Grow your own mistletoe ‘kit’ makes perfect Valentine’s gift

Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to start growing your own mistletoe.

Mistletoe berries ripen in February and March, making this the best time to try and germinate them and stock up a lifetime of Christmas kisses.

Gardeners will need plenty of mistletoe berries, available in grow your own kits for those without access to a local supply, and a suitable host tree, such as apple, poplar or hawthorn.

The berries need to be squeezed to reveal the seed inside, and these are then smeared on to branches of the host.

Kate Merry, Orchard Officer at the National Trust, said: “Mistletoe is normally spread by birds but with a bit of luck, and a lot of patience, it is possible to grow your own and play a role in securing the future of this fascinating plant.

“Though you might have to wait a bit for that first home-grown Christmas kiss, hopefully you’ll be harvesting your own mistletoe by 2015.”

A campaign to encourage Britons to buy local or sustainable sourced mistletoe, as a way of supporting the income of small traditional orchards, was launched by the Trust in December.

Though mistletoe can be found across the UK, its heartland and future is linked to that of small orchards.  The demise of traditional orchards in the last sixty years has affected the amount of easily accessible mistletoe and means that it has an uncertain future in the West Country and West Midlands.

The National Trust and Natural England have been working on a project to revive the fortunes of traditional orchards since 2009.

Mistletoe is an important winter food source for the mistle thrush and blackcap, while also providing a habitat for the specially-adapted mistletoe marble moth and the kiss me slow weevil.

Although it is a semi-parasitic plant, mistletoe and its host tree can live in harmony if managed carefully. In apple trees it will reduce fruit yield and left unchecked can completely swamp the tree. However, regular careful pruning will result in a healthy tree, a mistletoe crop and all of the benefits it has for wildlife.

Kate Merry added, “The chemistry required between trees and mistletoe is like the happiest and most long lasting of relationships, it’s all about give and take.”

National Trust inquiry into the outdoors hits the road

The National Trust’s Outdoor Nation project will be touring the country from today to find out if the UK public thinks it’s losing touch with the outdoors and, if so, what might be done about it.

Over the next three months, Leni Hatcher, the Outdoor Nation roaming reporter, will be based in a specially created California campervan loaned to the project by Volkswagen.

Leni will be travelling the country, meeting experts, outdoors organisations and the general public, asking them about their views on the outdoors.

All the views, comments and research will be posted on the Outdoor Nation blog at www.outdoornation.org.uk with visitors invited to post and tweet their replies.

The blog has highlighted recent research showing that one in four children never play outside and that a sharp rise in rickets in British has been partly caused by playing indoors on computer games.

The outcomes of the project will help shape the future activities of the National Trust, which is focusing activities around helping more people spend more time outdoors.

Leni Hatcher said: “It’s great to be mobile and be able to use the campervan as my new base.  I will be following up on our Outdoor Nation blog user’s comments and tweets to see both what we are doing as a nation to improve access to and what the barriers are which prevent people from getting outside.

“Outdoor Nation runs for another three months so there is plenty of time for the public to make their voices heard and suggest what the National Trust and other organisations can do to help people get outside and enjoy the fresh air.”

The Outdoor Nation journey is reported at www.outdoornation.org.uk with video interviews and a blog, users can comment on the findings, put forward ideas and suggest avenues for investigation. Leni’s own journey can also be followed on Twitter by following @outdoor_nation.

Nicola Gates, Communications Manager for Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles UK, said:  “Volkswagen UK is proud to support Leni and the National Trust’s Outdoor Nation project.  We believe that there’s nothing better than exploring the outdoors and the Volkswagen California is the perfect vehicle to do this in.  We hope that Leni has a fun-filled adventure in her California and look forward to keeping up with her updates as she progresses on her journey.”

The project also aims to explore how changes introduced by the Government could present opportunities for ‘Big Society’ partnerships between NGOs and local community groups to help provide greater access to local green space.

So far the Outdoor Nation blog has generated nearly 20,000 views, attracted nearly 200 comments and 40 invitations have been received for items to film. Prominent figures interviewed include Ben Fogle and Simon King.

National Trust asks supporters to join in and help save the ‘last castle’ in Britain

Fiona Reynolds, Director General for the National Trust has launched an urgent public appeal to raise £1.5 million to safeguard the future of one of the country’s most iconic buildings – Castle Drogo in Devon.

The castle has suffered major structural problems ever since completion which have now resulted in serious leaks and water penetration throughout the building.

If extensive conservation is not undertaken, the castle will become inaccessible and a national treasure will be lost forever.

Castle Drogo is the last castle to have been built in Britain, between 1911 and 1931, by the renowned architect Edwin Lutyens.

It was built for Julius Drewe, a food retailing magnate, whose dream was to have an imposing granite fortress that would appear to have existed for hundreds of years.

By contrast, the inside offered the ultimate in modern living and convenience with all the technology and comforts of the age.

Plans to preserve the castle include the renovation of the massive flat roof structure using cutting-edge materials to make it permanently watertight.

This will be conservation on a grand scale. In order to install the new roof system, 2355 granite blocks weighing 680 tonnes will have to be removed and then returned. Some 900 windows containing over 13,000 panes will be refurbished to stop them leaking and over 60,000 metres of pointing will need to be replaced.

A key aim of the project will be the involvement of local people. There will be opportunities for learning new skills such as masonry, joinery and furniture-making and exciting ways for volunteers to take part in their local heritage.

The future of the castle will also include new learning and exhibition spaces and opportunities to explore the estate’s extensive grounds on Dartmoor.

The full cost of the conservation project will be £11 million over 5 years and the Trust is making approaches to various funding bodies, including a £2.5 million application to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), to reach the target.

However, a successful response from the public appeal will allow the first crucial stages of work to get underway.

Adrian Colston, Dartmoor General Manager for the National Trust said: “During the course of this year we will be talking to local people and our supporters about how they can get involved in helping save one of the country’s historic treasures.

“The castle is regarded as a masterpiece of 20th century architecture but its future is now hanging in the balance.

“This is our last chance for Castle Drogo and we urge our supporters across the country to help us raise the money we need to ensure its survival.”

To support the campaign to save Castle Drogo visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/savedrogo you can also follow the Castle Drogo campaign on twitter at www.twitter.com@savecastledrogo and on facebook at www.facebook.com/savecastledrogo

Public support helps Watersmeet win Bovril funding

Watersmeet wins £20,000 funding for upgrade as part of Bovril’s Great Outdoors Revival

Watersmeet, a National Trust site in North Devon has won £20,000 of funding in a national vote as part of Bovril’s Great Outdoors Revival, beating over 70 National Trust sites to gain a share of a £100,000 prize fund.

In September 2010, Bovril donated £100,000 to the National Trust, helping to restore special outdoor areas across the country with a well deserved makeover. A shortlist of 75 National Trust sites in need of restoration were drawn up, from across the nation and the makers of the beefy-fuelled drink invited the public to choose where the money went. Watersmeet was one of five sites that received a huge amount of support scooping 2,289 public votes from people that wanted to see the special North Devon site receive a much needed boost – to repair an important bridge across the East Lyn River.

Lyn Rock Bridge, Watersmeet

With the funding, the site will repair the Lyn Rock Bridge to its former glory, as it was badly damaged by a falling tree a few years ago. Connecting two of the busiest footpaths on Exmoor across the stunningly beautiful East Lyn River, the repaired bridge will once again allow visitors and local residents to access the path. The new bridge will also provide access for people who are fishing or canoeing in or around the East Lyn River. A team of outdoor revival experts have already started work on the bridge with the completion date expected in early spring.

Julian Gurney, Head Ranger at Watersmeet commented: “We were absolutely delighted with the public support for Watersmeet and so grateful to receive the £20,000 funding from Bovril. Day trippers, hikers, fishermen and canoeists come to enjoy the breathtaking scenery created by the East Lyn river, so rebuilding the bridge will give the public access to enjoy the beautiful scenery surrounding the site again. It’s an absolutely fantastic achievement and a credit to all who spent time persuading others to vote. One local lady, Pat Sharp, spent hours encouraging people to vote, she even put messages in all her Christmas cards. The health centre, post office, library, hotels and guest houses all played their part which is just so typical of the people that live in, or visit, North Devon and Exmoor”.

Brand Manager for Bovril, Roxana Parvizi notes: “Since launching the Bovril Great Outdoors Revival, the response has been overwhelming with so many people voting for so many worthy National Trust sites. Bovril has been fuelling outdoor enthusiasts for years, giving warmth and comfort to walkers, ramblers, anglers and those who just love to explore Great Britain’s untainted countryside, so we’re excited to support an outdoor country project and see the funding come to life.”

A National Trust walk has been created at Watersmeet, (downloadable at www.bovril.co.uk/revival), so you can get out with your partners and family for a winter walk and see the projects in progress. You can also keep up to date with all site developments at the Bovril site.

Searching for the elusive sleepers

James Robbins has been working as a warden with the countryside team at Cotehele, on the banks of the Tamar in east Cornwall, for four years. His personal interest in dormouse ecology and conservation, and his enthusiastic championing of this cause on the estate, has led to him being known as Cotehele’s ‘dormouse warden’

But, ‘are there dormice on the Cotehele estate?’, this question has no quick or easy answer…

‘Back in 2007 there were no confirmed records of dormice on the estate, but there were rumours of a rogue dormouse hanging out in the gardener’s potting shed. The countryside team and volunteers had been searching for their characteristic signs: opened hazel nuts – with no luck. The presence or absence of dormice can be hard to prove.

‘Late that year, however, we found the telltale opened hazel nuts in an outlying area of the estate called Cadsonbury, two miles south-west of Callington. This beautiful spot includes an Iron Age hill fort overlooking the valley of the River Lynher. The lower slopes of the hill are covered in scrub and woodland, and that’s where the opened hazel nuts were found. There are very few mature trees in this woodland, which could mean a shortage of natural holes for the dormice to use for daytime shelter and breeding, so we decided to provide them with dormice boxes both to give them shelter and to help us to monitor their population.

‘Sixty boxes were made from local larch, with the help of volunteers and the children from Calstock primary school; 40 went to Cadsonbury and the remaining 20 stayed at Cotehele.

‘The first season’s monitoring of the boxes found only breeding blue tits and great tits – no dormice. Then in late December 2008, whilst cleaning debris out of the boxes, we found a hibernating dormouse buried in the remains of a blue tit’s nest – the first confirmed record of a dormouse on the Cotehele estate! It was a strange sighting as dormice don’t usually hibernate above ground – they need the high humidity found in damp leaf litter to survive. It’s possible that this dormouse woke up during a warm spell and left its hibernation site, then when the cold weather returned it was forced to use the box for shelter.

‘Since then, we’ve found several dormice in the boxes – along with nuthatches and a brown long-eared bat – but no evidence of breeding, as yet. Fingers crossed!’

Spectacular snowdrops

Is there anything more delightful than a snowdrop? Pushing their gently drooping heads out from the still frosty ground, how anything so delicate and beautiful can choose to appear in gardens at this time of year is anyone’s guess.  Yet year on year the steadfast snowdrop reappears and a visit to a National Trust garden is all the better for them.

Spring is a time not to be missed at National Trust gardens and countryside across the South West.

Snowdrops are expected to be at their best from early February and many National Trust properties, including Fyne Court, Kingston Lacey, Dunster Castle, Arlington Court, Trelissick, Killerton and Lanhydrock will be open allowing walks among the displays.

The garden team at Dunster Castle and gardens planted thousands of snowdrops and bluebells in readiness for spring, ably assisted by green fingered younger volunteers from Dunster First School.

Robin Andrews, Head Gardener at Dunster, said: “We’re expecting a spectacular display this year.

“There are quite a few types of snowdrop that many visitors can see here, including some that they may not be aware of: the common snowdrop, giant snowdrop and Crimean snowdrop.  We’ve planted a 1000 of each variety in the castle gardens as well as 6000 common snowdrops in the river gardens too.

The snowdrops at Fyne Court were believed to have been planted in the 1800s as part of the original Arcadian landscape designed. They were planted to represent light and contrasted in places with the dark, which in this case were laurel bushes with their shiny dark green leaves.

To check on snowdrop events across the South West, please visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk

Great strides made as Britons step out

More than 350,000 walks, or one every one and a half minutes, were downloaded from the National Trust website over the last year.

And four of the top ten walks were in the South West, including the most popular – a walk along the Bath Skyline, which was the most popular for the second year running with 14,000 downloads.

The other top South West walks were Stourhead in Wiltshire (seventh with 4,964 downloads), Brownsea Island in Dorset (eighth with 4,724 downloads) and Lansallos in Cornwall (10th with 4,177downloads). All of the walks are free to download and include a map and details of the things that you might see en route.

Walking on the South West coast path between Pencarrow Head and Lansallos Cove, Cornwall.

In 2010 and the total number of downloads increased by 40 per cent compared to 2009 as more Britons sought out walking routes for days out or during weekends away.

Jo Burgon, Outdoor Programme Director at the National Trust, said: “We have seen a remarkable growth in the popularity of walking in the past couple of years.  Our downloadable walks cater for a wide range of walkers with everything from short circular routes to the more challenging hill walks.

“We’re finding that more people want to get out into the great outdoors but often need to be pointed in the right direction. You don’t have to be an expert to go walking, you just need to enjoy getting outside.”

There are 72 different walks to choose from on the website in the South West out of a total of 240 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.  Together, the 240 walks cover a total of 858 miles, the distance between Lands End and John O’ Groats. All of the walks can be downloaded for free from www.nationaltrust.org.uk/walks

New South West entries on the website include five walks near Arlington Court in Devon, Lacock and Avebury in Wiltshire, Ebworth, near Stroud in Gloucestershire, Lamberts Castle in Dorset, and routes at Cotehele, Trelissick and Fowey in Cornwall.

August was the most popular month for walking with more than 50,000 downloads, or more than one every minute, with the Saturday of the bank holiday weekend the most popular day of the year.

The Bath skyline walk topped the walks chart for the second successive year with over 14,000 downloads during 2010, fifty per cent more than the second placed walk Alderley Edge in Cheshire.

This popular six mile circular walk has spectacular panoramic views of the world heritage city and a short diversion takes you to the stunning Prior Park gardens.

In third place was Flatford Mill in Suffolk, made famous by Constable’s landscape paintings.

An ambitious target has been set to have 1,000 downloadable trails on the National Trust website by spring 2012.  These will include the popular walks together with cycle routes, horse-riding routes and canoe trails.

The first ever National Trust walking festival is set to take place this year between the 22 October 30 October.

The Rebirth of Handmade Photographs

At a time when digital photography is king and analogue photography seems to have fallen into the dustbin of history, the Fox Talbot Museum is looking to the past to find the future of photographic art.

The latest museum exhibition, Handmade Pictures, is the work of Jesseca Ferguson who uses a pinhole camera and prints her images on paper made using a 100 year old technique.

From its earliest days, photography became an art by combining the aesthetic eye common to all artists in selecting the scene to shoot and a command of the technical skills necessary in creating the final print.

Tome-XXIV-Argyrotype Fox Talbot“As good as digital photography is, many photographic artists miss the hands-on feel of analogue photography” said Roger Watson, Curator of the Fox Talbot Museum. “The ease of making pictures using digital cameras and a computer printer goes against the grain of artists who are used to working with both their eyes and hands to create art.”

Jesseca is a Boston artist who chooses to continue working outside the technological mainstream. She uses basic pinhole cameras to create negatives and then prints them on fine artists paper using hand coated 19th century processes, in particular the cyanotype and salted paper prints.

Jesseca Ferguson said: “The poetic aspects of pinhole photography are what draw me to it.  Although the pinhole camera is ‘blind,’ because it has no viewfinder or lens, I find that it ‘sees’ in mysterious ways.  The pinhole camera’s ‘sight’ grants infinite depth of field to the object and images before it, thus allowing us to see the camera’s pinhole vision, which is characterized by the odd clarity of dreams or memory. Working without a viewfinder, I can’t know exactly what my pinhole camera will give me, thus my camera becomes my silent and enigmatic collaborator.

“Usually I work in my own studio, setting up arrangements of images and objects culled from my “museum of memory,” which is my personal collection of oddments, books, and artefacts.  Using only natural light, my exposures often take several hours.  I then contact print my images using 19th century techniques (or modern versions of antique processes) requiring ultra-violet light.  My work is slow, hand-built, and cumulative, rather like the layering of dust or memories over time. “

Roger Watson explained that, 100 years ago as photography became available to a much wider range of people thanks to hand-held cameras with film which could be easily processed, some photographers turned back to older techniques and processes in a bid to make photography an art form.

“We appear to be at another of these turning points where digital printmaking has become, on the one hand, so easy that anyone can make a basic image or on the other hand, so complex and expensive that it must be printed by an expert. In order to separate themselves from the crowds, some photographers have once again turned to the art of hand printmaking. For them, the final object must contain both the art and the craft of photography.”

More information on the exhibition is available on www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lacock

Tyntesfield unwrapped

A major milestone is about to be reached. The building restoration work on the house and chapel is coming to an end. It reopens on 28 February along with the Home Farm Visitor Centre which houses a splendid restaurant, shop, exhibition space and exciting family play area.

For the past 18 months over 28 miles of scaffold poles have encased the house but now the newly retiled roof with its vibrant black and red diaper pattern is fully restored – and watertight. The house is home to eight species of bats which are protected by strict legislation. So it was bat-friendly building work.

TyntesfieldWhen you step inside the house you step into a Victorian home – with modern touches discretely hidden. Not least a 21st Century heating system using a wood fired boiler to reduce carbon emissions and completely new electrical wiring which is hidden behind old, refurbished, switches and fittings.

Project Manager Tim Cambourne says, “After years of planning and some challenging moments, being able to share this extraordinary project with visitors has been well worth it. The scale of work that has taken place here is quite extraordinary and is probably one of the most significant moments in Tyntesfield’s history.”

Tyntesfield's weathervane forecasting a good season

Highlights of the restoration include the return of the cockerel weather vane – regilded during conservation, it forms a striking sight on the highest point of the house. Joining the cockerel amongst the spectacular turrets and pinnacles of Tyntesfield’s rooftop is the recently reinstated bell spire which was probably originally used to call or keep time for estate staff.

The completion of the building restoration work to the mansion and chapel means conservation within the house can progress. In the butler’s pantry you’ll meet the Inventory Officer busy still cataloguing the many thousands of objects that make up the Tyntesfield collection, each of which contribute to the history and story of the house. The discoveries range from nostalgic ice cream containers to far more ominous bones found hidden between the joists of a first-floor bathroom.

Outside of the house, there is much to see and do. In the rose garden take a seat in the beautifully repaired gazebos, pick up seasonal produce in the kitchen garden or enjoy one of the walks in the wider estate, including routes along the Victorian carriage ways with views across the Yeo Valley.

Your outdoor nation

We’re keen to develop what we can offer in terms of outdoor spaces and experiences, so we’ve launched a 6 month campaign to raise awareness of the outdoors.

We’re well known for our work with houses, but less known for our work with the outdoors. Yet we manage great swathes of countryside and coastline which are available for people to use for walking, cycling, camping and simply enjoying being outside. The majority of our houses have spectacular outdoor spaces and places that are available throughout the year too, yet many people believe everything stops in October when most of our houses close for winter cleaning and restoration.

Outdoor Nation Plym Woods

We’ve extended our opening hours so people can enjoy our gardens, parklands and woods and we’re opening many of our shops, tea rooms and restaurants throughout the winter months. So we’re creating a debate – conversation not consultation – to gather people’s views on what Britain feels about outdoors, whether we are losing touch with the countryside and what we need to do to rekindle that love affair

Please visit www.outdoornation.org.uk to let us know your views or you can let us know what you think here on your South West blog.