Getting active on Trust land

A new report published today by the All Party Commission on Physical Activity has highlighted the need for greater physical activity amongst the UK population.

With news that physical inactivity accounts for nearly one-fifth of premature deaths in the UK and rising, Rob Joules, the National Trust’s Sports Partnership Manager, explains how the Trust is working with partner organisations to encourage more people to take part in sport.

“This new report highlights the growing epidemic of inactivity and the serious dangers this Visitors enjoying a game of beach volleyball at Shell Bay, Studland, Dorset. Chris Laceyposes for our children’s health. We’re working with a variety of partners to help create greater entry level sporting opportunities, which we believe are the key to encouraging more people to get active. By working with these organisations we’re focusing on developing fun, social activities that will help people lead more active lifestyles.

Continue reading


In Pursuit of Spring

Matthew Oates Presenter

I first perused In Pursuit of Spring in my penultimate year at school, naively attracted by the title. I had found a copy in the school library, but I could relate only to the paragraphs based around my native Somerset, including the final chapter The Grave of Winter. I knew Thomas as a minor First World War poet, in the shadow of Owen and Sassoon, but was hugely impressed by his rural descriptions and by his profound love and knowledge of nature. It took me years to discover him properly as a poet, even though I lived within his East Hampshire heartland for 20 years. His is my favourite poetry – and here I am certainly not alone, for it seems that his poetry is growing in popularity almost monthly.

But I fear that his rural prose is underrated and in danger of becoming neglected. The South Country (1909), In Pursuit of Spring (1914) and its precursor The Icknield Way (1913) are classics in English rural prose, every bit as memorable as Adlestrop and As the Team’s Head-brass, his two best known poems. Thomas’s rural writings could follow those of his mentor Richard Jefferies and friend WH Hudson into relative obscurity. That would greatly devalue British natural history – by severing it from its roots.

The Radio 4 series came about when two streams of consciousness converged. I submitted a tentative proposal to R4 to celebrate the book’s centenary, only to find – joyously – that my friend Andrew Dawes of the BBC Natural History Unit (radio) was thinking along similar lines. Of course, the BBC is gearing itself up for the centenary of the First World War anyway.

Originally, I aspired towards following Thomas’s route, on cycle, but today’s traffic – and Thomas detested the traffic levels of 1913 – would erode any vestige of poetic experience from that. It would be purely a physical, mechanical pilgrimage. No, a faithful re-enactment would not work. At one point, live transmissions were considered, involving a network of radio stations, but that was rather over-ambitious and would have proved too costly.

In the event we found Thomas such a rich seam, with so many dedicated and scholarly admirers, that we ended up recording rather more than we originally intended. Much had, of necessity, to be left out, including The Other Man (Thomas’s alter ego which makes a series of curious interjections in the book) and the remarkable responses I received from asking contributors what they felt poets are actually for.

In Pursuit of Spring, a tribute to Edward Thomas, is presented by Matthew Oates and produced by Andrew Dawes. Readings are by Robert Macfarlane, with contributions from Richard Emeny and Colin Thornton of The Edward Thomas Fellowship, Sophie Lake of Values In Nature & Environment (VINE), Justin Shepherd of The Friends of Coleridge, Rebecca Welshman of The Richard Jefferies Society and Lucy and Sophie Milner, Edward’s great and great-great grand daughters.

 In Pursuit of Spring programme 1 Good Friday 3.30pm BBC Radio 4


Behind The Scenes at Box Hill – Part 3

The barriers are coming down, the Donkey Green is quiet and there’s a medal in the bag for Team GB. For Box Hill, the Olympics are over and a happy but knackered bunch of people are making their way home.

The short sharp downpours didn’t seem to dampen spirits and the job of fully reopening Box Hill to the public is already underway. A full ecological site survey will be carried out next week but all the early signs are that the site’s precious wildlife has survived unscathed. One of the National Trust volunteer team has just told me that in her area of the site, a common lizard got almost as many cameras clicking as Lizzie Armisted and Emma Pooley. In another spot, a basking slow-worm was completely un-phased by the crowds while a pyramid orchid growing in the middle of a spectator area survived unharmed because everyone chose to carefully walk around it.

The volunteers have of course done tremendous work in keeping people informed and keeping an eye on our precious grassland but the real un-sung heroes of the weekend are the catering staff. This dedicated team chose to spend two nights in sleeping bags on the floor of the visitor centre so they’d be on-hand to serve early morning tea and brekkie for the army of Locog staff, the police, air force security and of course the rest of us working for the NT.

I don’t think they got much actual sleep the night before the men’s race though. When I stuck my head round the door it was as giggly as a girlie slumber-party (even though they aren’t all girls….) The next day they were on their feet from five in the morning handing out literally thousands of sandwiches, cuppas and cakes. At the end of the day when the crowds had gone and I was ready to crash out with exhaustion, the kitchen team decided to start playing rounders on the lawn. And then they did it all again the next day.

So to  Suzanne, Andrea and all the rest of the team – I salute you. You know how to work hard, how to play hard, and how to bake a damn good flapjack.

For video highlights of Box Hill during the women’s race go to ttp:// and for all the latest Twitter updates on Box Hill follow @AndyBoxHill

Box Hill Behind-the-scenes Part 2

A fan enjoys the atmosphere at Box Hill

After two years planning, it’s finally here. The men’s Olympic cycle road race is at Box Hill, and so are the crowds. This normally relaxing green haven is heaving with a multi-coloured heaving mass of lycra-wrapped excitement  – and we love it. It’s quite overwhelming to be surrounded by so many happy people, it feels a bit like throwing your home open to all-comers; nerve wracking but exhilarating.

Of course a lot of people have been asking us how we can possibly allow so many people to trample all over one of the most sensitive and heavily protective nature areas in southern England. Well the answer is, it wasn’t easy. Today’s scenes of happy crowds lining the route are only possible because of months of meticulous planning. Over the last year, Box Hill has been surveyed literally metre by metre to get an incredibly accurate picture of what wildlife lives in what areas. A carefully planned series of segregated zones have been created to make sure people are only walking in the areas where it won’t do any damage. If you want to know where the rarest and most fragile plants and insects live, just look for the bits of the route which aren’t lined by crowds.

There’s always a small element of risk in inviting so many people into this delicately balanced environment but that’s something  act the National Trust has to deal with every day. One of our core aims is to open up beautiful places to as many people as possible. The crowds who are visiting today might not know anything at all about Box Hill’s rich array of flora and fauna. They might not have heard of Adonis blues or dormice or kidney vetch and frankly they might not care – but if even a small number of them remember the wonderful time they’ve had today in this beautiful place, and they come back again to enjoy it another time, then our years of effort have been worth it.

Right – I’m just off back to the track side to catch the last lap – come on team GB!

For a taste of the atmosphere, watch our video below:

Behind the Scenes at Box Hill

Wow, what a time we’re having at Box Hill and the big event doesn’t even kick off until tomorrow!

In case you’ve spent the last few months in living in retreat in Tibet, I should explain that one of the first big events of the 2012 Olympics – Britain’s new favourite sport  Road Cycling – comes to the National Trust’s very own Box Hill this weekend.

On Saturday the men’s teams – including Team GB poster boys Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins fresh from his Tour De France victory –  will complete nine ascents of the cruelly steep Zig Zag road. A day later the women will tackle the hill twice.

And yesterday, with comparatively little fuss and bother, the world’s best cyclists came to Box Hill to do a few practise laps. Some chose to ride in tightly-knit team groups (yes, we’re looking at you Switzerland). While others rode solo or mingled freely with their international rivals, men and women riding together sharing a laugh and a joke. One of the Costa Ricans even stopped for a chat with a friend he’d spotted at the roadside.

The pace was relaxed by Olympian standards (though still about twenty times faster than I could manage it – assuming I even made it past the first steep ascent) and of course all of team GB were there, looking confident on their home turf. You can see highlights here:

Box Hill has been a long time preparing for this event and it’s no secret that we’ve faced a few challenges on the way. It’s no easy task turning an incredibly sensitive and fragile wildlife habitat into a major international sporting venue – and back again – but fingers crossed we’ve just about managed to pull it off. The rangers have been working round the clock with Locog to make sure the event runs like clockwork; the volunteers who help to look after the hill all year round have been briefed, and even the catering team have been pumping-up their tea-pouring arms ready to serve around 15,000 cuppas.

Under cover of darkness, internationally renowned landscape artist Richard Long paid a visit to the hill and made his mark –  a mark which should be visible to millions of people around the world during Saturday’s race. Today Box Hill is looking beautiful in the sunshine, the grassland habitat is flourishing and even the butterflies are starting to flutter after a damp and soggy start to the year. We’re ready to welcome the world.

If you want to keep in touch with the latest information on Box Hill, follow countryside manager Andrew Wright on Twitter @AndyBoxHill.