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 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...

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

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 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.

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!  

Friday 7 March 2014

Signs of spring

The snowdrops are past their best now, though they are still an impressive sight blanketing the woodland floor. With the warmer weather the daffodils and crocuses have come out all around the mansion and riverside, and as you walk down to the back of the mansion there are primroses and fritillaries on the wildflower bank to your left.
Spring at last!
Student Henry has been working on a new natural play area with our Sports Co-ordinator Lucy and as you walk from the Bothy towards the suspension bridge and deer park you will see some of their work with log bridges across the ditch and stepping stones in the stream. There is still a bit of work to do on the bridges but the stones are firmly in place and being enjoyed by our younger visitors (and my dog!) already:

Max enjoys the stepping stones - and the off-lead zone

Speaking of dogs, there is an updated dog policy available from Visitor Reception which outlines the responsibilities of dog walkers around the park, explains where the dog bins are (including a new one) and maps out where dogs must be on short leads or are allowed off lead. We have noticed that some visitors are not putting their dogs on leads where they should, including in the deer park, and recently a child was bitten by a loose dog that should have been on a short lead. I am asking my fellow dog owners to please adhere to the rules to keep everyone safe and comfortable. If you do spot someone ignoring the signs then please inform our staff, with a description if possible, so that we can have a word - we don't want the few to spoil it for the many. Attingham is such a brilliant place to bring your dog for a walk and to socialise with others, we want to keep it that way!

With spring on its way we are finishing off our winter jobs of hedgelaying and planting and are on schedule to complete them in the next few weeks. We have planted apple and damson trees to form a small orchard on a piece of ground at Wheathill farm, and will finish the orchard at Duncote next week, along with some maintenance work with replacing tree guards and mulching. We are continuing to tidy up from the storm by moving the fallen trees and brash as the ground is drying up and we can get the tractors in without creating too much mess. The deer are still being fed but not as often, as the trees are starting to bud and the grass is growing. The final cull is taking place this Saturday so if you would like some venison next week may be your last chance! There may be a final selective cull in a few weeks but after that, the season ends and we will not cull again until the end of the year.

Some of the fruit trees we have been planting

Thursday 13 February 2014

The aftermath

Last night's 75mph winds have hit us hard across the Park and wider Estate. We were forced to close the property yesterday for the safety of all and it remained closed until 2pm today while the outdoors team checked every path and assessed the damage. We have lost many trees and were sadly given no choice but to fell some others that were left in a dangerous state. One such tree included the 100ft two-stemmed beech at the start of the Mile Walk near the stables - it split down the middle. This was a massive and complicated felling, performed by some of our skilled contractors who not only got it down and cleared safely, they missed the iron fencing too!
Early this morning work began on the split beech

The beech safely down and showing the massive split

The causeway to the deer park has flooded once more and the surface is being washed away - please heed the signs and do not attempt to cross! Check with Visitor Reception for the latest news on closures and paths, and visit the Attingham Twitter and Facebook pages for updates. We are doing our absolute best to reopen the property but safety MUST come first and we have a mammoth task ahead of us.Thank you for your patience!

Some of the aftermath

Flooding as seen from Cronkhill

Large branches have fallen

Flooding as seen from the Deer Park

Damage to fencing around the Property

If you are planning on visiting the property over Half Term, then please note that we have had to cancel some of the activities. Our car parks are also waterlogged, so wherever possible please car share with friends and family if you are meeting here for a holiday get-together. My apologies if this sounds all doom and gloom! We are planning to try and run our Trail from Monday and continue with Trusty Club but it is all weather dependent as we are due more wind and unsettled weather. Watch the website and social media pages, and I will update when I can.

On a positive note I saw a goldcrest today while checking the deer fence - they are the UK's smallest bird and if he can survive last night's weather and still be chirping, we can all grit our teeth and get on!

Thursday 30 January 2014

The rivers are rising...

More wet weather on already saturated ground means more flooding across the Park and Estate. The water rose enough today to start trickling over the causeway, despite us raising the level by four inches after the devastation caused by last years floods. We are monitoring the water level closely and we will see how it looks in the morning before deciding whether or not to close access to the deer park. If you are out with children or dogs on long leads then please be particularly careful - the river banks are completely underwater so what looks like a few inches of paddling water can drop very suddenly.

Monday 27 January 2014

Working with wood

Another busy month for the wardens! Ben and Craig have been busy developing a new site for green woodwork as part of Ben's University project, designing shelters and building pole lathes and shave horses; the site will be used by staff and volunteers to learn and practice various crafts and also to make charcoal. Watch this space!
Meanwhile, Henry has been working with sports development officer Lucy to design and build a new natural play area for children - again, stay tuned for updates!

Our Wednesday hedgelaying crew have been busy on a new hedge at Duncote Farm having finished their first one, braving the wind and rain to rescue the hedge and renew it with new growth. There are some large gaps in this one and some thin areas, so we will lay it as best we can and replant to thicken the vegetation. This is part of a long-term plan for the hedges of the Estate, bringing them back into good condition with regular cutting and laying.

Meanwhile, another group has been working with me to restore an area of hazel coppice. As you can see in the pictures, it's been a long time since these stools were last coppiced - we counted 25-35 growth rings in the larger stems. We cut the hazel down, angling the stumps outwards, to encourage new shoots that can be coppiced again in 7-10 years time for stakes, binders and material for green woodworking. We managed to cut many stakes and binders out of the old stools as they have put out new shoots, and the larger material will be used for firewood, charcoal and probably a chair leg or two once the pole lathes are set up! The stumps are then covered with brash to give them a bit of protection from rabbits and deer that would nibble off the new shoots as soon as they appear.