Read about the life and work of the Attingham Wardens

Attingham Park is a National Trust property comprising of an 18th Century mansion set in a Repton landscape; the Park and wider Estate includes a deer park, walled garden, several miles of the rivers Severn and Tern, extensive farmland and woodlands.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Spring colours

Easter has been busy again as usual with thousands of visitors coming out for a walk in the sunshine, following trails to win prizes, getting creative making kites and bird boxes and looking for the signs of spring. The fresh new green leaves are starting to appear on the trees, with hawthorn and horse chestnut leading the way. The wildflowers are also coming out - the first bluebells are just starting to peek out of their green leaves on the woodland floor and if you walk down to the back of the mansion and look at the bank on your left as you approach the clock tower you will be treated to views of celandine, primrose, spring squill, cowslip and dozens of snakes head fritillary bobbing their heads in the breeze.

Meanwhile, work continues in the deer park with the team having planted 79 replacement trees and 331 hawthorns in plantations so far. Each parkland tree has an iron hurdle guard around it and is staked, protected from rabbits and mulched to give it the best chance of survival. Some areas of the deer park are very sandy and therefore drain very quickly - a thick layer of mulch will help to hold some moisture around the roots and feed the tree with nutrients.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Future Parkland Giants

Last week we were finally able to start our project of planting well over 100 new and replacement trees in the Deer Park. Each tree will be planted  and protected with a five-sided hurdle guard to prevent the deer from nibbling at it - we are making the guards out of old fencing, recycling them by cutting them to size and joining them together with brackets and bolts so that they can be moved in the future for more trees. It's hard work cutting hundreds of hurdles with a Stihl saw but once they are up, secured, levelled and the bolts are trimmed and filed they make fantastic, long lasting and attractive tree guards. We are planting mostly oak to replace our many fine veterans, with some horse chestnut and hawthorn. We have also had some time with Ben Shipston, Assistant Director of Operations for the Midlands, as he came out to meet some of our volunteer team and plant a few trees with us - you can see the result of his digging skills for yourselves at the top of the Deer Park near the concrete track that leads to the woodland walk! This job will keep the wardens busy for the next few weeks, along with getting the camp ground ready for the first of this years bookings, spraying the newly planted hedges as the first flush of grass and weeds come up and preparing for Easter.
Cutting the hurdles to size

Harper student Charley cutting the bolts flush and smooth

ADO Ben Shipston on a mission to Australia!

A future giant begins its long life

Saturday 14th March saw Attingham holding its first ever Night Run with around 350 people racing six kilometers around the mile walk  or two kilometers across the meadow under starry skies. The warden staff were there as marshals and helping to set up and take down for the event, which was a huge success - well done to everyone that took part.

Finally it is that time of year again - the ravens are nesting. You may have seen these beautiful birds circling around the park and calling with that distinctive 'tak tak tak'. It can be difficult to judge just how large they are until you see them up close - they have a wingspan of 120-150cm -  and last week I was lucky enough to see one gliding low over the deer park and gleaming in the sun. The nests are also huge, as you can see from this picture! The young ravens will soon be growing and fledging and we look forward to spotting them.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Bring a brolly!

I write this post from the dry sanctuary of the office having run in from a downpour whilst feeding the deer! The weather is incredibly changeable at the moment, so plenty of layers, waterproofs, wellies and sunglasses are a must!

March marks the start of spring in the calendar and we are all looking forward to longer days and the Park greening up with new vegetation. On sunny days I've heard skylarks singing over the farmland fields and the rooks by the stables are busily (and noisily) building nests. From today, the park and walled garden are open from 8am until 6pm to make the most of the sun.

The wardens have planted nearly 4000 hedging whips in the last few weeks, with the final ones going in this week. It can be hard work in the mud and frost but a cuppa from the kelly kettle can makce all the difference, especially if there is a fire to warm up by as we burn the brash from the laid hedge. As usual the planted hedges are 80% hawthorn, with a mixture of hazel, field maple, crab apple, guelder rose and blackthorn making up the rest.
Last week I attended a course at Hatfield Forest on caring for veteran trees and veteranisation of younger trees. It was fascinating, and a chance to admire some wonderful ancient trees - hornbeam pollards and layered hawthorns that are many hundreds of years old. Veteran trees are an invaluable habitat for so many species of insect, bird and fungi and it is important to have other trees nearby that will provide the same habitat once the original veteran has died - this is where veteranisation may be key, if an age gap in the woodland exists. Holes, decay, cracks, water pockets - these features can be encouraged in younger trees to mimic the veteran tree habitats. 

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Sycamores and snowdrops

The weather has been keeping everyone on their toes these last few weeks - strong winds have caused us to close the park early and open late as we need to keep people away from trees. Thankfully we escaped with just a few branches and one small tree down, which is a relief after the big storm last year!

There has been a lot of work going on around the Mile Walk by our tree contractors as they keep up to date with keeping the trees around the public areas as safe as possible. Two more sycamores were felled near the east side of the Stables as they were showing signs of disease and dieback and one was leaning heavily over the building. Once felled, the decay inside was revealed and several cracks that had been hard to see from the ground became obvious. It's always sad when a mature tree comes down but Attingham has so many mature trees and so many staff, volunteers and visitors that a balance has to be struck for safety's sake. Rest assured that the majority of the trees across the estate are healthy and flourishing and will be here for a long time to come.

The first snowdrops are out in bloom and already attracting attention from photographers and flower enthusiasts. The display is still a long way from being its best but keep watching over the coming weeks for a carpet of little white flowers all around the grounds. I have some photos but once again Blogger has failed me and refuses to upload them so check out the Attingham Facebook and Flickr pages for snowdrop updates.

Yesterday our new dog bins arrived and today they were put out near the cable bridge and at the south entrance to the woodland walk just beyond the deer park gate, which is good news for our many dog walkers. That makes a total of ten bins around the park so no-one has to carry a bag for long but it does mean extra effort from our hardy Thursday team who have the delightful job of emptying them!

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Another New Year

2015 begins, and for the wardens it unfortunately begins on a sad note. On Wednesday a dog got loose in the deer park during the 2pm feed and chased the deer. The herd bolted and the labrador was retrieved but the next day we found a dead buck on the park. Deer are wild animals and are highly susceptible to stress, and being chased by an uncontrolled dog is enough to cause death through stress - we have seen it several times before. This is why it is imperative that dogs in the deer park are under tight control, on leads or harnesses that they cannot slip from, being held by someone strong enough to hold them if they get excited. As well as the potential harm to the deer a herd of panicked deer could also be a danger to people. Children are often not strong enough to hold on to a large dog, so please consider the safety aspects if you are bringing your dog into the park and make sure that they cannot get loose.

On a happier subject, the wardens are looking forward to getting into some tree planting and over the coming months we will be preparing the guards, placing them in their correct positions near older and veteran trees and planting. These trees will be the great parkland trees of the future. The action of planting a tree is in itself a simple exercise, but a great amount of planning and foresight is required - these trees will not be mature for several hundred years but we need to plan now how that tree will look when it is fully grown, how it will fit into the designed Repton landscape, how the views and sightlines will be affected and how different species of tree are affected by changing climates and disease. This is not the kind of work that provides instant results - none of us will live to see these trees in their full glory! But we will do what we can to give future generations an Attingham filled with beautiful trees, teeming with diverse life and full of history.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Merry Christmas!

Here we are on another Christmas Eve eve. Father Christmas has been seeing children in the Mansion Grotto, the house is full of beautifully decorated trees and the deer are looking lovely as we get a close up view during feeding (join us in the deer park at 2pm every day during the local school holidays and at weekends to see the deer being fed by the wardens). The only day that we are closed is Christmas Day, so if you fancy a festive walk...

Merry Christmas everyone!

Sadly not from this year but here's one from several winters back when it felt more Christmassy!

Monday, 15 December 2014

Christmas is a-coming

Phew! Another Frost Fair weekend completed two weeks ago with 14,751 visitors coming to visit the stalls, listen to the music and get into the festive spirit. As usual the wardens were responsible for parking the thousands of cars that poured into the Park and with a large team of staff and volunteers, a map of the 8 parking areas and a set of stop/go boards we managed to everyone in and out as smoothly as possible. Carol singers, brass bands, a jazz group and samba drum group entertained people as they shopped and sampled the mulled wine, and we have had some fabulous feedback from those who enjoyed their day. I had a chance to look at some of the stalls later in the day and was particularly impressed with the raspberry vodka!

After several days of clearing up from the Fair it was back to work: gathering holly, ivy and other greenery for the Christmas decorations in the Mansion, feeding the deer, inspecting trees, re-lining the trailer with planks, collecting timber  in for milling and putting out the signs to support the new dog policy. From Wednesday of this week we are slightly changing the on and off lead zones for dogs in reaction to the extensive consultation that we undertook earlier in the year. Dogs are still very welcome to come for a walk at Attingham, we just need to make sure that they are under control and kept to heel in the busiest areas so that people are not tripping over long leads etc. We are also keeping dogs on leads until both entrances to the playground have been passed, to ensure that both dogs and children are safer around each other. The new policy and zone maps will be available at Visitor Reception so pick one up next time you are in if your dog likes a wander around the grounds as much as mine does.

The Christmas holidays are getting closer so don't forget that we will be feeding the deer every day at 2pm during the local school holidays. We generally feed near the main gate into the deer park past the Mansion but the exact area depends on where the deer are and we have to manoeuvre carefully to keep the deer calm and at a safe distance from people. We want everyone to get a good view for their pictures but please stay on the paths and keep your children and dogs close by - the deer are wild animals and their instinct is to run if they feel threatened so a bit of  space between us and them is necessary!