Dame Vera Lynn backs £1m appeal to secure future of White Cliffs

Dame Vera Lynn today pledges her support as the National Trust launches a £1 million appeal to further protect the future of the White Cliffs of Dover.

The conservation charity aims to buy 700,000 square metres of land immediately behind the clifftop which it secured in 2012. This will enable the restoration of habitat and land conditions, improve public access, and inspire future generations to connect with the heritage and history of the area.

The White Cliffs of Dover, Kent.Dame Vera, whose 1942 song about the cliffs helped forge her reputation as “The Forces’ Sweetheart”, said she was delighted the Trust had launched the appeal.

“Those iconic white cliffs mean a great deal to so many people,” she said. “They were often the first sight of home for our brave boys as they returned from war, and they continue to represent important British ideals such as hope and resilience even in the most difficult of times.

“It is vital that we do all that we can to preserve this important historical site – as well as the Cross Channel battery – for posterity, so that the memory of the past is never forgotten by future generations.”

The stretch of land is crucial for future 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 two large gun emplacements, which represent a unique part of British history.

The Trust was made aware of the land’s availability after the vendor recognised the value of it supporting existing conservation work on the White Cliffs.

The land, adjacent to Wanstone farm buildings, known historically as Wanstone Battery, will enable the Trust to begin reverting and restoring the land to chalk grasslands, making the military structures watertight, and creating new access routes for visitors.

Virginia Portman, General Manager of the White Cliffs of Dover, says: “There is something very special about the White Cliffs and for many people the site represents part of our cultural heritage. This unique coastal habitat is teeming with wildlife and being adjacent to land already in our care will provide better management options for the area.

“The site should be open for the whole nation to enjoy. It would be devastating if we lost the opportunity to protect it forever. A successful appeal will not only allow us to secure the land but also educate and inspire future generations.”

The Trust is using money from its Neptune costal fund towards the cost of purchase, and is aiming to raise a further £1million by 22 September to secure the land. Donations that come in after 22 September, or after the appeal has reached £1 million, will support ongoing work to protect this and other precious coastal landscapes across the UK.

Money can be donated to the appeal online at https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/appeal/urgent-white-cliffs-appeal



Summer holiday washout wipes out bumper season for wildlife

The summer holiday washout wiped out a bumper season for wildlife, National Trust experts said today.
Family holidays were not the only victims of recent wet weather, with wildlife suffering from extensive summer rain.
2017 was on course to being the best summer for wildlife in over a decade – ending a long run of cool damp summers after mild winters – until the jet stream jumped south just when the summer holidays began.
The conservation charity is working with its tenants and partners to reverse the alarming decline in UK wildlife, aiming to restore 25,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat by 2025.
The weather, of course, influences this ambition, both positively and negatively.
Nature and wildlife expert Matthew Oates, said, “After a highly promising spring and early summer, the good weather was disrupted and the rains came down. This was especially damaging for warmth-loving insects, including many butterflies and bees.
“It means we haven’t had a genuinely good summer since 2006 – the wait goes on.  However, much of our wildlife certainly benefited from fine weather during April, May, June and the first half of July.”
For once, winter stayed within its normal parameters and a balmy spring ensured a successful nesting season for many birds, with rarities like the Little Tern doing well at Blakeney Point in Norfolk. Similarly, the good weather helped many flowers come into bloom ahead of the norm, including daffodils appearing in the Teign Valley woods as early as mid-February, while elder and dog rose also jumped the gun, appearing at the end of April – a month early.
Moderate temperatures also boosted the population of roe deer in parts of the country. Glen Graham, National Trust ranger at Wallington Hall, Northumberland, reported a much higher kid survival rate this year, which was attributed to milder conditions.
The good weather, including a midsummer heatwave, did help some insects to appear unusually early. This included the Purple Emperor butterfly appearing at Bookham Gardens, Surrey, on June 11th – the earliest siting since 1893 – while the rare and spectacular crane fly Ctenophora flaveolata was spotted at Maidenhead Thicket in Berkshire.
But the prospects for many winged creatures and other insect populations came crashing down as Britain experienced one of the wettest August’s on record. As well as disrupting breeding habits, extensive periods of wet weather threatens insects with viruses, pathogens and mould, and causes an unwelcome surge in grass growth. High summer and late summer weather was particularly dismal in the north and west.
Aside from a fine spell mid-month, and a moderate bank holiday weekend, August was wet and windy with temperatures struggling to reach the mid-twenties. However, the summer’s weather pattern – early heat followed by persistent rains – is likely to result in a good autumn for fungiii, and may well benefit spider populations too.
Matthew Oates added, “Our rangers are working closely with our tenant farmers to provide the right habitats for wildlife at our places, but as we all know, you can’t rely on the weather. The north has had a particularly rough time while the South East has had quite a good summer.”
The prospects look good for many autumn fruits, seeds, nuts and berries, reflecting a fine spring. There is a huge acorn crop, hawthorn berries are again profuse and there should be plenty of holly berries for Christmas. Unfortunately, what was an excellent crop of blackberries is rotting in the rain.
2017 may also go down as the summer in which ash dieback disease became prominent across parts of the UK. The infectious disease is worrying for conservationists as evidence points towards an increase in disease driven by fungi.

Statement on our trail-hunting review

“We introduced a number of changes last week in how we license trail ‘hunts’ to further safeguard conservation and access on our land.
“Our clear, robust, and transparent set of conditions – which follow a six month review – are designed to allow participants to enjoy this activity in compatibility with our conservation aims.
“We have been carefully listening to both sides of a highly polarised and passionate debate for years. During our review, we carefully weighed up those arguments, but our first priority is always to protect conservation and access on our land.
“Members will have the opportunity to discuss trail hunting and vote on the matter at the charity’s annual general meeting in October.”
·         Hunting wild animals was outlawed in England and Wales by the Hunting Act of 2004: National Trust land is no exception.  The law does allow what is known as trail ‘hunting’ to continue. It effectively replicates a traditional hunt but without a fox being chased, injured or killed.  The Trust does license trail ‘hunts’ in some areas and at certain times of the year, where it is compatible with our aims of public access and conservation.
·         It’s been a long standing licence condition for all hunts to publicly provide details of where and when they will take place on our land. This is not a new licensing condition and this information has never been a secret.
·         Currently, many people do contact hunts directly for the information they are entitled to have access to. However, they will then come to the Trust if they don’t get the detail they’ve requested. We believe people have every right to expect us to provide this information so they can, for example, avoid certain areas of countryside when a hunt is taking place or conversely to watch a hunt in their local area. Relying however on small, local teams to respond to a high volume of enquiries related to hunts is a labour-intensive and exhaustive process. It’s also an ineffective way of sharing this information in the digital age, lacking consistency and clarity.
·         As a charity with nearly 5 million members, we believe we should be transparent and to share information of public interest in an easily accessible way. That’s why we are planning to provide details of where and when hunts will take on the ‘outdoor licensing page’ of our website.
·         We believe it is right to minimise as far as possible the risk of foxes or any wild animal being accidentally chased during a trail hunt; moving to artificial scents is part of achieving that aim. We are not being prescriptive about the artificial scent used provided it is not animal based in any way.
·         We are making it explicitly clear to all parties that trail hunting, if properly practised, is legal and a legitimate outdoor activity. We will be approaching trail hunting bodies as well as the League Against Cruel Sports with the express aim of reducing as far as possible the potential for violent or abusive and obstructive behaviour by protestors or followers.
·         Like all policies this remains under review. Our members will have a chance to discuss and vote on this issue at the annual general meeting in October. Our Trustees will then meet to reflect on any motions and related debates.
·        We propose to publish on our website the area over which the hunt is licensed to carry out their trail hunting activity, together with the dates on which it will take place. We are not proposing to publish starting points, specific routes and times. We have met with the Masters of Foxhounds Association and Countryside Alliance to listen to their concerns and asked them to put forward any alternative proposals. We are also seeking the views of police. Both the MFHA and CA have acknowledged what we are trying to achieve and we will consider the proposals that they bring forward.
·         We also received a letter from tenants in the Lake District outlining concerns. We have responded and offered to meet them to discuss how we can ensure that trail hunting can operate safely.
·         We keep in regular contact with our tenant farmers. Since the creation of trail hunting post-2004 Hunting Act, we have been in charge of licensing this type of outdoor activity. We have always required trail hunts to gain tenant farmer consent for the trail hunt to cross their occupied land.
·         Tenants have never been the licensor: this is exactly the same as for other landowners. We have tightened rules so that the evidence of prior tenant farmer permission is written, not anecdotal.


Born to be wild: Grandparents most adventurous in great outdoors

Grandparents were much more adventurous during their youth in the great outdoors than today’s youngsters – half of whom have never even climbed a tree, a survey shows.

With 61% of grandparents helping with childcare during school holidays they are the perfect motivators for getting kids to spend more time enjoying nature.

Parents looking for ways to get their kids to spend more time in the great outdoors during the summer holidays need look no further than willing grandparents, keen to spend quality time outside in nature with their grandchildren

Research by leading conservation charity, the National Trust, reveals grandparents are the key ingredient to helping today’s generation develop a connection with nature. Over three quarters (76%) claim they were far more explorative and daring in their youth compared to both their own children and grandchildren, with a huge majority (92%) saying that they take great enjoyment from teaching their grandchildren about these adventurous activities, such as building a den or flying a kite.

The research also reveals that 4 in 5 (79%) adults believe children today have less freedom to explore and play outdoors, compared to their own childhood. While 75% of grandparents said climbing trees was one of their favourite childhood memories, half (51%) said their grandchildren had not experienced this activity.

Nearly half (49%) of grandparents take on the role of childminding more than twice a week to support parents with this increasing during the school holidays by almost two-thirds of grandparents (61%). A whopping 9 in 10 (92%) said that when they do spend time with their grandchildren, they are keen to actively encourage them to take part in explorative outdoor play rather coop up indoors.

The research polled 1,000 grandparents and parents for the charity as part of its ‘50 Things To Do Before You’re 11 ¾’ initiative –  which aims to encourage families to get outdoors and enjoy spending time together – looks at the importance of outdoor family play and how this builds a stronger appreciation and connection to nature.

National Trust research also found:

· Children today spend 57% less time exploring outdoors than their parents and grandparents did – on average just 1 hour 20 mins a day, vs. 2 hours 40 mins (parents) and 3 and a half hours a day (grandparents)

· 87% of parents and grandparents said they enjoy seeing their offspring running wild and carefree, with 80% taking pleasure from seeing them playing outdoors away from technology devices

· In addition, 95% of parents and grandparents agree that it is important for children to connect with nature so that they can build a relationship with the great outdoors and help future generations care for and protect it

To celebrate the joyful experiences the natural world has to offer, the Trust has created a wildlife documentary-style film, bringing to life the innate connection we all have with nature with grandparents leading the way. To view the film, please visit: [insert appropriate url to YouTube full length edit]

Supporting the National Trust’s findings, Behavioural Psychologist Donna Dawson (BA, MSc, PhD) adds:

“Grandparents today are spending more and more time with their grandchildren in the roles of childminder and carer, and consequently getting to share real ‘quality time’ with them. And the research shows that one of the things they are sharing is a love of nature and the great outdoors, something that harks back to their own happy childhood memories. Learning to appreciate Nature at a young, impressionable age makes it much more likely that children will grow up to pass on their love of outdoor experiences to future generations. As a grandmother of seven, I have seen the effects on my grandchildren myself: they are never happier then when running free in the fresh air and sunshine, exploring and asking questions about the natural world around them.”

The National Trust, funded from the support of the public through membership and donations, is looking to inspire the next generation of children to plant their roots and kick-start a lifelong love affair with nature through its ‘50 Things To Do Before You’re 11 ¾’ initiative.

National Trust Ranger Kate Jones, adds: “This summer, we want to inspire children, parents and grandparents to get outdoors and develop their relationship with nature together as a family. With so many fantastic ‘50 Things To Do Before You’re 11 ¾’ events taking place at Trust locations across the country there’s no better time to go wild and explore the great outdoors taking inspiration from our challenges. We know that sharing these outdoor experiences with family and friends from a young age, helps to foster a stronger and more ingrained connection to nature, which we hope will be passed on for generations to come.”

For more information on the National Trust’s ‘50 Things To Do Before You’re 11 ¾’ campaign’, head to: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/50things or search #50things.

Former traffic blackspot recognised as wildlife haven

A once notorious traffic blackspot has been converted into a top wildlife haven after habitat restoration by the National Trust with Natural England.

The Devil’s Punch Bowl, which was separated from Hindhead Common by the A3, has undergone huge improvements after the creation of the Hindhead Tunnel by Highways England.

Six years on from the opening of the tunnel, which saw the restoration of  this Surrey Hills nationally protected landscape, management techniques set out under Higher Level Stewardship and Countryside Stewardship have also seen the restoration of fragile and endangered historic heathland habitat, and the return of rare and diverse breeding birds such as woodlark and nightjar.

Devil’s Punch Bowl

Hindhead Tunnel (picture: Highways England)

Devil’s Punch Bowl


The nationally scarce heath tiger beetle has been sighted, and conditions are now favourable for the return of the silver studded blue butterfly.

The Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) has now been assessed by Natural England as meeting its nature conservation targets, and is considered to be in favourable condition.

It’s not only the removal of the A3 which has made Hindhead and the Devil’s Punch Bowl so special.

The SSSI is one of the highest points in Southern England.  Just under 1,000 feet above sea level, the relatively cool, humid climate of this “lowland” heathland contains species normally associated with more upland sites such as bilberry, and trees festooned with lichens and mosses.

The mosaic of habitats found on site include  upland and lowland heath, bog, streams, ancient woodland, and free draining sandy soil, making the site challenging to manage.

Matt Cusack, Lead Ranger for the National Trust said: “I am thrilled we’ve achieved favourable status for Hindhead and the Punch Bowl during my watch.

“The removal of the A3 in July 2011 was a major milestone, enabling us to thin trees and transform the site into a swathe of heathland.  But the site has been under a Higher Level Stewardship agreement since 2008.  Heather mowing, the introduction of woodlark nesting areas, grazing and scrub management conducted under the scheme has transformed it.  This couldn’t have been achieved without the support of my team and Hindhead’s dedicated local volunteers.”

Transformation of the SSSI and the restoration of the landscape within the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty have also boosted visitor numbers, up 20% from 2011 to approximately 700,000 per year, with visitors now choosing to spend longer exploring the stunning heathland and views.

New paths created by Matt Cusack and his team offer walks for differing abilities around the Devil’s Punch Bowl, enabling visitors to enjoy the tranquillity of the site while avoiding wildlife disturbance on sensitive heathland areas.

Graham Steven, Conservation Advisor for Natural England said: “Matt and his team at the National Trust have done a fantastic job at taking on board actions needed to achieve favourable status.

“They have balanced the needs of different habitats to create a haven for the endangered species that live here such as Dartford warbler, woodlark and nightjar.  The success achieved at Hindhead and the Devil’s Punch Bowl demonstrates what can be achieved when we work in partnership to balance the needs of people and wildlife.”

Henry Penner, Senior Environmental Advisor with Highways England said: “The Hindhead Tunnel is a ground breaking piece of engineering and shows how, by working together, we can deliver a road network fit for the 21st century in a way that not only protects but enhances the environment. “The tunnel is the longest of its type in the UK.  The old A3 around the Devil’s Punch Bowl was filled in using sandstone excavated from the tunnel and a mix of seeds to match the surrounding environment.

“I am delighted that six years on it has been recognised for playing its part in the wildlife success of the Devil’s Punch Bowl SSSI, and recognise the excellent work that Natural England and the National Trust have done to protect and enhance this special place for the country.”

Rob Fairbanks, Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Director added: “The Hindhead Tunnel scheme was the largest landscape restoration project in any National Park or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is wonderful to see that the vision of reuniting the commons and enhancing the heathland habitat has proved so successful.”

National Trust response to Michael Gove’s first major speech as Environment Secretary

Patrick Begg, National Trust rural enterprise director, said: “Michael Gove’s speech shows there’s a strong consensus that funding for farmers and land managers should be based on public money buying clear public benefits. There’s no longer any real debate about whether change will happen – the key questions are now when and how it happens. Putting environmental benefits at the heart of the system that replaces CAP will help safeguard natural resources and ensure a long-term future for farming.

“It was also encouraging that the speech put stewardship of the countryside and our natural resources at the heart of wider policy, whether in trade deals or tackling waste. We look forward to working with Michael Gove and his team over the coming years as they turn these ideas into plans and legislation.”


Helen Ghosh to step down next year as Director General of the National Trust

Dame Helen Ghosh has announced she will be leaving her role as Director General of the National Trust in March, next year.

Helen, who has led the conservation charity since 2012, will take up a new position as the Master of Balliol College, at Oxford University.

The Trust said it would begin the process of looking for a new Director General in the autumn.

Paying tribute to Helen’s time in charge of the Trust, Tim Parker, the organisation’s chairman said: “Helen has done an outstanding job as Director General.

“She will be leaving the organisation in great shape – one clear of its future direction with ever growing levels of investment in conservation.

“We are indebted to Helen for all she has done and wish her well in her new role.”

During five years at the helm, Helen has overseen the implementation of an ambitious 10- year strategy, which has seen the Trust return to its roots by playing an active part in meeting some of the big challenges facing the nation such as the declining health of the natural environment, and the loss of green spaces in towns and cities.

Membership numbers and visits have soared since 2012, with both now at all-time high. Around 25m people paid to visit a Trust property last year, while there were an estimated 200m visits to the coastlines and countryside the charity looks after for the nation.

Under Helen’s leadership, income has also grown significantly and its finances strengthened. This has allowed the Trust to spend more than ever before – over £100m a year – on the conservation of its houses, collections, coast and countryside. The charity has also been able to invest more in specialist posts,  doubling the number of its curators, and employing more rural surveyors, gardeners and building surveyors to support its strategy.

Commenting on her decision to step down, Helen said: “There is never a good time to leave a job that you love, so the decision was a very tough one. But the Trust is in a great place and in great hands, and 2018 which will be my sixth year here seemed the right time to hand over to someone else.

“I am enormously proud of all the Trust has achieved over the past five years, with the conservation of nature and heritage at the heart of what we do and an extraordinary growth in membership, support and visits.”

Helen will remain in post until March 2018. She begins her new role at Oxford in April.