PICTURES: Toilet tern ‘Lulu’ takes up testing nest spot

Desperate birdwatchers visiting the Farne Islands’ toilets face an unexpected tern – with a rare bird nesting just inches overhead.

An Arctic tern, which will have arrived on the remote Northumberland islands from the Antarctic in May, is incubating two eggs in the grooves of the toilet’s clear corrugated plastic roof.

Toilet tern 2 CREDIT Jen Clark, National Trust LO

An Arctic tern has built her nest on the clear plastic roof of the Farne Islands’ ladies toilet. National Trust rangers on the remote Northumberland islands have nicknamed her ‘Lulu’. CREDIT: Jen Clark/National Trust

Jen Clark, National Trust ranger, said: “It might be that she’s seen the groove in the plastic as a great place to lay her eggs. Terns like to scrape out a cup shape for their nest.

“It might be potty, but the staff are loving it. That block has three toilets in a row, but everyone’s using the two that have the best view of the tern.

“We’re calling her ‘Lulu’.”

Toilet tern 1 CREDIT Jen Clark, National Trust LO

Toilet tern 3 CREDIT Jen Clark, National Trust LO

CREDIT: Jen Clark/National Trust

It’s not the first time the island’s wildlife has taken up home in the toilets on Inner Farne.

Jen added: “We get an eider duck that nests against the toilet wall. The ducklings only just hatched and we had to lower a fence to help them off the nest.”

The National Trust has cared for the islands since 1925. Set a mile off the Northumberland coast, the islands have been protected for 189 years and are one of Britain’s oldest nature reserves. They are home to more than 96,000 pairs of seabirds, including puffins, arctic terns and eider ducks.

PICTURES: Bluebells blooming thanks to Snowdonia cattle

Three highland cattle are helping bluebells bloom again in one Snowdonia wood.

The National Trust introduced cows Myfi, Wmffre and Hugo to Coed Ganllwyd on the charity’s Dolmelynllyn Estate in 2015. Livestock had been excluded from the woods for the past 40 years.

Highland cow 1

A highland cow grazing at the National Trust’s Dolmelynllyn Estate. Credit: National Trust

Rhodri Wigley, National Trust ranger, said: “Before the cattle arrived it was quite overgrown. The understorey was thick with brambles.”

The hardy cattle, which spend all year on the estate’s woods, help tackle the thick bramble on the woodland floor – allowing more delicate plants like bluebells and wild garlic to break through.

highland cow 2

A highland cow grazing at the National Trust’s Dolmelynllyn Estate. Credit: National Trust

Rhodri said: “The heifer has two big horns which she uses to pull down branches and eat the leaves.

“The grazing makes a massive difference. You can see through the woods now. Last year we saw a lot more wild garlic in the woods – and it’s an even bigger area of garlic this year.”

Rangers regularly move the cattle between parcels of woodland on the estate. Once the cattle have cleared the brambles they hope to introduce sheep from local farmers.

PICTURES: Cheeky dormouse dances up Cornwall ranger’s back

An experienced National Trust ranger was left reeling after a rare hazel dormouse danced up his back.

James Robbins, a ranger on the conservation charity’s Cotehele Estate, Cornwall, was checking the 60 dormouse nest boxes in a wooded valley on the estate earlier this month.

It was the first time the James, whose image of a snoring dormouse was chosen as one of the Guardian’s pictures of the year last Christmas, had checked the boxes this year.

Dormouse at Cotehele SPRING 2017 James Robbins, NT 2

National Trust ranger James Robbins was left reeling after a dormouse jumped out of a nest box at Cotehele, Cornwall, and scampered up his back. It was near the place where ranger James last year snapped the dozing dormouse that captured newspaper readers’ hearts. CREDIT: James Robbins/National Trust

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13 things we learned about making nest boxes from Sherborne Park Estate’s rangers

Earlier this morning National Trust rangers on the Sherborne Park Estate took to Facebook Live to explain how they’re looking after birds on the Cotswold estate that’s charming millions on BBC Springwatch.

As well as building a bird box in under five minutes, they showed-off the different kinds of bird boxes they put up at Sherborne Park – including homes for barn owls, willow tits, tawny owls and dippers.

Here are 13 things we learned from the Facebook Live.

1. It’s really easy to make a blue tit box

Ranger James Gomery knocked up the blue tit nest box in under five minutes from untreated wood that they had lying around their yard.

He used a pattern from this amazing British Trust for Ornithology nestbox guide.


Laying out the box – plus one made earlier

2. If you’re making a nest box you should use wood

Anna Field, an ecologist and ranger at Sherborne Park Estate, said: “The important thing is not to use plastic or metals. They can get hot or damp inside and cause problems for the chicks.

“The other important thing is that you use wood that’s at least 15mm thick. That insulates birds from the weather.”

3. There are around fifty nest boxes for blue tits and great tits at Sherborne – but there are lots of other boxes for different species

A few years ago rangers put up several nest boxes that have no front panel at all. These were for dippers – a small black and white bird that snatches insects from fast flowing rivers.

“It’s historically bred on the estate,” Anna said. “But we don’t have any at the moment.

“A couple of years ago we had a young bird who came to winter with us, so we rather speculatively put up some of these boxes. We have had grey wagtails nesting in them.

4. If you’re putting up a box in your garden, don’t put it near your bird feeder

Birds don’t tend to use nest boxes near where they feed, ranger Anna said. Keeping the nest boxes away from the feeder also helps reduce disturbance.

Anna added: “If you’re putting them in an exposed position in a tree in your garden it’s best to face them north to east, away from the wet winds to the bright sunshine.”

5. Regularly cleaning your feeder helps prevent diseases

Anna said: “Empty them, put them in boiling water – and that kills off the diseases.”

At this time of year a water bath can also help the birds to keep clean – important when they’re nesting.


6. Owl nesting boxes are massive

Anna said: “Different owls have different sizes and different habits, so you need to have different boxes for each of them.”


Anna and Simon with a barn owl box

7. But they don’t always get used by owls – sometimes they’re used by greedy jackdaws

Last year rangers put up a few little owl nesting boxes. The distinctive design – with a tunnel opening up into a larger chamber – is tailor made for the species, which like their nesting chamber to be really dark.

Despite having a healthy population of little owls at Sherborne, with six males, none of the boxes have been used by owls. Instead, Anna said, one of the nest boxes has been filled up with sticks by jackdaws. She said: “We’ve got them in our barn owl nest boxes and tawny owl nest boxes, but I’ve not seen one down a tunnel in a little owl nest box before.”

8. Barn owls are doing really well at Sherborne

A family of barn owls has been charming Springwatch viewers – but there are four more pairs using the nest boxes at Sherborne.

“Out of our 18 boxes we’ve got five of them with nests in this year, which is really good for an estate this size,” Anna said.  “I was just checking them yesterday and in one of our boxes the eggs are just hatching and we’ve got three little chicks and four unhatched eggs, which is a massive brood.”

9. A muddy puddle can help house martins

The small bird, which is a similar size to a swift or swallow, builds its nest from wet mud – so a source of fresh dirt can be really helpful.

“We’ve got a really damp area of our yard and we’ve had scores of house martins coming down and taking mud out,” Anna said. “I think it’s in quite short supply at this time of year because it’s been so dry.”

10. Despite the name, willow tits like to nest in rotting birch tree stumps

Sherborne’s rangers have hollowed out a big birch log to mimic the kind of nest they like.

Anna said: “We’ve hollowed it out and put a hole in. Because they like to excavate their nests we’ve filled it with wood chippings.”

There are 15 of these distinctive nest boxes at Sherborne, funded by the North Cotswolds Ornithological Society. And rangers plan to plant wet woodland this winter to help the birds further.

“We’ve only got a few pairs left. But we’re trying to do everything we can to improve the habitat.”


A willow tit nest box

11. Even the rangers’ office at Sherborne is home to wildlife.

Countryside manager Simon Nicholas said: “We’ve got great tits nesting, we’ve got blue tits nesting, we’ve even got a nuthatch nesting in the building this year.

“In these older buildings, sometimes the mortar starts disintegrating. But in some places the cracks between the stones get bigger and the little birds find their way in and build a nest.”

12. The rangers at Sherborne really love what they do

Ranger James Gomery found a tawny owlet perched in a tree just the other day. He said: “We’re always keeping our eyes peeled for the wildlife. That’s what we’re fascinated by and interested in.”

13. And every office should have a dog called Alfie

Alfie, a black, white and tan border collie, threatened to steal the show – with his heavy panting and occasional barking interrupting the start of the video.

“He’s a bit of an attention seeker,” said Alfie’s owner Simon Nicholas – the countryside manager at Sherborne Park Estate. “Apart from that he doesn’t do much work.”


Show-stealer Alfie with Simon Nicholas, Sherborne’s countryside manager

Settled Saturday weather should mean bumper wildlife for Springwatch lovers

The nesting red kites and busy stoats were blessed with blue skies and warm sun yesterday at the National Trust’s Sherborne Park Estate.

The conservation charity’s Cotswold estate, near Cheltenham, is the site of this year’s BBC Springwatch – which has just come to the end of its first week at the 4,000 acre Sherborne Park Estate.

With warm weather and sunny spells forecast, the Trust’s nature experts predict that this weekend will offer nature-lovers some brilliant sights in the countryside.

Matthew Oates, National Trust nature specialist, said: “This weekend’s going to be really exciting, as the early summer butterflies are all starting to appear. You could see rarities like Large Blue, Black Hairstreak, Heath Fritillary, and commonalities like Meadow Brown, and probably Marbled White too – all rather early.

“Look out for a lot of other June insects, like the Burnet moths and various robberflies and hoverflies.  However, the spring species, like the Orange Tip, are ending or ended.

“June’s flowers are prominent – Elder and dog roses in hedges and along road verges, Common Spotted, Fragrant and Pyramidal Orchids. And everywhere the tree foliage is darkening.”


PICTURES: Ringed plover chick takes first steps at White Park Bay, Co. Antrim

A ringed plover chick waits for its mother at White Park Bay, Co. Antrim.

With its pebble-like down, the chick is perfectly camouflaged against the shingle on the famous Northern Ireland beach. It was spotted scuttling on the beach by ranger Christie Greer last week.

There are estimated to be only 5,600 breeding pairs of ringed plover in the UK and the bird has been given a ‘red status’ by the RSPB.


Ringed plover chick at White Park Bay, Co. Antrim. Credit: Christie Greer/National Trust


Ringed plover chick at White Park Bay, Co. Antrim. Credit: Christie Greer/National Trust

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.


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.


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.