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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PICTURES: Spring daffodil display at Cornwall’s Cotehele

Bright yellow daffodils banished grey sky blues for Cornish tot Pearl Fogarty.

The four-year-old spent the day in the gardens at Cotehele, near Saltash, Cornwall, which boast more than 250 varieties of daffodils.

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Pearl Fogarty, 4, with the daffodils at Cotehele, Cornwall. Credit: Steven Haywood / National Trust Images

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New research lands Victorian fin whale discovery at Cotehele

A giant jawbone in a Cornish stately home has at last been found to be from a Victorian fin whale – thanks to a mixture of cutting edge DNA analysis and archival research.

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Acting house and collections manager Nick Stokes with the whale bones at Cotehele, Cornwall. (c) Steven Haywood / National Trust Images

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Cotehele dormouse among the Guardian’s pictures of the year

The Guardian has chosen a National Trust ranger’s picture of a dozing dormouse as one of its pictures of the year.

James Robbins, a ranger on the Cotehele Estate, Cornwall, was carrying out his final dormouse survey of the year when he stumbled across the sleeping dormouse in late October.

Dormouse at Cotehele

National Trust ranger James Robbins was carrying out his final dormouse survey of the year in late October on the Cotehele Estate, Cornwall, when he found a Hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) dozing ahead of its winter hibernation. Britain’s dormice are threatened by habitat loss – but at Cotehele conservation work in the woods mean that numbers are booming. Credit: National Trust Images/James Robbins.

James, who is a licensed dormouse handler, believed the dormouse was dozing ahead of a last meal of nuts and berries before its winter hibernation.

He told the Guardian: “It was a perfect autumn day, bright and crisp and cold. You’re never guaranteed to find a dormouse, so I was excited to open the first box and find one straight away. I could see the beautiful rich colour of its fur, its chest going in and out.”

Rangers on the Cornish estate have carried out extensive work to improve the woodland habitat for wildlife.

James said: “Nationally, Britain’s dormice are struggling – but in one undisturbed wooded valley at Cotehele numbers are booming.

“We’ve recently coppiced hazel trees in the woods and grazing by highland cattle has helped create the perfect habitat for these mammals.”

Browse the Guardian’s best photographs of 2016.

PICTURES: dozing dormouse discovered at Cotehele, Cornwall

A RARE DORMOUSE was found dozing ahead of its winter hibernation by National Trust ranger James Robbins during the last dormouse survey of the year on the conservation charity’s Cotehele Estate, Cornwall.

It is thought that the rare Hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius), which was photographed at the end of October, was sleeping ahead of a last attempt to fatten up on hazel nuts before its winter hibernation.

 James Robbins, National Trust Ranger at Cotehele, said: “Dormice are fattening up for winter. They gorge like mad on berries and nuts in autumn, sleep, and then eat a final meal before crawling under leaf litter at the base of trees for their winter hibernation. They become active again in spring.”

Dormouse at Cotehele

National Trust ranger James Robbins was carrying out his final dormouse survey of the year in late October on the Cothele Estate, Cornwall, when he found a Hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) dozing ahead of its winter hibernation. Britain’s dormice are threatened by habitat loss – but at Cothele conservation work in the woods mean that numbers are booming. Credit: National Trust Images/James Robbins.

There are 60 dormouse nesting boxes in the woods on the Cotehele Estate and ranger James Robbins, a licensed dormouse handler, regularly carries out surveys for the mammal between April and October.

Mr Robbins, 31, said: “Nationally, Britain’s dormice are struggling – but in one undisturbed wooded valley at Cotehele numbers are booming.

“Our hazel woods are the dormice’s ideal habitat. We’ve recently coppiced hazel trees in the woods and grazing by highland cattle has helped create the perfect habitat for these mammals.”

About Hazel (Common) dormice:

  • The golden-brown Hazel dormice are up to 14cm long – about the same length as an iPhone 6.
  • During the summer dormice spend almost all of their time in the branches of trees. Between October and May, dormice hibernate in nests below leaf litter at the base of trees.
  • The loss of hedgerows and lack of management of woodlands (its preferred habitat) means that dormouse numbers are falling. The rare mammals are listed as a priority species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.
  • Dormice are a legally protected species and can only be handled under license from Natural England.

South West gardens blooming despite the weather for Valentine’s flower count

  • Rare rhododendron in flower for second time in 30 years
  • Snowdrop voted top spring bloom

Surprisingly, the recent unprecedented wet weather seems to have had very little affect so far on National Trust gardens in the South West with the annual spring spectacular already under way.  

Volunteer Hayley Jones helps out at the National Trust's annual valentine's day flower count. Credit Steve Haywood

Volunteer Hayley Jones helps out at the National Trust’s annual valentine’s day flower count. Credit Steve Haywood

Gardeners and volunteers at 23 National Trust places across the South West took part in the annual Valentine’s Day flower count which first started in Devon and Cornwall in 2006. Continue reading

Heritage gardens benefit from major new plant conservation centre

Rare plants from National Trust gardens across the country will be propagated at a new Plant Conservation Centre that will improve the way one of the most important plant collections in the UK is cared for.

Opened today by international plantsman Roy Lancaster, the new 2.5 acre facility at a secret East Devon location will bring together plant propagation facilities, plant collection management expertise and facilities for training National Trust staff on all aspects of caring for the important plants in the gardens they look after.

The opening of the new facilities comes at a time when the spread of new plant diseases in the UK, in particular Phytophthora ramorum which causes Sudden Oak Death, have required an acceleration of emergency propagation to ensure the survival of threatened specimens and the supply of disease-free replacements.

The £700,000 Centre’s immediate focus will be to build on existing plant conservation work at Knightshayes Court [1], also in Devon, to help staff and volunteers record and identify the special plants that require priority propagation at National Trust gardens throughout the country.

Mike Calnan, Head of Gardens at the National Trust, said: “The National Trust’s portfolio of plants is of immense importance and is one of the most significant collections in the UK.

“The aesthetic, historic and botanical value of the plants is what makes the gardens we look after so special and give pleasure to more than 12 million visitors each year.

“This is the most important plant conservation initiative from the National Trust for more than 60 years and will have a legacy for decades to come.”

The charity cares for over 20 major collections of trees and shrubs including thirty National Plant Collections and hundreds of plants that were first raised or collected in the wild around the globe and planted in National Trust gardens over past centuries.

Roy Lancaster said: “The new Plant Conservation Centre is a hugely important development for the National Trust, creating for the first time a single facility dedicated to the vital work of conserving the important plants in its properties.”

In addition to the Centre’s work for the National Trust, a new bespoke propagation service for major private plant collection owners will be offered for the first time.

Nursery Manager Chris Trimmer said: “This is an exciting new commercial development for the Plant Conservation Centre. By offering access to our expertise and first class facilities we can contribute to important plant conservation work beyond the National Trust.”

Propagation services are also available to Trust countryside properties wishing to save or bulk-up rare native species.

The National Trust gardeners who will be working at the Centre recently propagated and helped save over 300 old Cornish apple varieties now successfully established in the ‘Mother orchard’ at Cotehele in Cornwall. [2]

Charlie Port, who worked for the National Trust at Knightshayes Court and is now one of the volunteers that will be working at the new Centre, said: “Working in the propagation unit is extremely rewarding.

“I’ve been involved with propagating plants for the Trust for 25 years now and during that time we’ve had thousands of successes.

“I get huge satisfaction from the idea that some of the plants I have handled will be around for hundreds of years to come.”

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 For more information please contact the National Trust press office on 0844 800 4955.

Notes to editors
It has taken 18 months to set up the new facilities which include a quarantine unit, propagation facilities, growing-on glass houses and tunnels, offices and student accommodation.  Two full-time members of staff and five volunteers are directly involved on site and further plant survey and plant collection interpretation volunteers are involved at numerous properties throughout the National Trust.  An important aspect of the new site is its enhanced biosecurity and greater capacity for propagating plants.

The Plant Conservation Centre (PCC) is also home to the Trust’s plant collections specialist who advises on all aspects of plant surveys and data management. The Trust’s plant database now contains details of 300,000 plants from 80 of the Trust’s 200 gardens recorded so far.   Through the PCC, the Trust will continue to work with other organisations, such as the Royal Horticultural Society and RBG Kew, on joint national conservation initiatives.

[1] The National Trust first set up a propagation unit in 1982 at Knightshayes Court, near Tiverton, where nearly 25,000 rare and significant plants were propagated and distributed to Trust gardens over 30 years.  The new facilities will be able to process up to 12,000 plants at any one time. The vacated land at Knightshayes will now be used by the garden team to expand the kitchen gardens.

[2] Much of the Tamar Valley fruit industry prospered on land owned by the Edgcumbe family at Cothele so it is particularly apt that some of this land has now been dedicated to establishing an orchard of old Cornish apples. The Mother Orchard, as this eight-acre meadow at Cotehele is known, has been planted with 300 trees representing 120 apple varieties, all propagated from Mary and James Edgcumbe’s collection by staff who will be working at the Trust’s Plant Conservation Centre. Local cherries have already been planted, and pears and plums will follow in a second phase. 95 per cent of orchards have disappeared nationwide since 1950 and along with them rich ecosystems, precious genetic material and tangible links to our past. Thankfully projects like the Mother Orchard, and similar efforts throughout Britain, are stemming this loss of cultural and horticultural heritage.

The National Trust looks after more than 250,000 hectares of countryside, 710 miles of coastline and hundreds of historic places across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. For more information and ideas for great value family days out go to: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/