Extreme weeding – fighting an aquatic invader at Claremont

In an extreme case of weeding, amphibious tractors are this week tackling almost 16 tonnes of invasive weed in the lake at the National Trust’s Claremont Landscape Garden.

The vehicles, an amphibious cross between a tractor and a tank, are armed with giant rakes to remove the carpet of Crassula helmsii – also known as New Zealand Pigmyweed – that is covering the man-made serpentine lake at the Surrey garden.

Extreme weeding at Claremont, photo Dee Durham/National Trust

The non-native weed reproduces rapidly and, without natural competition in the UK, can quickly spread out of control, overtaking a waterbody and blocking out light for other flora and fauna.

The harvesters have been busy collecting the weed and depositing it in a huge pile on the island in the centre of the lake. Here it will rot down quickly, creating compost, while allowing any fish and invertebrates scooped up to make their way back into the lake.

The lake is 27,000 m2 and it could take almost two weeks for the surface to be completely clear of the aquatic invader. There is currently no known way to entirely eradicate the weed, so gardeners at Claremont will manually remove the weed throughout the year using nets and waders. 

Claremont Landscape Garden, photo Hannah Elliott/National Trust

Tim Rayfield, Senior Gardener at Claremont, said: “By using the large harvesters, we’re able to control the Crassula with minimum impact on the lake and its eco system.

“It’s one of the more unusual ways that we conserve this amazing landscape garden, and it’s great to be able to see the trees reflected in the water once again.”

 

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PICTURES: Toilet tern ‘Lulu’ takes up testing nest spot

Desperate birdwatchers visiting the Farne Islands’ toilets face an unexpected tern – with a rare bird nesting just inches overhead.

An Arctic tern, which will have arrived on the remote Northumberland islands from the Antarctic in May, is incubating two eggs in the grooves of the toilet’s clear corrugated plastic roof.

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An Arctic tern has built her nest on the clear plastic roof of the Farne Islands’ ladies toilet. National Trust rangers on the remote Northumberland islands have nicknamed her ‘Lulu’. CREDIT: Jen Clark/National Trust

Jen Clark, National Trust ranger, said: “It might be that she’s seen the groove in the plastic as a great place to lay her eggs. Terns like to scrape out a cup shape for their nest.

“It might be potty, but the staff are loving it. That block has three toilets in a row, but everyone’s using the two that have the best view of the tern.

“We’re calling her ‘Lulu’.”

Toilet tern 1 CREDIT Jen Clark, National Trust LO

Toilet tern 3 CREDIT Jen Clark, National Trust LO

CREDIT: Jen Clark/National Trust

It’s not the first time the island’s wildlife has taken up home in the toilets on Inner Farne.

Jen added: “We get an eider duck that nests against the toilet wall. The ducklings only just hatched and we had to lower a fence to help them off the nest.”

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. They are home to more than 96,000 pairs of seabirds, including puffins, arctic terns and eider ducks.

PICTURES: Bluebells blooming thanks to Snowdonia cattle

Three highland cattle are helping bluebells bloom again in one Snowdonia wood.

The National Trust introduced cows Myfi, Wmffre and Hugo to Coed Ganllwyd on the charity’s Dolmelynllyn Estate in 2015. Livestock had been excluded from the woods for the past 40 years.

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A highland cow grazing at the National Trust’s Dolmelynllyn Estate. Credit: National Trust

Rhodri Wigley, National Trust ranger, said: “Before the cattle arrived it was quite overgrown. The understorey was thick with brambles.”

The hardy cattle, which spend all year on the estate’s woods, help tackle the thick bramble on the woodland floor – allowing more delicate plants like bluebells and wild garlic to break through.

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A highland cow grazing at the National Trust’s Dolmelynllyn Estate. Credit: National Trust

Rhodri said: “The heifer has two big horns which she uses to pull down branches and eat the leaves.

“The grazing makes a massive difference. You can see through the woods now. Last year we saw a lot more wild garlic in the woods – and it’s an even bigger area of garlic this year.”

Rangers regularly move the cattle between parcels of woodland on the estate. Once the cattle have cleared the brambles they hope to introduce sheep from local farmers.

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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Settled Saturday weather should mean bumper wildlife for Springwatch lovers

The nesting red kites and busy stoats were blessed with blue skies and warm sun yesterday at the National Trust’s Sherborne Park Estate.

The conservation charity’s Cotswold estate, near Cheltenham, is the site of this year’s BBC Springwatch – which has just come to the end of its first week at the 4,000 acre Sherborne Park Estate.

With warm weather and sunny spells forecast, the Trust’s nature experts predict that this weekend will offer nature-lovers some brilliant sights in the countryside.

Matthew Oates, National Trust nature specialist, said: “This weekend’s going to be really exciting, as the early summer butterflies are all starting to appear. You could see rarities like Large Blue, Black Hairstreak, Heath Fritillary, and commonalities like Meadow Brown, and probably Marbled White too – all rather early.

“Look out for a lot of other June insects, like the Burnet moths and various robberflies and hoverflies.  However, the spring species, like the Orange Tip, are ending or ended.

“June’s flowers are prominent – Elder and dog roses in hedges and along road verges, Common Spotted, Fragrant and Pyramidal Orchids. And everywhere the tree foliage is darkening.”

 

Rare ‘Ratty’ revival on England’s highest freshwater lake

Rare water voles are flourishing against the odds in England’s highest freshwater lake following a reintroduction programme by the National Trust last summer.

More than a hundred water voles, which were the inspiration for Wind in the Willows’ Ratty, were released onto streams around Malham Tarn in the Yorkshire Dales in August last year. It was the first time water voles had been seen on the lake in 50 years.

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A water vole at Malham Tarn, Yorkshire Dales. CREDIT: North News & Pictures Ltd/National Trust Images

And, in an adventure worthy of Ratty, Mole and Toad from the Kenneth Grahame classic, the water voles are spreading across the lake – in ways that National Trust rangers could never have dreamed.

Survey work has shown that the water voles – which are the UK’s fastest declining land mammal – have spread up to a kilometre from the original release site. Almost a year on from the original release, rangers will be reintroducing 100 new water voles to Malham Tarn.

Roisin Black, National Trust ranger at Malham Tarn, said: “With a mild, wet winter, we were worried that the water levels around the tarn may rise too high and flood the burrows. But it turns out that the voles have spread out across one side of the tarn.”

One vole has even been caught on camera in a favourite haunt for one of the tarn’s otters – one of the predators that will occasionally target water voles.

“An opportunistic otter might go for a water vole, but generally the can live very happily side by side,” Roisin said. “The presence of the otter helps deter the mink – which are behind water voles’ shocking declines.”

A hundred new water voles will be released onto the fenland surrounding Malham Tarn over the course of this week (starting 29 May). The water voles, which have been specially bred by expert ecologists at Derek Gow Consultancy, will be released in sibling groups and breeding pairs.

The release will be staggered over seven days due to the different needs of the groups and pairs. The animals will spend three or four days in large cages, placed on the fringe of the tarn. On the fourth and fifth day the cage doors will be opened. Food placed just outside the cage entrances will encourage the voles to leave the cages and build burrows. After the seventh day the cages will be removed.

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Ranger Roisin Black at Malham Tarn. CREDIT: Anthony Chappel-Ross/National Trust Images

The reintroduction is part of a plan by the National Trust to restore wildlife in the Yorkshire Dales. The charity cares for 8,000 hectares of woodland, meadows and moor in the Dales – England’s second largest National Park.

The water voles are helping to restore Malham Tarn’s sensitive lowland fen fringe – one of fifty ‘priority’ habitats handpicked by government as in need of support. The National Trust aims to create 25,000 hectares of new ‘priority’ nature habitats by 2025.

Ranger Roisin Black added: “The water voles area already changing the look of the tarn-side streams. The banks used to be straight-sided, almost like canals.

“But by burrowing into the banks, the voles have created much more natural-looking streams with shady pools that should be really good for invertebrates and small fish.”

National Trust rangers will spend the coming months surveying water voles, looking for signs like the animals’ ‘litter’ (excrement), burrows and nibbled grass ends.

“It will let us estimate the number of water voles we have here at Malham Tarn,” Roisin added.

How do you reintroduce a water vole? Six questions with Malham Tarn ranger Roisin Black.

Helicopter help for Lake District footpath repairs

More than three quarters of a million tonnes of stone is being flown by helicopter in a bid to fix some of the Lake District’s most popular paths.

Volunteers and rangers have spent the last six months gathering the stones, which will be lifted by helicopter to remote paths. Among the paths in urgent need of repair is the main tourist route up Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain, and a busy route to the summit of Helvellyn.

The work is being carried out on behalf of Fix the Fells, a partnership backed by the National Trust, Lake District National Park and other partners that has been tasked with repairing some of the Lake District’s most worn paths.

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A helicopter lifts bags of stone in the Ullswater valley. CREDIT: Adrian Mills/National Trust

The helicopter lifts will make a huge difference to the repair work, Fix the Fells programme manager Joanne Backshall said.

She said: “It will allow us to move heavy stones to areas that badly need them. Without the helicopter it would be impossible for us to carry out the work that is needed.

“Our teams of Fix the Fells Rangers, aided by our volunteers, have already hand-filled nearly 800 bags with stone, each bag weighing approximately 950 kg. These will be lifted in to place one by one by a Squirrel helicopter.”

The air drops will allow National Trust repair teams to then move the stones into place, stabilising the paths to prevent erosion and preventing them from becoming scars on the landscape.

The helicopter flights are taking place in Borrowdale, Ullswater, Wasdale and Grasmere, weather permitting.

Path erosion can see soil more easily wash off the fells and into streams and lakes and lakes. By repairing the stone paths, rangers will help slow soil erosion and prevent the paths from spreading out further.