Norfolk’s Blakeney retains crown for hosting the largest grey seal colony in England

Blakeney Point on the north Norfolk coast is once again home to England’s largest colony of grey seals, National Trust rangers have confirmed.

The breeding season at the Norfolk nature reserve ended this month, with rangers from the conservation charity saying that 2,366 grey seal pups have been born on the colony since November.

This represents a one per cent increase on last year, when 2,343 pups were born. Early indications show that the seal colony fared well following last Friday’s tidal surge.

National Trust rangers have volunteers have conducted counts of the seal pups on the reserve since 2001, when just when just 25 pups were born.

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The National Trust’s Blakeney National Nature Reserve on the North Norfolk coast has retained its status as England’s largest seal colony. Over 2,000 grey seal pups were born on the reserve this winter, rangers from the conservation charity have confirmed. CREDIT: Jemma Finch / National Trust Images

Ajay Tegala, National Trust ranger on the north Norfolk coast, said: “We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of grey seal pups being born at Blakeney Point in recent years. But in the last two years it would appear that the numbers have become more static.

“Thankfully the pupping season had finished before last Friday’s tidal surge, which meant that a large number of pups had already dispersed.

“We’re pleased that all the effort the National Trust team has put into caring for the Point is helping to create a healthy environment for these beautiful animals and that they continue to return and pup here.”

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National Trust rangers and volunteers spend several months counting the seal pups at Blakeney National Nature Reserve. CREDIT: Jemma Finch / National Trust Images

With lots of space and no natural predators, Blakeney Point offers the perfect breeding site for grey seals. Rangers are starting to see them spread from the beach further into the reserve – adding to the challenge of counting the pups.

Grey seal pups are born on land, with white coats and are fed on their mother’s rich milk for up to three weeks. In this time, they triple in size and shed their white fur.

Ajay added: “With their beautiful white fur and cute faces the pups are definitely one of main highlights of the year that the whole team looks forward to.

“It’s a real privilege and joy of the job to be able to get up close and personal with the colony – and one that I never tire of.”

Seal colonies have fared well around the UK this year. The National Trust’s Farne Islands in Northumberland reported record numbers with the arrival of 2,295 pups – possibly because there were fewer storms during the pupping season. 1,959 pups were born at Donna Nook, which is cared for by the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust.

Ranger Ajay added: “As the final seal pups are weaned, we’d continue to encourage anyone wishing to see them to enjoy one of the boat trips that regularly operate from Morston Quay. That way visitors still get the opportunity to see the seals close-up without disturbing the colony.”

GALLERY: January snow makes for picture-perfect scenes at National Trust places

With many parts of the country seeing inches of snowfall, wintry weather has left many National Trust blanketed in white – although high winds have forced some properties to close today (Friday 13 January).

The sun has gone and it has begun to snow here at Waddesdon!

A video posted by Waddesdon Manor NT (@waddesdonmanor_nt) on

 

 

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WEST SUSSEX: Belted Galloway cattle at Harting Down in the South Downs much on silage. By grazing the downs, the cows are helping to cut back scrub and encourage wildflowers to thrive. CREDIT: @TheSouthDownsNT / National Trust

 

 

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BUCKINGHAMSHIRE: More snow was on the way when former ranger Rachel caught this sunrise in the gardens at Cliveden this morning. Credit: Rachel Forsyth / National Trust

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TYNE & WEAR: Souter Lighthouse on the Tyne & Wear coast was a beacon on otherwise white cliffs. Ranger Mick said: “This is the first snow we’ve had for a few years.” Credit: Jason Thompson / National Trust

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KENT: A moat and high walls proved good defences against the snow for Bodiam Castle and Ightham Mote. Credit: Janet Gardiner / National Trust.

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KENT: A moat and high walls proved good defences against the snow for Bodiam Castle and Ightham Mote. Credit: Ightham Mote / National Trust.

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WEST SUSSEX: Snow in the gardens at Nymans. Icy conditions forced staff to close the house and gardens to visitors this morning. Credit: Simon Toomer / National Trust

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WEST SUSSEX: A tree sighs under the weight of recent snowfall at Gumber Farm in the South Downs National Park at dawn. Credit: @TheSouthDownsNT / National Trust

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LAKE DISTRICT: A light dusting of snow on the fells at Millbeck, Great Langdale, was spotted by National Trust water adviser John Malley yesterday. Credit: John Malley / National Trust

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YORKSHIRE DALES: Rangers at Malham Tarn were forced to leave at 10:30 yesterday morning as the snowfall became heavy. Malham Tarn is England’s highest freshwater lake and home to water voles and otters. Ranger Roisin wasn’t worried about the snow, which is the first of 2017, damaging the estate’s wildlife. “We find that snow is the only thing that comes out early,” she said. Credit: Roisin Black / National Trust

PICTURES: Ice petals flower in woodland at Hardcastle Crags, Yorkshire

Rangers and volunteers at Hardcastle Crags, west Yorkshire, were treated to a rare spectacle last week as ice “petals” covered branches in woodland on the National Trust estate. 

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Rangers and volunteers stumbled across these ice sculptures on dead wood at Hardcastle Crags, Yorkshire. Credit: Natalie Pownall/National Trust

Natalie Pownall, 25, National Trust Academy Ranger at Hardcastle Crags, said: “We were walking through the woodland at Hardcastle Crags with our conservation volunteer party, when we saw all these glittering white gems littered on the woodland floor. At first I thought they were fungi – but on closer inspection they turned out to be ice. 

“The ice formations are caused by water in the wood freezing. The water expands out of the logs, creating the beautiful ice ‘petals.’ 

“Most of these ice petals formed on the dead logs that we’ve left on the woodland floor after our woodland conservation work. One tree, which we felled last year, was covered in the ice fungi. Dead wood can also be an important habitat for invertebrates like beetles, birds and fungi. 

“You’ll often see these ice formations if the conditions have been below freezing and clear for a couple of days. Normally they melt away as soon as the sun comes up, but because our wooded valley is north facing and doesn’t get much sun we can enjoy the frost flowers all day long.”

Year of strong grass growth was bad for bees and butterflies

Bee and butterfly numbers have slumped after a tenth year of unsettled weather, National Trust experts have said.

Mild winter and spring weather led to extremely high grass growth, leading to a good year for farmers with livestock and for making silage or hay. But the grass growth meant a difficult year for warmth-loving insects, including common meadowland butterflies.

The assessment comes as the National Trust marks ten years of its annual weather and wildlife review, which is aimed at understanding how changing weather patterns is affecting wildlife at its places.

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Common blue butterfly. Credit Matthew Oates/National Trust Images

The conservation charity is working with its tenants and partners to reverse the alarming decline in UK wildlife, with 56 per cent of species seeing their numbers fall in the last 50 years. Continue reading

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.

Swimming cows make a dash for island pastures on Strangford Lough

The grass was definitely greener on the other side of the lough for a herd of cattle in County Down, when they attempted to swim back to their island grazing pastures last month.

Eight cows took to Northern Ireland’s Strangford Lough after their return to the mainland from a stint grazing on Darragh Island.

Farmers have moved cattle between the islands on Strangford Lough for generations, in the pursuit of fresh grass.

And National Trust rangers regularly transport sheep and cattle between the 12 islands the conservation charity cares for on the sea lough.

Will Hawkins, National Trust ranger at Strangford Lough, said: “We had a tricky job getting them on to the barge. We left a group of cows on the mainland and we were just coming back with the others when a few of the cows decided to swim back to the boat.”

After a few seconds in the water they changed their minds and headed back to the mainland.

“The cows like being on the islands,” Will said. “Other than a couple of kayakers there’s nobody else on the islands. The cows are free to roam.”

The grazing cattle help rangers encourage wildflowers to grow on the islands.

“The way the cows graze and ‘poach’ the ground with their hooves means we get flowers like dog violet coming through.

“It’s like a sea of purple on some of the islands in the spring.”

The cattle belong to the Dines family, one of the last Strangford Lough farming families to graze their animals on islands.

PICTURES: Restoring Stonehenge’s chalk grassland in world heritage site’s 30th year

As Stonehenge celebrates 30 years as a World Heritage Site, National Trust rangers and volunteers in Wiltshire are working closely with farmers to restore the chalk grassland landscape that would have been familiar to the monument’s original builders.

Continue reading