First seal pups of the season at Blakeney Point

The first seal pups have been born on Blakeney Point – marking the start of a breeding season that could see the National Trust nature reserve become England’s biggest colony of Grey Seals.

Seal pup born on Blakeney Point, Nov 2014 - Photo by Justin Minns

Photo credit: Justin Minns

Blakeney Point, on the north Norfolk coast, has become famous for its breeding Grey Seal colony in recent years. Since 2001, when 25 pups were born, numbers have increased each year. Last winter, 1,566 pups were born, making Blakeney Point the third largest Grey Seal colony in England.

With numbers of pups born increasing by around 25% each year, Blakeney Point could become England’s biggest colony this year. A couple of weeks into the 2014 season and there are already significantly more pups than last year. By yesterday (Thursday 13 November), 265 pups had been counted, 63 more than by the same date last year.

Ajay Tegala, a National Trust ranger who lives on Blakeney Point, said:

“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of Grey Seal pups being born at Blakeney Point in recent years. It is great news and a nice reward for all the effort the National Trust team put into caring for the Point, ensuring it is a healthy environment for these beautiful animals.”

Pup survival rates are high. With lots of space and no natural predators, Blakeney Point is a perfect breeding site for Grey Seals.

“Grey Seal pups are born on land, with white coats. They are fed on their mother’s rich milk for up to three weeks. In this time, they triple in size and shed their white fur. The mother then leaves the pup to fend for itself. Mating takes place soon after pupping. Male seals, bulls, fight for territories and the dominant ones will mate with several females. This makes the colony a dramatic, but dangerous place.”

Blakeney Point is part of Blakeney National Nature Reserve, where the Ranger team protect and monitor the seal colony. For the safety of seals and visitors, the western-most mile of beach and dunes on the Point are fenced off during the breeding season, which runs from 1st November to 1st February. The best way to see them and minimise disturbance is via one of the locally operated boat trips that leave from Morston Quay.

 

Pilot whales spotted off the Norfolk Coast

Yesterday, National Trust rangers and visitors to the Norfolk Coast were in for quite a treat, as they spotted a pod of pilot whales swimming close to the shoreline. 

At first, 17 long–finned pilot whales were spotted around midday off the coast at Cley, but numbers built to 28 as the day went on, including calves. We believe it’s the first recorded sighting of pilot whales in Norfolk and is a very unusual sighting indeed!

These whales usually stay in the deep seas, so it was great that people were able to see them yesterday, there was real excitement here. They had been getting closer to shore during the day, but were probably still about ½ mile out, as they were travelling slowly east off Weybourne with the fading light. At times individuals could be seen “spy hopping” – lifting their heads out of the water to look around.

Countryside Manager, Vic Egan

Whilst we were excited to see them, naturally we had concerns for them – they are typically a species of whale that can become stranded. So the team contacted the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme and the BDMLR (British Divers Marine Life Rescue) have been made aware.

This morning some of the rangers were up early at day break to check for any strandings, but we’re pleased to report we didn’t see any signs of them, which means they’re happily swimming out at sea, as they should be.

Norfolk is proving to be quite the cetacean hotspot, with a humpback whale and reports of a minke too! It just goes to show you never know what you may see when looking out on the horizon, we hope this is a positive reflection on the health of the seas off Norfolk.

We will remember them…

On Armistice Day we fall silent to remember and honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice. This year, there’s added poignancy to the occasion as we also mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. 

Close view of Papaver rhoeas, the common poppy, at West Pentire, near Newquay, Cornwall

The First World War left no one untouched. Duty called whatever your social status – men went off to fight, women volunteered as nurses and houses were requisitioned. Here are some of their stories…

The loss of an heir
Rudyard Kipling was inspired to write his now famous poem “My Boy Jack” after his son went missing in action. Profoundly affected by his son’s death and with no heir, Kipling’s inheritance fell to his daughter Elsie, who used the money to buy Wimpole. And Wimpole was only up for sale, following similar circumstances, where the heir had also been tragically killed. The loss of an heir, workers leaving to fight never to return, taxes increased and agricultural income dropped, meant that the First World War ultimately led to the beginnings of the decline of the English country house.

WWI - Oliver Crack c 1914_REF SaundersDuty calls
Memorials around our estates, are a who’s who of the men that once lived and worked on them. Take the Crack family, who worked on the Ickworth Estate - they lost two sons in the Great War. King George V sent them a letter after their family tragedy, to acknowledge the number of sons they had sent off to war and the sacrifice they had made. A scene that was replicated up and down the country.
Photo: Oliver Crack, 1914

 

Unsung heroes
Frank Pretty was the beloved husband of Edith, who was behind the archaeological dig at Sutton Hoo. Frank was an army Major with the Suffolk Regiment and shared his active duty with a horse called Polly Hopkins. Together they fought in battles at Neuve-Chapelle, Ypres and the Somme. Polly was wounded three times but miraculously survived the war and was de-mobbed with Frank in 1919. In fact, he loved her so much he bought her.

Politics foreign and domestic
There were a number of reasons, as to why Philip Henry Kerr (Lord Lothian) of Blickling didn’t enlist – the death of his brother, pressure from his parents, a physical disability and his journalistic contribution to the war effort. In later years, Kerr’s opponents in British politics portrayed him as a shirker. A dilemma he resolved in 1916 when he became private secretary to the Prime Minister. He was deeply respected by Lloyd George, negotiating and contributing to resolve peace, both at home and overseas. However, not everyone was a fan of his activities, most notably Winston Churchill.

Suffolk’s greatest secret
The majority of Orford Ness was purchased by the War Department during the First World War. Members of the Chinese Labour Corps and German Prisoners of War were housed onsite and helped construct an airfield and flood defences during this period. This was to become the start of 70 years of intense military experimentation, which as well as leaving a variety of physical traces, has given the place ‘the mystique of secrecy’. Amongst the pioneering work were early experiments on the parachute, aerial photography and bomb and machine gun sights.

Visitors at Orford Ness National Nature Reserve, Suffolk.

The night a zeppelin crashed
24 September 1916 was a memorable date for Copt Hall in Essex, when a German L33 super-zeppelin crashed, much to the shock and horror of local people. Returning from a bombing raid over London, the zeppelin was attacked by the RAF over Chelmsford and came down within feet of a farm labourer’s cottage. At 680 feet long, weighing in at 50 tonnes, local people say the heat and proximity of the fire was sufficient to sear the cottages’ weather boarding. Despite the efforts of the 22-strong crew to destroy it, their virtually intact ship was to become the near perfect blue print for the construction of British airships.

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A lasting legacy
Tucked away in Bedfordshire, Whipsnade Tree Cathedral was created after the First World War in a spirit of ‘faith, hope and reconciliation’. In memory of three deceased war comrades, it was the vision of their friend Edmund Blyth, who was inspired by the beauty of a sunlit group of trees seen on the way home from a visit to a Cathedral.

A super-cool (free) app for 360 degree views

Our Building Surveyor, Paul Coleman has recently been trialling some 360 degree software, which we are hoping to use more. It allows a different perspective of the properties and the work we’re doing, which many will rarely see.

Capture

Here’s an example of the view from the top of Wimpole Folly, which is currently undergoing a major conservation project and was one of the first trials we’ve carried out with the new app. However, it shows how you can get a relatively ‘seamless’  360 degree view, almost vertically as well horizontally.

Use the mouse to drag the ‘view’ up, down and round. You can view results on your iOS/android device or normal computer. (It works best on browsers other than IE8).

Changing the clocks, isn’t quite a five minute job…

Yesterday the clocks went forward, but as many of us were winding our watches, correcting the time on the microwave and remembering how to change the clock in the car – spare a thought for our house teams…

The Tower Clock (case by John Mottram) in the Living Room at Anglesey Abbey

Winding, chiming, counting until all the clocks strike the right time at Anglesey Abbey isn’t quite a five minute job – especially at a place where clocks are part of the sound track of daily life. We asked Sash Giles, Assistant House & Collections Manager to reveal all.

The clocks on display at Anglesey number 48 and we keep as many of these going as is possible, but many require conservation work ranging from oiling parts to complete overhauls to keep these delicate, powerful pieces of machinery going. A clock is both a work of art and engineering, and considering most of our clocks are over 100 years old and some more than 200 years old, it is incredible to think of their steady ticks and tocks like a heartbeat at the centre of this house.

Lord Fairhaven amassed a collection of clock watches, long case clocks, automata clocks, lantern, mystery and mantle clocks some functional, others showstoppers-clocks to catch the eye, fascinate and beguile.

We wind the clocks once a week, check their times, set their dates and songs, each clock has its own habits, foibles and charms, and knowing all of these is an essential part of looking after them. This is especially true when it comes to the spring and fall changes! I say “fall” rather than “autumn” as it’s the only way I can remember which way the clocks have to go “spring forward, fall back”.

Usually winding the clocks takes around two hours, but when the clocks go back we either stop them the evening before – to lessen the amount of “striking forward” or spend much of Sunday morning painstakingly winding the hands forward to reach the correct time.

Green carpet award ceremony, celebrates green champions

Last night the National Trust celebrated the charity’s first ever Environmental Awards, with environmental champions from around the East of England scooping prizes in ten categories, including Green Team of the Year.

Miranda Campbell, Environmental Practices Adviser for the East of England, was at last night’s green carpet event and gives us the scoop on the evenings awards and winners…

These awards are a fantastic way to shine a light on and celebrate the amazing, but sometime overlooked, work that our places do to improve their environmental performance and will hopefully inspire others with their ideas and enthusiasm.

Here at the Trust we’re committed to reducing energy consumption by 20% by 2020, of the remaining 80%, half will be from a renewable source. And it’s got off to a great start, with installation of an award-winning marine-source heat pump, two hydropower schemes and a biomass boiler; with a further woodchip boiler planned for Ickworth in Suffolk in 2015.

Last night’s ceremony was about recognising and rewarding the innovation and hard work going on at the Trust’s properties in the Eastern region.

And the winners were…

Meter Manager of the Year – Richard Lee, Blickling Estate

National Trust East of England environmental awards 2014. Photo Phil Mynott ©NT

An award celebrating some of our un-sung heroes, the individuals who carry out the vital service of reading property energy and water meters each month. Richard has been with the Trust for 20 years and ensures all 61 meters at Blickling are read on time and all the necessary data entered. He never misses a meter and even organises his leave around the meter read weeks to ensure they are completed on time. During that time he’s had to battle through shoulder-height stinging nettles to find water meters, knelt in an ants’ nest whilst sticking his head in the chamber to see a reading only to get up and find ants crawling all over him, had to move frogs off meters so he can read the numbers, and had to fend off curious cows!

Green Kitchen of the Year – Felbrigg Hall

National Trust East of England environmental awards 2014. Photo Phil Mynott ©NT
Not surprisingly our restaurants and cafés account for a large percentage of our energy and water use – but our kitchens are making a real difference by becoming more resource efficient. Energy efficiency was a priority when creating Felbrigg Hall’s new tearoom (The Squire’s Pantry), with LED light bulbs and new low consumption electric heaters installed. The energy use of all kitchen appliances is monitored, with timers ensuring nothing is left on unnecessarily. All of the food waste produced in the kitchens goes to compost, while glass and materials are recycled. Unsold bread and scones are re-used as the ideal ingredient for a tasty bread pudding, while coffee grinds are given to the Walled Garden as they make a good slug repellent!

Holiday Cottage Hero Award – Elizabeth and Don Headley, Dunwich Heath

National Trust East of England environmental awards 2014. Photo Phil Mynott ©NT
Caretakers not only ensure our 44 holiday cottages around the region are looking their best for our guests, but can also make a big difference in their energy usage, by turning off appliances and  making sure heating is set appropriately, especially between stays. Elizabeth Headley has been looking after four holiday cottages at Dunwich Heath for eight years, along with her husband Don, who has been a volunteer caretaker for four years. During that time they have improved general recycling, including constructing rain water butts and compost bins. Plastic bottles and old kitchen utensils are re-used as containers for growing plants on the allotment.

Best Energy Reduction (sponsored by Good Energy) – Oxburgh Hall

National Trust East of England environmental awards 2014. Photo Phil Mynott ©NT
This award was about celebrating our properties that have made the greatest improvements in energy saving within the last year. Oxburgh Hall has reduced its energy use by a staggering 35% since 2013. It’s achieved this by LED lighting and changing catering practices, but especially through installing a much more efficient, controllable heating system, which not only saves energy but is better for conserving the beautiful 15th century Hall and its contents. This is all despite opening a new holiday cottage.

Green Team of the Year – Sheringham Park

National Trust East of England environmental awards 2014. Photo Phil Mynott ©NT
It’s everyone’s responsibility to improve environmental performance. This award celebrates our most outstanding ‘green’ team for the past year. Everyone at Sheringham Park is on board with reducing energy impact. As a result of the team’s concentrated efforts, electricity use has decreased to 25% reduction against its 2009 baseline, which is a fantastic achievement largely won through fitting timers to eight water heaters, changing lighting to LED and experimenting with measures such as installing new switchgear for the sewage treatment plant so that they could reduce its operation time and considerable electricity use. Toilets are flushed with water collected from a rainwater harvesting system and new efficient hand driers have been installed.

The Park’s new biomass heating system has eliminated the use of oil from the visitor centre area entirely. Timber is extracted sustainably from the Park and chipped by a team of volunteers, very much in the spirit of “grow your own”. They are expecting to use around 35 tonnes of chip per year – around 1.5 double decker buses full!

Wise Use of Water Award (sponsored by Anglian Water) – Blickling

National Trust East of England environmental awards 2014. Photo Phil Mynott ©NT
The team at Blickling have been busy making an array of improvements. A big project is the restoration of a Victorian water management system, which includes a waterwheel, so that it now diverts rain and groundwater to a new irrigation system that feeds the Walled Garden. The system has the added benefit of reducing the risk of the house flooding. Blickling has also been working with agricultural fishing and other stakeholders such as the Environment Agency, Internal Drainage Board and the Broads Catchment Partnership to deliver water and environmental benefits reaching beyond the property boundaries. This includes natural processes being introduced in the River Bure – such as the placement of logs and other large woody debris – to trap silt and filter pollution in the river channel. A new culvert has also been installed in the steam running through the estate, helping to control its flow. This has helped reduce the amount of sediment reaching Blickling’s lake, improving water quality, maintaining the health of the lake and also reducing the risk of the hall flooding.

Fit for the Future Award – Ickworth

National Trust East of England environmental awards 2014. Photo Phil Mynott ©NT

Recognising effort made to help ensure we improve our environmental performance in the future. Premises Manager David Richardson has led the way at Ickworth with the installation of a variety of energy and water saving measures, reducing energy use despite increased opening times and the opening of the servants’ basement to visitors.

These measures include the use of low-energy LED bulbs in chandeliers and show rooms, and restoration and recommissioning of the Edwardian rainwater harvesting system. New projects are designed to minimise environmental impact from the start, such as a log boiler to heat the Porter’s Lodge visitor reception,and an air source heat pump for the new plant centre and toilets. Future improvements include plans for using rainwater to flush toilets in the west wing, more replacement LED lighting, and the installation of a woodchip boiler to provide heat and hot water for the house, using wood harvested sustainably from the vast estate.

Waste-not Winner (sponsored by Biffa) – Dunwich Heath

National Trust East of England environmental awards 2014. Photo Phil Mynott ©NT

 

Celebrating those who recycle or compost more waste than they’re sending to landfill. The team at Dunwich Heath has made significant steps in improving its recycling and composting. Not only do they achieve a recycling rate of over 70%, but all food waste is diverted from landfill, travelling only eight miles up the road to Adnams’ anaerobic digester, which generates biogas for the gas mains. The team has also built a bracken mulcher so they can re-use the cut bracken rather than burn it.

The Acorn Award – Wimpole

National Trust East of England environmental awards 2014. Photo Phil Mynott ©NT

Recognising innovation and the work being done to make our land truly sustainable. Wimpole is well known for its sustainable approach, with Head Forester Simon Damant’s unabated enthusiasm leading the way in many areas including: woodland management; the revival and promotion of sustainable, traditional countryside skills and crafts (charcoal making, scything, hedge management, green hay, bodging); tree planting in the park; hedge planting on large arable fields to reduce erosion and provide habitats; flower rich meadows management and for inspiring a great team of countryside volunteers.

Special Achievement Award – North Norfolk Coast team

National Trust East of England environmental awards 2014. Photo Phil Mynott ©NT

The Norfolk Coast team has for over a decade championed ways to minimise impact on the natural environment and engaged with young people through the National Trust’s residential learning facility at Brancaster Activity Centre.

The use of renewable systems and features within the learning centre have been a key element of the learning offer for many years. Thousands of children who attended ‘BAC’ on residential school visits have been challenged to think of ways to reduce their impact on the natural environment, recycling, minimising food waste, composting and involvement with energy saving programmes.

An Energy Outreach Project in partnership with Norfolk County Council was successful in delivering the Energy Busters and eFutures programmes to every school in Norfolk between 2005 and 2013. In total, the team worked with 445 schools and by March 2013 had helped Norfolk County Council achieve a placing of 25th out of 2097 organisations within the Carbon Reduction League Table (a reduction in carbon emissions of 24.64%) due to our work with schools. This project enabled schools to achieve sustained energy savings through imbedding new energy efficient behaviours.

Elsewhere, the team has installed an off-grid solar panel system on Blakeney Point which has eliminated the use of a large generator and the transportation and use of 2,500 litres of diesel on this fragile coastal habitat.

So a great evening, highlighting some amazing people and inspiring environmental work. Thanks to our sponsors Good Energy, Anglian Water and Biffa. Photos courtesy of Phil Mynott.

New Yorke

Not just a pretty face… Ever wondered about the stories behind the people in the paintings we look after? This autumn, a portrait of the Hon. Charles Yorke, returns home to Wimpole Hall and reveals just a little more about the man who sat for this work of art and his family connection to this beautiful Cambridgeshire estate. 

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We asked curator, Wendy Monkhouse, to fill us in…

Captain George and Mrs Elsie Bambridge bought Wimpole Estate in 1938, with the Hall almost entirely empty of its contents. Over the next 40 years the Bambridges slowly furnished and decorated the house, seeking out pieces that were either once at Wimpole, or had strong connections to the estate or previous owners.

Continuing with their legacy, this newly acquired oil painting shows Charles Yorke – son of the 1st Earl, brother of the 2nd, and father of the 3rd, as a young man. Charles held various official posts during his lifetime, including MP for Reigate and Cambridge University. He was also Solicitor-General and Attorney-General, but died three days after being appointed Chancellor in 1770.

The cause of his death (though suicide was rumoured, and stated as a fact by Horace Walpole, who loathed all the Yorkes) was essentially gluttony and ill-health. But it may also have been brought on by his agonies of indecision over accepting from the King, an office that he had schemed to follow his father in all his life, but which involved abandoning his Rockingham Whig allies to do so.

The painting, which was painted by Thomas Hudson (1722-1770) recently came up for auction at Cheffins in Cambridge and after a little bit of research checking its provenance, identity and condition, we knew this painting was indeed one that had once hung on the walls at Wimpole. We’re delighted to say the hammer came down on our side and the portrait will be returning to Wimpole very soon. It will enable us to share Charles’s story and continue to interpret items from Wimpole’s existing collection.

Look out for his portrait (returning soon to the Gallery), which will be temporarily shown on an easel in its unconserved state.

Willington Dovecote – small building, big occasion

Tucked away in Bedfordshire, Willington Dovecote once housed over 1,500 pigeons, which were an important source of food in the 16th century. But did you know that this small building has just marked a big occasion - 100 years in the care of the National Trust. 

And who better to reveal the story behind this little known gem than Dorothy Jamieson, a long serving volunteer, who along with a small team of dedicated and passionate individuals – love, research and help care for this special place…

Willington Dovecote & Stables - The 16th century stone dovecote built by Sir John Goshawk.

It was Caroline Orlebar, the daughter of the vicar of Willington who set up a public subscription fund in 1912, with the intention to buy the Dovecote and save it from demolition. She succeeded in her appeal and the Dovecote was saved for the nation and donated to the National Trust in 1914.

One hundred years on, with the support of Bedford National Trust Association we celebrated this hidden gem. Visitors to the recent centenary celebration even included members of Caroline’s modern-day extended family.

The Dovecote and Stables were originally part of an impressive manorial complex, built between 1529 and 1545 by John Gostwick. Today, both buildings are much as they were in the 16th century. They seem to have been largely built from stone recycled from ecclesiastical buildings, demolished during the dissolution of the monasteries.

The Dovecote especially must have been a status symbol; it is unusually large for one on a small manor, and consists of two chambers, containing around 1,500 nesting boxes.  Although the outside of the building is made of all sorts of second-hand building materials, Gostwick used specially cut blocks of Tottenhoe clunch (a sort of hard chalk), Tudor bricks and stone tiles or flag-stones to construct the nesting boxes and perching ledges inside.

He also built a new Tudor manor house and repaired and rebuilt the church next door.  Surviving records show that his family in fact had links with Willington from the early 13th to the early 18th century. He was a capable and successful administrator and auditor, London merchant and estate manager – working first for Cardinal Wolsey alongside Thomas Cromwell, and then for Henry Vlll in a variety of roles. Even the likes of King Henry visited the manor in 1541.

When there were fears that the Dovecote and Stables would be demolished in the mid-19th century, there was a public outcry; these fears re-appeared after the Duke of Bedford sold the village to speculators in the early 20th century. So, Caroline Orlebar took the advice of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings and set about raising the money to buy it. Through her personal contacts she arranged to give it to the Office of Works, which later became English Heritage; but unfortunately she died before she was able to transfer the building. The Office of Works later decided not to accept it and her executors gave it to the National Trust.

WORK31-1929 The Dovecote, Willington, Beds 1913

Drawing produced by the Office of Works in 1913

Caroline was one of a small group of women who donated or bequeathed properties to the National Trust, during the first twenty years of its existence. She was assisted by Lyndon Bolton, then president of Bedford Arts Club. Together they raised the necessary £200 to buy it in less than 3 months and more than 80 people contributed, with donations between 2s/6d and £25.

Today the buildings are loved and supported by volunteers, embedded in the history of the village and are an important part of village life. The volunteer curator, Judy Endersby, has been key-holder for over 30 years and is supported by Mervyn Askew and Sheila Ward, also long-term volunteers, who live alongside the buildings.

We are very fortunate that Mr. and Mrs Godber, whose family donated the Stables to the National Trust in 1947, and who still own much of the land north, east and west of the Stables, continue to support us. Being a National Trust volunteer has transformed my life. One of my friends has described me as an adopted daughter of Willington, even though I actually live in Bedford!

100 million records help create one of the largest wildlife databases in the world

A wildlife database launched just a decade ago has reached its 100 millionth record, making it one of the biggest in the world.   

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Photo: Two spotted ladybird (credit) North East Wildlife

This online resource, the National Biodiversity Network Gateway, has grown rapidly, from its prototype beginnings when 100,000 records were available in the late 1990s, to 20 million records in 2006, 50 million in 2010 and now to a staggering 100 million species records from across the United Kingdom.

The 100 millionth species record is Adalia bipunctata (2 spot ladybird) and is part of a dataset of more than 17,000 records from the National Trust’s Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire.

This classic National Trust estate, with its mansion, landscape park, woodlands and farmland, is diverse in wildlife, with over 3,744 different species recorded there.

There are some notable rarities at Wimpole, such as the golden hoverfly and the rusty-red click beetle, which are both listed as Endangered, and populations of barbastelle bat, brown long-eared bat, water vole and great crested newt, which are priority species for conservation in the UK. The estate has breeding barn owl, tawny owl, buzzard, marsh harrier and sparrowhawk, and the presence of these top predators indicate healthy food webs which starts with the Trust’s large organic farm.

Here’s what Stuart Warrington, the National Trust’s wildlife advisor in the East had to say:

“Wimpole is an oasis for wildlife and there are super habitats for both common and scarce species across the estate. I like the way the NBN Gateway makes all of our data available to anyone who is interested, so our volunteer surveyors can see their observations feeding into the UK-wide network of records.”

Simon Damant, Forester at the Wimpole Estate, said:

“The hundreds of veteran trees in the park and woods are especially important as they support so many rare insects and fungi. Two of my favourites are the rare Devil’s Bolete toadstool, which can be found under old oak trees and the Golden Hoverfly, which comes to ivy flowers in the autumn.”

The data on the NBN Gateway comes from the dedication and commitment of amateur and professional experts across the UK, who painstakingly record the species they see. The NBN Gateway allows anyone who is interested to look and investigate the distribution of these species on maps and to download information.

Users range from naturalists interested in the distribution of particular species, government agencies monitoring changes in populations of threatened or non-native species, researchers using data for analysis and the general public interested in the wildlife in their local area.

“This biological data is one of the most important resources for anyone learning about, caring for, or managing the UK environment,” says John Sawyer, Chief Executive of the National Biodiversity Network.

“Without the dedication of volunteers recording what they see we would know very little about the status of our wildlife, what is happening over time, whether a changing climate is having an effect and whether our conservation and restoration is making a difference.”

‘Constable: The Making of a Master’ opens at the V&A

The V&A’s major autumn exhibition Constable: The Making of a Master opened this weekend and re-examines the work of John Constable (1776-1837), Britain’s best-loved artist. It will explore his sources, techniques and legacy and reveal the hidden stories behind the creation of some of his most well-known paintings.

Willy Lott's House at Flatford and the River Stour, Suffolk.

Photo credit: National Trust Images / Arnhel de Serra

On display will be celebrated works such as The Haywain (1821), a scene that can still be viewed today in the charming hamlet of Flatford, which is now cared for by the National Trust. Once the inspiration for a number of Constable’s now most famous landscapes, wandering beside the River Stour and looking at Willy Lott’s House, you can still absorb the scenes that he knew and loved.

So what’s it like working in a place known throughout the world because of one painting? We asked Sarah Milne, Visitor Service Supervisor at Flatford to tell us more and get her thoughts on the new Constable exhibition, which you’ve guessed it – she’s been to see already….

So, you’ve been to see the new V&A exhibition?

Yes, it was exciting to find Constable Country sitting happily in South Kensington. There is no doubt the new exhibition The Making of a Master at the V&A reminds us John Constable is one of England’s greatest painters.

Which bit did you like best?

Many of Constable’s ‘studies’ could have been painted yesterday; river and barge perfect in a few brushstrokes. The paintings he loved working on shine, compared to the dutiful commissions or studies of the old masters.

‘Still I should paint my own places best; painting is with me but another word for feeling, and I associate “my careless boyhood” with all that lies on the banks of the Stour; those scenes made me a painter, and I am grateful’ (Letter to Rev. John Fisher (23 October 1821), from John Constable’s Correspondence

I am lucky enough to work for the National Trust in ‘those scenes’ at Flatford and knowing the landscape well makes looking at this exhibition particularly fascinating. I went with a friend who is a painter and I was able to point out to her ‘ the road I walk down every day to work’, ‘that dry dock  is just next to our tea-room’ and ‘that tree is still there’ as we went round, which made her laugh.

Visitors comparing Constable's paintings to the scene at Flatford, Suffolk.

Photo credit: National Trust Images / Arnhel de Serra

What do you like most about working at Flatford?

I share Constable’s love of this particular countryside and enjoy helping the many visitors who come. Constable wrote to his friend John Dunthorne;

‘Nature is the fountain’s head, the source from whence all originally must spring..’ (29 May 1802), from John Constable’s Correspondence

Some visitors come to relax and feel refreshed but in Constable’s time, 200 years ago, the River Stour would have been busy with the barges delivering goods alongside all the activities of the Mill.

Some visitors enjoy the feeling of walking through Constable painting’s, while experiencing the quintessentially English Suffolk countryside. Others have memories of their own childhood visits and are now bringing grandchildren to enjoy a picnic or to spend an afternoon messing about on the river.

You can sense many layers of history and memories connecting us to that handsome miller’s son and wandering by the Stour or looking at Flatford Mill or Willy Lott’s House, you can feel as if you are standing in the Haywain painting itself.

Constable: The Making of a Master is on at the V&A until 11 January 2015. Once you’ve seen it, why not come and see if you can spot his famous scenes at Flatford? Sarah and the team will be waiting to welcome you.