Once-in-a-lifetime chance to spot rare hawfinch in the UK this weekend

Naturalists are urging people to get outside this weekend for a great chance to glimpse the elusive hawfinch, after record numbers have appeared in the UK this autumn. The National Trust has reported there are still hawfinches at many of its places, as they make the most of the autumn fruits and the clear weather over the next few days.

Nature specialist Matthew Oates, says, “There has been an unprecedented influx of these shy and secretive birds to our shores. The keenest of birders may only spot a handful of hawfinches during years of birdwatching but right now, everyone has a chance.

“The best places to look are around hornbeam trees and yew groves that still bear their autumn fruit. If you’re at a loose end what to do this weekend, get outside to try and catch a sight of these enigmatic characters – it may be quite a while until such an opportunity comes round again.”

Trust rangers at Fyne Court, Somerset, Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire, and the Slindon Estate in West Sussex have recorded recent sightings of the birds.

Hawfinches have also been seen lately at Sissinghurst in Kent, Sizergh, in Cumbria, Felbrigg in Norfolk, Hatfield Forest in Essex, Basildon Park in Berks, Steps Hill at Ashridge in Bucks and Wimpole in Cambs.

The remarkable invasion of the bird – the UK’s largest, rarest and most elusive finch – has been attributed to poor seed crop yields in other parts of Europe, notably in the bird’s strongholds of Germany and Romania.

In the UK, there has been an explosion of berries, nuts and seeds, after fine spring weather earlier in the year.

It is thought there are fewer than 1000 pairs of hawfinch native to the UK after dramatic declines in recent years, though the resident population is augmented by winter migrants from the continent. Renowned for their parrot like bills, which are able to crack the hardest of shells, they are sometimes referred to as the nutcrackers of the bird world.

Anyone who spots one of the timid birds is encouraged to share their sighting online using @HawfinchesUK.

 

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National Trust response to 2017 Budget

The National Trust outlines its response to the  2017 Budget announcements made today.

On housing:

Richard Hebditch, Government Affairs Director, National Trust, said,

“We support action to encourage the build out of planning permissions already granted, and the Chancellor’s welcome pledge to continue to protect the Green Belt. When it comes to finding additional land for development, the real challenge for Ministers is ensuring that the houses we need go in the right places, in a way that doesn’t spoil our valued countryside or historic areas in our town centres.

“How Government divides up its 300,000 home aspiration between councils could end up putting even more pressure on sensitive landscapes, such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty or the Green Belt, unless current approaches are redesigned.”

On plastics:

Richard Hebditch, Government Affairs Director, National Trust, said,

“Our staff and volunteers are only too well aware of the damage that plastics can cause to wildlife, and the blight of discarded plastics in the places we care for, and so we welcome the Chancellor’s commitment to consult on taxes for throwaway plastics. This, alongside the consultation on a deposit scheme for single use drinks containers and the successful carrier bag charge already in place, could have a really positive impact on our environment.”

The National Trust is extending its partnership with the Marine Conservation Society tomorrow, 23rd November, to improve the quality of the UK’s coastal and marine environments. The aims of the collaboration include engaging a wider audience in active conservation initiatives, such as beach cleans and surveys, to reduce the impact of pollution and litter.

 

 

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.

 

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.