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.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Harvest Fair and fabulous fungi

Well, September passed a bit quickly! I was lucky enough to spend four days last month at Fountains Abbey on a course and it is truly spectacular - well worth a visit if you are heading to Yorkshire on your holidays.

Ben and Phil hard at work
Last weekend saw the Attingham Harvest Fair in full swing - two days of displays, demonstrations, food and music all in glorious sunshine. Much of the event was based in the Walled Garden with stalls, cookery demonstrations, apple pressing and produce. The Estate team were based in the paddock with a range of tractors to admire, produce from all over the estate (including grains, vegetables and two tonnes of Lady Claire potatoes!), logs, milled timber and Phil and Ben brought their pole lathes and shave horses to give green woodworking demos. Demonstrations with the timber crane drew the crowds (with some serious demos of loading and unloading wood as well as building log round towers and dropping freshly-turned wooden eggs into cups!) but I fear that our 'cute' appeal was lost in comparison to the Home Farm display with the tiny Shetland foal!
Coco the miniature Shetland
Tractors new and old

 The autumn colours are appearing in the trees now and fresh fungi are popping up all over the place - here are a few pictures of natures riot of colour. Enjoy!

Young parasol

Fly agaric - they are not always covered in spots!


Yellow stagshorn

Fly agaric



Dead man's fingers
Earth star

Earth star unfolded and releasing spores

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Things with wings

Summer is flying by too quickly - it's hard to believe that the holidays are nearly over and that soon we will begin the autumn and winter work programmes of hedge laying, planting and thinning the woodlands. However, we have had an awful lot going on at Attingham to keep us busy so here is an update on some of the work and sights that we have seen.

Local bird expert Chris Wittles has been busy continuing to monitor birds around the Estate and has found this year to be superb for warblers. We have done some vegetation management near the river and will be doing more this winter to improve the habitat for birds moving along the river corridor.

While out patrolling our stretch of the River Severn and checking fishing tickets and permits, Martin and Ian spotted our local swan couple who have been very successful this year - you may have seen them if you have been canoeing near the camp site. Six of the seven cygnets have survived and can be seen here enjoying a family paddle!
Photo: Martin Clark
Last week we did a bit of path tidying and brash clearance at Hillcrest, our patch of land at Lee Brockhurst. It's a lovely spot to stretch your legs and enjoy the view if you are on a journey along the A49 and fancy a break. There are some very impressive sandstone formations and even more impressive trees that have managed to take root through the rock and flourish - the one pictured has a single root stretching down several meters to the soil on the exposed side.

We have had to deal with several fallen trees and branches as a result of the recent wind and storms, with some still to deal with on the front and back park. Trees are funny things - sometimes they look completely healthy and drop a limb without warning while others that look ready to fall hang on and on and on. After every strong wind I look at the tree on the left as you drive down the exit road - it has dropped most of its branches and has one large one left, leaning away from the road into the field. I keep expecting it to go but still it holds on! Elsewhere on the Estate we have had tree surgeons in doing work on two ash trees at one of the fishermen's car parks, making them safe and trying out some conservation cuts that mimic the natural tear out of a limb.

Our Dragonfly Weekend were well attended though the cloudy, breezy weather meant that there were not many dragons or damsels on the wing. We had some fun hunting for exuviae and managed to spot a few Hawkers, Darters and Emperors. The next warden walk is on the 6th September with Bob on the Beat the Bounds walk.

Last night some members of Shropshire Bat Group came to the park to test out the route for their walk next Saturday and I joined them to see what was flying around. It was a good night and though we were disappointed not to hear the rare Lesser horseshoe bat this time, we did record Common and Soprano pipistrelles, Barbastelle (fantastic as these are very rare in the UK), Brown long-eared, Daubenton's, Natterer's and Noctule bats. If you would like to join the walk on the 5th September then you will need to pre-book by calling 01743 708170, £6 per adult and £3 per child, starting 7.30pm. Check out the Bat Conservation Trust  website for more information on these amazing little creatures!

Thursday, 13 August 2015

A dry spell

As I type this in the office I am looking out to a darkening sky that promises a downpour of much-needed rain - some of our younger trees and hedges have really struggled over the last few weeks as the dry weather and scorching sun take their toll. We have been watering when we can but nothing beats a good natural soaking so sorry folks, I'm hoping for a rainy day!

Last week the team spent a day at Betton Farm putting up a new stretch of stock fence in a quiet scrubby corner as well as removing an old fence and replacing some rotten posts on another. They battled with nettles, brambles, swampy ground and a wasps nest but still managed to complete the task ahead of schedule and with time to spare at the end of the afternoon for a cup of tea after the tools were put away. Win!
Judy keeps everything tidy! Photo: Terry Carr
Clearing the ground ready for the fence line  
Photo: Terry Carr

You may have spotted a digger out on the front park a few weeks ago and our tractor and trailer hauling loads of soil - Duncan, Matt and myself have been busy training on this piece of kit and using the machinery to clear the pile of earth that was left over from work on the sewage system some time back. Future projects using diggers will include resurfacing paths and clearing out some of the ponds that become filled with silt and leaves over the years.

This weekend we will be hoping for some sunshine and calm weather as we have our dragonfly walks on Saturday and Sunday at 2pm. We will take a gentle stroll to two of our best ponds to see what we have on the wing, hopefully with the chance to see a few close up if I can net them. We have a collection of exuviae to look at too. Bring some binoculars and a camera to see some of these colourful insects in their full glory!

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Heavy challenges

Regular visitors will probably have noticed the dead oak tree along the front drive just after the cattle grid that fell down earlier this year. We needed to wait for the ground to dry out on the park before we attempted to move it away from the road and last week we faced the challenge of how to move the massive trunk - oak is heavy!
Talking through the options and deciding where to start
The front park is within the SSSI (site of special scientific interest)  that we have for the deadwood invertebrates that live in and around our veteran trees so the fallen tree needed to stay within the area but away from the road. Ideally we would have kept the tree in one piece but despite hiring the largest manitou that we could, we could not get it to budge. Our other option was to borrow a powerful winch and pull the tree across the ground but this would have dug deep into the earth and left a scar on the park. We agreed that the trunk would have to be cut, moved in pieces and then put back together as closely as possible in its new resting place so that it could be left to decay and provide vital habitat for the many beetles and other beasties that thrive here.

Once we had made the cuts we managed to lift each piece carefully with the manitou and carry them to the other side of the park. Even in pieces the machine was working hard - we estimate that the whole trunk must have weighed between 10 and 12 tonnes!

It's all about balance!
This week we also had the challenge of welcoming 40 Barclays Bank employees who were volunteering with us for the day. The group worked hard and completed every task that we had prepared - removing a line of hurdle fencing, painting the fence around Gardeners Cottage, raking the cut grass around the Mile Walk, washing the Bee House and white benches on the Bee Lawn and collecting bluebell seeds to be scattered around some of our woods where the bluebells are scarce. Fantastic!

Sunday, 5 July 2015

A quick update from the Deer Park

The deer park has its newest arrivals as throughout June the fallow fawns were born. You may have spotted some of the fawns already as they soon learn to run and keep up with their mothers. The wardens spotted a few when they were very young and laying up in the long grass and nettles so we took a few pictures to share with you before leaving the area quietly - we hope you enjoy them!

I only just spotted this one as it lay completely still as I passed...
This little one was very well hidden - we used a zoom lens to get so close! (pic by Ben Hunt)
My favourite picture - utterly adorable! Again, taken with a zoom lens from a distance (pic by Ben Hunt)
In the recent heatwave the deer have mostly been found resting up in the shade beneath the horse chestnut trees along the WWII path. The bucks are in full velvet and their antlers are growing fast - you will notice how the common, darker coloured bucks have a brown tinged velvet while the menil (pale with bright white spots) have white velvet. It's a wonderful time of year to watch these elegant creatures as they soak up the sunshine so try to fit a walk in next time you visit!

Friday, 5 June 2015

Goodbyes, floods and flying things

Goodbye Jo, Rachel and Charley!
Summer has arrived and our three Harper Adams students have come to the end of their 10-month placement, heading back to university to finish their degrees. It's going to be a very empty office next week! We wish them all the best of luck and thanks on behalf of everyone at Attingham for their hard work over the year.

The winds earlier in the week caused us a few tree casualties with several trees needing felling after dropping branches and showing signs of stress. The river is also in flood, unusual for this time of year, meaning that we have had to postpone this Sunday's walk to the River Severn as the path under Tern Bridge is completely impassable. Instead, we'll be taking a stroll along the Tern and the permissive path to look at the wildlife along it. Until the river level drops we have closed off the Tern picnic area.

The last few days have been glorious sunshine and the Estate is buzzing with life. The first fawns have been born in the deer park, the blackbirds nesting in the shed are trying out their wings and getting ready to fly, and there are damselflies and dragonflies patrolling the ponds and river waters.
A broad-bodied chaser rests on a bit of rush on the ponds edge

Next week we will be putting up a fence around one of our ponds to protect it from grazing cattle - the grazing will help the surrounding wildflower meadow but we don't want them eating off the vegetation on the pond edge that insects such as dragonflies need to emerge from and rest on. The picture below is of a newly emerged damselfly - it has crawled out of it's final larval skin, leaving the exuviae below, and is resting as liquids are pumped into it's wings to harden them. In a few hours it will develop its colours and be ready to take flight for the first time. It is a vulnerable time for these insects as they cannot move away from predators. Hopefully this one made it after I left it!

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Mighty Oaks and and some spring sightings

Well, Attingham did very well at the recent Mighty Oak awards at Calke Abbey. The Engagement and Conservation Team took a silver in the Programming category, and our three Warden nominees were all awarded as winners! The Midlands region has over ten thousand staff and volunteers and there were 64 nominees in the Unsung Hero category - the judges couldn't decide on just three winners and announced that all 64 deserved recognition for their dedication. A good night was had by all and we are very proud of our three Heroes.

Strimming the nettles on the back drive and admiring the buttercups!

This week we have been strimming and cleaning out some of the cattle grids on the front and back drives to keep everything tidy. On Wednesday a group from Barclays Bank volunteered with us and cut an incredible amount of logs up - well done team and thank you for your effort! Academy Ranger Faith also took her trailer test after minimal training and passed with flying colours - brilliant!

Red campion

Half Term is upon us and we expect to have a busy week. There is a lot to see and do around the Park - check out the incredible yellow sea of buttercups as you come up the front drive; the bluebells are going over but there are many other wildflowers still in bloom; you might be lucky enough to spot the ducklings on the River Tern that have recently hatched, or the cygnets below the weir; the deer are looking resplendent in their summer coats and the buck's antlers are already growing back with their covering of fuzzy velvet. Over the next few weeks the does will give birth, so we look forward to spotting the fawns once they are up on their feet. As you walk around the park you can hear the calls of young birds that have just hatched and see the fledglings on their tentative early flights - we have spotted four young ravens flying from one nest so this year has been a very successful one for them.

The bucks are busy growing back their antlers