Norfolk’s Blakeney retains crown for hosting the largest grey seal colony in England

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.

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The National Trust’s Blakeney National Nature Reserve on the North Norfolk coast has retained its status as England’s largest seal colony. Over 2,000 grey seal pups were born on the reserve this winter, rangers from the conservation charity have confirmed. CREDIT: Jemma Finch / National Trust Images

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.”

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National Trust rangers and volunteers spend several months counting the seal pups at Blakeney National Nature Reserve. CREDIT: Jemma Finch / National Trust Images

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.”

Year of strong grass growth was bad for bees and butterflies

Bee and butterfly numbers have slumped after a tenth year of unsettled weather, National Trust experts have said.

Mild winter and spring weather led to extremely high grass growth, leading to a good year for farmers with livestock and for making silage or hay. But the grass growth meant a difficult year for warmth-loving insects, including common meadowland butterflies.

The assessment comes as the National Trust marks ten years of its annual weather and wildlife review, which is aimed at understanding how changing weather patterns is affecting wildlife at its places.

Common blue butterfly

Common blue butterfly. Credit Matthew Oates/National Trust Images

The conservation charity is working with its tenants and partners to reverse the alarming decline in UK wildlife, with 56 per cent of species seeing their numbers fall in the last 50 years. Continue reading

Cotehele dormouse among the Guardian’s pictures of the year

The Guardian has chosen a National Trust ranger’s picture of a dozing dormouse as one of its pictures of the year.

James Robbins, a ranger on the Cotehele Estate, Cornwall, was carrying out his final dormouse survey of the year when he stumbled across the sleeping dormouse in late October.

Dormouse at Cotehele

National Trust ranger James Robbins was carrying out his final dormouse survey of the year in late October on the Cotehele Estate, Cornwall, when he found a Hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) dozing ahead of its winter hibernation. Britain’s dormice are threatened by habitat loss – but at Cotehele conservation work in the woods mean that numbers are booming. Credit: National Trust Images/James Robbins.

James, who is a licensed dormouse handler, believed the dormouse was dozing ahead of a last meal of nuts and berries before its winter hibernation.

He told the Guardian: “It was a perfect autumn day, bright and crisp and cold. You’re never guaranteed to find a dormouse, so I was excited to open the first box and find one straight away. I could see the beautiful rich colour of its fur, its chest going in and out.”

Rangers on the Cornish estate have carried out extensive work to improve the woodland habitat for wildlife.

James said: “Nationally, Britain’s dormice are struggling – but in one undisturbed wooded valley at Cotehele numbers are booming.

“We’ve recently coppiced hazel trees in the woods and grazing by highland cattle has helped create the perfect habitat for these mammals.”

Browse the Guardian’s best photographs of 2016.

PICTURES: dozing dormouse discovered at Cotehele, Cornwall

A RARE DORMOUSE was found dozing ahead of its winter hibernation by National Trust ranger James Robbins during the last dormouse survey of the year on the conservation charity’s Cotehele Estate, Cornwall.

It is thought that the rare Hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius), which was photographed at the end of October, was sleeping ahead of a last attempt to fatten up on hazel nuts before its winter hibernation.

 James Robbins, National Trust Ranger at Cotehele, said: “Dormice are fattening up for winter. They gorge like mad on berries and nuts in autumn, sleep, and then eat a final meal before crawling under leaf litter at the base of trees for their winter hibernation. They become active again in spring.”

Dormouse at Cotehele

National Trust ranger James Robbins was carrying out his final dormouse survey of the year in late October on the Cothele Estate, Cornwall, when he found a Hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) dozing ahead of its winter hibernation. Britain’s dormice are threatened by habitat loss – but at Cothele conservation work in the woods mean that numbers are booming. Credit: National Trust Images/James Robbins.

There are 60 dormouse nesting boxes in the woods on the Cotehele Estate and ranger James Robbins, a licensed dormouse handler, regularly carries out surveys for the mammal between April and October.

Mr Robbins, 31, said: “Nationally, Britain’s dormice are struggling – but in one undisturbed wooded valley at Cotehele numbers are booming.

“Our hazel woods are the dormice’s ideal habitat. We’ve recently coppiced hazel trees in the woods and grazing by highland cattle has helped create the perfect habitat for these mammals.”

About Hazel (Common) dormice:

  • The golden-brown Hazel dormice are up to 14cm long – about the same length as an iPhone 6.
  • During the summer dormice spend almost all of their time in the branches of trees. Between October and May, dormice hibernate in nests below leaf litter at the base of trees.
  • The loss of hedgerows and lack of management of woodlands (its preferred habitat) means that dormouse numbers are falling. The rare mammals are listed as a priority species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.
  • Dormice are a legally protected species and can only be handled under license from Natural England.

Cider insider welcomes a bumper British apple harvest

NATIONAL TRUST cider expert Rachel Brewer has predicted a strong year for cider and apple juice, with late summer rains producing a sweet and juicy apple crop.

The pommelier and gardener manages ten acres of orchards at Barrington Court, Somerset, where over 90 varieties of apple trees grow.

Ms Brewer said: “The apple juice this year is some of the best we’ve ever made. I was worried that too much summer sun would stunt our crop but the rain came at a crucial moment late in the season, leaving us with lovely sweet and juicy apples.

“There may be some sore heads in Somerset this winter; sweet apples means that our cider will be strong,” she added.
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Where have all the butterflies gone?

Today the results from Butterfly Conservation’s annual Big Butterfly Count reveals that this was the poorest summer for common garden butterflies since the Count began in 2010.

The National Trust’s butterfly expert, Matthew Oates comments on the report findings. Continue reading

Amy Liptrot’s THE OUTRUN wins Wainwright Prize at BBC Countryfile Live

Amy Liptrot’s debut book was named winner of the prestigious award for nature writing at a special event at BBC Countryfile Live this afternoon.

The Outrun, her account of reconnecting with her native Orkney, beat five other titles to win the Wainwright Golden Beer Prize.

Amy Liptrot

Amy Liptrot

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