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.



Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Thistle stings and other things


A small tortoiseshell feeding on a thistle

The summer holidays are here once more, and some proper summer weather to go with it! The wardens have been beavering away keeping the park tidy and the walks trimmed, strimming several miles of paths around the park and river and fighting back against the nettles, thistles and hogweed. You may have noticed that the overflow car park is having some serious work and we are using the back drives to park cars for a few months; by autumn we will have the whole car park resurfaced and with drainage systems in place to help us keep all of the area open during those wet winter months. There is a bit of disruption while all this is going on, but please bear with us - the new car park will be worth it!

The warm weather has brought out plenty of people to enjoy the park, which is fantastic. One small plea though - if you are bringing your dog, please don't leave them in the car when the temperatures are this high. We have been getting an increasing amount of concerned visitors reporting dogs left in cars, some with no windows down, water or even shade - this is incredibly dangerous as temperatures can rise in minutes inside a car to unbearable levels. We appreciate that if you are on your own and need to pop to the toilet or grab a cup of tea you may have to leave them in the car for 10 minutes but some of the dogs we have monitored have been left for two hours or more. In one case the RSPCA and police had to be called to release the dog, who was clearing suffering in the heat. Please look out for our furry friends - they can't take their coats off to cool down!

The ragwort is in flower again and we have started to pick it - we watch the plant carefully so that it has the maximum time in flower, as it is a source of food for all kinds of butterflies, bees and the cinnabar moth caterpillar - but need to pull it before it seeds. It's hard work in the hot sun - well done to all of the volunteers that have helped us so far. It is making a difference - the last few years have shown a marked reduction in ragwort across the park so our yearly pick is reducing the seedbank of this notifiable weed.


Four-spotted chaser

Last Sunday I led another guided walk, this time looking at the dragonflies on some of our ponds and the river Tern. Despite my slight panic at the weather (Saturday's downpours and the forecast for Sunday were far from ideal for dragonfly spotting!) the sun came out and we managed to see a good range of species, catching a few for a closer look. I would like to hear your ideas for future guided walks - what would you like to know more about? Where would you like to go on the Estate?


Ruddy darter



Sunday, 29 June 2014

Tawny rescue

The days may be long but the hours are flying by! It has been an incredibly busy few weeks. We have finished rebuilding the chicken coop at Sunnycroft, built 6 stiles along the river to help the fisherman to access the bank, met with archaeologists specialising in WWII airfields, topped the front park, processed logs for next winter, weeded hedges, patrolled the river checking fishing permits, monitored the wildflowers and grasses on the river ground flood meadows, ran a guided walk around one of our farms on the evening of the Summer Solstice, set up the Sunnycroft fete tents, rescued the white shed from the bottom of the icehouse, went bracken bashing with other NT teams at Carding Mill Valley, counted bats on several evenings, managed ragwort and docks, helped the education department with their tractor rides, babysat some young eels and rescued a tawny owl. Phew!

The tawny owl was reported to us last Wednesday by several visitors who had come across it in the deer park. Ben and I went out with a prepared box and found it out on the open park in full sun, guarded by a couple who were making sure that no dogs came near it. I carefully picked him up but he gave no resistance, which set alarm bells ringing. We drove straight to Cuan House wildlife rescue in Much Wenlock, where he was admitted immediately and given rehydration fluids.


Rescued tawny - picture by Ben Hunt

The next day I called to see if it was making any progress and they told me that the vet had checked him over and found that he had conjunctivitis and the start of a throat infection - poor little thing! He is now on medication and we have everything crossed that he will make a full recovery and be able to be released back on to the deer park. I will keep you posted! My thanks again to all of the people that found and reported the owl, and that made sure it was safe until we could reach him. Futher thanks to the staff at Cuan House, who work so hard to help the local wildlife.

The deer are looking very well at the moment - fawns have been spotted already, and the bucks are in velvet (growing their antlers back). Many of the bucks are enjoying the sunshine and lying around in full view, perfect for taking a few pictures as you walk past as I did with a group of visiting Academy Rangers a few weeks ago:

Sunday, 15 June 2014

A closer look at the copper beech

After a day of felling piece by piece and another day of clearing and stump grinding, the beech has gone. We were relieved to see the inside of the tree as the rot was substantial - we definitely made the right call to remove this tree from such a populated area of the park. The ground will be levelled and seeded and left to recover, and hopefully the other beeches will now put on some growth and expand where before they were shaded out. Here are some pictures of the work:

Heavy rain didn't deter Rich the tree surgeon from getting going

Branch by branch, Rich cutting and the team below moving the brash and chipping it.

The wood chip will be used on the path between the stables and walled garden

The rot was extensive - this is the view looking down the trunk to the roots

The rot continued up into the main branches


Sunday, 8 June 2014

Farewell, copper beech


Farewell to one of our copper beech trees

Tomorrow we have the job of felling one of the beautiful copper beeches that you can see near the Clock Tower at the rear of the Mansion. This tree has been carefully monitored for many years as it has a structural fault in it; work has been carried out on it to aid it's stability over the years, included wire braces to help the tree to support its own weight and a reduction in the canopy to reduce the 'sail' quality. However, there are now signs of decay within the stem (leaking fluid and Ganoderma bracket fungus on both sides) and after consultation with an external tree expert, our fears were confirmed - for the safety of everyone at Attingham, this tree needs to come down. It is always a difficult decision - the tree could stand there happily for another 30 years BUT there is also a heightened risk of it failing and its position next to a main path in such a busy place as Attingham means that we cannot risk someone coming to harm. There is some small comfort in this one coming down - as well as ensuring no one can be hurt by it, it will open up the area for the other beeches to expand into and for future plantings. We will be closing access to the rear of the Mansion for a day while the tree is taken down piece by piece but expect the path to reopen by the end of the day.


Close up of copper beech leaves
Last week saw some important tree work being carried out at Sunnycroft, our sister property just down the road in Wellington. A cherrypicker was hired to allow our tree surgeons (capably driven by Harper student Ben) to travel to the tops of the wonderful wellingtonias that line the drive up to the house, cutting out dead branches and tidying up. The cutting back of a branch on another tree has been postponed as a bird is currently nesting right on the end of it, so we will return later on in the year.

Several days ago Senior warden Colin heard the cuckoo calling again and as he listened the cuckoo changed his call - the old poem is right!
                                                        The cuckoo comes in April
                                                        He sings his song in May
                                                        Then in June he changes his tune
                                                        And in July he flies away

Between the thunderstorms and downpours I have been nipping out to some of our ponds to watch the progress of some of our wildlife and this morning spotted a duck with three chicks and the first Emperor dragonfly on the pond in the Mile Meadow. We are also keeping a careful eye on the deer park as the fawns will begin to appear any day now. I know I repeat it a lot, but it is super important that fawns are not approached or touched in any way and that dogs are kept well away - so please keep to the paths! If you are lucky enough to spot a fawn, please let me know. The bucks look fantastic at the moment with their antlers in velvet and full summer coats, so bring your camera next time you are here for a walk in the park, you never know where they might be sunning themselves near a path.


Mr Toad was found recently by a temporary log pile and relocated to a more permanent residence near the Mile Walk


Damselflies mating by the Mile Meadow pond
 

Friday, 16 May 2014

Wildlife sights and sounds

More glorious sunshine has brought out the flora and fauna quite spectacularly. Although the bluebells have started to fade, visitors to Attingham are now greeted with a blaze of golden buttercups as they come up the main drive (with the longhorn cattle lying lazily amongst them!).

More spring sightings are coming in from staff and volunteers. Last week a cuckoo was heard calling from the Woodland Walk - this sound is becoming rarer as, sadly, cuckoo numbers are in decline. The RSPB have put cuckoos on to the Red List for conservation, so we are pleased to have some on and around the Estate. The first swift was spotted flying over the Walled Garden on May 9th, and on the 12th a common lizard was found in the external corner of the vinary, basking in the warmth of the sun (I hope to get the pictures up soon, kindly taken by gardener Katherine).

I cast my eye over the pond in the paddock the other day and saw this spider catch a newly-emerged damselfly, wrestling with it for a minute before claiming it as prey. It's a tough world out there!


On the same day I spotted another teneral (newly-emerged) damselfly, a large red. Tenerals have yet to show their full colour, appearing pale and washed out, and have very shiny wings. Get ready for lots of insect pictures over the coming months!



Finally, have you ever wanted to train to be a National Trust Ranger? The opportunity is now! Traineeships will be advertised on the NT jobsite over the coming weeks, including a position here at Attingham. See www.nationaltrustjobs.org.uk for more information - different properties will be advertising at different times, so keep a close eye on the pages if you want to apply.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Spring sightings

That was a bit of a long break! My apologies - life doesn't give you enough hours in the day sometimes.

The Estate is coming alive as spring settles in. Suddenly butterflies are everywhere; over the last few weeks I have spotted Peacocks, Red Admirals, Small Coppers, a Brimstone, Speckled Woods and lots of Orange Tips. The swallows have returned at some of the farms and cottages on the Estate too, though I have yet to see them by the Mansion. I saw my first damselfly of the year a few weeks ago, a large red, always one of the first on the wing. A few days ago the Senior Park and Estate Warden heard a cuckoo calling somewhere near the woodland walk and the bluebells are in full bloom and looking fabulous - this year is proving to be a wonderful one for wild flowers with bulbs. New season, new life!

Recent work by the wardens has included repairs to the fence round the Greedy Pig, clearing away timber from windblown trees, stump removal and levelling of the ride through Repton's Wood for the education tractor and trailer, clearing vegetation around the perimeter fence line, control of docks on the river ground, some expert tree surgery on a tree across the river to allow last weekends Game On! canoeing activity, preparation of the camp ground, strimming, fence repairs for one of our tenant farmers and creating a new plantation in the sports area adjacent to the play field. Plus, of course, the usual daily and weekly jobs, event preparation and Easter activities. Phew!

We have also been using a new piece of kit to observe some of our lesser-seen wildlife. This chap posed beautifully for his night-time debut photoshoot!

I hope to catch footage of some other species over the coming months, so watch this space.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Finishing the old, starting the new

With the equinox behind us and the clocks changing this weekend, spring is officially here. The bright sunshine, daffodils everywhere and lambs in the fields are certainly making me think of the coming warmth and the jobs that come with the seasons. Before we can jump in to all the new projects, there are still some last winter jobs to complete but we are well on our way.

This week has seen the wardens here, there and everywhere! On Monday the team went to Betton Farm where a very large, old horse chestnut had lost its fight against the gales and lost its top as well as a couple of major limbs. It had just caught a fence with the tips of its branches to we cleared the brash and repaired the fence so that our tenant farmer can put his cattle out into the field to enjoy the new grass. It was a gorgeous bright day and our work was carried out to the sound of skylarks. We spotted a stoat as we left site but it was far too quick to me to get a picture, disappearing into the woods before I could even reach for the camera.
Before...


Fence fixed and brash removed


On Tuesday we split forces with one team on site repairing other fences and clearing timber while a few of us went to Lee Brockhurst to deal with some leaning and hung up trees. On Wednesday, we had a little celebration in the afternoon to mark the achievement of Senior Park and Estate Warden Colin Morris - 30 years of working for the Trust at Attingham!

On Thursday I went with Colin to Dunham Massey for a meeting of the Trusts deer managers. I was able to see their fallow deer herd which has until recently contained all four colour variations - the common and menil that we have here, plus some white and black (which are a very dark brown rather than true black). It was interesting to hear about how different properties manage their deer, with some quite different feeding and culling programmes. There's always something new to learn with the National Trust!