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.

Thursday 8 September 2016

Farewell everyone!

Colin with a growing mountain of wood chip
My sincerest apologies for the silence over the last few months! There has been a lot less time in the office and a lot more out on projects and surveys as we made the most of the summer and started on one of our biggest tasks - the new biomass burner. To get the property off heating oil we are installing the NT's largest woodchip boiler to date, and the Rangers are now responsible for providing the quality chip that will feed the burner and heat the Stables and Mansion. There is a huge amount of work involved in this, from carrying out the woodland management and selective tree felling, winching the trees in, transporting the timber and stacking it to dry, splitting and chipping the timber, storing the chip and once the building work is complete we will need to bring the tractor and trailer around to fill the hopper several times a week. Building work in front of the Stables has been going on for weeks and the burner is due to be switched on at the end of September.

Painted Lady butterfly feeding on a thistle
We have recently finished some butterfly surveys along four 1km routes that are feeding in to a national database to monitor the state of common species on farmland. Butterflies have been in decline for many years and we hope that these surveys will show patterns that link to different land management practices so that we can help these beautiful insects to make a comeback. We found a range of species including Small and Large White, Comma, Red Admiral, Painted Lady, Peacock, Small Copper, Common Blue, Meadow Brown, Speckled Wood, Green-veined White and Small Tortoiseshell.

Our volunteers have worked tirelessly this summer to keep the Park walks and wider Estate tidy with lots of strimming and mowing to keep the grass and weeds at bay, picking ragwort, repairing fences, monitoring the fishing routes, managing the camp site and play field, helping all the other departments with tents and marquees, collecting timber, producing cleft oak pales, repairing trailers and signs and all the other dozens of jobs that we come up with each week! A huge thank you to all of you for your hard work and dedication whatever the weather.

One of many fantastic memories - assisting with ringing
baby Barn owls in one of our boxes
I am quite sad as I write this because it is my last blog post as a Ranger here at Attingham, and the final post of this particular blog. I am moving to start a new position at another property which is very exciting but I will really miss the team and this beautiful Estate! It has been a brilliant nine years and thank you to everyone that has followed my updates and pictures. Attingham Park will always be a very special place and I look forward to coming back to visit and see what's new.  

Saturday 23 April 2016

Restoring the landscape at Cronkhill Farm

Arum maculatum or Lords-and-Ladies
It's that wonderful time of the year again when, on certain days, us rangers can peel off the layers of fleece and waterproof jackets and actually work with the warmth of the sun on our skin. Frozen fingers and wind-chapped cheeks are quickly forgotten with every flourishing wildflower, budding leaf and skylark song.

We have enjoyed several days of sunshine working at Cronkhill Farm where five home-grown oaks have been planted to replace dead and dying trees out in the fields alongside the river. This is the start of a larger plan to replace the many trees that we know were in these fields historically but are no longer in the landscape. Each new tree has a guard around it to protect from grazing cattle and sheep - we made our guards out of untreated sweet chestnut posts and hardwood rails for strength and longevity.
Digging out the post holes with an auger
We worked with the farmer to choose the best alignment of tree and
guard with sunshine and direction of cutting for the hay crop

The finished replacement

We will be keeping a close eye on these trees to ensure that they are healthy and will water them during any dry spells. Good luck little oaks!

Sunday 27 March 2016

Bluebells are coming

After a cracking Good Friday and more typical Easter Saturday (I've stayed drier when swimming!) I've been out and about in the grounds and found the first bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) in flower - hooray! It will be a few more weeks before we get a really stunning display but keep your eyes peeled next time you are out and about in woodland.

We have planted up the new orchard, finished gapping up hedges and have used up the rest of our shrubs and trees at Duncote Farm to create a 100x5 metre planting. We have put in a few black poplar on one end to see if they take in the wetter ground. The horse chestnut buds are starting to burst into leaf, the rooks are busily finishing their nests and the blackthorn is in bloom - spring is here again.

Burn off some chocolate eggs and join our Countryside Manager on Sunday 3rd April on a walk exploring our oldest and newest orchards - the walk starts at 2pm from the Stables courtyard, £2 per adult and children go free. It will be a chance to walk around some of the Estate that you will not have seen before!

Thursday 3 March 2016

A record breaking year

March already? The year is flying by!

The ranger team have been flying around the estate working on lots of different projects, all while reduced in numbers from various illnesses so please bear with me if the updates are sporadic! The Smethcote lane hedge has been finished with just the brash to be burned once we can gather it up - we need the field to dry out a bit before we can drive on and scoop it up. Our team plus some of the SSNTV have laid a good long section of maiden hedge along another nearby lane, and we are now beavering away on a 100m section of much older hedge at Cronkhill Farm.

A Schwegler 2F bat box
We have finished pruning back the cherry trees along the MT shed lane to stop them from getting tangled in phone lines and begun a tidying job in the woods to clear up brash and timber left over from the resurfacing of the Woodland Walk. We have hung more bird boxes at Betton Farm and some bat boxes behind our workshop, helped to build a chicken coop in the Walled Garden for the new birds, put up new fencing around Berwick New House Farm and at the back of the Walled Garden for the new nursery and continued to produce hundreds of kilos of venison in the butchery. The final cull is tomorrow morning so there will only be a few more weeks of venison preparation and packing, and it also means that Bob and I get our Thursday evenings back without having to go back to work and lock up the park!

Our first guided walk of the year was a big success last Sunday with Charlotte showing a group round the Mile Walk looking at winter tree identification. The new 2016 events leaflet is now available and has all of our walks printed on it for the year if you would like to join us - as well as some old favourites we have some new walks this year, including a tour of the best photography spots, meet the Parkland Gardeners and an all ability walk that will be very short in distance but full of information on how we manage the park.

Next week we are working with pupils from a local primary school who will be helping us to plant up the new orchard at Berwick Wharf. The orchard will be mixed fruit, made up of apples, pears, quinces, plums, greengages, mirabelles and a medlar - I'm very excited to see how this orchard turns out and look forward to a delicious harvest in a few years time. Mirabelles are part of the prunus family and the fruits are very small, rounded plums, almost cherry sized. If you are wondering what a medlar looks like there is one growing outside the Bothy by the Walled Garden - the fruits make a very tasty jelly.

We have a lot of timber to gather in from woodland thinnings and dangerous tree works which will be dried, chipped and stored to use in the biomass boiler that will be built later this year to heat the Stables and Mansion. One issue at the moment is access to the wood - the ground is still so wet in places from the soggy winter and flooding that we can't pull the wood out without risking getting stuck or making a huge mess.
Flooding at Brompton earlier this year as seen from the entrance to Cronkhill Farm
After a hectic day last Sunday I decided to finish the day with a stroll in the late afternoon sun rather than to drive to lock up for the night. As I walked I startled a hare from a tussock of grass and watched it hurtle across the field at top speed. To my delight it was soon joined by another, then another and then suddenly there were five hares in the far end of the field lolloping around - a fantastic sight and a first for me. This evening I crossed paths with a badger, who appeared completely unbothered by my presence as he trotted along with great purpose. You never know what you may see when out and about on the Attingham estate!

March 1st is the start of another new financial year and 2015 saw Attingham having another record-breaking year in terms of visitor numbers - despite not having a Frost Fair or Food Fair we had over 403,000 people through the door. Let's see what 2016 brings!

Thursday 21 January 2016

A chilly start to the year

Well, it's about time for an update!

Frosty mornings and heavy rain have made it a challenging start to the year as the teams continue with hedgelaying and replanting a stretch of hedge at Duncote Farm. Wrapped up against the elements we have cut the old, brittle and gappy hawthorn hedge back to base to encourage it to reshoot and planted up the gaps with a mixture of hawthorn, holly and hazel. The stretch of hedge that we have been laying for two months now has just a few meters to go until we reach our target length for the year and this week we collected some extra hazel stakes and binders from Wenlock Edge to help us finish the job.

Chilly mornings as we get the kettle on in time for the volunteers to arrive!

I have been using the wildlife camera on the Estate to see what we can spot and was pleased to get plenty of footage of badgers and a fox as well as the usual rabbits. It's a wonderful chance to get a peek at these secretive creatures. I'm still trying to capture some images of the otters on our land but no luck yet - though many visitors spot them from our paths near the Tern and on New Years Day a visitor took some incredible pictures of an otter near the stone bridge that ended up in the local news!

Tree safety inspections have also continued over the last few weeks. At this time of year it is easy to spot areas of decay or damage in the crown and upper stem of the tree and to investigate as necessary. There will be some work with tree surgeons over the next few weeks on some ash and sycamores around the top of the Mile Walk and Deer Park Walk - mostly reduction of limbs that are decayed and hanging over the path and a couple of reductions down to 'monoliths' where the crown is completely removed but the trunk of the tree is left standing. These decisions are not made lightly but where the tree gives us the signals of weakening structure (decay, fungi, excessive movement, hollowness, dieback in the crown) we need to take action where there is risk of harm if the tree fails. By leaving a monolith we create a new habitat - as the remainder of the tree dies and slowly decays you will see all kinds of holes appear in it from insects and birds as they burrow and feed. Without the strain of branches and the sail effect of leaves and branches in the wind, the remaining trunk will stand for many years and often decades with a far reduced risk of falling over.
Woodpecker holes 

Wednesday 23 December 2015

Merry Christmas and introducing your new Rangers!

Finally we have reached that wonderful time of year - after months of darkening evenings and murky mornings, the Winter Solstice arrived and now we can look forward to brighter times!
The morning of the Winter Solstice as seen from our Woodshed
Oh, and it's Christmas! The Elves have been busy feeding the deer up in case Father Christmas should need a fallow stand-in tomorrow night - you can see them today and tomorrow at 2pm feeding from their bright red sleigh...
Unfortunately the weather continues to bring us rain and winter rather than a nice frosty or snowy holiday, so you might want to wear your new wellies or walking boots when you come for a walk to work off those mince pies next week. The newly surfaced Woodland Walk, however, is dry and smooth so that's definitely one to enjoy. We celebrated its opening by testing out the new Trampers:

We spent a day at Sunnycroft last week to help clear up after a large walnut tree fell over during a storm. It was quite a job to saw up but with a crew of Sunnycroft and Attingham volunteers the brash was soon cleared and burned while we cut the remaining tree into logs and lengths which will be dried and planked up for later use. Walnut is a beautiful wood, often used in wood turning, furniture making and for gun stocks. 


Joy and Colin modelling the new
Ranger uniform
And now, an update from the wardens - we are no longer wardens! Last week we made the official transition to the title of Rangers, in keeping with the rest of the National Trust. We will still be doing the same work but we have some snazzy (and bright) new uniforms (to be kept for best for now, so expect to see us in our greens for a while yet!) and some alterations to our role profiles. A trying-on session was immediately needed - introducing the Ranger and Area Ranger!

This week we have kept busy despite most of our volunteers having a break for the holiday; deer feeding, packaging venison, looking for lost dogs, dealing with found dogs, checking trees after the wind, putting up emergency fencing after a car accident, keeping the park supplied with logs to keep everyone warm and cosy, and deep cleaning the butchery - and it's not the end of the week yet...

Remember that the Park is closed on Christmas Day so we will see you again from Boxing Day. On behalf of all of the Ranger team, Merry Christmas!

Friday 4 December 2015

Stormy Weather

The weather is keeping us on our toes! The last few weeks have flown by as we try to keep on top of all our usual jobs as well as dealing with the high winds and flooding.

Storm Barney took it's toll
 I was on call when Storm Barney hit and had a call at 11.30pm to check on a tree that had gone down next to the road between Berwick Wharf and Upton Magna. After making sure it was safe for the night there were a few restless hours of sleep listening to the wind howl before getting up early to start the post-storm checks. Before we open to the public everywhere has to be checked for fallen or dangerous trees - roads, drives, paths, gardens - so by starting at daybreak we could make sure that the front and back drive, car park, Mile Walk and gardens were safe for 9am opening.

We had some tree casualties - one large ash over the Deer Park fence, a huge old beech near the Berwick Memorial (we knew this one's days were limited and altered a path to avoid it years ago) and multiple branches around the walks and wider estate. Several walks were temporarily closed down while Duncan, Matt and I got the chainsaws out and made everything safe and Colin came in on his day off to deal with the hanging branches at Berwick Wharf and organise a tree surgeon to come in. Such is the life of an NT warden!
This beech, already weakened by internal decay, could not hold on against the 60+mph gusts
Now we are keeping a close eye on water levels - at present the causeway between the Ice House and Deer Park is still dry but we are checking the rising and falling water to make sure the path is safe. Remember a few years ago when the flood water washed away part of the path? The flooding does make for some spectacular views but do take care if you are driving - I've seen a few cars drifting across the road as they take in the sights! The permissive path from the Park up to Upton Forge is currently underwater, as is the Tern Bridge walk.

The Woodland Walk is nearly ready to be reopened and next Tuesday ay 10am we will be having a little opening ceremony at the start of the walk by the wooden peacock so come along to be one of the first to try out the wider, smoother, drier walk.

We are feeding the deer at 2pm at weekends so come along to see the herd enjoy a fodder beet or two!