PICTURES: Rare dormouse snores in Surrey ranger’s palm

A snoring dormouse was caught cuddling her tail as it napped in a National Trust ranger’s hand at Holmwood Common, near Dorking.

Rangers from the conservation charity were looking for rare hazel dormice in the 50 nest boxes that have been placed on the Surrey common, which was once owned by William the Conqueror.

dormouse in hand

National Trust ranger Sophie Parker discovered a snoring female dormouse cuddling her tail during a regular survey for the rare mammals at Holmwood Common, near Dorking. CREDIT: Sophie Parker/National Trust. 

Sophie Parker, National Trust area ranger at nearby Leith Hill, discovered the female dormouse at the end of April whilst checking the boxes under the supervision of a licensed handler from the Surrey Dormouse Group. Continue reading

Magna Carta commemorated 800 years on

Eight hundred years ago today at Runnymede, Magna Carta was sealed by King John in front of the feudal barons. ‘The Great Charter’ held the king accountable to the law. As witness to the historic events of 15 June 1215, Runnymede is seen by many as the foundation of liberty. Continue reading

Rare Silver-studded Blue butterfly reintroduced at Black Down

David Elliott, Head Ranger on Black Down, West Sussex, tells us about the ranger team’s latest project:

This year on Black Down a very important project has been taking place – we’ve reintroduced a species.

The species in question is the Silver Studded Blue Butterfly. This kind of thing doesn’t come along every day, in fact it’s only the second time I have seen it in my career. In fact it is only the second time the National Trust has ever reintroduced a butterfly to a site where it has disappeared, and I am a little bit excited about it!

Silver-studded Blue - Credit National Trust

The Silver Studded Blue is a proper little marvel. It makes its home on heathland, but it needs heathland in really good condition in order to be able to survive. Heaths have been disappearing at an alarming rate for more than a hundred years. The type of varied age structure within the heather that this butterfly needs is even rarer.

Continue reading

Behind The Scenes at Box Hill – Part 3

The barriers are coming down, the Donkey Green is quiet and there’s a medal in the bag for Team GB. For Box Hill, the Olympics are over and a happy but knackered bunch of people are making their way home.

The short sharp downpours didn’t seem to dampen spirits and the job of fully reopening Box Hill to the public is already underway. A full ecological site survey will be carried out next week but all the early signs are that the site’s precious wildlife has survived unscathed. One of the National Trust volunteer team has just told me that in her area of the site, a common lizard got almost as many cameras clicking as Lizzie Armisted and Emma Pooley. In another spot, a basking slow-worm was completely un-phased by the crowds while a pyramid orchid growing in the middle of a spectator area survived unharmed because everyone chose to carefully walk around it.

The volunteers have of course done tremendous work in keeping people informed and keeping an eye on our precious grassland but the real un-sung heroes of the weekend are the catering staff. This dedicated team chose to spend two nights in sleeping bags on the floor of the visitor centre so they’d be on-hand to serve early morning tea and brekkie for the army of Locog staff, the police, air force security and of course the rest of us working for the NT.

I don’t think they got much actual sleep the night before the men’s race though. When I stuck my head round the door it was as giggly as a girlie slumber-party (even though they aren’t all girls….) The next day they were on their feet from five in the morning handing out literally thousands of sandwiches, cuppas and cakes. At the end of the day when the crowds had gone and I was ready to crash out with exhaustion, the kitchen team decided to start playing rounders on the lawn. And then they did it all again the next day.

So to  Suzanne, Andrea and all the rest of the team – I salute you. You know how to work hard, how to play hard, and how to bake a damn good flapjack.

For video highlights of Box Hill during the women’s race go to ttp://youtu.be/gbPphXa38Bk and for all the latest Twitter updates on Box Hill follow @AndyBoxHill

Box Hill Behind-the-scenes Part 2

A fan enjoys the atmosphere at Box Hill

After two years planning, it’s finally here. The men’s Olympic cycle road race is at Box Hill, and so are the crowds. This normally relaxing green haven is heaving with a multi-coloured heaving mass of lycra-wrapped excitement  – and we love it. It’s quite overwhelming to be surrounded by so many happy people, it feels a bit like throwing your home open to all-comers; nerve wracking but exhilarating.

Of course a lot of people have been asking us how we can possibly allow so many people to trample all over one of the most sensitive and heavily protective nature areas in southern England. Well the answer is, it wasn’t easy. Today’s scenes of happy crowds lining the route are only possible because of months of meticulous planning. Over the last year, Box Hill has been surveyed literally metre by metre to get an incredibly accurate picture of what wildlife lives in what areas. A carefully planned series of segregated zones have been created to make sure people are only walking in the areas where it won’t do any damage. If you want to know where the rarest and most fragile plants and insects live, just look for the bits of the route which aren’t lined by crowds.

There’s always a small element of risk in inviting so many people into this delicately balanced environment but that’s something  act the National Trust has to deal with every day. One of our core aims is to open up beautiful places to as many people as possible. The crowds who are visiting today might not know anything at all about Box Hill’s rich array of flora and fauna. They might not have heard of Adonis blues or dormice or kidney vetch and frankly they might not care – but if even a small number of them remember the wonderful time they’ve had today in this beautiful place, and they come back again to enjoy it another time, then our years of effort have been worth it.

Right – I’m just off back to the track side to catch the last lap – come on team GB!

For a taste of the atmosphere, watch our video below:

Behind the Scenes at Box Hill

Wow, what a time we’re having at Box Hill and the big event doesn’t even kick off until tomorrow!

In case you’ve spent the last few months in living in retreat in Tibet, I should explain that one of the first big events of the 2012 Olympics – Britain’s new favourite sport  Road Cycling – comes to the National Trust’s very own Box Hill this weekend.

On Saturday the men’s teams – including Team GB poster boys Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins fresh from his Tour De France victory –  will complete nine ascents of the cruelly steep Zig Zag road. A day later the women will tackle the hill twice.

And yesterday, with comparatively little fuss and bother, the world’s best cyclists came to Box Hill to do a few practise laps. Some chose to ride in tightly-knit team groups (yes, we’re looking at you Switzerland). While others rode solo or mingled freely with their international rivals, men and women riding together sharing a laugh and a joke. One of the Costa Ricans even stopped for a chat with a friend he’d spotted at the roadside.

The pace was relaxed by Olympian standards (though still about twenty times faster than I could manage it – assuming I even made it past the first steep ascent) and of course all of team GB were there, looking confident on their home turf. You can see highlights here:

Box Hill has been a long time preparing for this event and it’s no secret that we’ve faced a few challenges on the way. It’s no easy task turning an incredibly sensitive and fragile wildlife habitat into a major international sporting venue – and back again – but fingers crossed we’ve just about managed to pull it off. The rangers have been working round the clock with Locog to make sure the event runs like clockwork; the volunteers who help to look after the hill all year round have been briefed, and even the catering team have been pumping-up their tea-pouring arms ready to serve around 15,000 cuppas.

Under cover of darkness, internationally renowned landscape artist Richard Long paid a visit to the hill and made his mark –  a mark which should be visible to millions of people around the world during Saturday’s race. Today Box Hill is looking beautiful in the sunshine, the grassland habitat is flourishing and even the butterflies are starting to flutter after a damp and soggy start to the year. We’re ready to welcome the world.

If you want to keep in touch with the latest information on Box Hill, follow countryside manager Andrew Wright on Twitter @AndyBoxHill.