‘Spring is on the way; you can smell it’, say National Trust Gardeners

The 2017 Annual National Trust Valentines Day Flower Count  at Greenway House  the former  home of Agatha Christie - Amy U’Ren amongst the camellias

The 2017 Annual National Trust Valentines Day Flower Count at Greenway Hous,e the former home of Agatha Christie – Amy U’Ren amongst the camellias. Credit National Trust, Steven Haywood

National Trust garden teams in the south west [1] have conducted their annual flower count for Valentine’s Day and although spring seems to be on the way, just as we would expect, what is noticeable is how many scented plants are already out in flower at this early time of year.

Gardeners from across National Trust gardens in the south west recorded 1,737 plants blooming in this year’s 12th annual Valentine’s Flower Count, which is 34% down on last year’s figure of 2,644. However, while numbers are down on 2016, they are still higher than the previous three years [2]. Continue reading

63% more plants blooming in this year’s annual Valentine’s flower count

National Trust Garden teams in South West England have been busy recording flowers in bloom in this year’s annual Valentine’s Flower Count, with nearly all gardens showing an increase on last year.

The Annual National Trust Valentine's Flower Count - Fiona Hailstone counting Snowdrops

The Annual National Trust Valentine’s Flower Count – Fiona Hailstone counting Snowdrops

In 2008, 3,335 plants in bloom were recorded in Devon and Cornwall (where the flower count first started), marking the earliest spring so far recorded during the count. This year, 2,644 plants were recorded in gardens across the whole of the South West compared to 1,622 in 2015. Continue reading

National Trust’s first garden centre opens

The National Trust’s first garden centre at Morden Hall Park will officially open on Saturday 9 May.

The 5,000 square metre garden centre is the only outlet in the UK to be completely peat free, selling a range of plants and shrubs in line with the conservation charity’s principles.

The National Trust's new garden centre at Morden Hall Park in South London.  Credit Sophia Schorr-Kon

The National Trust’s new garden centre at Morden Hall Park in South London. Credit Sophia Schorr-Kon

Continue reading

Plant hunter’s new discovery named after Sir David Attenborough

A new species of wild flower, Hieracium attenboroughianum, Attenborough’s Hawkweed, which was found a decade ago in the central Brecon Beacons in South Wales has been named in honour of Sir David Attenborough.

Hieracium attenboroughianum ( Attenborough’s Hawkweed) flowers in the summer and can be found on a rocky ledge in the central Brecon Beacons.  Picture credit: Tim Tic

Hieracium attenboroughianum (Attenborough’s Hawkweed) flowers in the summer and can be found on a rocky ledge in the central Brecon Beacons. Picture credit: Tim Rich

This is the first time that a new plant species found in the UK has been named after the world famous naturalist and TV presenter.

Dr Tim Rich, the plant taxonomist who named the new species, said “Finding a new species is a really exciting moment and something that you dream of as a naturalist.

“I decided to name this special little plant found in the mountains of the Brecon Beacons after David Attenborough as he inspired me to study ecology when I was 17.

“This is a personal thank you for the years of fascination he has given me going to different places to search for new things.”

The Attenborough Hawkweed is one of a group of closely related plants which belong to the daisy family and has probably evolved in the Brecon Beacons since the last ice age. The hawkweeds are close relatives of dandelions and have similar looking flowers.

Attenborough’s Hawkweed occurs on rocky ledges on Cribyn, one of three spectacular peaks of the central Brecon Beacons which belong to the National Trust.

In late June/early July the hawkweed colours the rocks yellow with its delicate dandelion like flowers and can be easily seen from the main path up to Cribyn.

Joe Daggett, National Trust Countryside Manager, said: “It is amazing to think that this is the only place in the world where this plant occurs and that the evolution of a species can occur at such a local level.

“The inaccessible rocks where it’s found should ensure its continued survival into the future.”

The new plant was first studied in 2004 when Joe Daggett, Graham Motley, Tim Rich and Paul Smith found it whilst looking for the rare Summit Hawkweed, which was found on the adjacent Pen-y-fan.

More than 300 plants of the Attenborough’s Hawkweed were found flowering profusely on the rocky ledges, safe from the sheep which graze the mountains. It took another ten years of study and comparison with related species to be sure it was new.

Commenting on the naming of the Hawkweed after him, Sir David Attenborough, said: “I am thrilled that my name has been given to the delightful new species of hawkweed discovered in the Brecon Beacons.

“Bestowing a name on a new species is surely one of the greatest of biological compliments and I am truly grateful. It is an added joy that Hieracium attenboroughianum should be so beautiful and live in such a lovely part of the country.”

David Attenborough has eleven plants and animals named after him, including a giant pitcher plant from the Philippines and an Indonesian beetle. Most recently he has had a plant genus named after him, identified by a team of researchers in Gabon, Africa. However Attenborough’s Hawkweed is the only living British species that has his name.

Dorset hillfort is the ideal home for nature

National Trust wildlife adviser Simon Ford tells us more about the rich wildlife that can be found at the newly acquired Hambledon Hill in Dorset:

“Hambledon Hill sits high above the River Stour in south-east Dorset. It has been cut from a steep chalk escarpment and the deep ramparts have provided the ideal environment for many species of plants and animals to thrive. They have also protected the wildlife from being lost to the plough. With 360 degrees of deeply incised banks, this has meant that whatever the weather, there is always some shelter from the elements.

A beautiful bee orchid caught in the summer light at Hambledon Hill. Credit: National Trust Images/Ross Hoddinott

A beautiful bee orchid caught in the summer light at Hambledon Hill. Credit: National Trust Images/Ross Hoddinott

The mix of species is very diverse, but includes characteristic chalk downland plants such as horseshoe vetch, harebell, common rockrose, squinancywort, salad burnet, common milkwort, small scabious, wild thyme and stemless thistle. Early purple, bee, pyramidal, common spotted and autumn lady’s tresses orchids have been recorded as well as notable species such as felwort, dwarf sedge, early gentian, bastard toadflax and meadow saxifrage.

Twenty-eight species of butterfly have been recorded including Adonis Blue, Chalk-Hill Blue, Brown Argus, Dark Green Fritillary, Grizzled and Dingy skipper, and Green Hairstreak. Glow worms are frequently recorded and there are records of white legged damselfly.

Brown hares are commonly seen and the grassland has a good population of skylarks, buzzards, kestrels and meadow pipits, while the scrub attracts blackcaps, white-throats, chiff chaffs and willow warblers.

The site is so important that it has not only been declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest but also a National Nature Reserve.

To ensure the site continues to be of top nature conservation value, the priority will be to maintain the correct grazing and to stop scrub from dominating the steep hillside.”

FOUND: rare fenland violet rediscovered after absence of ten years

The rare fen violet (Viola persicifolia) has been re-discovered at the National Trust’s Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire following an absence of more than a decade – it had last been seen in 2003.

The rare fen violet found at Wicken Fen after an absence of ten years

The rare fen violet found at Wicken Fen after an absence of ten years

The fen violet is probably the most elusive of our native violet species – a tiny plant growing to maximum of 25-30mm, it has bluish-white flowers with a mother-of-pearl sheen.

The endangered species is on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and is known to exist in the wild at only 3 sites in the country (including Wicken Fen).

The plant likes a wetland habitat with alkaline water. Seeds can lie dormant in the ground for many years and will only begin to grow when the ground has been disturbed and the weather conditions are right.

Previously the violet was re-discovered at Wicken in the 1980s following an absence of more than sixty years, only to disappear again at the turn of the century.

Habitat loss along with the effects of drainage, ploughing, and lack of management on many of its former sites have all had a major part in the dramatic decline of the species.

The fen violet was re-discovered during a botanical survey undertaken on Monday 19 May.

Martin Lester, Countryside Manager at Wicken Fen said: “It’s fantastic to see the fen violet again at Wicken Fen.”

“It was a moment of satisfaction, surprise, tinged with relief that we had found it again. This delicate wetland plant is clinging on to survival not just in this country but across Europe.

“No-one can really explain why it can disappear for long periods only to reappear decades later – let’s hope it says around for a few years this time.”

Other rare plants that can found at Wicken Fen include Marsh Pea, Marsh Fern, Fibrous Tussock Sedge, Round-fruited Rush, Milk Parsley; and three rare aquatic plant species – Flat-stalked Pondweed, Long-Stalked Pondweed and Whorled Water-Milfoil.

More than 8,500 species have been recorded at Wicken Fen making it the top site for wildlife in the care of the Trust.

Weekly Witter: Spring catches up

At last we had a decent May Day Bank Holiday, you all say.  Actually, that of 2011 was sunny, though spoilt by a penetrating north-east wind, and we have to go back to 2005 for the last genuinely good one.  Hopefully the nation made the most of Monday’s most welcome sunshine.

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Nature certainly did.  It went into rapid catch-up mode.  Until this last week spring had been running late, the latest it’s been since 1996, though 2006 also saw a late spring.  But spring can move fast when released, and in the space of a mere week the countryside has been transformed.  Blink, or spend a week on an intensive indoor training course, and you miss it.

Bluebells have come from nowhere, or at least from a state of serious retard, and are now at or approaching their peak in many places. But why do they matter?  The answer is simply because they flower en masse when spring it at its absolute zenith.  Our scented bluebell drifts therefore form the pinnacle of spring – add a distant cuckoo call or the vibrancy of the nightingale and you’ve reached what TS Eliot called ‘the still point of the turning world’ (Four Quartets, Burnt Norton).  Also, and more obviously, we have no other native plant that forms such stunning purple haze carpets (though devil’s bit scabious can perform a poor man’s version in September).  And our native bluebells are strongly scented.  We can get mildly intoxicated on the sight and scent of a bluebell carpet, especially on warm still spring afternoons – like Monday’s bank holiday.  To put it bluntly, bluebells are a legal and natural high.  They are especially good this year as some of the early spring flowers, with which they often grow, are still in flower – notably the pinky-white wood anemone or windflower, which are normally finished before the bluebells start.

nt-infographic-bluebells 2The trees are also, quite suddenly, breaking into leaf – and this seriously transforms the landscape.  The oaks are leafing late this year, so late in fact that they are coming out at the same time as the ash trees.  This may or may not be worrying, depending on how aware of, or convinced you are about, the rural saying concerning the leafing of ash and oak.  2013 could, of course, be the year in which Ash Dieback starts to do to our landscapes what Dutch Elm Disease did back in the early to mid 1970s.  We shall see, but in good spring weather there is always optimism – for spring is essentially about the fulfilment of promise, the promise of summer.  Perhaps we truly belong in summer?  Certainly, we are overdue a good summer.

Some migrant birds have arrived late, held up by northerly winds.  Two of the British Trust for Ornithology radio-tagged cuckoos arrived on our shores, found that the weather wasn’t to their liking – and promptly flew back south across the Channel.  Hopefully the warm spell has lured them back again.  It certainly brought a major flurry of arrivals – a major fall of common whitethroats over the bank holiday weekend, and more recently garden warblers.

In effect, spring is happening, all at once and all in a hurry right now.  It is impossible not to be moved by it.