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.”

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Clare Balding presents podcasts on LGBTQ heritage for National Trust ‘Prejudice & Pride’ programme

A six-part podcast series, ‘Prejudice & Pride’, presented by broadcaster and author Clare Balding, launches today and explores stories from National Trust places across the country, uncovering the LGBTQ heritage that has often been left out of recorded history.

The series brings together studio discussions and recordings at Trust places, with contributions from new and established writers, historians and curators.

Each episode follows a theme, such as women’s intimacies, creative retreats, queer history in the ancient world and connections with the performing arts.

Clare Balding in the studio, (C) Anna Lea

 

Clare Balding says: “I’m delighted to present some of the creative, dramatic and surprising stories that have emerged as part of the National Trust’s ‘Prejudice & Pride’ programme. I admire hugely the work the Trust has done in preserving our cultural and architectural history, and these places mean so much more when we understand the people who lived and loved in them.

“I think it’s crucial to realise that LGBTQ heritage and LGBTQ people are not a new phenomenon or a passing phase.  There have always been people of amazing creativity, generosity and importance who do not conform to gender stereotypes.

“I feel we can get better at embracing difference. Realising the impact of the LGBTQ community as a key part of our British heritage is a step in the right direction.”

The podcasts – to be released weekly – are among the latest series of activities and events announced by the Trust in its year-long ‘Prejudice & Pride’ programme to mark 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality.

LGBTQ heritage has an important place in the history of the conservation charity and the places in its care. To celebrate this heritage, the Trust has been exploring the stories of the people who challenged conventional notions of gender and sexuality and who shaped the places in which they lived.

Three short documentary-style films have also been produced to celebrate LGBTQ heritage and the breadth of activity across the ‘Prejudice & Pride’ programme. Artists in residence Simona Piantieri and Michele D’Acosta have captured key moments from the programme.

The films include footage of the recent joint project with The National Archives to recreate The Caravan, a queer-friendly members club in 1934 that was shut down by police; the moving stories of Pre-Raphaelite artist Simeon Solomon and his contemporaries connected to Wightwick Manor in Wolverhampton; and highlights of Birmingham Pride Festival in May.

National Trust at Birmingham Pride 2017, (C) Arnhel de Serra

 The films encompass stories of love, loss and tragedy, as well as celebration and pride, and will be exhibited at selected properties and online.

The Trust’s research into the many LGBTQ stories at its places and the people who shaped them has been published this month in a new Prejudice & Pride guidebook by Professor Alison Oram and Professor Matt Cook.

From tales of cross-dressing to stories of servants and the retreats used by same-sex couples, the guidebook explores famous names and unknown people, as well as the architecture, design and collections which they may have associated with as a way of expressing their desires and relationships.

 

Front cover of the new Prejudice & Pride guidebook

 

Tom Freshwater, National Programmes Manager at the National Trust says: “There is an extraordinary range of stories and people connected to our places which illustrates how deeply LGBTQ heritage goes back into our shared history.

“Thousands of visitors have already enjoyed theatre performances, art installations and exhibitions as part of our programme so far this year, as well as taking part in our partnership projects with University of Leicester and The National Archives, and joining us as we participate at Pride festivals.

“This is not just a year-long celebration but one which will give us a lasting legacy and offer a greater understanding, accessibility and higher profile for LGBTQ heritage that will benefit us all.”

Property-based events in the Prejudice & Pride programme are also taking place this summer and autumn.

  • Sutton House, Hackney

Sutton House is hosting a year of exhibitions, activities and events around the theme ‘Sutton House Queered’. Exploring identity in a creative, challenging and playful way, the programme has been developed with the LGBTQ community and a number of partners. A summer School of Anarchy will explore themes of LGBTQ activism and protests, banners and flags, DIY cultures and activist zines. Queer artist Jacob V Joyce will be creating an exciting and interactive in-house exhibit alongside a series of engaging family activities.      24 July to 3 September.

  • Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk

A new short film ‘The Unfinished Portrait’ narrated by local resident, actor, writer and presenter Stephen Fry, tells the story of the last squire of Felbrigg – Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer. The last squire was a shy, gentle man, known as ‘Bunny’ to his friends, who restored his exquisite ancestral home and bequeathed it to the nation in 1969. Although many have privately acknowledged his homosexuality, this has not been previously discussed with visitors to the Hall. Working with the staff at Felbrigg, the University of Leicester team has uncovered new information about the last squire – his poetry, scholarship and circle of friends – that has been used to create the beautiful short film.

The film uses an unusual and striking blend of live action (featuring National Trust volunteers from Felbrigg), animation and motion graphics, created by a talented team of artists and designers – Julie Howell, Tom Butler and Lea Nagano.

Released online and at Felbrigg from 25 July.

Kingston Lacy, (C) Thomas Faull

 

  • Kingston Lacy, Dorset

A bold new installation and exhibition – Exile! – celebrates the contribution of William John Bankes to Kingston Lacy and the impact he had on the house and estate. Forced to flee England in 1841 to avoid prosecution and a possible death penalty for same-sex acts, Bankes was exiled in Europe, from where he sent back a vast collection of art to further develop the house.

This collaboration between Kingston Lacy and the University of Leicester’s Research Centre for Museums and Galleries, places Bankes’ experiences in the context of a broader history of the persecution of LGBTQ lives, enriching the contemporary relevance of his story.  In memory of his exile, the rainbow flag will be flown at Kingston Lacy throughout the installation.

18 September to 12 November

  •  Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Kent

 At Sissinghurst Castle Garden, LGBTQ heritage plays a particularly important part in the property’s story. Owners Harold Nicholson and Vita Sackville-West, who purchased Sissinghurst in 1930, enjoyed a happy and loving marriage while also engaging in same sex extra marital affairs. Their relationships challenged social norms and influenced them both creatively.

Speak its Name!  – a display in partnership with the National Portrait Gallery, London – will present selected portraits from the Gallery’s Collection, including photographs and drawings of Sackville-West’s lovers Violet Trefusis and Virginia Woolf, and portraits of the couple’s artistic and literary contemporaries, including Duncan Grant and Lytton Strachey. Items from the Sissinghurst collection also feature, including a copy of ‘The Well of Loneliness’ by Radclyffe Hall, a book with a lesbian protagonist that was deemed ‘obscene’ by a British judge when it was released in 1928, and pictures of Nicolson and Woolf that once belonged to Sackville-West.

9 September – 29 October

  •  Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland

When Emperor Hadrian ruled ancient Rome from AD 117 – 138, there was nothing unusual about same sex relations. What was extraordinary was his outpouring of grief over the death of his younger male lover, Antinous.  Evidence of it remains in the shape of marble busts of Antinous’ likeness and coins that depict him. In October, an evening of talks, created in partnership with Vindolanda Trust, Newcastle University and Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, will round-off the National Trust’s year of events celebrating our shared LGBTQ heritage.

26 October

See the Prejudice and Pride web page for more details of the podcasts, films, activities and LGBTQ events around National Trust places in 2017.

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.

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National Trust rangers go to extreme lengths to monitor storm petrels

With ghetto blasters pumping into the early hours, this remote night spot has a very exclusive guest list: elusive sea birds only.
 
National Trust rangers are going to extreme lengths to monitor storm petrels, setting up high-powered speakers to lure them in at night.A BIRD IN THE HAND credit Douglas Holden
 
A small team of passionate ornithologists at The Leas in South Tyneside will work into the early hours to coax the birds by transmitting their sound out to sea.
 
Storm petrels, which don’t usually come inland in the daytime as they’re easily predated by gulls, are caught in mist nets before being ringed, recorded and set free again.
 
The data is passed onto the British Trust for Ornithology and provides vital information in understanding the survival rates, population sizes and movement of storm petrels. 
 
Dougie Holden, ranger for the National Trust on The Leas said:
 
“A small team of us regularly monitor storm petrels in July and August. We construct 120 foot of fine netting on the beach and begin playing the sound of the breeding colony as soon as it gets dark, usually around 10pm at this time of year. When the birds fly inland they are caught in the net and trained handlers ring the birds and record their data.”
 
“We prefer the weather conditions to be a little overcast as the nets are more visible to the birds on a clear moonlit night.”
 
“The information we gather through bird ringing and monitoring provides a small part of a much bigger picture when it comes to understanding how a species lives and thrives. The National Trust is passionate about wildlife conservation. We work closely with volunteers and other like-minded organisations to care for our natural world.”
 
Storm petrels spend the winter months off the coast of South West Africa and begin their long journey back to their UK breeding grounds in spring. Birds over the age of four are usually paired up and sitting on single eggs by early June. It is thought that the birds ringed on The Leas are under the age of four and spend the summer moving up and down the east coast, feeding rather than breeding.
 
In 2015 National Trust Rangers and the Whitburn coastal conservation group carried out an intensive eight week survey of storm petrels. During that time they ringed 514 storm petrels and two rare Leach’s storm petrels.
 
The Whitburn coastal conservation group has been monitoring storm petrels on The Leas for 15 years. During that time they recorded a visit from a bird in 2015 that was originally ringed off the coast of Portugal in 2004. They also ringed a bird in 2009 that was recorded on The Faroe Islands in 2010.
 
Wildlife enthusiasts are being invited along to watch the Trust’s rangers and coastal volunteers in action as they catch and ring storm petrels on Saturday 15 July. To book a place or find out more about this event log ontowww.nationaltrust.org.uk/events or call 0344 249 1895.

National Trust response to Greenpeace investigation into farm subsidies

Richard Hebditch, National Trust external affairs director, said: “We believe the current farming subsidy model needs fundamental reform – even if that means the Trust will receive less income for its land.

“Rather than being paid for how much land you happen to farm, a new model which delivers clear public benefit from the money being spent is within reach after Brexit.

“Farmers should receive a fair market price for safe and sustainable supplies of food, with public funding paying for the crucial role of protecting vulnerable natural resources, caring for our heritage and landscape and helping address issues like flooding and climate change.”

Andrew Logan sculpture comes to Buckland Abbey, former home of Sir Francis Drake

‘The Art of Reflection’ from 1 July 2017

An exhibition of contemporary art by the renowned sculptor Andrew Logan will open on Saturday 1 July at the National Trust’s Buckland Abbey in Devon.

‘The Art of Reflection’ interprets the history and spirit of the abbey in 18 Logan sculptures, placed in 13 selected locations throughout the house and gardens, including the Great Barn, Kitchen Garden and the historic Cart Pond.

The exhibition, one of the largest ever staged by the National Trust in collaboration with one artist, is curated jointly by Buckland Abbey and Andrew Logan, with work selected from five decades of the artist’s career.

A major attraction will be Andrew Logan’s new jewel and painted glass portrait of Sir Francis Drake, Buckland’s most celebrated owner.

Drake’s Portrait 2017, photo Steve Haywood/National Trust

‘The Art of Reflection’ has been organised under the conservation charity’s              Trust New Art contemporary art programme.

Reflecting themes ranging from exploration and discovery, to peace and tranquillity, and nature and the universe, ‘The Art of Reflection’ includes ‘Goldfield’, one of Logan’s earliest public commissions from 1976.

The giant installation will fill Buckland’s Great Barn with 4.5-metre high wheat stalks, field mice and floating butterflies.

Other exhibition highlights include ‘World of Smiles’, a hanging globe in Drake’s Chamber, echoing his circumnavigation of the world, and ‘Life and Oomph’, Logan’s life-size sculpture featuring Royal Ballet principal ballerina Lynn Seymour, reaching out from a sea of pearls. Never previously exhibited, ‘Life and Oomph’ will be installed in the former Long Gallery, a space historically used at Buckland for recreation and dancing.

Goldfield, photo Steve Haywood/National Trust

 

The abbey’s dining room is to be transformed by Logan into an installation titled ‘Dinner with Andrew Logan and Friends’ featuring artworks by his friends Duggie Fields, Jennifer and Christine Binnie, Richard Logan and Dame Zandra Rhodes.

Buckland’s gardens will be home to Logan’s ‘Four Flowers of the Apocalypse’, a floral tribute to the abbey’s spectacular natural setting, and ‘Excalibur’, a 3-metre glass sword rising out of the abbey’s Cart Pond.

‘The Alternative Miss World’ event which Logan conceived and has run for over 40 years will be represented by the ornamental ‘Elements’ and ‘Universe’ thrones on which the competition’s winners have been crowned. During the exhibition, Buckland’s visitors will be able to try out the thrones for themselves in the Great Hall which has welcomed many famous noblemen and dignitaries during its colourful history.

Buckland’s volunteers will be given specially created pieces of ‘apple’ jewellery to wear in celebration of the abbey’s 700 year old history of apple-growing and cider-making. Other pieces from Logan’s Heritage Jewellery collection will be displayed alongside historic artefacts in the abbey’s collection.

Excalibur, photo Steve Haywood/National Trust

James Breslin, Buckland Abbey’s House & Visitor Experience Manager said: “We’re thrilled to be working with an artist of Andrew’s calibre and to bring his work to Buckland. We have designed the exhibition with Andrew to weave its way through our existing collection and historic spaces, offering new and exciting ways to reflect on Buckland’s past through contemporary art.

“We hope our visitors will be surprised, inspired, and perhaps even challenged, by discovering Andrew’s beautiful sculptures in the tranquil and unique setting of Buckland.”

Andrew Logan said: “It is a joy working with Buckland Abbey for this exhibition and drawing inspiration from its great beauty, peace and tranquillity, resting in the Devon hills. It is exciting to mix new and old work, to see ‘Goldfield’ going on show again after 41 years, while creating a portrait of Francis Drake especially for Buckland as a homage to him. I really hope the exhibition is going to enthral visitors and be like Alice in Wonderland…full of surprises.”

Grace Davies, National Trust Contemporary Art Programme Manager said:
“For over five years visitors have been coming to experience Trust New Art, our rich and diverse programme of contemporary arts at properties across the country inspired by National Trust places. Continuing the spirit of Trust New Art, this vibrant exhibition by Andrew Logan shines a new light on Buckland Abbey, giving visitors the opportunity to experience contemporary creativity that is rooted in our unique heritage.”

‘The Art of Reflection’ runs until  February 2018.