Nail-biting nests in unusual places

Springwatch viewers were left on the edge of their seat early this week as they watched a family of four Jay chicks fledge from a nail-bitingly steep nest.

One fan of the smash BBC show, which is filmed at the National Trust’s Sherborne Park Estate in the Cotswolds, calculated the angle of the precipitous nest at 35 degrees – higher than Hardknott Pass in the Lake District, one of England’s steepest roads.

The National Trust cares for 250,000 hectares of countryside and the conservation charity’s rangers have found plenty of nail-biting nests this spring

Pied wagtail, Studland Beach, Dorset

Two pied wagtail parents have found a far from rubbish nesting site in the cardboard recycling bins at the National Trust’s Studland beach visitor centre in Dorset.

Kevin Rideout, visitor experience officer, said: “They were starting to show quite a lot of interest in the bins, so I had a suspicion that they’d be there. I’m glad I checked.”

After the common black-and-white birds successfully raised four youngsters, staff at the centre thought that they would be safe to empty the bins – which are next to a busy visitor centre.

But when Kevin went to check the bins earlier this week, one of the adults flew out. “They’re onto their second brood!” he said.

After seven weeks, the bins still haven’t been emptied.

PIED WAGTAIL Studland Credit Kevin Rideout, National Trust

Pied wagtail nest in a cardboard recycling bin at Studland, Dorset. CREDIT Kevin Rideout, National Trust

Mallard, Farne Islands, Northumberland

Rangers on the remote Farne Islands discovered a mallard duck nesting beside a stack of Calor gas canisters this spring.

Jen Clark, National Trust ranger, said: “The gas is kept in a cage so that if it explodes it’s contained. There’s a tiny little gap between the wall and the cage that the duck must have crawled into.

“It’s probably just because it was a nice safe place – protected from predatators attacking from above.”

The duck’s eight chicks fledged a little over a month ago. Her gas cage nest site is yet to be used by another bird.

MALLARD Farne Islands CREDIT National Trust

A mallard duck nests next to propane canisters on the Farne Islands, Northumberland. CREDIT: Jen Clark, National Trust

Razorbill, Farne Islands, Northumberland

Around 400 razorbill couples make their nests on the steep cliffs around the Farne Islands – a mile off the Northumberland coast.

Jen Clark, National Trust ranger, said: “They tend to nest on horrible little ledges. They’re really tiny – about the size of the bird. They don’t actually build a nest – they incubate their egg directly on a small, sloping crevice.”

The black and white penguin-like birds, which are only 40cm and spend their entire winter at sea, lay just one egg a year.

The exposed nesting sites makes the eggs and chicks vulnerable to fierce North Sea weather, as well as predatory attacks by gulls.

A razorbill on the Farne Islands, Northumberland

A razorbill on the Farne Islands, Northumberland CREDIT Richard Scott, National Trust Images

Hazel dormouse, Fyne Court, Somerset

Rangers spotted this bashful dormouse was spotted squatting in a birds nest six feet above the ground.

Rob Skinner, a National Trust area ranger and licensed dormouse handler, made the discovery while checking bird nesting boxes on the Somerset estate as part of a regular survey for the British Trust for Ornithology.

He said: “I nearly fell off my ladder. It’s not something I was expecting to see. We have 93 dedicated dormouse nesting boxes in our woods – but this juvenile ignored them all.”

The dormouse stayed for three weeks before disappearing earlier this month.

DORMOUSE at Fyne Court 1 Rob Skinner, NT

Hazel dormouse at Fyne Court. CREDIT Rob Skinner, National Trust

Little Terns, Blakeney Point, Norfolk

One of Britain’s rarest seabirds nests so close to the sea it finds its nests regularly flooded.

It’s thought that there are fewer than 2,000 breeding pairs of little terns left in Britain – with numbers falling by a quarter since the 1980s. Nesting on beaches, the birds are sensitive to disturbance from people and dogs – as well as  flooding from the sea.

Ajay Tegala, National Trust ranger for the little tern stronghold at Blakeney Point, said: “They tend to lay one to three camouflaged eggs on the beach, often close to the high water mark.

“This means that nests regularly get washed away if big tides are combined with stormy weather. They’re also vulnerable from a long list of predators – gulls, birds of prey, foxes, crows, snakes and even herons.”

As part of an RSPB-led EU LIFE+ project, rangers at Blakeney Point have been using plaster models of little terns to encourage the birds to nest up the beach and away from the high tides.

Wren, Harewoods, Surrey

Despite years of hard work to improve the habitat around his National Trust cottage for nesting birds, it’s Andy Wright’s shed that is proving popular for the small birds.

Two months ago a pair of wrens built a moss nest into a coil of rope hanging from the shed roof. It was the first time wrens have nested in the wooden outhouse, which also boasted a family of robins.

Andy Wright, the trust’s countryside manager for the Surrey Hills, said: “They weaved it into the tassels of the rope. With the racket they were making there must have been four or five fledglings.

“I’ve no idea why they nested there. I’ve done a lot of habitat work around the place, so you’d think there would be plenty of natural nesting habitat for them. There’s even a wren nest in my smoker.”

WREN Harewoods CREDIT Andrew Wright, National Trust

A wren’s nest at Harewoods, Surrey. CREDIT Andrew Wright, National Trust

Field mouse, Alderley Edge, Cheshire

One small mouse chose a life in the fast lane after nesting underneath the bonnet of a National Trust van.

Christopher Widger, countryside manager at Alderley Edge, discovered the field mouse’s nesting place in the sound-deadening material beneath the bonnet – after the mouse scuttled across the windscreen wiper.

“I was travelling at 30mph!” Chris said. “I pulled over onto the verge and he made a jump for it – into the nearby hedge.”

FIELD MOUSE Alderley Edge 2 CREDIT Christopher Widger, National Trust

A field mouse nest in a ranger van at Alderley Edge, Cheshire. CREDIT Christopher Widger, National Trust

Pied wagtail, Giant’s Causeway, Co. Antrim

It was only on the fourth trip over a stony field that Area Ranger Dr Cliff Henry realised that his tractor had taken on some tiny stowaways

Nesting on the tractor’s drive shaft – just below the cab – was a nest containing five small pied wagtail chicks.

“Each trip took an hour,” Dr Henry said. “It was only after the last trip that I twigged that the adult birds were very keen to approach the tractor bearing food.”

The five wagtail chicks have now fledged.

PIED WAGTAIL Giant's Causeway CREDIT Cliff Henry, National Trust

A pied wagtail nest in a tractor on the Giant’s Causeway. CREDIT Cliff Henry, National Trust


Amend the Planning Bill – news from Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland has stunning special places: the cliffs and beaches of the North Coast, Fermanagh’s lakelands, the Mountains of Mourne, the Sperrins, cities like Belfast and Derry with their fine architecture and the country’s only World Heritage Site – the Giant’s Causeway.

Such places could be under threat from a Planning Bill which is currently going through the Northern Ireland Assembly. Together with other a range of organisations, we are supporting the ‘Amend the Bill’ campaign to call for politicians to make changes to protect some of the country’s most special places for generations to come; and to deliver a better planning system for everyone.

Amend the bill header

So far more than 4800 messages of support have been sent to politicians across Northern Ireland.

Heather Thompson, National Trust director for Northern Ireland said: “The Planning Bill contains two clauses which focus on economic development which could result in planning applications which aren’t in the best interests of communities and the environment, being approved. We should all welcome the introduction of a more effective system of planning. However we need one that ensures a fair and balanced approach to economic, environmental and social issues, and supports economic development which takes all three into account.

“The Bill also presents an ideal opportunity to bring in protection for World Heritage Sites and their settings in Northern Ireland, which includes the Giant’s Causeway and the countryside immediately around it.

“With the Bill currently in front of the Northern Assembly, it is vital that people speak up now in order to protect our special places for everyone that enjoys them today as well as future generations.”

The Planning Bill reaches an important milestone when it goes to Consideration Stage on 24 June 2013. At this point it is debated on the floor of the NI Assembly.

You can join the discussion on Facebook at and follow us on twitter at @AmendTheBill. There is also a campaign blog with more detailed information at

Residents from outside of Northern Ireland can also register their support by emailing

An online tool has been set up for NI residents at (a NI postcode is needed to use this tool)

National Trust bitterly disappointed at court ruling on Giant’s Causeway development

We’ve posted previously on our legal challenge to a decision to grant planing permission for a golf course development in the setting of the Giant’s Causeway World Heritage Site. Today the High Court ruled against our challenge.

A National Trust spokesman said:

“The National Trust is bitterly disappointed by the Court’s ruling and we remain convinced that a massive development in the setting of this World Heritage Site is wrong.

“We still believe that if a development of this scale does go ahead in this location, the message is that nowhere in Northern Ireland, no matter how important or protected, is safe from development.

“The ruling today has served to highlight aspects of very serious concern for those partners involved in the care and protection of the World Heritage Site.

“It is essential that we work together to get planning policy right in Northern Ireland to ensure that appropriate development can happen, but not at the expense of our beautiful landscapes and historic places. 

“There are also significant issues regarding the relationship between Government in Northern Ireland, Great Britain and UNESCO that must be addressed to ensure the protection of our World Heritage Site for the long term.”


Runkerry Golf Development – Judicial Review

The National Trust goes to the High Court in Belfast, 9-11 January 2013, to challenge through judicial review the granting of planning permission for a golf resort at Runkerry. This significant development is in the identified setting of the Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast World Heritage Site, Northern Ireland’s only such site.

In 2007, an application for a proposed golf resort was submitted to the Department of Environment,  Planning Service.

The applicant Mr Alistair Hanna, is a former resident of Northern Ireland, now residing in America.

The application is for a proposed golf resort including 18-hole championship golf course, clubhouse, golf academy incorporating driving range, a 3-hole practice facility, 120 bedroom hotel incorporating conference facilities and spa, 75 guest suites/lodges, and associated car parking, maintenance building and landscaping. The proposed development is to be built along the Whitepark Road and Causeway Road to the north of Bushmills and to the east of Portballintrae, County Antrim.

The application was designated one of major importance under Article 31 of the Planning (NI) order on 13 June 2007.

In 2011, Minister Attwood was appointed Minister for the Environment. He announced his intention to expedite outstanding planning applications and clear the backlog to reinvigorate the regional economy.

On 21 February 2012, Minister Attwood announced that after due consideration he intended to approve the Bushmills Dunes planning application. Planning permission was formally granted on 29 March 2012.

The Trust expressed its disappointment at the decision, confirming that it had consistently opposed the planning application, reiterating its serious concerns about the impact on the landscape, the environmental impacts, and the potential threat to the World Heritage Site designation.

The National Trust was granted leave for a judicial review on 27 June 2012.

The judicial review is timetabled for 3 days, running in the High Court in Belfast from 9-11 January 2013. The outcome of the hearing will be known later in the year.

In December, we wrote to our 60,000 Northern Ireland members explaining this significant development is in the identified setting of the Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast World Heritage Site, Northern Ireland’s only such site. We told members:

‘World Heritage Site status is the highest conservation and heritage accolade that any place can achieve, and is awarded by the international body, UNESCO. The land on which this would be built has been identified in the draft Northern Area plan as an area that should be protected and where such development should not take place. This is based on the strong recommendation from UNESCO that there should be a buffer zone to protect the landscape that surrounds this World Heritage Site. In July 2012, UNESCO formally requested the Government to ‘halt the proposed development ….until its impact on the Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage Site property has been assessed.’

‘As the guardians of the Giant’s Causeway World Heritage Site, we have a duty to care for it for ever. This is the context in which we have taken this judicial review.

‘The Giant’s Causeway is known and loved globally, positioning Northern Ireland on the world stage. It is fundamental to the local economy. We believe that such a development in this protected landscape is wrong – once it’s gone it’s gone. If this development is allowed to proceed in this special place, then the message is being despatched that nowhere in Northern Ireland, no matter how special or protected, is safe from development.’

There’s a useful timeline on the Trust’s care for the Giant’s Causeway here.

Update: timeline link added Friday 11 January 2012.

Note: As we’re in an important stage of this legal process we can’t comment on the particulars of the case so comments have been disabled for this post.

Review completed at Giant’s Causeway visitor centre

The National Trust opened the new £18.5million Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre less than three months ago. In this short period the World Heritage Site has already welcomed 250,000 visitors from 130 countries, including over 90,000 from Northern Ireland. 

Inside the new Giant's Causeway Visitor Centre. Credit Peter Nash

Upon opening, one small piece of interpretation section evoked a wide and mixed response. As a result, on 18 July the conservation charity committed to undertake a review of this particular section

Having taken on board a wide range of feedback, and commissioned interpretive specialists to develop a suitable reflective piece, the National Trust has now amended the existing exhibit. 

A new piece of audio, approximately 20 seconds in length, replaces the previous recording and makes the Trust’s views completely clear.

Graham Thompson, Project Director for the Giant’s Causeway, said: “This change will help clear up any misunderstanding there may have been. 

“The National Trust only endorses the scientific explanation of the origins of the stones yet recognises that others have alternative beliefs.

“The National Trust is content that this review is complete and thank all for their feedback on the matter.”


The amended transcript can be viewed below within the Debating Characters section. See the previous transcript here.

Column 1 – Stone or Giant Fossil? : Thomas Molyneux & St. George Ashe

Ah, so you’d like to know my opinion on the matter? Thomas Molyneux is the name, State Physician of Ireland my calling.

I made a long study of the Causeway, this wonder of creation, and the first thing to say is that it has nothing to do whatsoever with ancient myths and legends and so forth – superstitious nonsense!

I believe what we have here is simply basalt rock; now hours of study through my lens show no signs of fossils in the stones… whatever others may have to say on the matter… and whoever those others may be – these ridiculous letters aren’t even signed!

Oh, come now, Dr. Molyneux! I do not admit to writing any letters, but I shall freely confess to being St. George Ashe, Bishop of Cloyne, and to believing firmly that the fossils are not in the stones – they are the stones themselves!

The shape of the columns tells me that they are the stems of huge, fossilized sea creatures – mighty relatives of the little Entrochus fossils that the dedicated searcher may sometimes find along the coast.

Preposterous, old friend! One might as well talk of fairies and giants!

Tcha! We’ll see, Dr. Molyneux – we’ll see!

Column 2 – Forged in fire or born in water? : Nicholas Demarest & Abraham Werner

Bonjour! Nicolas Desmarest at your service! And so you are interested in knowing how the great stones were created, n’est-ce pas? Bien! Amateur I may be, but I am still a man of science. And, whatever Abraham Werner says, the Causeway is exactement like the volcanic stones in the Auvergne in France. 

No, no, no, you say volcanic – I say it is…

Thank you, Herr Werner, but you will permit me to finish, s’il vous plaît! Ahem! I have observed this old lava again and again and everywhere in it – voilà! Columns. In the Giant’s Causeway, these same columns are proof of an old volcano. Werner may be a mining expert – but when it comes to geology…

…when it comes to geology, I am Teacher of Mining and Mineralogy at the Freiberg Mining Academy und NOT un amateur! I visited the most famous basaltic hill in Saxony, near Stolpen, in person, and it is not a volcano! More – there is no volcano anywhere near it! Earth’s waters, not its fires, created its rocks!

Bof! Mon dieu. Ignore Herr Werner! I myself have seen ancient lava that has flowed over great distances! You must search far to find its source – so perhaps this area, too, was once flooded with lava and…

Nein, Monsieur Desmarest! Nein, nein, nein!

Mon Dieu, ces Allemands! This is the 18th Century, n’est-ce pas?!?!

Column 3 – An Ancient Earth or a New Creation? : James Hutton and Dr Richardson

Now see here, I am deeply concerned that…oh I do beg your pardon. My name is Richardson – the Reverend Doctor William Richardson. Rector of Clonfeacle.

I am a keen naturalist, so I have every sympathy for open-minded scientific enquiry. But as I say, I am deeply concerned that Mr. Hutton may mislead you with his theories on the age of the Earth.

We know from the Bible that the Earth is 6,000 years old! One has merely to count the generations between Adam and the birth of Our Lord. And for all his eminence as a geologist, and his standing with the Royal Society in Edinburgh, that makes Mr. Hutton’s theory nonsense!

Now, now Dr. Richardson, I am well aware that my theory is challenging…upsetting to many…I myself find it dizzying…yet when I look at the evidence, at the slow and steady volcanic formation of rocks – occurring even as we speak! – I am driven to believe that 6,000 years is a mere blink in the life of the Earth – I see no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end!

Well, I shall return to Antrim once more, Mr. Hutton! I am sure I shall find proof there that all rocks are formed under the sea – and put an end to your theory of an ancient Earth!

Indeed? Well I wish you luck, sir…

Column 4 – Bamboo? : Captain Morton

Ah, good day to you! Morton’s the name – Captain Charles Morton, Royal Navy. So – want to know the real truth as to the origins of the Giant’s Causeway stones, do you?

It seems to me that anybody who’d sailed with me would have a better chance of understanding their origins than these landsmen who sit and read their books.

As for me, well, the logs will show that I served Her Majesty Queen Victoria long enough in the tropics to recognize bamboo when I see it!

The long, narrow stems – the occasional joints on the columns – why, any Jamaica Station hand would know this for bamboo.

Giant bamboo, yes, as befits the age of dinosaurs – but fossilized bamboo it must be and is!

(Chorus of laughs)

Quiet there! Quiet on deck, I say!

Column 5 – A Special Place

Today there is a clear understanding among scientists that the heat of the earth was the driving force behind the formation of the Giant’s Causeway – and that the earth is far older than had previously been thought. James Hutton suggested this back in 1785; modern geologists agree with him.

All the scientific evidence points to a volcanic origin for the columns of the Giant’s Causeway, around 60 million years ago.

However, not everyone agrees with the scientific view.  There are some people who believe – often for religious reasons – that the earth was formed more recently: thousands of years ago rather than billions.

The National Trust supports the scientific view of the formation of the Giant’s Causeway.  We are proud to be the guardians of such a special place – one that has played an important role in our understanding of the world around us.

For further information on this exhibit, please speak to a Ranger.


Prime Minister visits new Giant’s Causeway visitor centre

Prime Minister David Cameron and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Owen Paterson, today visited Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Giant’s Causeway, and its new state-of-the-art visitor centre which opened to the public last month. 

The Prime Minister’s visit is part of a tour of the UK to mark the Olympic celebrations and to show how he wants the whole country to seize this opportunity to showcase everything the UK has to offer.

The Giant’s Causeway featured as part of the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics with a local children’s choir singing on the stones which was beamed to more than one billion people all around the world. 

The Olympic torch also visited the Giant’s Causeway as part of the torch relay.

The new visitor centre, designed by Dublin architects heneghan peng, has been sympathetically and sustainably designed to sit seamlessly within the landscape.  

It features an illuminating exhibition showcasing the stories and the science behind the Giant’s Causeway.

The Prime Minister said: “We are at the start of a momentous few weeks for the United Kingdom, weeks that will see awe-inspiring sporting performances, provide some incredible memories and see history in the making.

“So now, with the eyes of the world upon us, I want to see us make the very most of hosting these Games and to make sure we seize every single opportunity to showcase the whole country.

“The iconic and breathtaking Giant’s Causeway draws visitors from across the globe and is an excellent example of the many reasons to visit Northern Ireland.”

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Owen Paterson, said: “We welcome the Prime Minister here to Northern Ireland and the Giant’s Causeway today.  Whether it’s spectacular sport and new heroes inspiring young people to get active.  Whether its business demonstrating their capabilities and building new contacts and winning new opportunities to invest.  Or the benefits to tourism of showing off our stunning country rich in history and culture, we want Northern Ireland to benefit with the whole country from the legacy of hosting London 2012.”

Heather Thompson, National Trust Director for Northern Ireland, said: “We are delighted to welcome the Prime Minister and Secretary of State to Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site and to show them around our sustainably designed visitor centre – the new gateway to this iconic site.    

“It was extremely important for us to create visitor facilities worthy of this unique and iconic visitor attraction and to use the latest sustainable materials and building technologies wherever possible.

Since opening last month we have already welcomed an incredible 85,000 visitors to the Causeway, the highest number of monthly visitors ever recorded at any of the Trust’s special places.

“Being able to cater for such large numbers of visitors whilst still protecting and conserving such a unique and precious site was vital. 

“The extra visitors we can now look after will provide a major boost to the regional economy with the site supporting 150 team members which includes volunteers.”

The roof of the building is planted with local grasses grown from seed collected from the surrounding area so that the centre integrates with the landscape and offers a haven for local wildlife.  It also offers visitors a fantastic panoramic view of the coastline.

Trails and pathways throughout the World Heritage setting have also been upgraded to offer improved access and views of the spectacular scenery.

New interactive displays and activities inside the visitor centre include an animation of the story of legendary giants Finn McCool and Benandonner and visitors can also discover the science behind how the site was formed 60 million years ago and read the engaging stories of local people connected to the site.

The £18.5 million investment was made possible with support from £9.25 million from Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment of which £6.125 million has been provided by the European Regional Development Fund under the European Sustainable Competitiveness Programme for Northern Ireland, and £3 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund, with £6.25 million from National Trust funds.

For further information, opening times and ticket prices visit


Giant’s Causeway visitor centre interpretation statement

The National Trust has welcomed over 25,000 visitors through the new Giant’s Causeway visitor centre since we opened its doors at the beginning of July.

We have been delighted with the positive feedback we have seen and heard from our visitors.

However, one small part of the visitor centre’s interpretive display has caused mixed reactions, mainly from people reacting to media coverage and online discussions.

The display in question focuses on the role that the Giant’s Causeway has played in the historical debate about how the earth’s rocks were formed.

Our intention in this section was to provide visitors with a flavour of the wide range of opinions and views that have been put forward over the years.

Our intention was not to promote or legitimise any of these opinions or views.

Unfortunately, elements from this part of the display appear to have been taken out of context and misinterpreted by some.

A spokesman said: “Having listened to our members’ comments and concerns, we feel that clarity is needed.

“There is clearly no scientific debate about the age of the earth or how the Causeway stones were formed.

“The National Trust does not endorse or promote any other view.

“Our exhibits, literature and audio guides for visits to the Causeway stones and this renowned World Heritage Site all reflect this.

“To ensure that no further misunderstanding or misrepresentation of this exhibit can occur, we have decided to review the interpretive materials in this section.”

Our focus at the Giant’s Causeway is to ensure that the 700,000 or so visitors we expect to welcome in the coming year will have a thoroughly enjoyable, informative and rewarding visit.  During this summer we have extended opening times from 9a.m. to 9p.m. See  for details of opening times, pre booking arrangements and specials deals for those who arrive by green transport.

>>update Wednesday 3 October: Review now completed, see details here>>