Careful management ensures Christmas symbol continues to thrive

-Work has begun on removing hundreds bunches of one of the traditional symbols of Christmas, mistletoe, at Cotehele , one of the few National Trust locations in the South West where mistletoe is thriving.

Chris Groves, National Trust Orchard Officer at Cotehele explains how the traditional orchard provides a perfect habitat for mistletoe to flourish.  ‘Part of the essential conservation work we carry out at the property involves cutting it back and removing the distinctive mistletoe clumps.  This work helps encourage a healthy growth of both male and female mistletoe and ensures the mistletoe doesn’t overwhelm the trees it’s growing on.

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Devon’s wild Beavers

The National Trust is aware of the beaver population living of the River Otter, east Devon, and the government’s plans to catch and remove them, re-homing them in captivity elsewhere.

Long-term, we would very much welcome the properly managed and monitored re-introduction of beavers to Britain. The beaver is an important and charismatic species, and could play a vital role in helping manage our rivers and countryside more naturally.

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A walk on the wild side

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFyne Court in the heart of the Quantock Hills is undergoing a quiet transformation and perhaps not in the obvious way.

Often referred to as a hidden gem, the large house and landscaped gardens have long been lost to fire and the wilds. Rather than opting to restore the garden to its former glory, the National Trust is taking a different approach, creating a wildlife corridor.

As Nigel Garnsworthy, head ranger explains: ‘There is always a bit of a management dilemma when looking after a property like this. The key thing is considering all the important features at Fyne Court whether they are ecological, cultural, historic or recreational and balancing all of these so that one aspect doesn’t impact too greatly on the others.’

Liz Hall, full time volunteer ranger is heading up the first phase of the project creating a wildlife garden at the entrance of the cobbled courtyard.

‘I wanted to create a visual welcome for our visitors, that was also friendly to wildlife particularly bees and butterfly.’

The planning of the wildlife garden was a collaborative one. In consultation with Butterfly Conservation, Somerset Wildlife Trusts, reptile and amphibian group (RAGS) and the head gardener at Barrington Court, Liz and a team of volunteers had a wealth of information on best practise and planting.

‘I’ve picked out flowers with all of this in mind. For example, the lavender hedge and buddleia that have just gone in will attract bees and butterflies whilst the honeysuckle on the back wall will be great for night fliers such as moths and bats. Plants like the shrub roses will flower for colour in the summer and the hips will feed the birds in the autumn. A willow roe deer sculpture acts as a finishing touch and means our visitors are bound to see at least one animal in the garden.’

The garden and additional feeders and bird and bat boxes that have gone up mark the start of a bigger picture, creating a wildlife corridor that runs to the dipping pond, on to the walled garden and beyond. We want the place to look cared for but in the spirit of wildness. We will be carrying out wildlife surveys later in the year to see who has made Fyne Court their new home.’

The plants were bought thanks to money from the Quantocks AONB sustainable development fund and the deer sculpture was funded from the generous donations people make in the second hand book stall located in the Fyne Court information area.

Brownsea Island voted nation’s favourite nature reserve

Birds silhouetted on the lagoon at Brownsea Island, Dorset.As birdwatchers and other visitors prepare to take up the chance of a rare winter visit to Brownsea Island, the National Trust owned property has just been declared the country’s favourite nature reserve.

The island, which will be open on weekends from 8 February, was nominated for the award by the BBC’s Countryfile Magazine and came out top of a public poll.

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Wild weather leads to the ‘Year of the Slug’

Unsettled, unpredictable and at times chaotic weather has meant that this year has been hugely challenging for wildlife, according to experts at the National Trust. 

Whilst birds and insects have struggled, slugs and orchids have done well throughoutBritainin our special places.

 Matthew Oates, Naturalist at the National Trust, said: “This has been a highly polarised year, with wildlife in the places we look after doing either remarkably well or incredibly badly.

“In general, plants and slugs were the big winners and insects the big losers. But even in this wet summer some insects did surprisingly well, at least in a few places.

“Our wildlife, farmers, horticulturalists and rural tourism and recreation industries are all long overdue a good summer, having suffered poor ones since 2006.

“Surely we are due a good one next year?”

It was a spring of two halves with the warmest March since 1910 and the implementation of drought orders acrossEnglandfollowed by the wettest April on record. 

The April downpour had a detrimental impact on fruit harvests in the autumn as the spring rains washed away the blossom resulting in a very bad year for English apples across the board and autumn fruits and berries such as sloes and holly berries.

Another poor summer has hit British wildlife hard as it struggled to cope with the very wet conditions and a distinct lack of long dry summer days though some species have gone against the flow and thrived.

It was a bad summer for the insect pollinators and even those flowers that were pollinated have struggled to set fruit in the ongoing we weather with a knock on affect for birds and animals that depends on these crucial food sources.

Bees, butterflies and hoverflies suffered a set back this year because of the mixed weather becoming generally very scarce, though there were welcome exceptions in some places where the Chalkhill blue and dark-green fritillary did spectacularly well.

The good news for summer picnickers this year was that there were hardly any common wasps.

The one big winner in 2012 has been the slug with reports of a giant Spanish super slug invading our back gardens. One impact of the damp conditions has been rapid grass growth with a knock on effect for smaller plants (such as bastard toadflax) and insects including grasshoppers, which need warm bare ground pockets.

Orchids have also been big winners this year. They’ve had a fantastic year almost everywhere, with reports of stunning flowerings from all overEngland,Wales and Northern Ireland.

It’s been a very patchy breeding year for birds with many nests being abandoned due to bad weather and/or shortage of food, even in gardens. A lot of storm and flood destruction, to cliff nesting birds and birds that nest along riverbanks.

Mammals have also had a mixed year, with bats having an especially difficult time. Water mammals have also suffered greatly, with water vole holes and otter spraints (making recording difficult) being washed away in the heavy floods. Animal sanctuaries are now being inundated with underfed hedgehogs.  Dormice also had a poor breeding season.

A more predictable autumn saw a quite late display of autumn colour as the leaves turned ahead of the winter months.

January  

  • Lanhydrock inCornwallrecorded its earliest flowering magnolia on New Year’s Day. 
  • Unpredicted heavy rain set in on New Year’s Day, a foretaste of things to come.
  • Snowdrops and crocuses flowered early in mild winter weather
  • Short-eared owls successfully over-wintered almost throughoutBritain.  Definitely the bird of the winter. 

 February

  • A survey of 50 National Trust gardens on Valentine’s Day found that spring had arrived early in some parts of the country and that there was a 19 per cent increase in flowers in bloom compared to 2011.
  • It was a cold start to the month with snow falling quite far south. 
  • Rooks began building nests widely from the 10th, earlier in the year than typical.

 March

  • It was a second consecutively dry March, with much ofEnglandcovered by drought orders by its end, including much ofYorkshire.
  • There was a superb warm and sunny spell from 19th – 30th, the best weather of the year; helping it become the third warmest and fifth driest March on record.
  • Supposedly extinct large tortoiseshell butterflies were seen atNewtownon theIsle of Wight.
  • Badgers struggled to find food in dry soil. 

 April

  • Jet stream jumps south on the 4th, ensuring a dismal early Easter with snow in the north; and it was the wettest April on record inEngland andWales. 
  • Much ofEnglandcovered by hosepipe bans.
  • Kingfisher holes and water vole burrows drowned by floods.
  • The dry start to 2012 lead to a short and sweet bluebell season

 May

  • Widespread failure of spring fruit blossom (apple, holly etc) due to wet weather.
  • Cuckoos fail to breed at Wicken Fen for the first time. 
  • Eight lovely days at the end of the month allow some insect populations to recover.
  • A very rare cream-coloured courser spotted at Bradnor Hill, north Herefordshire – the twitch of the year.

 June

  • Fantastic month for orchids, especially bee orchids with particularly spectacular displays at Blakeney on Norfolk coast and Stackpole Warren in Pembrokeshire, and hundreds of fly orchids on Dunstable Downs.
  • Despite the poor weather, large blue butterflies emerged in good numbers and laid a record number of eggs at the National Trust’s Collard Hill inSomerset.
  • Spectacular breeding success for sandwich and little terns at Blakeney Point,Norfolk, though terns failed to breed atStrangford Lough,Northern Ireland. 

 July

  • July was very wet, with over 150 per cent of normal rainfall widely, and in parts of easternScotlandit was one of the wettest on record.
  • Slugs and snails in abundance; and the arrival of Spanish super-killer slugs make the headlines.
  • More than 10,000 pyramidal orchids make a spectacular show at Sharpenhoe Clappers in theNorth Chilterns.
  • A good year for dragonflies, with 22 species recorded at Scotney Castle moat, Kent.

 August

  • There were very low numbers of common wasps making picnics a more pleasurable experience.
  • Scatter of decent days, and occasional nice weekend.
  • Swifts depart, after very poor breeding season.
  • It was a terrible summer for bee keepers – bees have had to be fed at the National Trust’sAttinghamPark,West Midlands. 

 September

  • As the children return to school the weather begins to improve.
  • It’s been a very poor year for apple crops across the board – for example, a 90 per cent drop inDorsetaffecting cider production.
  • With the warmer weather there were some signs of a second spring effect such as the bogbean flowering at Malham in the Yorkshire Dales, which normally flowers in April).
  • Numbers of the autumn ivy bee (Colletes hederae) seriously down in south Devon.

 October

  • Massive landfall of thrushes from Scandinavia at Blakeney Point, Orford Ness and Farne Isles on the east coast on the 22nd
  • Pheasant feeder bins emptying much faster than usual, due to unusually hungry birds, mice and other mammals.
  • Unusually good autumn colours across an extended season which took longer to peak at hotspots such as Stourhead in Wiltshire and Winkworth inSurrey

 November

  • A reasonable good show of waxcap fungi inLake Districtand Llanerchaeron, Ceredigion.
  • Another excellent year for seal pups at Farne Isles and Blakeney Point –with both sites breaking the 1,000 barrier – including (unusually) a successful set of twins.
  • More floods in the south-west and then the north ofEngland.

 December

  • Very poor year for holly berries generally, due to the wet spring. However there was a reasonable crop in northern areas and on high ground where the trees flowered later, during a fine spell in late May.
  • Great winter for the normally rare migrant bird – the waxwing.