Recognising the heroes connecting young people with nature

Today marks the start of a two month search for the heroes connecting young people with nature across the UK.

The Wild Network and BBC Countryfile Magazine are spearheading a search for the volunteers, professionals and groups who are committing time, energy and resource to sparking young people’s interest in nature and the outdoors. Continue reading


Octavia Hill Awards Ceremony

This week saw the second annual ceremony for the National Trust’s Octavia Hill Awards.

Pastel drawing of Octavia Hill

The event welcomed both the runners-up and winners of its three prestigious award categories; Natural Hero, Green Space Guardian and Love Places.

Fergus Collins, Editor of Countryfile Magazine was on hand to host the awards, while the National Trust’s Director General, Helen Ghosh, reflected on the work of our volunteers. Read what she had to say: Continue reading

Celebrating unsung heroes of environment movement

A group of green space guardians marking their silver jubilee, a red squirrel champion and a passionate birdwatcher are this year’s green heroes celebrated in the National Trust’s Octavia Hill Awards.   

The three winners, who saw off strong competition to claim the ultimate accolade, feature in the July issue of Countryfile Magazine, with an awards ceremony for all of the shortlisted finalists in the autumn.

The awards are named after Trust founder and social reformer Octavia Hill who died in August 1912. They are being run in partnership with Countryfile Magazine.

Helen Timbrell, Volunteering and Community Involvement Director at the National Trust and one of the judges, said: “Being a volunteer is in our national DNA and it’s great that these awards recognise and celebrate the commitment, passion and determination of the people that care for the green spaces that matter so much to them. 

“The standard of nominations for the Octavia Hill Awards this year was really high and shows that the spirit of volunteering is alive and well.”

The 2013 winners are:

“Green Space Guardians” – Stroud Valleys Project in Gloucestershire – Now into its 25th year the Stroud Valleys Project works with a variety of volunteers to ensure green spaces and unused land is taken care in the area. This year it has launched a ‘Get Growing’ project in 23 local schools and they’re now looking to improve 25 wildflower meadows, and if they can’t find enough, are willing to create them.

Runners up: Friends of Russia Dock – London; Gunton Woodland Community Project – Suffolk.

“Love Places” – Allan Davies, County Antrim in Northern Ireland – Having walked 20 long-distance footpaths, taking him around the whole of the UK and thoroughly enjoying the experience, Allan felt that having retired, it was time to give something back.  Now, a volunteer at Cushendun for almost three years, Allan has been proactively working to increase the number of rare and much loved red squirrels on the site, creating a better habitat for them, and helping to improve disabled access.

Runners up: Dianne Lang – Lake District; John Weeks – Somerset.

 – “Natural Hero” – Mike Barrett in Norfolk – At 89 years old, Mike has been interested in nature all his life.  He ran a 15-acre nature reserve at the power plant where he worked and has helped with the Marsh Harrier Monitoring project at RSPB Titchwell Marsh reserve.  Today Mike is still volunteering at Titchwell Marsh, four half-days a week helping people with wildlife queries and hands-on reserve management.

Runners up: Margaret Sweet – Birmingham; Martin Woolner – Berkshire.

The awards attracted more than 140 entries and a final shortlist was selected by a panel of judges. Sitting on the panel were Helen Timbrell, Volunteering and Community Involvement Director at the National Trust, Fergus Collins, Editor of Countryfile Magazine, Grahame Hindes, Chief Executive of Octavia House, Julia Bradbury, Countryfile presenter, and Matt Smith, who were both winners of a 2012 Octavia Hill Award.  The public then voted, in their thousands, for the shortlisted entries.

Fergus Collins, editor of Countryfile Magazine, said, “If it wasn’t for an army of volunteers offering their skills, energy and spare time for free, we would have significantly fewer beautiful, wild green spaces in both countryside and cities. From conservationists to craftspeople, campaigners and gardeners, these people are the unsung heroes who deserve all of our thanks.

“Octavia Hill understood the enormous value of green spaces for the physical and emotional well-being of local communities. She would certainly have been proud of this year’s winners.”

Each of the winners will receive a specially commissioned bowl made by Tony Alderman who works at the National Trust’s Chartwell in Kent. The bowls have been made using English elm, oak and yew collected from woods near to Crockham in Kent where Octavia Hill lived.

Comment: Two experts, two views and one outstanding image

National Trust wildlife expert Matthew Oates and award winning landscape photographer Charlie Waite express their views on the ‘Your Space’ photography competition winning image ‘Dont bee choosy‘ by Laura Elliot.

An image of a bee hovering near a foxglove

Dont bee choosy, by Laura Elliot

The photographer’s view

“There was a remarkable collection of photographs submitted to our ‘Your Space’ photography competition and despite the widespread availability of reasonably priced and yet sophisticated cameras, the winning image made with a smart phone ‘stole the show’. The execution of a photograph is unquestionably dependent on what the photographer has seen and felt and then subsequently feels the compulsion to in a sense ‘own’ that moment for themselves.

The smart phone may offer the quickest means to achieve an image which is truly fleeting. The lens in the smart phone has a very small aperture delivering a deep depth of field which in turn allows both the foreground foxglove and the bee (with it’s  delightful delicate little legs ) to be in focus. The foreground foxglove plays an important role in the image as it suggests to us that the bee will inevitably be visiting this one next.

The composition was excellent allowing the bee’s rapidly beating wings to be legible due to them being pronounced against the dark tree trunk beyond. If the bee had been an inch to left or right, the bee would have been ‘wingless’ which would have hugely diminished the photograph. The backlighting conveys the wonderful sheen of the foxglove petals along with a lovely translucence to the leaves.

The photograph that awakens much in the viewer and most especially draws a smile is much deserving of  being chosen as the winning image. Long live the bee and the foxglove; so precious to Britain’s countryside.”

Charlie Waite

The naturalist’s view

“This image is so quintessentially midsummer! The picture tells of the long hours that bees work, and of the end of a perfect summer day. This is the common Garden Bumblebee Bombus hortorum. You can almost hear it humming, as well as sensing the setting sun through the quivering wings. The bee must have been hovering through a shaft of sunlight, for the sun’s rays to be reflected – or rather refracted – so well. Even then, the wings would be invisible were it not for the dark of the tree trunk in the background.

We see two profiles of the Foxglove flowers. The horizontal profile shows flower size in relation to the size of the bee, perfectly. The white guide hairs, which tempt the bee up towards the hidden pollinia, are prominent in this profile. There is also the single flower mouth-on, showing the secret tunnelled world into which the bee will enter, though the pollinia which hold the pollen are, perhaps rightly, hidden.

The light green of the Foxglove’s leafy bracts tell of spring, the flowers and stem of high summer, and the distant almost-foreboding tree hints of late summer and the fullness of September. Between the Foxglove and the tree is much stippled but indistinct foliage, which speaks of the timelessness of summer. Overall, any naturalist, any lover of nature would be proud of this image, and of the experience it portrays.”

 Matthew Oates

Smartphone snap triumphs in green space photo competition

A stunning picture that perfectly captures a bee hovering over a foxglove has won a National Trust photographic competition that celebrates the role green places play in people’s lives.

Taken by Laura Elliot in her parent’s garden in Northern Ireland, ‘Don’t bee choosy’ was shot using an iPhone 4 on the instagram photo app – winning both the smartphone category and the overall competition.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Laura Elliot, who lives in Co. Fermanagh, said:

“I was shocked to find out I’d won. I’m studying dentistry at university and photography is just my hobby. It was late in the afternoon so there was just enough light to capture the shot. I feel this photo represents my space, reflects my love for nature, photography, and captures the spirit of the competition.

Top landscape photographer Joe Cornish, who was one of the judges, said:

“The smartphone category was the most exciting. As professional photographers we found it inspiring – and garnered lots of ideas. Laura’s image is stunning. The colours sing and the composition is striking. This is a photo that you want to blow up and hang on your wall.”

More than 5,700 entries were submitted in the four categories of the competition which ran from May until August 2012.

Photographers were asked to capture the spirit of National Trust founder Octavia Hill on camera and celebrate her passionate belief in the importance of green space and spending time in the outdoors.

A panel of experts, including the acclaimed photographers Mary McCartney, Joe Cornish, Arnhel de Serra, Charlie Waite and National Trust Photographic Manager, Chris Lacey, discussed and debated the shortlisted images to come up with the four category winners and then an overall competition winner. One of the category winners was then chosen to be the overall winner of the competition.

Charlie Waite, one of the judges and founder of Light and Land photography, said:

“The standard of photography suggests to me that photographers are no longer seeing the camera as just a recording device but as a wonderfully creative tool to aid the individual in expressing their own particular response to their world around them.”

The winner of the 10-and-under category is James Ashton, aged 9, from Doncaster with his intimate image of ducks feeding at Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire. Tilly Rose Bellinger, aged 16,from Somerset won the 11-to-16 set with Jurassic mist, an atmospheric black and white image of the Jurassic Coastline in Dorset. The winner of the over 16 award is Eleanor Bennett from Cheshire, having composed a clever photograph of silhouettes of walkers amongst bare trees in Lyme Park, Cheshire. All three of these places are looked after by the National Trust.

All of the winners are featured in the spring edition of the National Trust Magazine and on the National Trust Your Space website.

Eight highly commended runners up are being entered into an online public vote for the British public to choose their favourites.

Octavia Hill honoured at Westminster Abbey – Fiona Reynolds’ address

Towards the end of her life, Octavia Hill wrote:

“New circumstances require various efforts; and it is the spirit, not the dead form, that should be perpetuated. When the time comes that we slip from our places, and they are called to the front as leaders, what should they inherit from us? … We shall leave them a few houses, purified and improved, a few new and better ones built, a certain record of thoughtful and loving management, a few open spaces, some of which will be more beautiful than they would have been; but what we care most to leave them is not any tangible thing, however great, not any memory, however good, but the quick eye to see, the true soul to measure, the large hope to grasp the mighty issues of the new and better days to come—greater ideals greater hope, and patience to realise both”.

Today we are celebrating beauty: the wonder of creation, and the impact – for good and ill – of humanity on that inheritance. We are doing so through the eyes of Octavia Hill, whom we are honouring today: an extraordinary woman by any standards but particularly of her time; a social reformer and housing pioneer whose efforts led, with others, to the establishment of the National Trust. And so finally we are celebrating the work of the Trust – past, present and future.

Joining us today are many people whose life and work has been carried out in the light cast by Octavia’s vision and ambitions. You are all welcome.

Above all, beauty is our theme. Beauty in space and time, beauty as an idea, and beauty as a human and spiritual necessity.

Beauty mattered to Octavia Hill. “We all want beauty for the refreshment of our souls” – that powerful line read by Simon Jenkins from Space for the People. She saw access to beauty as a basic human need, as important to people’s lives as a roof over their heads and enough to eat. Beauty – in Octavia an intuitive sense, sharpened by her association with Ruskin, drove her life forward.

All the more interesting then is the modesty and humility apparent in the remarks with which I opened. Surely she undersells her achievement when she talks about leaving behind a “few open spaces” and “a few newer and better” houses? She certainly undersells her legacy.

Present here are representatives from the social housing movement that traces its roots to Octavia Hill. Today, over 1200 housing associations provide affordable, quality homes for five million people.

Here also are representatives from the conservation movement and especially from the National Trust which Octavia Hill founded in 1895 with fellow reformers Sir Robert Hunter and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley.

The National Trust today has four million members and 67,000 volunteers. We care for 630,000 acres of beautiful coast and countryside, more than 300 beautiful and historic buildings, hundreds of gardens (many of whom have provided the beautiful decorations for the Abbey today) and innumerable sites of natural and historic significance.

From the first – Dinas Oleu, the four and a half acres above Barmouth that I visited last week – to Stoneywell, the arts and crafts cottage which is our most recent acquisition, they are all inspiring and important places. And we are but a part of a rich tapestry of conservation and heritage organisations active throughout the United Kingdom and the world, many inspired by Octavia’s vision. So she left behind more than ‘a few’.

But the point of Octavia Hill’s message is clear. It is not the things that matter most, not the organisations or the associations. It is what those organisations and individuals achieved: the green belt in place, the right of access to the countryside secured. And, of course, the houses, the land and property bought and protected for ever. But she was saying something more.

What matters most, she was saying, is that the spirit which guided those activities lives on. The spirit that inspired Octavia and others to find the right solutions for the right moment, which may – but may not – be the same as the actions we need to take now to ensure future generations have the opportunities Octavia strove for. What matters most is what we find in our consciences and in our hearts – the way we honour the principles she stood for rather than copy what she did.

Circumstances change, she says. Meet them with the same spirit: with good judgement, with truth, and with hope.

And so it is to Octavia’s conscience and beliefs that we look for inspiration – beliefs derived from the radical reformers of her childhood, the inspiration of Christian socialist F D Maurice and her study of Ruskin’s ideals.

So, at this moment, as we commemorate her life and celebrate her legacy, we have a new duty to consider. Do we think enough about why we do things as well as what we do? What are the mighty issues facing society today? Do we, I wonder, grasp them with ever greater hope and ever greater ideals, rising to new circumstances with renewed effort?
And when the time comes that we too slip from our places and a new generation takes our place, will we have done enough to ensure that what we leave behind is sufficient in spirit and philosophy; and sufficient in belief in the power of beauty, history, nature, equality and justice.

And if that sounds daunting, we can, at the last, look again to Octavia Hill for guidance. Meet the future with judgement, truth and hope: with a quick eye, a true soul and greater ideals, hope for the new and better days to come, and the patience to realise them. Octavia Hill: we honour, thank and remember you.

Octavia Hill – social reformer and co-founder of National Trust – is honoured at Westminster Abbey

Octavia Hill, leading social reformer and co-founder of the National Trust, will be honoured today (Monday 22 October) at a service to dedicate a memorial to her at Westminster Abbey in London.

One hundred years after Octavia Hill’s death, a memorial stone, commissioned by the National Trust and designed and crafted by Rory Young, will be dedicated at the service that will celebrate her remarkable life.

Thousands of flowers, foliage and fruit from National Trust gardens across the South West have been incorporated in eight spectacular displays for the service.  Conceived by Mike Calnan, head of gardens at the Trust, the dramatic arrangements have been made and assembled by London based floral artist Rebecca Louise Law, daughter of one of the Trust’s head gardeners, together with Abbey florist, Jane Rowton-Lee. 

National Trust Chairman, Simon Jenkins, and Director-General, Dame Fiona Reynolds, broadcaster Julia Bradbury and writer Robert Macfarlane are among the members, supporters, staff and volunteers from the National Trust and other organisations paying tribute to Octavia Hill with readings and prayers at the service conducted by The Very Reverend Dr John Hall, Dean of Westminster.

The memorial stone, measuring 600mm x 600mm, is made of Purbeck marble, and has been laid in the nave of Westminster Abbey.  

Octavia Hill founded the National Trust in 1895 with Sir Robert Hunter and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley.

They were concerned about the impact of uncontrolled development and industrialisation and set up the Trust ‘for the protection of the public interests in the open spaces of the country.’

Octavia Hill also played a pivotal role in the housing reform movement and had a lifelong passion for learning and welfare.

Dame Fiona Reynolds said: Octavia Hill had a profound impact on this country both as a social reformer and as a co-founder of the National Trust.  She and her fellow reformers believed passionately that access to beauty, heritage and nature was a basic human need. Her biggest legacy has perhaps been the National Trust, which last year reached 4 million members – surely exceeding even her ambitions. All year we have been commemorating the work of this remarkable woman, and I am delighted by the opportunity to honour her legacy in this way.”