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, 30 December 2013

Wintery winds and fond farewells

I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas? Christmas is the one day of the year that the park is completely closed, although the recent winds have meant we have had to have partial closures on other days too. Local gusts have reached nearly 60 mph and with the risk of trees and branches falling we had to close the footpaths around the park. Our precautions were the right choice - at the top of the Mile Walk a grand fir uprooted and fell across the path, bringing down half of an ash tree with it. You can never guarantee if a tree will or will not fall down, but it's never worth the risk of having people nearby!

We are feeding the deer regularly now, at 2pm every day in the local school holidays and every weekend until February so you can see these beautiful animals enjoying their food. They even had a feed on Christmas Day - not everyone gets a day off when there are jobs to be done! Boxing Day saw many visitors coming out for a walk to burn those excess holiday calories so we tried to park everyone as best we could on the wet ground. Some of you may have heard already that a big project is planned next year to redesign the car parks, increasing the hard standing and improving drainage.

In a few weeks time we will be saying goodbye to our Academy Ranger Jess who is moving south to start her new job as warden at Cliveden Estate. She will be greatly missed as she as been a full time member of staff here for the last two and a half years - thank you for all your hard work, good luck with your new life and stay in touch!

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Frost Fair and Christmas once again!

One of the two Frost Fair entrances
It's hard to believe but the season is upon us once more. At Attingham, Christmas really gets going with the Frost Fair, the biggest event of the year. This year the layout was slightly different and we had more temporary track way put down to cope with the cars but with weeks of planning, measuring, marking and signing (plus the luck of some dry weather in the week before) the Fair was a huge success with well over 15,000 people visitong over the three days. The outdoors team and and a large group of volunteers did an amazing job of running the car parks (all 8 of them!) and keeping the flow of traffic moving, plus helping out with the preparation and clear up across the site (signs, tents, carpets, drainage, ropes, rubbish and what felt like miles of rope and millions of painted canes!) I cannot thank our volunteers enough for their time and efforts this year - we really couldn't have done it without them.

The team had a briefing each morning to assign roles and get
everyone on board with Bob's masterplan

The beautiful Acer near the Tea room
The park has been looking beautiful over the last few weeks with the late autumn colours and low sun. I've spotted quite a few people out with their cameras making the most of the dry sunny days and have been recommending them to come and watch the deer being fed at the weekends at 2pm to get a few pictures of our fabulous fallows. We are feeding near the bottom of the park this year, so if you stand by the signs 50 yards or so on from the deer park gate you will get a good view. 

 Walkers enjoying the Woodland Walk will be pleased to hear that we are doing some maintenance work to improve the wet areas by laying down a stone path through the worst bits. We had a volunteer team from a  local college last week to help us start this task, and they did a brilliant job! It's hard work shoveling and barrowing stone all day but they battled on and we will continue the work over the coming weeks.

The Mansion has been decorated with greenery collected by our teams from around the estate and I hear that Father Christmas is meeting some families this weekend and the next, so have a peek inside as well as out in the grounds!

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Tree trimming

Sorry, it's been a while since I last updated. I've been enjoying a week of leave and wandering the woods through the autumn colours. In the weeks before we were kept very busy indeed - half term saw a record turn out of visitors as the sun came out and Trusty Tuesday's pumpkin carving was a sellout - twice! The ground was pretty waterloged from all the wet weather so the wardens were busy trying to get people safely parked on the back field to prevent them getting stuck.

The week after half term we spent a lot of time around the public walks with a hired cherry picker and Seamus, our tree surgeon, cutting out dead wood from high up in the trees as part of our tree safety system. Several of us have been trained in using a cherry picker and this was a good chance to practice our skills as we manoeuvred up, over and around to reach the branches that needed trimming. Jess wrote the following on this job:

The work we’re carrying out from up high is the removal of deadwood and dangerous branches from trees which are over footpaths, roads and other areas in public use. The work we’re doing is very important tree safety management and part of our yearly tree inspection programme; whilst carrying out any remedial work we also take the opportunity to inspect the general health of all the trees in public areas.

Some of the work carried out is proactive and will help the tree live longer and survive heavy winds and storms. Extended limbs can be shortened to minimise weight stresses on the branch junction and reduce the chance of the limb snapping. A crown reduction means shortening several limbs so the tree – usually an older one - can focus its energy on maintaining healthy branches; this prolongs its life and habitat value.

Using the cherry picker is enabling to easily reach branches from a stable platform and is a much faster method of clearing any hazards. Anything that can’t be reached with the cherry picker will be removed by climbing the trunk and branches. Any timber removed from trees will be cut up and used for firewood in the Walled Garden Bothy or Visitor Reception and tea rooms.

As you can see from the following pictures, it's a great view from 70 feet up!
Not quite fully extended, but high enough!

The Mile Walk (left), river Tern and the Deer Park (far right)

The wardens were also instrumental in the setting up of Mad Jacks 5, the 5 mile race that is organised each year at the start of November. The route takes you through the pond in the Mile Walk so we had to check the posts and replace the rope so that the brave runners could grab on to something as they stagger through the mud. As we were setting up I noticed some activity down on the water's edge and found three pairs of Common Darter dragonflies mating and ovipositing - they are one of the last dragonflies on the wing and are seen well in to November, but to be laying eggs at this time of year is something strange to observe!

Friday, 25 October 2013

More fungi finds

The autumn colours are starting to show now and if it ever dries out we can enjoy some walks through crunchy leaves and chilly air - I love this time of year! I have been on leave this week but have been out wandering with my camera to see what is around...
Yellow stagshorn - Calocera viscosa - a common bright
yellow jelly fungus that grows on conifer stumps


The conker crop has been great this year too

Sunday, 13 October 2013

The Rut

The deer have been rutting for a couple of weeks now and many visitors have had the chance to observe the bucks as they groan and bellow to attract females and fight with other bucks. The sound of their antlers clattering together can be heard from quite a distance and if you stop and watch quietly you will probably see the show. During the rut the males stop eating and spend their time calling to females, fighting and mating - all that energy being used up means that they can lose up to 25% of their bodyweight. The older bucks hold rutting 'stands', their own areas, so you will see bucks all over the park at this time of year. I watched this one thrashing his antlers about in the bracken before wandering off, giving himself an attractive wig?!

If you are out for a walk this week, watch out for the display of fungi on show at the moment - around the deer park and mile walk in particular. Huge parasols and field mushrooms can be seen popping up all over the place, and make good eating if you know what to look for - however, I wouldn't recommend eating any mushrooms you pick yourself unless you have had some training and experience! Edible or not, I think that fungi are fascinating things and can be quite beautiful so I always make sure I have my camera on me when I take a walk around the Park at the moment.

Finally, a bit of what we have been up to this last week. The hedge at Duncote farm continues to be cleared and laid, the boardwalk over the pond has been painted with grip paint, timber for the biomass boiler has been cut and stored for drying, acorns have been collected from key oaks across the Park to grow more of our own stock and our timber store has been tidied and filled wth more of the recently milled wood. For anyone that is thinking of buying firewood from us this year and has not already heard, we won't be able to sell any this year - we now have 6 wood burning stoves plus the biomass boiler across the site and we need to work out exactly how much wood they will use up over the winter. It is time consuming to process and store the logs so for now we can only manage to supply our own needs.

Thursday, 3 October 2013


The Harvest Fair and Uncovered weekend was a massive success! Two days of glorious sunshine and fascinating demonstrations, along with tasty freshly pressed apple juice and two sturdy ponies, meant that there was something for everyone to enjoy. I spent my weekend in the Deer Park playing assistant to Barbara Haddrill as she and her two cob ponies, Billy and Tyler, drew the crowds with demonstrations of horse logging. Before tractors, timber felled in woodlands would have been extracted by horses and the tradition continues today - horses can cope with sloping terrain, low branches and tight spaces to work in far better than tractors in some cases. We have recently widened a path through Repton's Wood and Barbara and her team pulled the timber out ready for our timber crane to load up and take away to the wood stack. When they were not hard at work, Billy and Tyler posed for photographs and a good fuss from everyone, even winning over a lady that had been afraid of horses for most of her life - it was a wonderful moment to see her joy at touching them.

Tyler working solo

Billy, Tyler and a very happy warden

 Working as a pair, these two sturdy ponies can pull up to a tonne at a time on flat ground - impressive!

This week we spent a day preparing a hedge at Duncote Farm for laying, cutting out the side branches and any dead elder and looking at which way to lay the pleachers. There are several young oaks in this hedge that we will leave to grow into standard trees, and I noticed a few of the leaves were covered in spangle galls. Each of these tiny discs contains a single gall wasp, Neuroterus quercusbaccarum, which fall to the ground over autumn and winter and emerge as adults in April. These spring emergers are all female and are 'agamic' or able to reproduce without mating. They lay their eggs in the buds of oak trees, forming currant galls on the catkins and leaves, which emerge in June as males and females. They then mate and lay their eggs on the underside of the oak leaves again and form the spangle galls.

Spangle galls

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Parades... and pumpkins

The weekend before last included the annual Carriage Parade event. Unfortunately the weather was against us on the day with gales and rain predicted, so only seven teams took part and the route was shortened to end early. The weekend wardens were on hand to help man the gates on the front and back drives as the horses moved out and in, as well as a spot of cow herding to ensure that the cattle and horses remained as far apart as possible. Despite the miserable weather our hardier visitors still turned out to watch the parade and to meet the heavy horses on show by the mansion. The horses looked fantastic and the event really helped the imagination to picture how the park would have looked with carriages coming to and fro as they did for so many decades.

For the last two days I have been at Charlecote Park in Warwick attending a tree safety course. Trees in public and heavily visited areas have to be regularly monitored and managed to make them as safe as possible so I have been learning how the Trust carries out these surveys and what to look for. Its a long and sometimes complicated task but absolutely essential, so I hope to be able to assist my manager in future surveys to further my knowledge and experience until I am ready to take them on myself. Charlecote is a beautiful property with some wonderful veteran trees (and another herd of fallow deer) - I would thoroughly recommend a visit!

We are now busily preparing for this weeks big event - the Harvest Fair and Uncovered weekend. The harvest fair will be based in the walled garden and orchard where there will be stalls, displays and apple pressing - at the moment it is worth a visit just to see the amazing array of pumpkins and squashes that the gardeners have been busy growing! Uncovered weekend will give you the chance to see what produce is made and taken from the whole estate and explores the theme of sustainability. There will be timber milling and horses pulling timber from the woodland, talks and demonstrations, guided walks and 'deer unmaking'. Curious? Then come along this weekend - see the main website for more details.
Finally I would like to say a few words to two of our team who have finished their time with us, at least for now: Milly has returned to Harper Adams University to complete her final year and Craig has finished his Passport To Your Future training. We hope that we will see them both again soon, and want to say a massive thank you for the hard work and dedication displayed by both - it really isn't the same without them, and they are sorely missed!


Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The new season begins

Chilly air, hanging mists at dawn and wardens wearing fleeces can mean only one thing - autumn is here. It is my favourite of all seasons (although it does hail the end of the dragonfly season, which is sad for me but good for anyone that has had enough of the endless photographs!). As the season changes, so do our tasks. Over the next few weeks we will finish fencing, mowing and monitoring flora and fauna and begin the autumn and winter tasks of planting, hedgelaying and coppicing.

For now though, we finish the last of the summer jobs. The deer fence repair is now complete, using a combination of new and reused cleft oak - it will take a while for the fresh oak to weather and fade into grey. The volunteer team did a great job finishing off the pales so thank you!

Over the last few weeks, Chris Wittles has continued with his bird ringing on various sites across the estate, sharing his finds with us to give us a better picture of the species and their populations that we have here. He has been experimenting with using recorded bird calls to see if different species respond to them and when I arrived (very) early last Thursday he had just caught and ringed three Black caps - they had been seeing and hearing them fly by for weeks without actually catching any in the nets. The recording seemed to work that day! Once ringed, the little birds were immediately released and went soaring back down the river.

Now that the children have gone back to school we have been doing some maintenance in the play area on quieter days. The large log pile has been repainted with grip paint and a new layer of woodchip spread around it; the climbable 'cube' has been restocked with wood and new rope attached; the vehicle gate has been covered with mesh to prevent little ones from climbing over. Next jobs will include more grip paint on the balance logs and repairing the fence where a tree has fallen over it - so far it has provided a wonderful climbing frame but the time has come for a tidy up!

Keep an eye out as you walk along any hedges with Dog Rose growing in them - the Robin's Pincushions are starting to turn scarlet, another sign of the oncoming autumn. I spotted five on one plant earlier today. These beautiful abnormalities are caused by the gall wasp Diplolepsis rosae which burrows in to the stem or leaf of the dog rose plant and causes the plant to react by growing excess cells into these wispy little balls. There are some growing on the Ice House roses too so keep an eye out for them.

Finally, one last dragonfly to see you through the winter - a male common darter on the Mile Meadow pond. I promise no more for a while!

Monday, 2 September 2013

Another sunny day in the Deer Park

It's September already but the summer is holding on with another day of sunshine. Today the team donned their high vis vests and continued the deer fence repair, digging in the oak posts and fitting the rails that our cleft oak pales will attach to. The ground in this area is packed hard and full of stones, so digging in the heat was no easy task! Tomorrow I expect us to finish the whole job, though it will take a while before the oak ages and blends in with the rest of the fence.

While we measured by the posts for cutting this little beauty landed next to me and posed for some pictures - I believe it to be a teneral (immature) female common darter but if anyone knows better then please let me know - I'm still learning!
Our new walk opened on Sunday as part of the  Great British Walk - Attingham is proud to be one of 10 properties offering a 'secret' walk to a previously unreachable location. The wardens played a big part in getting the walk ready and have even starred in the photographs and interviews that you may have seen in the Times, Telegraph and Daily Mail. Feedback so far has been great - have any of you seen where it takes you yet?
Finally, has anyone else noticed what the bees have been up to on the side of the mansion? This has been steadily growing over the last few weeks on the east side, near the Orangery. My little compact camera couldn't zoom enough to get a decent shot (it's very high up) but luckily our volunteer photographer Sean took some great close ups - I can't wait to see how much  bigger it gets!


Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Last week of the holidays

Just a quick update on what we have been doing over the last week or so. The bank holiday was very busy again here at Attingham, with archery, canoeing and Trusty Tuesday club bringing in the crowds. The wardens have been keeping everything running smoothly in the car park, juggling tents and events, and also continuing with the small mammal monitoring that Jess wrote about in the last post. This week we have been concentrating on two new projects - repairing the deer park fence where it was damaged by a car and  creating the new coach park area as part of the stables and visitor reception regeneration. Path preparation will also be a focus for the next few days as the Great British Walk starts this weekend, so come along for a chance to see some different spaces!

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Small mammal monitoring

 Jess and Paige (our student research intern) have been busy setting up a survey and monitoring of small mammals in the Park. Such monitoring is important as it allows us to observe rises and declines in populations. Currently there has been an alarming 75% decrease in small mammals across the UK - we need to find out if the same trend is apparent on our land. Small mammals such as voles, shrews and mice are important species and an indicator of habitat health - a decline in their numbers could have a big impact on other species such as the Barn Owl, which depends on them for food. Surveying is carried out using live trapping and the animals are released back into their territory as soon as we record the species.

The traps are filled with hay to make comfortable bedding for the night. Small mammals (and especially shrews) need to eat every few hours due to their high metabolism so several foods are also included in each trap - blowfly pupae (for the carnivores), a seed mix for the vegetarians and some chopped apple to provide water.

When emptying the triggered traps to see what has been caught, a large bag is used to stop the creatures escaping before we can identify them.The species, age and sex is noted. They are handled by a method called 'scruffing' - it may sound rough but it is simply holding them by the back of the neck, much like puupies and kittens, to examine them.

Above is a male field vole Microtus agrestis, identifiable by their large hind feet, short tail and grey/brown fur.

Above is one of the three common shrews Sorex araneus we caught. They have small eyes and a pointy, mobile snout. We also foudn a pygmy shrew, which is darker in colour and smaller than the common, but with a tail longer in proportion to its body.

Thank you Jess and Paige for the insight into their work! The monitoring will continue this bank holiday weekend.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Canoe fun!

Fancy a paddle along the Tern? Over the next few weeks you will be able to hire canoes or take part on a guided river tour on special days, all starting on the new jetty that the wardens built this week. On Thursday 8th August you can hire a canoe for £10 per hour, between 11am and 5pm; all equipment and safety instruction will be given by Drummond Outdoors. It will be first come, first served!

We build the jetty in stages. On day 1, a team built the frame and treadboards. On Monday Jess and I donned our chest waders and cleared the riverbank of reeds and weeds, then I used the JCB to drive chestnut posts into the riverbed to fix the jetty to. Finally on Tuesday we lifted the jetty into place, drilled and bolted it together, then built handrails to help people to step down onto the platform. Finally, some of the team tested it for sturdiness - it passed!

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Summer holidays and fun down on the pond

The holidays are here and the hot weather continues. This weekend we have been offering pond dipping and dragonfly watching on the Mile Meadow pond. We had quite a few families in yesterday and the kids had a great time discovering snails, water boatmen, damselfly larvae and newts, plus the chance to see some damselflies up close. There were several damselflies around that I netted and put into pots for the kids to see - azures, blue-tailed, large reds, emeralds and banded demoiselles.Unfortunately the overcast day meant that few dragonflies were out on the wing - but we did spot a common darter, and brown hawker and an emperor.
A male emerald damselfy (Lestes sponsa)

The children found plently of newts!

After release, the emerald damselfly rests
Right at the end of the day, however, Jess managed a brilliant catch and netted the emperor! They are often impossible to catch - they are in near constant flight and change speed and direction with ease. By chance this one came low and close enough and we all got to have a close look at this magnificent dragonfly. On inspection we found that his wings were in a poor state, indicating that he was quite old - all four wings were torn and ragged. He still managed to fly off though.

Dragonflies have excellent vision - no wonder with these huge eyes!

The emperor dragonfly (Anax imperator)
 Attingham is a great site for spotting dragon and damselflies - keep an eye out for hawkers on the Mile Walk, banded demoiselles down by the river and emperors, skimmers and chasers on the Deer Park pond. Let me know what you find!

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Attingham, Oaks and AOD

There has been another sudden media interest in Acute Oak Decline (AOD) in the Midlands this week. Yesterday a photographer from the Shropshire Star came to take some pictures of some oaks (and, unfortunately, me) for part of a story that they are running this week. AOD has been around in the UK for a while - this article from the Forestry Commission explains that the disease has been present for 20-30 years, though it now seems to be on the increase.

Attingham is affected - regular visitors will know that the path through Rookery Wood from the Stables down to the Mansion was closed off earlier this year to keep people away from the affected trees, and in 2010 Estate Manager Bob Thurston appeared on the BBC's 'Inside Out' program showing how Attingham has been working closely with experts studying the disease in an effort to find out how exactly it is spread and how we can tackle the issue before it becomes too widespread. The disease affects the food system of trees, decaying the stem tissues that transport food from the leaves to the roots, effectively cutting off the nutrient flow and slowly killing the tree. It also weakens the tree's immune system, leaving it more susceptable to attack from fungus and insects.

While we do have infected trees, it's not all doom and gloom as many of our oaks are still healthy and disease-free; and in a few cases, Bob has noted an improvement of symptoms in infected trees. Research is ongoing and we will continue to support studies by providing them with samples of infected tissues and insect trapping as we have done so far.

In other news, we have had a mobile sawmill in this week, cutting up some of the huge butts from the trees we had to fell for Severn Trent in Ismore Wood. The timber will be used in future projects around the estate.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Early birds

This morning I had some mixed feelings as my alarm went off at 4.15am! But I was up early to meet local bird expert Chris Wittles and have my first experience of bird ringing. Chris set up the nets last night near the river and Tern Bridge and as the first birds flew this morning, he and colleague Peter were catching them in the long nets, gently releasing them, recording details of species, age, gender and size, ringing them and letting them go. Jess and I joined them to observe how the process works and to see some of Attingham's wildlife up close - and what a fantastic morning we had! In 2.5 hours we recorded reed buntings, garden warblers, great tits, robins, a black cap, a wren, a chaffinch and a greater spotted woodpecker. The information will be fed into the British Trust for Ornithology database so that we can monitor the variety of species and their numbers over time. It was fantastic to see and hold some of these beautiful birds and I managed to get a few pictures too - I'm already looking forward to the next time (though I will go to bed a bit earlier next time!)

A Garden Warbler

Peter holds a wren

Juvenile robins - see the first blush of red on the slightly older robin on the left
A reed bunting
My thanks to Chris and Peter for sharing their time and expertise with us!

Friday, 5 July 2013

What the wardens did while I was in Spain!

Hello All!

As Joy’s been on leave this is a guest post from me (Jess) with a bit of what we’ve been up to over the past week.

We’ve been working hard to repair a fence line and hedge on a Betton Farm boundary. A large gap was made when a vehicle went impromptu off-roading and damaged the hedge and fence which are part of a cattle corral in the field. This enclosure is very important in helping to monitor the health of the herd and needs to be super secure.

Our Monday gang removed the dead hedge and damaged fence from the site, and created a new fence line along the whole stretch, using the tall deer-fence wire. We dug in each post to make it nice and sturdy and put in some straining posts and struts.

On Tuesday railings have been put across the gap (with the help of two work experience students) as an extra precaution - these are big beef cattle next to a very busy road, we don’t want them to mix!

The gap left in the hedge row will be planted up early next year when planting season is upon us once more.

Work is continuing on the Ismore camping field to install gates and a footbridge for improved access. Also Phil, Andrew and others have been assembling Thunderboxes at Smethcote barns for all our working needs!