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.

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...

Friday, 8 August 2014

So long, Ben!

Next week will see us say a fond farewell to Harper Adams student Ben, who has been working with us for just over a year as part of his degree course. Ben has been a fantastic addition to the team and will be missed! We wish him all the best for his final year at Harper - and thanks for all the spoons.

With Ben's departure we have also had three new arrivals from Harper this week - over the coming months you will see Jo, Charley and Rachel around the Park and Estate as they work on their placement. I haven't caught them on camera yet but watch this space...

Chris Wittles has been on site several times over the last week ringing birds near to the Tern and Severn. A good range of species are coming through including many warblers, tits and the odd bullfinch. We will be working with Chris over the coming years to manage the vegetation at these sites and maximise the optimum habitat for many native and migratory birds.

The summer is moving on and the deer are starting to shed their velvet (the skin covering the newly-grown antlers) and reveal the darker bone underneath. The does and this year's fawns are now becoming more visible as you walk through the deer park and they start to rejoin the rest of the herd and it looks like another successful year with many young ones being born.

Last week we had a big push on clearing the ragwort from the front park, deer park and up at Hillcrest along the A49 at Lee Brockhurst. It's amazing what a difference it makes as you look out across the deer park now, with no yellow in sight!

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