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.

Rare beetle is re-introduced to Wicken Fen

Distinctive and eye-caching with a metallic appearance, the tantsy beetle (Chrysolina graminis) was last seen at Wicken Fen 32 years ago. Currently in decline and under threat in the UK and across its worldwide range, this little beetle was only known to be found in York. Now, it has been re-introduced to Wicken Fen.

Tansy beetle (c) Richard Aspinall - webPhoto credit: Richard Aspinall

National Trust wildlife advisor, Stuart Warrington, explains…

The Tansy beetle (from the ‘leaf beetle’ family) is a very rare species and a conservation priority species in England. It used to call Wicken Fen home, but it was lost from the Fen more than 3 decades ago. We don’t know exactly why it was lost, but at that time the fen was rather dry and scrubby. After all of our work clearing scrub and getting better control of the water levels, and creating new habitats too, we are much more hopeful that the conditions are right again for this rare beetle.

So, this month 150 former residents of Wicken Fen were brought in buckets, in the boot of a car, down the A1(M) from York to try to get them re-established on this nationally important reserve.

The project is a joint one between The National Trust, Buglife and the Tansy Beetle Action Group (TBAG), supported by Natural England. The beetle is currently known only in Britain in York at Woodwalton Fen, where a small number were rediscovered earlier this summer. The beetle’s only stronghold has been along a 30km stretch of the River Ouse, around York, where it mainly eats tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), a perennial herb which has given the beetle its name. It will also feed on water mint and gipsywort, which are both very abundant at Woodwalton and Wicken fens.

The Tansy beetle is a very pretty iridescent green beetle, about 8-10mm in size, with the autumn sunshine bringing out the colours very nicely. It had a bumper summer in York so there are many thousands of adults present. Thus a few have been released at Wicken Fen so they can feed up through September on their food plants and hopefully will emerge from hibernation next spring. We shall go and have a look next May. The re-introduction project, especially with a little insect, is partly an act of faith, as we really don’t know if it will thrive at Wicken. But it is certainly worth trying to put the insect back into its former sites, to help bolster its population and reduce the risk of extinction.

We tend to take the philosophy of the “Field of Dreams” in our habitat creation at Wicken, which is “if you built it, they will come” (it’s a 1989 Kevin Costner film). And many species have taken advantage of the extra space and wildlife habitats we have made south of our classic Sedge Fen. However, in this case, it is a very long way for a small rare beetle to get to Wicken Fen (especially as it is very reluctant to fly and tends to walk between its food plants), so it’s been given a helping hand!

Spending a penny, preventing a pong

We would hope that John Harrington, the inventor of the flushing toilet in 1596 would have been proud, as work has started to replace the sewage treatment system that serves Felbrigg Hall.

Stitched Panorama

From early Roman loos and silver chamber pots to the elaborate ‘thrones’ of the rich and famous, there certainly are a great collection of toilets in National Trust houses up and down the country.

In the communal latrines at Chedworth Roman Villa in Gloucestershire they would discuss the news and gossip of the day and maybe even negotiate a business deal whilst they were there. Turn the clock forward to the Middle Ages, where the wealthy built ‘garderobes’ such as at Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk. These little rooms jutting out from the walls of their homes would have also been used to store clothes, as the smell kept moths away.

Tudors were not a very discriminating bunch when it came to what they charmingly called “plucking a rose” and wouldn’t bat an eyelid about going in chimneys, corners of a room or in the street.

Peckover House Outdoor Privvy

Blickling Hall Commode with 'lid up'

 

Chamber Pot

Queen Elizabeth I raised the standard and had a “john”, the first flushing toilet invented by John Harrington, installed in her palace. But we often forget about the sewage treatment systems beyond the humble lavatory.

Over 600 metres of pipework will need to be dug into the ground over the next couple of weeks at Felbrigg Hall. But don’t worry, we’ll be finished soon and the work will prevent the risk of pongs and contamination of this beautiful estate.

After the works are complete, we will create a new wildflower meadow, planting native grass and plant varieties such as Yarrow, Bird’s-foot-trefoil, Black Medic, Self-heal, Meadow and Bulbous buttercup, Sheep’s Sorrel and Autumn Hawkbit.

So, the next time you’re spending a penny at one of our places, remember that your support helps us maintain these special places, sometimes on projects you wouldn’t even have considered.

Conserving Wimpole’s Gothic Tower

Seen from afar and admired by many, the Gothic Tower at Wimpole is an iconic destination when choosing to walk in the park. However, since 2005 the tower has been off limits due to the fragile nature of the structure. Now, in what is by far the biggest conservation project at Wimpole this year, work is underway to conserve and repair this amazing structure, stabilise the stonework and provide access around the exterior for visitors once more.

Wimpole Gothic Tower - 1

Although the folly might look like a castle ruin, this building wasn’t intended for housing or shelter, instead it was built primarily for garden decoration. Paul Coleman, Project Manager fills us in…

In June 1749, Sanderson Miller (the noted follies architect of the day) was asked by George Lyttelton to design a ruined Gothic castle for his friend and owner of Wimpole Hall, Lord Hardwicke. Sanderson was a pioneer of Gothic revival architecture and a landscape designer who often added follies and other picturesque garden buildings and features to the grounds of estates. The folly itself was built under Capability Brown’s supervision in 1768-1772.

P1060396Follies were very typical of 18th century gardens and consisted of temples, pagodas, pryamids and yes – ruins. This four storey high Gothic Tower was intended to be viewed and admired from the Drawing Room at Wimpole Hall, a real eye catcher in the landscape but also for the Hardwicke family to ascend inside and admire the views and landscape. But if you’ve visited recently, you might have noticed that this Gothic Tower is now covered in scaffolding, as work has begun on the structure’s walls.

Constructed from brick and clunch stone, the latter had started to decay as a result of weathering, requiring urgent conservation work. By the end of the project, the work will include repairs to stonework; reinstatement of the crenellations, windows, doors and external rear staircase; with improved public access, including the removal of the fence in front of the structure.

Part of a larger scheme for landscape management improvements that directly contribute to the protection and conservation of the historic environment at Wimpole; this project has been part-funded by Defra’s Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme, which is administered by Natural England.

So, if you have a head for heights, why not enjoy the unique opportunity to climb the scaffold (booking recommended) and experience the view from the same height that past visitors would once have done? After climbing the five flights of stairs you’ll get a great view of the Hall and surrounding parkland from the two viewing platforms, as well as the chance to find out more about how this Gothic Tower is being conserved.

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The scaffolding is due to come down in December, when visitors will once again have an unrestricted view up to the tower and be able to walk behind and around it for the first time in nearly 10 years, we’ll keep you posted with progress.

Wartime scrapbook of a Red Cross volunteer

In November 1913, Stephanie Hyde Parker, aged 18 years, was given a red leather bound scrapbook embossed with her initials as a gift from her parents. Stephanie decided that this would help her record the events and people she met as she went through the social whirl of the London season. However, the clouds of war were gathering over Europe and on the 4 August 1914, the tone of her scrapbook changed, as she recorded the declaration of war and the effect it had on her family and friends.

Philip Windsor, a volunteer at Melford Hall has been reading through the pages…

Stephanie Hyde Parker's scrapbook

Making her debut into polite society, Stephanie Hyde Parker was the only daughter of Sir William and Ethel, Lady Hyde Parker of Melford Hall. One can imagine, not only her excitement at the numerous dances and house parties that would require a wardrobe of new clothes; but also her trepidation – would she be popular and fit in with the other debutantes, would her dance card be filled, but most importantly, would she receive many invitations?

Within just a few months, Stephanie had spent time away at various house parties and balls, including a stay with her mother at Lordington House in Hampshire, where her sketching leads us to believe she had great fun playing roulette as well as other gambling games. It was then home for Christmas and New Year with the anticipation of many more exciting plans for 1914, starting with the Suffolk County Ball in January. However, Stephanie could never have imagined just what 1914 would have in store!

Although she continues to record the social events she experienced, they become more somber and with war always in the background. It was during this time her family and friends attend and support fundraising events for the British Red Cross. In fact, Stephanie herself joined the Red Cross’s Voluntary Aid Detachment, looking after wounded soldiers at Sudbury Belle Vue. This too is captured in the pages of her scrapbook.

Stephanie Hyde Parker's scrapbook

In 1914, 40,018 women were members of Red Cross detachments – including some famous names, such as Agatha Christie. As men were fighting on the Western Front, women performed many jobs that had been previously considered “unladylike” and unsuitable. The most prevalent occupation was working as a VAD and in many cases, women in the local neighbourhood volunteered on a part time basis.

At the outbreak of the First World War, the Red Cross had secured buildings, equipment and staff, and the organisation was able to set up temporary hospitals as soon as wounded men began to arrive home from abroad. The buildings varied widely, ranging from town halls and schools, to large and small private houses, both in the country and in cities. The most suitable ones were established as auxiliary hospitals.

Belle Vue House became one of 33 Red Cross hospitals in Suffolk during that time and was used for convalescence between 1914 and 1918. Servicemen often preferred auxiliary hospitals to military hospitals because they were not so strict, they were less crowded and the surroundings were more homely. At Belle Vue, patients returned from war were recovering from frostbite, gunshot wounds and shellshock.

She also writes in her scrapbook, the news that 4000 troops were billeted at Melford Hall and neighbouring Kentwell for a duration of 12 nights. Both gunners and infantry were part of the East Anglian Division of Royal Artillery (territorials) who were heading to Bury St Edmunds from Braintree. Soldiers on the march were still a novelty at this early stage of the war and villagers would have greeted their passage with tea and fruit. It’s said that plums seemed very refreshing at the time, although some of the men were later to regret their enthusiasm!

Stephanie Hyde Parker's scrapbook

It’s estimated that around 500 men left the west Suffolk village of Long Melford to fight in the First World War and the names of the 95 who lost their lives in the conflict are listed on the village war memorial. Just how many of this small village did Stephanie know?

We look back to this period on Sunday 17 August, when there will be a special afternoon commemorating the First World War at Melford Hall. We will be re-creating the fundraising event for the Red Cross detailed in Stephanie Hyde Parker’s scrapbook, in what will be the chance to see Red Cross nurses working hard towards the war effort and soldiers preparing to leave for the Battle Front.

Images: With the kind permission of the Estate of Stephanie Duke (née Hyde Parker).

Looking into the past through small windows

Over the past few weeks, a number of archaeological digs have taken place around the region, so we caught up with archaeologist, Angus Wainwright, to find out what’s been going on and more importantly – what did we find?

Using a trowel during a costumed recreation of the 1930s archaeological dig by Basil Brown at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk.

An archaeologist’s real home is in a muddy hole. There’s nothing we like more than swinging a pick and shovel and moving a lot of soil about. The difference between us and the chaps in high–vis jackets is that we’re not looking for leaking water mains, what we’re trying to do is answer questions about the history of places. Recently National Trust archaeologists, volunteers and visitors have got together to try to solve some historical puzzles at Melford Hall, Wimpole Estate and Willington Dovecote and Stables.

The thing about these mini-digs is that you don’t always find what you’re looking for, but you usually find something unexpected.

At Willington we were trying to find a large demolished building, spotted on a geophysics survey, which we think may have been a barn. This would have been part of complex of Tudor buildings, of which only the dovecot and stables remain. This is the second year of digging and we are still going down, no building yet – but it hasn’t put us off. We’ll be back again next year.

IMG_6190At Melford Hall we were looking for the Tudor gatehouse, the position of which can be seen indicated on old estate maps. Situated in front of the house (on the existing lawn) it would have been an entrance quite fitting for the house.

We don’t know exactly what it was used for, but some gatehouses would have served as accommodation. On this occasion we found the gatehouse, but not where it should be! Some of our initial trenches last year missed the building, but after a few more test pits and digging this time round, we eventually found the walls of the building we were looking for.

Then at Wimpole, the Cambridgeshire Archaeological Group are currently digging trenches all over the park, looking for medieval villages among other things – they will be there until Sunday 3 August, so do go along to see what they’ve found. 

Wildlife thriving in the waters at Oxburgh Hall

The beautiful moated manor house of Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk relies on a network of waterways to keep the water from the River Gadder flowing into its moat. Last winter, we undertook a big project to repair the water courses to ensure that the moat no longer leaked. Now it would seem the watery habitats have recovered and are thriving.

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Photo credit: NorthEast Wildlife

This spring and summer, our Wildlife Advisor, Stuart Warrington, joined staff and volunteers to assess how well these watery habitats had recovered from the work…

OXB Gadder worksIt was quite a sight last winter, when we put in a temporary bund (which looked remarkable like a water-filled ‘bouncy castle’) to hold back the water whilst the river bed was de-silted and two new sluices and an overflow weir were installed.

We were keen to see how the wildlife in this area had responded.

 

The first positive news is that that Kingfishers are now regularly being seen by Oxburgh’s Ranger Damon Hill, perching on twigs above the river, looking down through the clear water to spot little fish.

Volunteers jumped at the chance to use the pond nets and by sweep-netting the river edges, the pond and the moat, it revealed a very good diversity of invertebrate life.

We found many species of water beetles, pond skaters, water boatmen, caddisflies, alderflies and pond snails. At least eight species of dragonflies were in flight by mid-summer including a huge abundance of the delightful Banded Demoiselle along the River Gadder, and several of Britain’s largest, the Emperor Dragonfly, hunting for smaller insects over the moat.

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Photo credit: NorthEast Wildlife

Two rather less common species were also found in the moat, the Water Stick Insect and the Lake Skater. The Lake Skater is like the familiar pond skater, but is more than twice as big, and its not often seen as it spends its life way out in deeper water.

As with many conservation projects, its two steps forward and one back, as once we had the water flowing into the moat, we realised that we had some more leaks. So, with a little more work needed this summer to re-point some of the gaps between the brickwork of the moat, it won’t be long now before the water courses will be secure and the wildlife that clearly loves the high quality watery habitats at Oxburgh, continue to thrive.

 

Volunteer’s fundraising efforts top £1 million

Norfolk volunteer David Musson has reached an incredible fundraising milestone this year, with his efforts topping the £1 million mark.

David Musson 1 - Photograph by Paul Bailey

Stamps, book collecting and bird watching have been David Musson’s hobbies since he was seven years old. As an adult he added a fourth – the National Trust. Now he has clocked up more than 50 years of working and volunteering with the National Trust.

David, who set up the second-hand bookshop at Felbrigg in 1996 and when “Blickling got jealous”, he started one there too, which is now widely recognised as the best of the National Trust’s 100 or so similar bookshops across the country. And now the stamp shop in Blickling’s old harness room, is doing its bit for the cause too.

Photo credit: Paul Bailey

David remembers his first successful fund-raising project, which was to raise £7,000 for a water supply so that staff living on Blakeney Point could revel in the luxuries of a toilet and bath. They had previously relied on barrels of water being brought over by boat!

“The National Trust has been my life and I wasn’t going to stop doing my bit because I had retired. I have always believed in the principles of the Trust. The conservation of land, countryside, buildings and gardens is very important.”

Not content with already raising so much for the Trust, David has now donated his own private stamp collection – something he has spent 70 years putting together. The collection includes some extremely rare and valuable mint commonwealth stamps, a page of which has been estimated at a value of around £3,000.

“I’m working on the next million now, I can’t rest on my laurels!” joked David.

David is offering visitors the unique opportunity to view and purchase the collection before it goes to dealers and auctioneers. The money generated by the proceeds will be spent on conservation projects in Norfolk, including the restoration of Blickling’s Walled Garden.

The Blickling Estate second-hand stamp shop is open daily from Wednesday to Sunday, from 11am to 4pm. If you’re interested in purchasing any of the expensive stamps, please arrange an appointment with David or one of his volunteer team on 01263 738019. For more ordinary stamps, please just turn up. The shop stocks stamps from all countries and all periods. And like the books, these have all been donated.

 

Celebrating the 75th anniversary of Sutton Hoo

It was in 1939 that the incredible ship burial of an Anglo-Saxon king and his treasured possessions was discovered at Sutton Hoo. 75 years on from what is thought to be one of the most important discoveries in British archaeology, a 1930s garden party will be held (26 & 27 July) to mark the anniversary.

Live interpreters at Sutton HooPhoto credit: National Trust / Fisheye Images

Visitor Operations Manager at Sutton Hoo, Ruaidhri O’Mahony, looks back and reflects on the discovery that changed our understanding of the Dark Ages…

Nobody could have guessed at the secrets held beneath the burial mounds here at Sutton Hoo. It was to become the richest burial ever uncovered in the whole of Northern Europe, and the treasures are now renowned around the world. They reveal to us that the Dark Ages were not so dark after all – this was a time of master craftsmanship, of international trade, of the establishment of early kingship and the foundations of the English people.

The dig was instigated by Edith Pretty shortly after she lost her husband Frank. She found comfort in spiritualism, and there is a story that her friend saw ghostly figures marching on the burial mounds. Edith was fascinated by ancient cultures from her early life travelling the world, and brought in self-taught archaeologist, Basil Brown to see what lay beneath the barrows.

Basil knew the Suffolk landscape well and his skill and dedication was the perfect match for the task in-hand. However, I don’t think even he could have imagined that he would uncover the fragile imprint of a 90 foot long Anglo-Saxon ship beneath the soil in this quiet corner of Suffolk.

Basil Brown (copyright British Museum)

The Ship Excavations (copyright British Museum) Photo credit: The British Museum

The acid in the soil had turned the ship to sand, so it was a delicate job to uncover what lay beneath. And the body of the warrior buried within the ship, who was later believed to be King Raedwald, had long since vanished. It very soon became clear that something extraordinary was held beneath the landscape here at Sutton Hoo – one of only three ship burials in England, it had not been plundered by grave robbers.

In July 1939, Edith Pretty held a tea party for her friends and local dignitaries, to show them some of the extraordinary discoveries that had been made during the archaeological dig on her land, revealing for the first time some of the most significant finds in the history of this country.

75 years later, we’re looking forward to celebrating the discovery of the treasures once again, with a 1930s-style garden party. The two day event will embrace the 1930s and reflects Edith’s original tea party. One of the things people are most looking forward to is a flyover by a Spitfire on Saturday. We know that a Spitfire flew overhead during Mrs Pretty’s tea party – it was a stark reminder that in 1939, as this nation was unveiling the secrets of its origins, it was also facing its greatest threat!

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Photo credit: National Trust / Jemma Finch

Many of the original finds that were discovered at Sutton Hoo back then are now housed in Room 41 at the British Museum. They were a gift to the nation from Mrs Pretty. Today, some of the original finds can still be seen at Sutton Hoo, alongside beautiful replica treasures hand-made by master craftsmen.

See them for yourself, join in the celebrations and walk through the landscape that still overlooks the river that carried the kings of East Anglia to their final resting place.