PICTURES: Toilet tern ‘Lulu’ takes up testing nest spot

Desperate birdwatchers visiting the Farne Islands’ toilets face an unexpected tern – with a rare bird nesting just inches overhead.

An Arctic tern, which will have arrived on the remote Northumberland islands from the Antarctic in May, is incubating two eggs in the grooves of the toilet’s clear corrugated plastic roof.

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An Arctic tern has built her nest on the clear plastic roof of the Farne Islands’ ladies toilet. National Trust rangers on the remote Northumberland islands have nicknamed her ‘Lulu’. CREDIT: Jen Clark/National Trust

Jen Clark, National Trust ranger, said: “It might be that she’s seen the groove in the plastic as a great place to lay her eggs. Terns like to scrape out a cup shape for their nest.

“It might be potty, but the staff are loving it. That block has three toilets in a row, but everyone’s using the two that have the best view of the tern.

“We’re calling her ‘Lulu’.”

Toilet tern 1 CREDIT Jen Clark, National Trust LO

Toilet tern 3 CREDIT Jen Clark, National Trust LO

CREDIT: Jen Clark/National Trust

It’s not the first time the island’s wildlife has taken up home in the toilets on Inner Farne.

Jen added: “We get an eider duck that nests against the toilet wall. The ducklings only just hatched and we had to lower a fence to help them off the nest.”

The National Trust has cared for the islands since 1925. Set a mile off the Northumberland coast, the islands have been protected for 189 years and are one of Britain’s oldest nature reserves. They are home to more than 96,000 pairs of seabirds, including puffins, arctic terns and eider ducks.

PICTURES: Bluebells blooming thanks to Snowdonia cattle

Three highland cattle are helping bluebells bloom again in one Snowdonia wood.

The National Trust introduced cows Myfi, Wmffre and Hugo to Coed Ganllwyd on the charity’s Dolmelynllyn Estate in 2015. Livestock had been excluded from the woods for the past 40 years.

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A highland cow grazing at the National Trust’s Dolmelynllyn Estate. Credit: National Trust

Rhodri Wigley, National Trust ranger, said: “Before the cattle arrived it was quite overgrown. The understorey was thick with brambles.”

The hardy cattle, which spend all year on the estate’s woods, help tackle the thick bramble on the woodland floor – allowing more delicate plants like bluebells and wild garlic to break through.

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A highland cow grazing at the National Trust’s Dolmelynllyn Estate. Credit: National Trust

Rhodri said: “The heifer has two big horns which she uses to pull down branches and eat the leaves.

“The grazing makes a massive difference. You can see through the woods now. Last year we saw a lot more wild garlic in the woods – and it’s an even bigger area of garlic this year.”

Rangers regularly move the cattle between parcels of woodland on the estate. Once the cattle have cleared the brambles they hope to introduce sheep from local farmers.

PICTURES: Cheeky dormouse dances up Cornwall ranger’s back

An experienced National Trust ranger was left reeling after a rare hazel dormouse danced up his back.

James Robbins, a ranger on the conservation charity’s Cotehele Estate, Cornwall, was checking the 60 dormouse nest boxes in a wooded valley on the estate earlier this month.

It was the first time the James, whose image of a snoring dormouse was chosen as one of the Guardian’s pictures of the year last Christmas, had checked the boxes this year.

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National Trust ranger James Robbins was left reeling after a dormouse jumped out of a nest box at Cotehele, Cornwall, and scampered up his back. It was near the place where ranger James last year snapped the dozing dormouse that captured newspaper readers’ hearts. CREDIT: James Robbins/National Trust

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Rare ‘Ratty’ revival on England’s highest freshwater lake

Rare water voles are flourishing against the odds in England’s highest freshwater lake following a reintroduction programme by the National Trust last summer.

More than a hundred water voles, which were the inspiration for Wind in the Willows’ Ratty, were released onto streams around Malham Tarn in the Yorkshire Dales in August last year. It was the first time water voles had been seen on the lake in 50 years.

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A water vole at Malham Tarn, Yorkshire Dales. CREDIT: North News & Pictures Ltd/National Trust Images

And, in an adventure worthy of Ratty, Mole and Toad from the Kenneth Grahame classic, the water voles are spreading across the lake – in ways that National Trust rangers could never have dreamed.

Survey work has shown that the water voles – which are the UK’s fastest declining land mammal – have spread up to a kilometre from the original release site. Almost a year on from the original release, rangers will be reintroducing 100 new water voles to Malham Tarn.

Roisin Black, National Trust ranger at Malham Tarn, said: “With a mild, wet winter, we were worried that the water levels around the tarn may rise too high and flood the burrows. But it turns out that the voles have spread out across one side of the tarn.”

One vole has even been caught on camera in a favourite haunt for one of the tarn’s otters – one of the predators that will occasionally target water voles.

“An opportunistic otter might go for a water vole, but generally the can live very happily side by side,” Roisin said. “The presence of the otter helps deter the mink – which are behind water voles’ shocking declines.”

A hundred new water voles will be released onto the fenland surrounding Malham Tarn over the course of this week (starting 29 May). The water voles, which have been specially bred by expert ecologists at Derek Gow Consultancy, will be released in sibling groups and breeding pairs.

The release will be staggered over seven days due to the different needs of the groups and pairs. The animals will spend three or four days in large cages, placed on the fringe of the tarn. On the fourth and fifth day the cage doors will be opened. Food placed just outside the cage entrances will encourage the voles to leave the cages and build burrows. After the seventh day the cages will be removed.

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Ranger Roisin Black at Malham Tarn. CREDIT: Anthony Chappel-Ross/National Trust Images

The reintroduction is part of a plan by the National Trust to restore wildlife in the Yorkshire Dales. The charity cares for 8,000 hectares of woodland, meadows and moor in the Dales – England’s second largest National Park.

The water voles are helping to restore Malham Tarn’s sensitive lowland fen fringe – one of fifty ‘priority’ habitats handpicked by government as in need of support. The National Trust aims to create 25,000 hectares of new ‘priority’ nature habitats by 2025.

Ranger Roisin Black added: “The water voles area already changing the look of the tarn-side streams. The banks used to be straight-sided, almost like canals.

“But by burrowing into the banks, the voles have created much more natural-looking streams with shady pools that should be really good for invertebrates and small fish.”

National Trust rangers will spend the coming months surveying water voles, looking for signs like the animals’ ‘litter’ (excrement), burrows and nibbled grass ends.

“It will let us estimate the number of water voles we have here at Malham Tarn,” Roisin added.

How do you reintroduce a water vole? Six questions with Malham Tarn ranger Roisin Black.

PICTURES: New arrival for ‘Ronald’ the Farne Islands shag

An egg belonging to a Farne Islands shag christened ‘Ronald’ by a Year 4 class from Gateshead has hatched.
Sarah Lawrence, National Trust ranger on the remote Northumberland islands, said: “Ronald nests right next to the main jetty on Staple Island. He’s probably the most photographed shag on the island.”
Ronald the shag CREDIT Sarah Lawrence, National Trust

Ronald the shag sitting on top of ‘his’ nest on the Farne Islands, Northumberland. Credit: Sarah Lawrence/National Trust

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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.

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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

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.”