Birdwatchers flock to see short-eared owls at Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire

Birdwatchers from across the East of England have spent the winter entranced by one of Britain’s most impressive birds.

Around ten short-eared owls have been seen on Burwell Fen, near Ely, Cambridgeshire, by rangers from the National Trust’s Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve.

The sandy-coloured owls, which are one of Britain’s largest and unlike many others thrive in open countryside, arrive on the reserve in October. The birds will leave the reserve, which home to many vulnerable wetland and grassland species, in in March for their breeding grounds in the Scottish uplands or northern Scandinavia.

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Short-eared owl at Wicken Fen, near Cambridge. Credit: Prashant Meswani

Birdwatchers have been treated to stunning views of the short-eared owls, capturing the owls performing mid-air acrobatics and skirmishes with other birds of prey.

But behind the pictures is an important conservation story that rangers from the National Trust reserve are keen to tell.

Martin Lester, Countryside Manager at Wicken Fen, said: “The habitat on Burwell Fen is ideal for the short eared owls. Their numbers have increased over recent years since we started grazing the fen with our konick ponies and highland cattle.

“The ponies and cattle help create a mixture of vegetation heights and open spaces that are perfect for voles – the owls’ preferred prey. It also has plenty of posts for the owls to roost. The fen is home to lots of vulnerable grassland and wetland species.

“The owls have been a big draw for birdwatchers and photographers across the region. And if people want the best views of the owls, they should stick to the raised banks or public footpaths. These banks offer panoramic views of the fen – and ensures our visitors to see the owls without disturbing these wonderful birds.”

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Short-eared owl hunting at Wicken Fen, near Cambridge. Credit: Prashant Meswani

National Trust rangers added that birdwatchers should not stray onto the fen in search of a better photograph of the owls.

Burwell Fen is a wintering home to a large number of vulnerable grassland and wetland species. Rangers said that by walking onto the fen would risk disturbing the birds and

Wicken’s other rare wildlife – and could lead to the owls looking for alternative wintering sites in the future.

Membership price rise will help fund record conservation spend and deliver better experiences for visitors

  • Average rise of 15p a month to help fund record conservation investment
  • Charity responds to feedback with improved facilities, longer opening times and more visitor programmes
  • Over one million members pay discounted rate
  • Members benefit from unlimited access to 500 places and free parking

Annual membership of the National Trust will increase from March 1, 2017, by an average of £1.80 a year to help the charity fund record levels of investment in vital conservation work, and improve visitor facilities and experiences.

Money raised from memberships is vital not only to help the Trust care for 300 historic properties, 775 miles of coastline and 250,000 hectares of countryside across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but also provide access to them for ever for everyone.

People walking, with Worms Head in the distance, Gower, Wales.

People walking, with Worms Head in the distance, Gower, Wales.

The Trust, which is largely funded through donations, memberships and legacies, spent a record £107m on conservation last year in maintaining, repairing and improving its houses, countryside and tenanted properties.

It also plans to spend an extra £300 million on addressing a backlog of conservation work by 2024.

The Trust said the extra funding would help it respond to what its members wanted including keeping its doors open for longer and at times which suit visitors. More properties than ever are now open for 363 days a year.

Members also benefit from free car parking at more than 170 additional countryside and coastal locations.

Members have also asked for increased numbers of events and more inspiring experiences along with better website and digital communications to keep them informed of what’s happening at Trust places.

In response, the charity is investing more money into visitor programmes and digital platforms, along with better parking, larger cafes and a greater range of activities at many sites.

Extra staff members have meanwhile been employed on the ground in the last twelve months to improve visitor experiences.

Visitors exploring the house at Lyme Park, Cheshire.

Visitors exploring the house at Lyme Park, Cheshire. Credit National Trust Image/John Millar

Individual adults will pay only £1.80 more for membership while Family membership increases by £3.60 a year.

The smallest increase in membership is for the Senior discounted category at an extra £1.10 for the year, rising from £47.50 to £48.60.

The Trust is continuing this discounted rate for Senior members who have held either an individual or joint membership for at least five of the last ten years, and is also continuing its Young Person’s concession for ages 13 – 25.

Currently, over one million members have taken up the discounted rate, which is the equivalent of one in five members.

Jackie Jordan, the Trust’s Director of Brand, Marketing and Supporter Development says:

“Our members’ support is absolutely vital to everything we do as a charity. The income from memberships helps us to look after the houses, coastlines, and countryside in our care on behalf of the nation.

“On average memberships will go up by around 15p a month and that will help us to plough money back into our biggest ever programme of conservation work, along with improving our facilities and visitor programmes.

“We’re responding to what our members tell us they want which will increase their enjoyment of our places. That’s why we’re opening more of our properties for longer and at times which better suit visitors, with many now open 363 days a year.

“We are investing in larger cafes and new shops, along with better car parking facilities and toilets, improved visitor reception areas, and more gallery spaces, events and outdoor activities.

“We couldn’t do all that we need to do without the support of our members and we want to thank them all for their continued support.

“We believe we offer great value for money. For around a fiver a month, a member can enjoy unlimited access to hundreds of Trust locations across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, whilst helping to look after them for future generations to enjoy.”

See here for more information on National Trust membership

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National Trust ‘secrets’ unveiled in new Channel 5 series

Filming at Lyme Park for a six part TV series about National trust

Filming at Lyme Park for a six part TV series about the National Trust. Credit National Trust images.

The National Trust has opened its doors to Channel 5 for a new series starting on Tuesday 07 February at 9pm, which will celebrate the stunning estates, historic houses and miles of breathtaking countryside and coastline in the conservation charity’s care.

Across six, 60 minute episodes, host Alan Titchmarsh will find out about the Trust’s conservation work and discover the stories hidden behind its buildings and gardens in the new series, Secrets of the National Trust with Alan Titchmarsh.

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National Trust statement on grounds-only entry pricing

Tony Berry, visitor experience director for the National Trust, said: “We are not abolishing all grounds-only entry prices, but there are a few properties where we have simplified their admission prices and now offer one ‘whole property’ ticket price.
 
“We have only made this change in places where the majority of visitors were already paying for a full access ticket, and the new simpler prices have had no adverse impact on the number of people coming to enjoy a day out at our places. In fact, we’ve seen a significant increase in visitors taking out membership at these properties, generating extra income to help look after the buildings, grounds and facilities. Millions of people meanwhile continue to enjoy free access to hundreds of outdoor spaces in the countryside and along the coast managed by the Trust on behalf of the nation.”

Could you be the National Trust’s new Farne Islands ranger?

Fed up with the rat race? With no running water and thousands of puffins as your only neighbours, a new National Trust vacancy promises the ultimate escape.

Schmoozing business contacts will be tricky as a ranger on the remote Farne Islands, but it’s a wildlife enthusiast’s dream – promising jaw-dropping sunrises, a one minute commute and one of England’s largest seal colonies on your doorstep.

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.

Potential applicants will need to be hardy. Rangers on the islands must brave dive-bombing attacks from Arctic terns, no running water and harsh spring storms that can see them marooned on the islands for weeks at a time.

Gwen Potter, National Trust countryside manager for the Northumberland Coast, said: “This job isn’t the normal 9 to 5. Being good with PowerPoint isn’t a priority.

“We’re looking for someone with a passion for wildlife and conservation – and who wants to share that passion with others.

“Rangers have been based on the Farne Islands for almost 190 years, with scientists carrying out research here for decades. Last year a Springwatch-backed study found that a Farne Islands Arctic tern had made a record-breaking migration, flying 96,000km to Antarctica and back.

“Living here you truly feel like you’re on the edge of the world. It’s a wildlife-lover’s paradise: open the curtains in the morning and you’re greeted with crowds of fluffy seal pups or scampering Arctic tern chicks.

“As a ranger you’ll be in charge of monitoring the wildlife and seals on the islands – as well as assisting with scientific research.

“Every season is different and you’ll be doing everything from carrying out repairs and counting cute seal pups in October to blow-drying sickly Arctic terns or handling puffin chicks during our five-yearly count of the colourful birds.

“But it’s not a job for the faint-hearted. All our water on the island has to be brought in by boat – and we’ve not got a washing machine. Rangers can end up marooned in their cottage during the seal mating season and the island’s thousands of Arctic terns are known for diving at people’s heads in a bid to defend their chicks.”

As one of two full-time rangers, the successful candidate will live on the islands for nine months a year. They will be joined by 11 seasonal rangers over the summer, living on the remote islands 24 hours a day for five days a week.

Inner Farne, one of 20 islands that make up the Farne Islands archipelago, was once home to a string of hermit saints 1,500 years ago – most famously Saint Cuthbert.

But with 50,000 visitors to the islands every year, hermits need not apply for the position of ranger.

Gwen said: “Our Farne Islands rangers are a close knit team. Storms can shut the islands off for days. And with tens of thousands of visitors every year, you really need to be able to get on with people and show them how they can join us to help nature.”

Applications for the position of ranger close on 7 February, 2017. To apply visit: https://careers.nationaltrust.org.uk/OA_HTML/a/#/vacancy-detail/46353.

 

Statement on Government’s response to House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) committee report on flooding

Reacting to the Government’s response to the EFRA committee report on flooding, Patrick Begg, Rural Enterprises Director at the National Trust, said: “Farming that helps reduce the risk of flooding for communities should be central to the government’s 25 year plan for the natural environment and any system of financial support for farmers post-Brexit.

“Natural flood management has proved its cost-effectiveness. With more frequent floods, we can’t afford to simply build bigger hard defences and pour more concrete.

“But if we want to scale these projects up and set them on a sustainable footing, we’ll need to create new ways for farmers to earn money from farming that cuts flooding, boosts wildlife and improves soils. As a landowner, we can and are playing our part in testing new approaches. But Defra’s 25 year plan for the environment coupled with a UK replacement for the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy could deliver the scale of change needed.

“We hope that the Government will soon set out their proposals for both of these so that things can start to change on the ground.”

The National Trust gave written evidence to the select committee’s inquiry last year, welcoming the committee’s report published in November.

GALLERY: A week of spectacular January sunsets and sunrises at National Trust places

National Trust rangers and conservation advisers have captured some incredible photographs of the sun rising and setting this week, showing the British countryside at its most colourful.

Speculating on the cause of the good sunsets, National Trust nature specialist, Matthew Oates, said: “One of the main positive features of winter in its sunsets, in this case generated by a massive area of high pressure to the east.

“If we had this weather pattern in summer it would lead to incredibly hot weather – the roads would melt and swarms of butterflies would cross the channel.”

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DEVON: Sunrise above Comberoy Farm on the Killerton Estate on Thursday evening. Credit: Alex Raeder / National Trust

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