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.

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!

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Otter release

Over the last month we have been working with a team from the RSPCA to help them release two otters back into the wild. One of them had been found as a very young pup around this time last year in Atcham, and was rescued and rehabilitated by the RSPCA along with the other pup. Now both old enough to look after themselves the task on hand was to find a safe place to reintroduce them to the river. Together, we spent a day building a fence in a secret location so that the pups could spend two weeks getting used to the sights and sounds of the area from within a compound. I fed them each evening with fish, and then the time came to open the fence and let them go back out into the world. These otters were raised as wild as possible to give them the best chance of survival so I didn't see them for the entire fortnight as they hid all day and at the slightest sound of my approach; however, we did catch them playing, swimming and feeding at night on infrared cameras.

There are already otters living in and around the two rivers on the Estate so we know that there is plenty of food and shelter for them. Hopefully these two have swum off to find a territory of their own further up or downstream. Otters can live up to 16 years so good luck to them!

NT and RSPCA working together for wildlife

Filling the temporary pool so the otters can swim

The transport boxes were left as temporary shelters

The first fence, which was reinforced with electric fencing to deter early otter escape!

Monday, 27 October 2014

Wardens return

We're still here! The lack of blog is testament to just how busy we have been over the last few months so my apologies, here is an update on some of the things we have been doing!

An old Beech that has been monitored for years and
is reaching the end of its life with increasing decay
in the base and branches
Autumn is a good time to start the regular tree safety inspections so the trained staff have been taking every moment that they can to get out and inspect the trees. The park and estate are divided up into risk zones according to their frequency of use by numbers of people, and trees within those zones are individually looked at to monitor health, form, any signs of disease, damage or decay. The history of our trees is built up over time, and knowlege of a trees behaviour is essential in this role. The type of tree, age, form, past history and location of the tree will help to determine its future. We keep as many as possible of our trees, even if they are dying back, as deadwood is such a valuable habitat (and our deadwood invertebrates are the reason that we have a SSSI designation!) - but the safety of our visitors, volunteers and staff must come first so if a tree is becoming dangerous in a highly populated area then action must be taken. Tree work has already begun and our regular tree surgeon team will be seen working around the Mile Walk over the next few weeks.

Harvest Fair in September was a huge success with the wardens creating an estate display of grains, vegetables, farm machinery and stock. One of our farmers kindly donated a huge box of maris piper potatoes which we bagged up and gave away to visitors - nearly 800 bags went over the two days! Colin's vintage tractor was the star of the day with children and adults queueing up to sit on it and have their pictures taken. Estate timber products were also on display, including the two wheelbarrows pictured - the barrow on the left is a traditional wooden barrow (with a modern wheel) made of oak and elm with ash handles - Don, one of our skilled volunteers, made an exact replica using estate wood. The older barrows age is not known, but is estimated at nearly 100 years and still perfectly useable (if a little heavy compared to modern day wheelbarrows!)

The Walks with the Wardens program has continued to be popular with Beat the Bounds around the front park and deer park, the Rangers Lunchbox, Rivers and Romans on our boundary with Wroxeter, the Ancient Tree walk with expert volunteer Andy Gordon, the Saxon walk and Rut walks. There will be more walks next year so if you fancy coming along, check out the events leaflet when it comes out next year. Most walks are free and are lead by either staff or volunteers at 2pm on a Sunday afternoon (the exception are the Rut walks, which are a small fee for a two hour walk from 5-7pm, getting close to the deer and learning all about this special time of year).

Hedgelaying has begun with the team working at Berwick New House farm and coppicing stakes from some of our woodland . We have been preparing and installing some posts for some new running routes through the deer park, which will be ready very soon. A fence has been put in around the paddock pond to keep cattle out and protect the surrounding vegetation from getting nibbled. The deer larder has had a deep clean to prepare it for the coming cull season and our students have been trained in food handling, ready to help make venision sausages. We had around 40 volunteers from Barclays Bank over two days helping us to chop firewood and move timber, helping us prepare for the coming winter and the winter beyond that!

Finally, we also welcomed Faith into the team as our new Academy Ranger. Faith has moved to Shropshire from her previous property Felbrigg and is settling in well, already having spent two weeks at Reaseheath College as part of her training. She will be with us for 2.5 years so will soon be a familiar face. She and I have been working on a special project this month, to be revealed soon...