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.
A rare-breed lamb born last night as yesterday’s storm blew through has been christened ‘Doris’ by National Trust rangers at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk.
Born in the early hours of Friday, the lamb is the first of the year for the flock and the first pure-breed Manx Loaghtan to join the sheep cared for by National Trust shepherd Andrew Capell.
The flock, which spend most of the year on the Orford Ness National Nature Reserve, move to drier ground over the winter months, with many of the expectant ewes moving to Sutton Hoo.
Andrew, 52, said: “She’s definitely an early arrival, but looking really healthy and is the first of several pure Manx-Loaghtans we’ll be welcoming this spring. She’s only six hours old but already she’s very lively.
“After all the drama of the weather with Storm Doris, there really was only one name we could choose for her.”
Andrew and sheepdog Kite look after the Orford Ness flock which includes a number of rare breeds, all chosen for their ability to thrive in the challenging coastal landscape.
Known as a ‘conservation grazing’ flock, the sheep are hard workers on the Ness, moving from field to field where they keep the grass well mown and generate ideal conditions for other wildlife to thrive.
Part of the flock is currently grazing the burial mounds at Sutton Hoo, where in 1939 archaeologists discovered the remains of a spectacular boat burial dating back to the seventh century.
Archaeological survey work taking place later in the year means that the grass needs to be shorter. And, because of the historical significance of the mounds, heavy mechanical mowers cannot be used.
Andrew, who has spent 36 years as a shepherd, added: “We have another 25 ewes expecting, some are Manx Loaghtans and some are White-faced Woodlands.
“Doris will be spending her first day in a pen so we can make sure she’s well, but then she’ll be out greeting visitors to Sutton Hoo over the next few weeks.
“I’ll be down at Sutton Hoo tomorrow morning to make sure she’s got a full belly. And if the weather’s fine we’ll introduce her to the rest of the flock.”
All the lambs born at Sutton Hoo this spring will stay there until April, when they will move back to Orford Ness.
Birdwatchers from across the East of England have spent the winter entranced by one of Britain’s most impressive birds.
Around ten short-eared owls have been seen on Burwell Fen, near Ely, Cambridgeshire, by rangers from the National Trust’s Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve.
The sandy-coloured owls, which are one of Britain’s largest and unlike many others thrive in open countryside, arrive on the reserve in October. The birds will leave the reserve, which home to many vulnerable wetland and grassland species, in in March for their breeding grounds in the Scottish uplands or northern Scandinavia.
Birdwatchers have been treated to stunning views of the short-eared owls, capturing the owls performing mid-air acrobatics and skirmishes with other birds of prey.
But behind the pictures is an important conservation story that rangers from the National Trust reserve are keen to tell.
Martin Lester, Countryside Manager at Wicken Fen, said: “The habitat on Burwell Fen is ideal for the short eared owls. Their numbers have increased over recent years since we started grazing the fen with our konick ponies and highland cattle.
“The ponies and cattle help create a mixture of vegetation heights and open spaces that are perfect for voles – the owls’ preferred prey. It also has plenty of posts for the owls to roost. The fen is home to lots of vulnerable grassland and wetland species.
“The owls have been a big draw for birdwatchers and photographers across the region. And if people want the best views of the owls, they should stick to the raised banks or public footpaths. These banks offer panoramic views of the fen – and ensures our visitors to see the owls without disturbing these wonderful birds.”
National Trust rangers added that birdwatchers should not stray onto the fen in search of a better photograph of the owls.
Burwell Fen is a wintering home to a large number of vulnerable grassland and wetland species. Rangers said that by walking onto the fen would risk disturbing the birds and
Wicken’s other rare wildlife – and could lead to the owls looking for alternative wintering sites in the future.
THREE HUNDRED sheep make their home on a wind-swept clifftop in north Wales – but a new arrival has left the headland’s rams feeling sheepish.
20-month-old Gavin was bought by Great Orme farmer Dan Jones and charity Plantlife in November to breed with his 70 Herdwick-breed sheep.
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.
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.”
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.”
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).
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.
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.”