Capability Brown tercentenary gets underway with planting of his favoured tree

To launch a year of celebrations to mark the tercentenary of Lancelot (Capability) Brown’s birth, the National Trust is planting hundreds of trees back into several of his designed landscapes in its care.

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Dame Helen Ghosh, Director General of the National Trust plants a Cedar of Lebanon at Croome in Worcestershire to mark the tercentary of one of the landscape gardening greats – Capability Brown. Credit James Dobson & NT Images

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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.”

Thousands of pink bottles washed up on the Cornish coast

On Monday January 4 2016, thousands of bright pink detergent bottles have been washed up on Poldhu beach on the Lizard Peninsula, part of the West Cornwall coastline cared for by the National Trust.

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Justin Whitehouse, National Trust Lead Ranger on the Lizard Peninsula, said: ‘We were alerted to the bottles on Monday  and started collecting them straight away, with the aid of our staff and volunteers including those from the Friends of Poldhu Community Group, to remove them from the coastal environment as quickly as possible.

‘We are urging people to not to pick up any bottles without using protective gloves, to keep animals away, and to avoid swimming or walking in the area until any risk from the detergent to human or animal health has been assessed.

‘More than two tonnes worth of bottles have been collected so far, however there is potential for more of the bottles to spread further up and down the coast. Samples of bottles have been submitted for independent analysis and are waiting for the results, as our immediate concern is any impact on the environment and wildlife.

pink bottles on Poldhu beach in Cornwall

‘We have been in contact with potential manufacturers of the bottles about the clean-up and will be investigating the source of where the bottles have come from.’

As the biggest coastal landowner in the country, looking after one third of the Cornish coast, the National Trust is deeply concerned about increasing amounts of marine litter, in particular plastic debris, off UK shores and its effect on marine wildlife. We have been working with other agencies and Cornwall County Council’s emergency response team on managing the situation.

Across the year we run beach cleans where staff and volunteers work together to help with cleaning up the beaches that we look after. In the spring of 2015 hundreds of volunteers helped at 19 of our beaches across the South West of England collecting 533 bags of rubbish. At Blakeney Point in Norfolk 57 large bags of rubbish were collected in March and September 2015.

The unknown impacts of concentrated amounts of detergents on Cornwall’s important marine and coastal wildlife are a concern and we urge the need for government to implement a national marine litter action plan to address the main sources of litter in the UK’s seas from the public, fishing, shipping and sewage-related debris.

Details of how you can help with our beach cleans that happen at coastal places can be found via individual property pages on the Beach cleans at National Trust places. And there is lots of useful information on the Marine Conservation Society website.

2015: The year of the jellyfish

2015 was another challenging year for wildlife, with many new issues coming to the fore, say experts at the National Trust as part of its annual weather and wildlife review.

The conservation charity, which looks after almost 250,000 hectares of land in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, conducts the review across its places every year to help paint a picture of how the year’s weather has affected the nation’s wildlife against a long-term backdrop of decline for 60% of species in the UK.

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How is the mild weather affecting nature?

The autumn and winter of 2015 has seen some unseasonably mild weather with day time temperatures remaining in double figures far longer than usual – and even night-time temperatures have remained very high. 2015 is now the warmest year on record, thought to be the result of man-made climate change and El Nino. This mild weather has affected wildlife and the natural world at many of our places.

Narcissus 'California' growing in March at Cotehele, Cornwall.At Polesden Lacey in Surrey daffodils and daisies are in bloom, bats, which would normally be hibernating, are still flying around, as are insects such as bumblebees, ladybirds and wasps.

Strawberries are still fruiting in gardens in Devon and in the Chilterns our ranger team has seen flowers on holly trees, cherry trees in blossom, rooks starting to nest and the grass continuing to grow.

Crowd pleasers such as snowdrops and daffodils are flowering at Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire. While on the South Downs, catkins are already opening on hazel trees and hawthorn has been spotted coming into flower.

Pete Brash, an animal ecologist for the National Trust, said: “The weather has been ridiculously mild which is having an impact on our wildlife. We’ve seen swifts, swallows and sand martins and there are a number of flowers in bloom very early including  dandelions and even cowslips.

“As we’re seeing the effects of climate change on our winters, nature is simply taking a gamble. If the swallows, for instance, can find sufficient food to maintain good condition then they can be first on the best territories ahead of breeding season next year. But, they have to weigh up the associated risks of staying and not being able to find sufficient food and warmth versus the risks of travelling 3000 miles.

“What could be a worry, however, is that long-range forecasts are predicting that January might see considerably colder weather on the way, which could cause problems.”

The impact of Storm Desmond on National Trust places

Storm Desmond has swept across the north of England affecting many National Trust places in the Lake District and a much loved woodland area in Northumberland.

More than a month’s rainfall fell in some parts of Cumbria with records being broken.

Our teams are out assessing the impact of the floods and working with our tenant farmers and supporting the local communities.

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