Sunday, 14 April 2013
Plant the Seed....An Introduction
Greetings and welcome to my new blog; let me introduce myself. My name is Catherine and I work as the Outdoor ranger for the National Trust at Mottisfont. I should probably start this blog by telling you a bit about our sites that we manage and look after and my role in that.
Where do I start? Our countryside department covers sites that stretch from Stockbridge in the North, the New Forest to the West, the River Hamble to the South and of course the Mottisfont estate itself which includes the world famous chalk stream that gave birth to the sport of fly fishing; the River Test.
At Stockbridge we have Stockbridge Down and Stockbridge Marsh. The Down is a stunning chalk grassland and scrub habitat which lies upon several thousand years of history in the form of an Iron Age hill fort, Bronze Age burial mounds and ancient field systems. The site is 65 hectares in size and we manage it under our Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme in conjunction with Natural England. The site boasts 32 species of the 59 UK butterflies (not bad for 65 hectares) and these thrive on the variety of flowering plants that grow here including Harebells, Eyebright and Kidney Vetch. The Down also contains stands of the increasingly endangered Juniper tree as well as a mixed scrub habitat predominating in blackthorn, hawthorn, dogwood, privet and hazel.
Stockbridge Marsh is a serene wet grassland site that lies behind the town of Stockbridge. A tributary of the Test runs through the marsh adding to the beauty and value of the area. Water vole frolic in the stream whilst moorhen and swans glide along through the water and herb rich fen vegetation grows in the damper areas of the Marsh. Also under an HLS scheme, Stockbridge Marsh is grazed by livestock each year in order to keep the vegetation structure diverse and encourage a diversity of flora and fauna.
Alongside the river Hamble is a stretch of land called Curbridge. Here we have a fantastic tidal estuarine habitat hand in hand with a stretch of ancient woodland and coppice. Bluebells litter the woodland floor (a great ancient woodland indicator) and impressive mature oak trees stand guard at the waters edge. These tree titans are slowly falling into the river one by one as the natural erosion processes of the bank occur and it is an interesting place to see the natural processes of habitat development at work – we learnt from King Canute; you can’t stop the tide.
In the New Forest we have several sites and Commons displaying pasture woodland, acid grassland and my favourite UK habitat of all – lowland heath. Our sites here are managed by a mixture of grazing by stock belonging to Commoners (cattle, pigs and the well known New Forest ponies) and the conservation work we do in order to maintain the open heath land habitat, in itself a piece of history that tells the tale of human evolution from hunter gatherers to farming communities up until the modern day.
Finally, the Mottisfont estate. Here we have tenanted farmland – arable and pastoral – a mix of ancient woodland, coppice, coniferous plantations and wet woodland, the riparian habitat of the Test and the chalk stream fed river itself.
All these habitats in close proximity have rewarded us with fauna and flora species that would tempt any naturalist worth their salt. We have the rare Southern Damselfly which thrives in our flowing ditches and flood meadows, the Barbestelle bat; one of the rarest bats in the UK and of which we have one of only 6 maternity roost sites in England. We have water vole and wild otter populations, brown trout and Pea lined mussel. Barn owls, Tawny owls and Little owls haunt our trees and fields by night whilst buzzards, kestrels, goshawks and Red Kites fill the skies by day (as well as the occasional Osprey passing through). Hares box each other in the fields, Dormice rustle secretly through the scrub and woodlands and Grass snakes bathe lazily at the edges of the rushes in the flood meadow. Purple Emperor butterflies glide through the canopy as Roe and Fallow deer stalk beneath. Stoat and weasels scurry along the hedgerows thankfully without any sign of their bigger brother the Mink. We can show off an Oak tree that is close to millennia in age and a magnificent Plane tree that is a British champion of its kind. And if anyone can guess how many of those species I’ve just named are UK BAP (Biodiversity Action Plan) species, they’ll appreciate just what a goldmine of nature we have here and how important our work is in order to conserve it.
So my role; I joined the team here in August 2012, coming from another National Trust site up in Surrey. My role here is a diverse one with so much variety and challenge that I’m certain I’ll never get bored! I recruit and run our countryside volunteer teams who help us carry out the work we do. I run countryside events and walks for the Mottisfont estate with the help of our Visitor Experience Team. I assist with the management of the woodlands, grassland and river habitats we have – as well as helping out in the New Forest heath land side of things now and then. I have come to take on the Stockbridge HLS’s (with a little help from my boss, can’t take all the credit) and so I am now in charge of the management of these sites as well as care of our Hamble site. This is a very basic summary and encompasses everything from public engagement to chainsawing, trundling around in the tractor swiping scrub to revamping our estate trail and web cam nature room. As I say, it keeps me busy.
I also have a habit of collecting animal skulls for educational purposes (kids have loved them at events I’ve helped with) which has unfortunately earned me a bit of a reputation; anytime anyone now finds an animal corpse of some sort, it makes its way to my desk for me to use – which is brilliant for me, not so good for the other office dwellers who have started to despair at finding dead owls on the table or a deer skull soaking in the kitchen sink….
Anyway, that’s enough for a first blog post and an introduction. I want to use this blog to write about my job in the Trust, who our countryside team is, what we’ve been up to on our sites and why we do it, all against the backdrop of the natural world and the passing seasons in which I’m lucky enough to experience every day of my work.