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.

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

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!