Category Archives: National Trust

Keeping it wild in winter

Millions of us will be tuning into Winterwatch this week as our TV screens are filled with natural winter treats. There is always a slight misconception that nature shuts down during the shorter days and as the temperature hovers around freezing. Yet there is still plenty to see and do; and its a great time to get planning as we move towards Spring. So in true list style here are five things to keep you occupied on the nature front.

  1. Visit a local nature reserve. You’re never that far from a natural wonder, where-ever you live. Organisations such as the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and National Trust have some great places to explore and the winter time is no exception. You’ll see them in a raw state as they start to come alive with the turning of the wild clocks to warmer days. Repeat the visit during the different season and you will develop a special connection.
  2. Read a nature book. In the last decade writing about nature has boomed. And there is a treasure chest of classics that have been re-issued by publishers such as Little Toller. So pop to a local bookshop, library or browse online and pick a book or some poetry to transport you into the magic of nature.
  3. Get volunteering. Green places, such as City Farms, need people to help out. Spending some time helping to make these wonderful places beacons for wildlife is really rewarding and you can get to know some great local charities. There is always plenty to do what-ever the time of year. Or you can taker part in survey’s such as the RSPB Big Garden Watch at the end of January. Many conservation organisations run similar citizen science projects throughout the year.
  4. Watch the birdies. We all know about the wonder that is the Dawn Chorus; a sound that captures the heart and lifts the soul. But the winter can be a fab time to tune into local songbirds, whether the Dawn or Dusk Chorus. And with few leaves on the trees you can actually see them too.
  5. Go for a wander. If you take the time to look you can find nature in many surprising places. Take the time to go for a wander, either from where you live or in to the local countryside. There are plenty of great walking books or plot a route on an OS Map or online. As you walk look, listen and absorb. You’ll spot things that you would have never thought would be there and you’ll get so much out of it.

So if you love Winterwatch (and the BBC Watches more generally) use it as a way to get up off of the sofa and out into the outdoors. You won’t regret it.

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Time for a great British meadow revival

If you were a time lord and could travel back in time to say the 1950s the British countryside would be awash with a mosaic of meadows. They were a staple of the farming system which was full of wild life.

In the last six decades things have changed pretty drastically. Haymeadows have declined by around 90%; a common yet sad stat for many of our fragile habitats. The green revolution in farming (ie more intensive farming) and other changes in land use created the perfect conditions for a slow long decline.

And yet it doesn’t have to be this way. There is a gradual, very British, revolution taking place. Conservation organisations like the National Trust, Plantlife and the Wildlife Trusts (supported by lottery funding and public support), are at the forefront of introducing a change in the way that land is managed to re-introduce haymeadows. They clearly see the value of a habitat that creates a place for wildflowers and insects to flourish.

Visiting a haymeadow in the summer when its just about to peak is a wonderful experience. The plethora of grasses gently sway in the summer breeze, wildflowers add a splash of colour like a Monet painting and butterflies bask in the sunshine. Its one of those experiences that just captivates you.

meadows

A local meadow in Bath, helping to create rich habitats for local wildlife

This slow change in the way that we see the land has also arrived in our towns and cities. At a time of challenging budgets for local authorities creating a network of meadows makes financial sense and enriches the local green spaces. In Bath over the last couple of years mini-meadow projects have been popping up across the city.

These wild places are great for people living in urban areas to reconnect with the natural world. Often small patches of green, they add a vibrancy, and a sense of why nature is so important as a tonic for our busy screen based lives.

April and May pictures 074

At Bath City Farm, thanks to funding from Natural England, a haymeadow is being re-created on a steep sided hill. When you wander around the nature trail, you will in June, come across a field full of buttercups and with this new meadow project the diversity of flowers will only grow.

Meadows can have a slightly romantic feel to them; those sun-kissed days full of dappled light and the lush warm colours. And yet they provide a really important place for nature to call home. Its time that the Great British Meadow revival really took hold so that they once again become a common sight across our wonderful landscapes.

Securing the future of cider

Once-upon-a-time the countryside from Dorset to Herefordshire would have been filled with traditional orchards. The west country was at the heart of England’s status as an apple superpower. Orchards would have formed an important part of the fabric of rural life. And yet within a couple of generations orchards have almost disappeared from the countryside – statistics show that up to 90% of orchards have disappeared since the 1950s.

George Holmes, National Trust Area Ranger for South Somerset. Credit National Trust, Steven Haywood

Area Ranger George Holmes planting some of the Somerset cider apple varieties at Montacute House

Stumbling across an orchard is a little bit like finding a treasure chest. They’re places whose riches keep on giving whether with the arrival of spring and the blooming of the trees with the fragile flowers or the harvesting of the fruits in the golden glow of a warm autumnal day. These often small patches of land with knarled old trees are important havens for nature too – butterflies, bees, bats, birds see them as important food sources and wild flowers will carpet the orchard floors.

Orchards matter because of this rich cultural and natural heritage. There is an orchard near where I live, on the route up towards the summit of Solsbury Hill. It feels like a place untouched by the pace of modern life and I get a real sense of connection to the people that have loved and cherished this special place before me. The fruit trees come in all shapes and sizes and there is a slight wildness to the orchard, with its light-touch management. Wandering through this orchard always feels like a magical experience.

That is why the news that the National Trust has been given the national cider apple collection is so important. Over time 300 varieties of cider apple including Slack-ma-Girdle, Netherton Late Blower and Billy Down Pippin will be planted at eight places across the west country. It’s thanks to the vision and passion of Henry May that this collection exists at all and now the plan is to secure the future of these beautiful varieties and hopefully see them used by local cider-makers.

A countryside without orchards is unthinkable and the rise of community orchards, the work of organisations such as the Trust and People’s Trust for Endangered Species and growth of craft ciders, provides a hope that these fragile and wonderful places can survive.

We don’t want a rubbish coast

There is something very sad about seeing a beach littered with pink plastic bottles. Last week Poldhu beach in West Cornwall became the latest victim of stuff floating around in our seas. Yes this might have come from a container that disappeared over the side of a ship but it’s symbolic of our often casual attitude the oceans.

poldhupollution Steve Haywood

After an overnight high tide last week National Trust staff and volunteers were met with hundreds more pink detergent bottles washed up at Poldhu and Gunwalloe in West Cornwall. Over a thousand were cleared from Poldhu beach this morning, and the local opinion is that numbers are increasing not tailing off. The pink bottles are now also being found in Mount’s Bay, to the west of Poldhu.

Marine waste is a big issue. Our seas are full of the stuff. And the impact can be felt in terms of how our beaches look and the wildlife that calls the seaside that we all love home. Think of the last time that you were at the coast and some of the disregarded rubbish strewn along a beach. I remember being on a beautiful beach in south Pembrokeshire which was full of disregarded fishing nets; not a great experience for families and potentially lethal for seabirds.

A few years back the Head Ranger on the Farne Islands tweeted a picture of a seabird that he’d found tangled in a balloon. For this bird it would get a second chance but for many others they don’t. The picture quite rightly provoked a lot of concern about what is happening along our coastline.

Teams of coastal Rangers and volunteers help to keep our beaches clean. Their tireless efforts mean that we can enjoy beaches free of litter and sometimes potentially nasty surprises. The beach cleans that happen on a regular basis are a good indicator of the sheer volume of rubbish and the scale of the problem.

We can all do our bit to make sure that our waste footprint along the coast is zero (if there are no bins just take it home and don’t casually chuck your rubbish somewhere that people might not see it). And there needs to be more of an effort by Government to make sure that marine litter is reduced and that shipping and boats think about how they deal with their rubbish.

It really is rubbish to find a favourite beach or a spectacular stretch of coastline blighted by litter. Loads of people are keeping our coast special by helping to clear it up and we need to make sure that we’re not adding to the problem.

 

Living in a country where every child is wild

I grew up as a pretty free-range child. Like most of my friends I’d spend as much time outdoors as possible, whether on my bike or having a kick about in the local park. When I was growing up I wouldn’t say that I was deeply engaged with nature but was totally aware of it and it was the backdrop to my life.

A tiny little crab found in a rock pool on Bigbury beach in south Devon

A tiny little crab found in a rock pool on Bigbury beach in south Devon

Once upon a time this would have been the norm but in pretty much one generation things have changed pretty radically. It was when working on the National Trust’s seminal Natural Childhood report, published in spring 2012, that the stark evidence of children losing touch with nature became all too clear. The statistical and anecdotal evidence pointed to a real problem. Kids were become more sedentary, screen time was on the rise and there were lots of barriers to children spending time in the outdoors – traffic, health and safety, stranger danger.

It felt as though childhood was changing. Children need freedom to roam, to explore, to play and to let their imagination run wild. Limiting this is bad for their health and well-being and detrimental to their personal development. The outdoors is where we build our social skills and the confidence to take on the challenges that life throws at us. Sometimes it feels as though, as a society, we’re becoming less tolerant of children having fun.

Kids love walking through mud in their wellies and this lovely little walk around Bath City Farm keeps them going

Kids love walking through mud in their wellies and this lovely little walk around Bath City Farm keeps them going

That is why the launch of #everychildwild by the Wildlife Trusts plus the ongoing work of the Wild Network around the concept of #wildtime is so important. We need to celebrate our own personal love of nature and encourage schools, parents and society to accept muddy knees, kids climbing trees and think about what the restrictions of too many cars on our streets and the loss of green spaces mean for children in primary and junior schools means.

One of life’s real pleasures for me is spending time with my two kids in the outdoors. Splashing in the puddles on a wet and windy day in a park, trying to catch the leaves as they tumble out of the tree or standing rooted to the spot as a sparrowhawk hovers gracefully in the sky looking for lunch.

I want my two kids to have the opportunities to explore and discover that I had. And I can clearly see the sense of wonder and joy that they get from looking for tadpoles in a pond or collecting apples from a tree on a sunny autumn day. When my daughter set up her own nature club at school it became an instant hit with her class-mates.

There is a danger, however, that a technology dominated childhood with a plethora of educational targets and tests takes the childhood out of our children and forces them to grow up too fast. That is why we need to make nature part of all children’s lives and make it easy for them to discover the joy of the natural world. I want to live in a country where every child is wild!

Wandering along Bath’s skyline

Bath is a pretty hilly place, which means that it has the advantage that if you get into the right spot you can catch some amazing views of this world-famous Georgian gem.

The lie of the land also means that while one minute you can be in the heart of  the city, in what feels like just a few footsteps you’re then deep in the countryside.

The Bath Skyline walk is a six mile circular route to the south of the river
Avon. It hugs the contours of the land, climbing high into places that
you feel like people have never been before. While I’ve walked the skyline
many times, it sometimes feels like this is a secret route only familiar to
Bath residents. Yet it has proved to have enduring appeal for thousands
of ramblers who have kept it top of the National Trust downloadable
walks poll year after year.

The great thing about a walk like the Skyline is that it can be divided
into sections that are manageable for families. Taking my two children,
aged 5 and 8, around the whole route would be a good day out.

You’d need plenty of stops and a rucksack full of snacks and lunch.
There are certainly plenty of things to keep the kids interested en
route from amazing ant hills to follies and the fantastic new natural play
area in Rainbow Wood. The sections where you climb out of the city
might be testing but nothing that a jelly baby-inspired quiz wouldn’t
solve. So it’s worth planning ahead and thinking about where you start
the walk or whether you maybe aim to complete it in sections.

In the autumn Bath looks spectacular. That golden glow of the low afternoon sun and the changing of the leaves as they turn red, yellow or brown is pretty special. There is also the promise of some blackberry picking along the walk.

Starting somewhere near to Bathwick Hill always seems the best option for walking the whole route, plus it has the advantage of getting the big climb out of the way first.

As you pass Smallcombe Farm you really do feel a world away from a busy city and that you’re in the heart of the Cotswolds. Walking up the hills, it’s worth remembering to simply stop every now and then and take in the fantastic views. I always find that a treasure hunt or encouraging children to take pictures as they go keeps up the momentum for trickier parts.

As you reach the flatlands above Bath you’re just to the east of Prior Park. This landscape would look very different today if it wasn’t in Trust hands as it had been eyed as a location for development in the 1960s.

The undisputed highlight of the Skyline walk is getting nearer. In the last few years the creation of a natural playground in Rainbow Woods has been a big hit with families. Before you get to the old quarry, check out the lovely little
fairy doors trail and then the energy levels of the children will rise as they spot the den-building area, rope swing and assault course.

This is a great spot for some lunch and about half way around the walk. If you have younger kids then it’s probably best to plot a shorter walk based around the natural play area. For families walking the whole route I’d definitely recommend some sort of quiz and treasure hunt.

Leaving Rainbow Woods you pass near to the Bath Cats and Dogs home, round  the back of the University and through an old quarry before emerging with
fantastic views of Solsbury Hill.

It’s all downhill now past Sham Castle, which is worth a detour, and through a patchwork of small meadows. In the autumn some of the walk can be pretty muddy so walking boots or wellies are the order of the day.

The Bath Skyline is for me one of those walks which can become part of a family memory bank. You can give parts of the route family names and as the children grow they will start to spot the richness of the landscape and get to know a lovely
city and its green and pleasant land.

This blog first appeared in the September/October edition of The Bath and Wiltshire Parent Magazine

Making waves

A few weeks ago I went on a walk along the southern side of Gower. The sky was full of heavy cloud and there were small glimpses of better weather in the distance.

This coastal wander was dominated by the soundtrack of the sea and in particular the waves. At different spots you could tune in to the repetitive and reassuring sound of the waves lapping against the limestone cliffs or the tidy little beaches. Sometimes the sound was very faint and it was a bit like when you’re listening out for the claps of thunder when you’re counting the length of time between the bangs.

Hunts Bay on Gower as the waves gently lap against the beach

Hunts Bay on Gower as the waves gently lap against the beach

As we joined the old route into Swansea – a kind of cross between a footpath and drovers lane – you could hear the waves before you could see the coastline. The small wood either side of the path was filled with the sweet melodies of birdsong and as you descended from the hill-side the sound of the sea grew in intensity and clarity. And then through an opening you reached a beach – littered with stones from the old quarry. Hunts Bay is a sheltered little spot and the waves sounded just like you’d imagine waves would always sound.

Arriving at a beach like this took me back to the days of GCSE geography. This small bay with its stones and little summit before falling away into the sea is a lovely spot.

When on the beach I recorded the sounds of the waves. The full-on sound of the waves on with the direct impact on the sand and stones and then also the sounds from a sheltered spot next to the limestone cliffs. There was a clear difference in the sounds of the waves even though they were only a matter of metres apart.

For World Listening Day (Saturday 18 July) this year (the theme is water) as part of the sounds of our shores project we want as many people as possible to record the sounds of waves at noon. This will create a lovely snapshot, a kind of sonic postcard, of how waves sound and what differences that there might be. It will be interesting to see how the size of the stones affects the sounds of the waves or the nature of where the beach is – it might be a big open flat beach or a small narrow beach surrounded by sand dunes.

The sound of waves are so intrinsically linked to the sounds of our shores. There is something timeless and comforting about that sound as you first reach the coast – whether to spend a family day at the beach or walking along a coastal cliff.