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, 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!

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Woodland walks and wet toes!

If you have been to Attingham recently you will have seen that the Parkland Restoration project has begun around the Mile Walk pleasure grounds. This project will see the grounds restored to their original plan with more flowering shrubs and attractive plantings. One of the first steps is to remove some of the self-seeded trees that have been allowed to grow over the last few decades in order to make room for the plantings and to give light and space to the woodland floor and other trees. The wardens have been helping by collecting up the felled timber with the tractor and forwarder and taking the thinnings away to season.
The Woodland Walk

Another current project for us is to resurface the Woodland Walk. This path is very narrow in places, bumpy with roots and stumps and in winter it gets extremely wet and muddy. To make the walk more accessible for all we are widening it slightly and creating a smoother, drier surface so that trampers and all-terrain pushchairs will be able to use it more comfortably. Last week we took out several small trees to allow the path to be widened (and allow access for the machinery that will be used to lay the new path), leaving high stumps so that the diggers can pull up the roots. We hope to get this path finished before Christmas so look out for signs at Visitor Reception which will let you know when the walk is closed while we work. 

The rut is officially over in the deer park and we have started to feed the herd to help them put on a bit of weight before winter. They are fed on fodder beet, hay and 'nuts' to keep them in tiptop health, plus special licks are provided to top up mineral levels. We will start to feed at 2pm every weekend in front of the public from Saturday 14th November so bring your cameras! As usual, we ask that you keep on the path and do not approach the deer in case they are spooked and bolt, and of course keep dogs on a very short lead.
One of the bucks tucking in to his fodder beet
The hedgelaying team continue along the lane, despite some grey and drizzly days - thank goodness for tea and biscuits!It's a very satisfying job when you can look at a finished stretch like this:
A lovely bit of midland-bullock hedgelaying! (Photo by Terry Carr)
Last week we hosted Mad Jack's 5 off-road race which meant more than a day of preparation by our team to clear the route, check the stiles, put up the ropes and handrail to help competitors through and out of the pond and assist with the marking out of the 5 mile route. Colin checked the route again first thing on race day and then the weekend team helped to marshal and clear up afterwards. Despite an awful downpour at the start of the day the sun came out as we ran and I think the 400-odd runners had a brilliant time!
Marking out the race route - someone had to do it... (Photo by Jess Foster)

Friday, 23 October 2015

Fruiting bodies that can lead to felling

Kretzschmaria deusta
Meripilus giganteus
This week we said goodbye to one of our beech trees along the Mile Walk as it had to be felled for safety reasons. This tree had been showing signs of ill health for several years, dying back in the crown and dropping smaller branches, but this year several fungal fruiting bodies appeared and the decision was made.

Fungi on trees doesn't necessarily mean bad news but the two found around the base of this tree - Kretzschmaria deusta and Meripilus giganteus - unfortunately are. These fungi can enter through the root system and cause extensive decay in the roots and base of a tree without showing many obvious symptoms at first. When Meripilus does show a fruiting body you see large clusters of brackets at the base of the tree or near the base of it if the roots are affected. Kretzschmaria is harder to spot, showing as patches of black, bumpy, coal-like crust on the bark around the base or in the buttresses. Our beech tree had been struggling for a while because the damaged roots meant that water and nutrients were not able to travel up to the crown. These fungi break down the cellulose and lignin, structural components in the tree, leaving the tree severely weakened - trees with these fungi often fail at the roots and fall over in winds.

One of our Parkland Gardeners, Matt, is qualified to fell large trees and he took the job on, bringing the tree safely down and exposing the internal decay.

In other news the hedgelaying teams are doing well, though the warm weather can make it hard work in all the layers that we wear to protect ourselves from the thorns!

Photo by Phil Allmark

Sunday, 11 October 2015

October sightings and sounds

The deer park is a hive of activity at the moment as the rut is in full swing. The bucks can be seen and heard 'groaning', the grunting call that attracts females and warns other males away - as the rut progresses the groaning becomes shorter and higher pitched as they call themselves hoarse. The bucks may also be seen fighting as they compete for females. Their antlers clashing can be heard from far away and the sight of two or more bucks battling it out is a sight to be seen. It is a very important season for the deer so we are urging everyone more than ever to stick to the paths and not go in for a closer look, both for your safety (you don't want to be anywhere near those antlers!) and to ensure that mating is not interrupted. The deer are spread all over the park as the males hold their rutting stands so if you follow the WWII walk you are bound to see or hear something!
Hygrocybe calyptriformis (Pink waxcap)

The fantastic weather has continued and we have had a busy weekend with many people enjoying a picnic in the sun or playing rugby in the sport field. The warm weather has kept many insects on the wing later than usual and on today's guided walk we spotted hawker and common darter dragonflies in the deer park. 

Earlier this week the wardens were kept busy managing the trees and hedge at the entrance to Confluence Meadow, preparing a hedge along Smethcote lane for laying and continuing with the tree inspections across the estate. I've also been busy sniffing out more fungi so here are a few more to share with you - I'm trying harder than ever with my identification skills but if you know your stuff and can offer any corrections then please do leave a comment!

Coprinus lagopus (Hare'sfoot inkcap)

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