservation work can continue.

Only around 1,800 breeding pairs of Arctic terns return to the Long Nanny from Antarctica each year, between May and July. The Arctic tern hit headlines last year after one from the Farne Islands clocked up 59,650 miles in one migration, more than twice the circumference of the planet.

Tughall Mill has important wildlife habitats including saltmarsh, woodland, hedgerows, pasture and sand dunes. Many of the habitats being created and enhanced are priority habitats, identified as requiring special protection.

As custodians of this special place, the conservation charity is working to enhance the land’s mosaic of habitats, ensuring nature and wildlife can thrive, for the benefit of future generations.

The land was acquired through the Trust’s Neptune campaign which, for more than 50 years, has enabled the conservation charity to care for Britain’s coastline.

Simon Lee, General Manager of National Trust Northumberland Coast, said: “As an independent conservation charity, we are passionate about looking after special places for the benefit of people, wildlife and nature. Our investment in Tughall Mill offers a truly unique opportunity to do this. We already care for 12 miles of the Northumberland Coast and our team has considerable expertise in managing the land surrounding Tughall Mill. Now we will be able to take a more joined-up approach and look after the wider landscape helping wildlife and nature flourish, as well as safeguarding the site for future generations.”

In caring for the land, the National Trust will link up hedgerows to create wildlife corridors as well as improve woodland areas through the removal of non-native invasive species. The ranger team will also plant native woodland and hedgerow trees, and through careful grazing management, encourage native plant species found in the dunes and grasslands, including rare calcareous plants such as purple milk vetch and autumn gentian. This work will also allow the shorebird colonies, farmland birds and declining waders such as curlew, lapwing and ringed plover, to flourish.

David Feige, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Officer for the Northumberland Coast, said:

“The site at Tughall Mill is a very significant part of the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, especially as it hosts such an important colony of little and Arctic terns, and fantastic dune grassland. It also has great potential to support a wide range of other declining wildlife, and so the AONB Partnership is delighted that the National Trust has been able to buy this site and we look forward to seeing it flourish in the Trust’s care.”

Dune systems like those at Tughall Mill are one of fifty ‘priority’ nature habitats hand-picked by the government as needing support: the National Trust plans to create 25,000 hectares of these habitats by 2025 to help reverse the decline in wildlife and restore natural heritage on all the land in its care. For further information about Tughall Mill, visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/northeast