New Plantings at Chute Farm

Trees planted along field boundry

Since the beginning of the year the Countryside Team has been working on the mammoth task of planting 2200 across our land at Chute farm, which sits atop Whipsnade and Dunstable Downs. So if you have been walking across the top of the Downs and wondering what the thousands of green tubes are which have suddenly appeared in the adjacent fields are. You can rest easy knowing it is not some alien invasion of the tube people.

The planting plan was designed to join up existing patches of woodland which contain plats such as Bluebells, Yellow Archangel and Wood Anemone which are indicators and ancient woodland. And small patches of woodland like these are extremely vulnerable destructive events such as fire or disease. By creating corridors between these patches, allowing these species to move and spread between the patches, we hope to ensure the long term survival of these species.

Volunteers planting trees

Our countryside volunteer team were a great help with this mammoth task

The species we planted were in two mixes. Central to the plantings we planted a mix of Oak, Beech and Field Maple, which when they grow will produce a good mature woodland of native English species. On the edge of the plantings we planted a mix of smaller shrubbier trees to border the larger trees and produce health woodland margins. This mix of trees was; Crab Apple, Wayfairing Tree, Spindle Tree, Guelder Rose, Dogwood and Hazel.

The trees were planted in two ways; strips between 10 and 20 meters wide and a block of 1.7 acres.  The 1.7 acres was to create an entirely new area of woodland where there has been none before on top of Bison Hill. And the Strip planting, as well as helping connect up existing woodland, has allowed us to split up several of our fields at chute farm. Splitting up these fields and providing a wind barrier of trees means that they will be less windblown and warmer than they were when they were larger. This is good news if you are an invertebrate or a ground nesting bird. Couple this with our project to return many of the fields at Chute Farm to chalk grassland, a project you will hear more about in blogs to come, and there is a very bright future for the wildlife at Chute Farm.

The Countryside Team would like to thank all the staff, volunteers and visitors who have helped us achieve this amazing task.

Staff trip to Anglesey Abbey

Last week a staff trip was planned and put on for all Trust staff and Volunteers. We went to the magnificent Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire.

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Me and some of the crew making wicker sculptures.

 snow drops

This time of year the Winter Garden bursts into life. Designed specifically with plants that give winter colour and fragrance, it is a beautiful sight to be enjoyed by winter visitors. The winter bringing displays of thousands of snowdrops throughout all areas of the garden, with over 270 varieties! Look out for the new link to Wicken Fen.

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Good fun was had by all!

Wildlife in Winter…..And How we can Help!

For me a snowy scene with a red breasted Robin that appears on Christmas cards is the typical scene of winter. It can be a pretty bleak time for wildlife, but there is good news. We can do a lot for wildlife to help them survive the winter, especially in our gardens.

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Deadwood is dead good!

Leave piles of logs and twigs in a shady corner when tidying your garden. This is a simple way of providing food and shelter for wildlife and is a good place for hibernating Hedgehogs, Snakes, Newts and Toads.

Apples and fruit left on the ground will make a tasty treat for small mammals such as Bank Voles and Hedgehogs and larger mammals such as Foxes, Badgers and Deer, as well as birds such as Blackbirds, Starlings and Thrushes and also insects.

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Leave seedheads – a nutritious food source for many birds such as; Siskin, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Greenfinch and House Sparrows. Plants such as Teasel, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Common Sorrel, Poppies, Scabious, Thistles and Yarrow are prefect. It will also encourage ladybirds and other invertebrates to shelter in during the winter months.

 Hedges

Hedging plants such as Blackthorn, Hazel and Hawthorn produce berries which are a good source of food and shelter for birds, protecting them against predators. Their spiky thorns also provide security for Thrushes and Blackbirds. Blackthorn also produces sloes which the birds love and make excellent gin!

 Water can be hard to find

Water is especially important to birds in winter when natural supplies may be frozen, not just for drinking, but also for bathing to keep their feathers in good condition. Dampening the feathers loosens the dirt and makes their feathers easier to preen. When preening, birds spread oil from the preen gland so they remain waterproof.

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 Feeding birds in Winter

The bird table can provide great restaurants for our feathered friends when the weather is bad and food sources are limited. We love watching our birds on the feeders – woodpeckers, nuthatches, great tits, coal tits, blue tits and if you’re lucky maybe even a marsh tit or brambling.

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Winter at the Downs

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Winter is the coldest season of the year and falls between Autumn and Spring. In some ‘lucky’ parts of the northern hemisphere, it is characterized by falling snow and freezing cold temperatures. The season – which usually lasts about three months from the winter solstice (year’s shortest day December 21st), to the vernal equinox (day and night equal in length) March 21st – is caused because the area in question is farthest away from the sun in the earth’s orbit around it.

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Plants and animal life respond to winter in different ways. Some animals such as birds migrate when the winter season is approaching and only return during the summer. This is to ensure a consistent food supply as most of their food sources freeze in the winter.

 Other animals go into hibernation, a type of sleep, usually housed in a shell (Snails) or underground (Hedgehogs), remaining so until spring arrives. Some animals such as Squirrels profusely gather and store food, in preparation for winter months when the sources are dead and gathering becomes impossible (See picture). In response to the weather most animals have other adaptations to survive, some animals develop thick fur that keeps them warm during this season, others such as Mountain Hares and Ptarmigan in Scotland change colour to white and becomes indistinguishable from the snow as a survival tactic.

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Whilst some plants completely die off in winter, others actually need the season to complete their life cycle. Snow provides a thick blanket that buries and insulates the plants beneath it, protecting them from the bitter temperatures and harsh winds. Some trees become dormant in winter and lose all their leaves during the season, but their roots are still active, protected by the thick layers of snow that covers the earth surface.

Winter is also a time of fruits, many fruits such as Rowan and Hawthorn which are fantastic for winter migrant birds such as Fieldfare and Redwing.

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Meet Our Other New Ranger – Andy

I’m Andy Gibbs, one of our two new rangers for National Trust Bedfordshire Properties. 10155334_10153987112200291_981465140722403697_n I have been working with the National Trust for almost three and a half years, starting as a full time volunteer for the North Pembrokeshire team in 2011. While spending a year with the team in Pembrokeshire I learnt the skills necessary to carry out a ranger’s job. This turned out to be a very different set of skills than those I was taught for the previous three years while completing my degree in Zoology at the University of Leicester. And I definitely found more satisfaction in a well tensioned stretch of fencing than in a well written report. 574942_10151606501380291_845533436_n In 2013 I obtained the Community Ranger position at Morven Park. As the first full time Ranger at Morven Park since the National Trust acquired it in 1928 my job was to bring the park back to life and not just by replanting trees and repairing gates. I built up a new team of volunteer’s whose role it was to work with me to help restore the park and through their hard work Morven Park went from being a dreary field with a few cows in it, to a wonderful piece of peaceful park land right in the heart of Potters Bar.  I was so proud to have worked with such wonderful volunteers and to achieve so much in such a short time, however after 18 months it was time to move on to a larger property and more responsibility. 253541_10152058875135291_953288116_n In November 2014 I started as Countryside Ranger for the southern sites of Bedfordshire properties. My patch now covers Dunstable downs, Whipsnade Downs and Whipsnade Tree Cathedral. Having worked out of the same office as the Bedfordshire team for over a year I have had a chance to get to know the Downs quite well and I am very excited about getting my teeth into the grassland management. It has been three months since I started and it has all been enjoyable. I enjoyed walking the Downs looking for orchids and butterflies and playing on Chute Wood Playscape (it’s not just for children) before becoming the ranger here. The best thing is now I get paid to do it.

New Ranger – Austin

me n dog

Hello everyone! My name is Austin Smith, the new Countryside Ranger here in Bedfordshire. Coming from a farming background, I have always been interested in the Countryside. I enjoy many outdoor pursuits such as hill walking, mountain biking and camping. I especially enjoy roaming around the countryside with my dog Swift – a black Cocker Spaniel.

Since graduating from the University of Plymouth where I studied Biological Sciences, I moved to Scotland to enjoy its remote beauty where I started working as a landscape gardener on the Fife coast. I then decided to have a change of career and pursued the life of a Countryside Ranger, first with the RSPB where I undertook lots of practical habitat management practices such as tree felling, invasive species removal, heather burning, dam building and deer control.

I then moved to Dumfries and Galloway to work on Threave Estate, where I undertook much habitat management. There was a mosaic of habitats, including fen, wetlands, river, woodland and farmland as well as wildflower meadows and coastline – mudflats and saltmarshes at Rockcliffe. I undertook much general estate work such as fencing, dyking, strimming, footpath maintenance and tree work. As well as this I did much survey work including wildflower counts and bat tracking. I also led guided walks, participated in events and took out school groups – working with people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities. 

Since making the big move returning south to my roots, I have been able to reconnect with old friends and move closer to my family while still doing the things I enjoy. I have been captivated by the beauty of Dunstable Downs and am looking forward to the challenges that a chalk grassland environment brings. Working with the Countryside staff and volunteers has been great with so much local knowledge and advice on offer and much appreciated. I am looking forward to the changing seasons especially the transformation into summer when the flora and fauna is at its peak.

In the coming months, you will find me mainly ‘ranging’ over the Northern sites – Sharpenhoe Clappers, Whipsnade Common and Heath, Moleskin and Sundon Hills Country park, and nearby Totternhoe Knolls. At these sites I intend to preserve, enhance and enrich the biodiversity for future generations.

So if you have any questions or want to share your knowledge please come see me or give me a call on 01582 873569 or 07881 848 551!

Happy roaming!

Austin.

New Developments at Chute Farm

Chute Farm isn’t known to many of our visitors; it is the arable land that lies between Whipsnade Village and Bison Hill. At present, apart from a bridleway and footpath through it, there is no public access.

Since the National Trust purchased the land it has been used for growing crops, although it isn’t the best land for this as it has very high clay content with lots of flints, hard on machinery and in a wet year lots of standing water. The nature conservation value of this land is very low.

Over the next few years we are going to convert some of the fields to grassland. In time this grassland will provide a home to many varieties of wildflowers, butterflies & other insects and nesting birds to mention just a few. During the bird nesting season we will continue to keep these areas free from visitors, thus providing additional breeding grounds for birds such as the skylark. During the later summer a number of paths will allow quiet enjoyment of these areas.

As part of this project we are reducing the size of some of these fields to make them less windswept by planting areas of woodland. These plantings will also link all the areas of woodland we already have together. Linking habitats is a good thing from an ecological point of view.

 In ten years’ time we will expect to see flower rich meadows on the top of the hill with new woodland starting to get established.

The first trees were planted on Sunday with volunteers planting 150 trees, just another 2,050 to go. Our brilliant team of weekday volunteers will be planting trees this week and then on the weekend of the 24 & 25 January we will be giving you the chance to help us plant some of the trees.

Newly planted trees

Newly planted tre

If you are interested in coming along and helping please let us know by emailing bedfordshire.countryside@nationaltrust.org.uk and we’ll let you have more details. All you needs is enthusiasm and if possible a spade.

If you would like to help with the cost of buying the trees and shelters please let us know as well!

We hope to get all the planting finished by the middle of February – weather permitting.