Timely return of clock to Anglesey Abbey

Following extensive repairs, ground breaking conservation and an amazing discovery, one of the most spectacular clocks in the National Trust’s collection is returning to Anglesey Abbey after an absence of almost 3 years.  

by Bovell, Henry

National Trust conservator, Chris Calnan, has been looking forward to its return for some time…

The clock in question was made in London by James Cox in the early 1790s. He was one of the foremost clock makers of his time, making very elaborate automata clocks, many of which were exported to China.

Shaped like a Chinese pagoda, the Pagoda Clock is unusual in that when it strikes 12 and 3 o’clock a wonderful musical and visual display occurs. It’s quite the sight, there are musical chimes sounding and jewelled flowers on the different tiers of the pagoda that spin and open up.

The clock was originally sent away to West Dean College in Sussex to be cleaned, but a detailed inspection revealed that it was in a perilous state. Previous poor restoration work by clocksmiths meant that the clock was damaging its gears every time it ran and the main spring for the musical chimes was at a point where it could have snapped at any moment, which could have caused irreparable damage.

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Photo: West Dean student, Brittany Cox, working on the clock.

Faced with the prospect of a major programme of replacement work and intervention, we took the bold decision that it would be better for the long term conservation of the clock to remove and retire the movement and replace it with an electronic drive, which would be fully reversible.

The barrel pins that produced the musical chimes were also in a very poor condition, so a similar conservation approach was taken with them. We had the musical chimes digitally recorded with state of the art recording equipment to enable us to play the chimes without causing further wear to the clock. The most time consuming task, was then to devise an electric mechanism that would synchronise the striking of the clock with the playing of the musical chimes and the motion of the moving parts.

This is ground-breaking conservation, as this is the first clock in the country to have its mechanical components driving time, as wells as chimes and movement replaced with an electronic drive and digital recording.

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Photo: The Pagoda Clock at West Dean College being recorded by John Leonard to digitally replace the mechanical chimes. 

The story doesn’t end there, whilst working on the clock, an exciting discovery was made.

The jewelled panels around the base of the clock were found to have small strips of paper wedged on their insides to prevent movement. On opening up the paper wedges we discovered that they were strips torn from Chinese newsprint from the latter half of the 19th century. We’re hoping to carry out further research on the newsprint fragments to try to discover their date, but it suggests that the clock may have once had an illustrious past.

The tantalising evidence of the Chinese newsprint found inside, may suggest that it once belonged to the Emperor of China. The Emperor amassed a vast collection of these highly prized clocks, which were gifts from European countries intent on opening up trade with China. The Chinese referred to these clocks as ziming zhong, meaning ‘sing songs’.

It’s thought that the collection amassed by the Quing dynasty Emperors by the early 19th century amounted to over 4,500 clocks, of which 1,500 remain in the collection inside the Forbidden City. Quite how this clock came to the West would be a great story to uncover.

See the Pagoda Clock for yourself, as it goes back on display at Anglesey Abbey this week, just in time for when the clocks change!

The ghost ship of Sutton Hoo

Deep within the soil, deep within a burial mound, she lay hidden until the summer of 1939… This March a new exhibition has opened, which reveals the story of the ghost ship of Sutton Hoo and our Festival of Craftsmanship will celebrate the legacy of the Anglo-Saxon craeftiga – or craftsman who made it and the treasure found within.

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Under a stunning Suffolk skyline and overlooking the tranquil Deben estuary, Sutton Hoo’s majestic Anglo-Saxon burial mounds are some of the most important and special archaeological monuments in the country. Ruaidhri O’Mahony, from Sutton Hoo explains…

Beneath today’s lasting monuments lay the graves of Anglo-Saxon nobles. There are around 18 burial mounds within the royal cemetery here, most of these have been robbed at some point through history, but luckily for the nation two were ‘missed’ by the tomb raiders.

Mound one, the king’s mound, guarded a 90ft ship within which a great chamber was filled with spears, shields, helmet, sword, feasting items and exquisite jewellery of gold and garnet made of the highest quality.

King Raedwald

The Anglo-Saxon ship no longer exists. It was made of oak and after 1400 years in the soil, it rotted away leaving only its ‘ghost’ imprinted in the sand. It’s only through the discovery of iron rivets that suggest a boat was ever buried there. It’s this ship, one of only three Anglo-Saxon burial ships so far discovered in the UK, that’s to form the centre piece of our new exhibition in the treasury.

When the Anglo-Saxons arrived they brought with them a new culture, which included burial with grave goods such as weapons and jewellery. They built villages, some of which may have become our familiar villages and towns. East Anglia’s rivers became trade routes and ships must have passed Sutton Hoo on their way up the River Deben to the royal settlement at Rendlesham.

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The summer of 1938 saw the first in a long series of excavations to be undertaken at Sutton Hoo. Basil Brown, an amateur archaeologist initially excavated Mounds two, three and four but was greeted only with dismay, the mounds had been robbed in antiquity. Excavations resumed the next summer, when Basil was determined to unlock the mysteries of Mound one, the largest mound. It was beneath this mound that the richest surviving Anglo-Saxon burial site was discovered.

In what Basil described as ‘the find of a lifetime’, to this day it is the largest Saxon ship to have been discovered in the UK and would have had room for 40 oarsmen. The noble cemeteries in central Sweden, for example Vendel and Valsgӓrde, also reflect ship burial customs and contain helmets and shields very like those from the Sutton Hoo ship.

And it’s the grave goods that tell us about the man in the ship, which many believe to be the final resting place of one of the 7th Kings of the East Angles – King Raedwald. From metalwork to weaving, boat building to woodcrafts; the objects uncovered don’t just denote a great military leader, they showcase the finest Anglo-Saxon craftsmanship.

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Photos courtesy of the National Trust, Justin Minns & British Museum

So, why not make your own pilgrimage to the royal cemetery following in the footsteps of our ancient ancestors? Find out more about the ghost ship that was unearthed on the eve of the Second World War and join us for our exciting new Festival of Craftsmanship on 21 – 22 March 2015.

Spring cleaning tips from the experts

Many of us have struggled through a tough spring clean and know just how much hard work is involved. But can you imagine cleaning a country mansion, the likes of which National Trust teams tackle each and every year?

Blickling (credit) Kenny Gray (8)

Never mind the sheer size of the places involved and the number of rooms, there are delicate and historically important objects everywhere – from carpets, tapestries and ceramics to marble busts, carved wooden staircases and sparkling chandeliers. Just think of the number of chimneys that require sweeping and we have just one or two windows to clean!

Many of the jobs we carry out at our places are the same as those you do at home, just on a larger scale! So we’ve asked those ‘in the know’ at the National Trust to put their thinking caps on and bring you a list of their top tips to get your home looking spick and span this spring.

This is what our house teams came up with…

Start at the top
Begin with your lighting and work down, this will stop dust falling on recently cleaned items. If you’re lucky enough to own chandeliers then these will need to be dry cleaned every two years with a soft brush, then wet cleaned on the third. For those with more conventional lighting, gently vacuum your lampshades and don’t forget to dust those light bulbs!

Feed the floors
Polishing floors is important because it feeds moisture back into the wood. It’s best to apply a solid coloured wax by hand to create an even finish, then buff off. It takes a team of four staff and volunteers about seven hours to apply the wax and buff it off for each of our floors at Oxburgh Hall.

Put down that polish
Don’t be tempted to add too much polish. Polishing too often can lead to furniture becoming dull in appearance. Instead dust every day with a lint free duster, this will wake up the polish already on the surface and overtime will create a lovely mellow shine.

Don’t forget the books
Just like all furniture your books get dusty too, use a soft brush to clean along the top first, then go over the front and back covers. At Blickling there are over 12,000 books in our library and it takes a whole team of volunteers four years to work their way through the whole collection!

Stop the clocks
If you ever need to move a clock during your spring clean, stop the pendulum first. Always wear soft gloves when handling metal ware and clean using a soft brush. On re-starting the clock hands should always be moved forward, never backwards. Did you know that clocks like to be wound at the same time every week?

Expensive isn’t always better
Don’t be fooled by a large price tag, natural cleaning products such as vinegar are great for removing odours and washing greasy areas. While a drop of washing up liquid in a bowl of warm water will do wonders for your windows! Did you know at Oxburgh Hall the windows are cleaned from a boat on the moat?

Blickling (credit) Kenny Gray (4)

Photos courtesy of Kenny Gray

Look out for our house teams in action, as they go about their cleaning. Stop for a minuteand imagine all the hours of intricate cleaning that goes into keeping these places clean and dust-free – it should make your own spring clean feel like a doddle! And if you’re interested, why not enjoy one of the many opportunities to see the cleaning in action? As this spring we’ll be doing lots more of it in front of visitors.

Composers work, brought to life

Thomas Tudway lived and worked at Wimpole from 1714 until his death in 1726, it was here that he was composer in residence for Lord Edward Harley. However, his work has not been heard in its original setting since, until now that is…

Wimpole Eboracum Baroque

In a new recording project within the chapel at Wimpole, period music specialists Eboracum Baroque have preserved Tudway’s music for posterity.

Anne French from Wimpole fills us in…

So you might ask who was Thomas Tudway? Tudway was an English musician who became Professor of Music at Cambridge University in 1705. His first position there did not last long as he was accused of making disparaging remarks about the Queen, possibly due to him being overlooked for a position at Court. He was stripped of all his titles but then re-instated a year later.

He claimed that Charles II had promised him a musical position at the Royal Court, but his advances were in vain and he missed out on positions to other composers. As a composer himself, he was most noted for his compilation of collections of Anglican church music. And it was during his time at Wimpole that Tudway compiled 6 volumes of this type of music to preserve, for which he received 30 guineas per volume – quite the sum in those days!

View of the Chapel at Wimpole Hall towards the altar showing Thornhill's trompe l'oeil wall depicting gilded statues of the four doctors of the church.

In 1721 he composed  the Wimpole Te Deum for the consecration of the baroque chapel in the East Wing at Wimpole. And it’s this piece that will feature alongside a Birthday Ode that he wrote for Queen Anne in 1706, in a new recording project headed up by Eboracum Baroque.

Eboracum Baroque was formed in 2012 at the University of York and now features some of the best young singers and instrumentalists graduating from the top music institutions in the UK including the Royal College of Music, Trinity College of Music and the Universities of York and Cambridge.

Chris Parsons is the musical director of Eboracum Baroque:

“It’s very exciting to think that we will be performing music written for the very space in which we play it. Tudway was quite the composer, perhaps he might have gone onto secure a post at the royal court if he had been more tight-lipped about his views in life!”

For the first time in 300 years, there will now be an opportunity to hear the music that Tudway composed especially for Wimpole, in a special performance by Eboracum Baroque on Saturday 20 June. Tickets are now on sale for Music on a Midsummer’s Evening, which will also feature other music by Baroque masters such as Handel and Purcell.

New experience reveals 500 years of village life

Stories from across almost 500 years of Suffolk history form a major new exhibition opening this weekend at Lavenham Guildhall, that will be told through the eyes of those who were there. 

Lavenham Guildhall Panoramic (credit Lavenham Photographic)Photo courtesy of Lavenham Photographic

Real life characters are used to tell the story of Lavenham and its Guildhall from the boom of the medieval cloth trade through five centuries to the modern day. Originally built as a religious meeting place for wealthy Catholic merchants, the Guildhall has also been used as a prison, a workhouse, a pub, a chapel and a social club for US troops stationed nearby during the Second World War.

We asked Jane Gosling, Guildhall Manager and Anna Forrest, the National Trust Curator for the Guildhall who led the research, to fill us in…

Lavenham Guildhall is a very special building of national importance. The architecture alone is stunning and is often what brings people to visit us. But not many people realise the Guildhall has had such a wide variety of uses. It’s been amazing what stories we’ve been able to unearth around a host of fascinating people that really bring the inside of the building to life.

There are so many gripping tales to discover that really give you a sense of the changing fortunes of this unique village. More than anything, the stories we have discovered are really emotionally touching – you get a real sense of meeting these people who lived and worked here so many years ago and who walked through the same rooms we walk through today.

LavGuildhal17-01-15l-108 A visitor gets to see how it felt being put in the stocks

LavGuildhal17-01-15l-058 Widow Snell's 18th century workhouse  medicines

Among the real life stories featured in the exhibition is the tale of Ann Baker, who was imprisoned in the Guildhall when it was used as a prison in the 1780s. Aged just 8-years-old, Ann was whipped and kept locked inside with others who had fallen foul of the sometimes harsh laws of the time. She was later sentenced to seven years transportation to Australia, then a penal colony, for being ‘an incorrigible rogue’. She died at just 29.

Others stories include Widow Snell, who ran the 18th century workhouse and created a host of intriguing – and sometimes gruesome – looking medicinal recipes to help treat the ailments suffered by the residents. These included adding 20 live woodlice to cough mixture and crab’s eyes to a treatment for catarrh!

The exhibition, called Our Village Through Time, represents a complete overhaul of the internal exhibition spaces of the Guildhall. The £160,000 project has been funded in part by grants of £85,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, £46,750 from Biffa Award and £9,000 from Suffolk County Council, plus several smaller grants.

Robyn Llewellyn, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund East of England

“It’s wonderful to see the transformation of this well-loved historic building, a key part of the Lavenham community.  The new exhibition provides fascinating glimpses of local life through the centuries and showcases one of the most important timber-framed buildings in the country.”

Gillian French, Biffa Award Programme Manager

“We are pleased to be able to support this project, which is an excellent example of how the Landfill Communities Fund can help protect culturally significant spaces for the benefit of the local community and visitors alike.”

It’s also thanks to a dedicated team of staff and volunteers at the National Trust, working closely with the local community that has enabled us to tell these stories. The final exhibition space even includes an area set aside for a changing community-led display.

Christine Evans, is a member of the local community involved in the project

“The community of Lavenham is incredibly fortunate to have within the heart of the village such an imposing building as The Guildhall. Alongside this there is of course the responsibility to ensure that the building is preserved and developed to enable others to enjoy and also learn from its history. This project brought together the local community and the National Trust with the aim of showing just how important the building has been, and still continues to be, to the village.

Lavenham Guildhall’s new exhibition, Our Village Through Time, will be open to visitors from Saturday 28 February, seven-days-a-week. We really hope everyone who chooses to visit has an enjoyable and enlightening time.

Blickling’s Walled Garden to be brought back to life

Of the 140 walled gardens looked after by the National Trust, 30 have been restored to their former glory, but many others still need saving! One of those is in Norfolk and we’re pleased to report that thanks to your support, work has now started on the regeneration of Blickling’s disused walled garden.

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So we spoke to Mike Owers, who with the help of a team of volunteers, has taken up the challenge to transform 1.5 acres of Blickling’s unused walled garden into a fully-functioning, living and breathing kitchen garden once more. You could call it every gardener’s dream – the chance to recreate a long-lost, historic walled garden…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere has been a Walled Garden at Blickling since the early 1600s, but most of the detailed evidence we have relates to the 1700s onwards. In its heyday we know it would have covered approximately four acres.

Our plan is to return the walled garden to a working kitchen garden for the first time since the 1950s, supplying fruit and vegetables to the restaurant. We’re going to be basing the layout on a design similar to how the garden looked back then. But we’re not trying to bring back exactly what was here in the past. Rather we want to recapture the spirit of what was here, while still making use of modern techniques and plants.

We have a lot of history to draw on and it is important we are honest to that, but we must also produce a garden for now and not just look back to the past.

Aerial photo of 1948

Aerial photo of the Walled Garden taken in 1948

We’ll be using East Anglian varieties of fruit and vegetable, with those originating in Norfolk given preference where possible. We’re also researching historical documents to discover which of the heritage varieties that once grew at Blickling can be brought back.

It’s fascinating when you start digging into these documents. Take the mysterious Colonel Harbord’s Pippin for example, which is thought to be a very large cooking apple that is now thought to be a lost variety. According to legend, it can grow up to 11 inches round, we’re certainly willing to see if we can bring it back and check if that’s the case!

“Part of our desire as a conservation charity is of course to nurture the walled gardens in our care, but we also want to open up the secrets of growing fruit and veg to more people of more ages. Improving our gardens will allow us to reach out to more people and inspire the new generations of Percy Throwers and Monty Dons to get involved.” Mike Calnan, Head of Gardens at the National Trust

We’ve also started work to restore one of the glasshouses in the kitchen garden, with another planned later in the project. This is where we will propagate vegetable plants, but also cut flowers for the house and plants for the rest of the ornamental gardens at Blickling.

Late 19th century photo of glass housesGlasshouses in the late 19th century

So we have a lot of work to do over the next five years. The estate has already impressively secured some 70% of the required funding from the sale of books in their second-hand bookshop, leaving £90,000 to raise. So keep your eyes peeled on the hive of activity taking place at Blickling on your next visit.

World Wetlands Day highlights the importance of Wicken Fen

On 2 February 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar, the importance and value of wetlands was finally recognised. The international treaty that was signed that day has since provided a framework for national action and international co-operation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. Each February, World Wetlands Day is observed around the world to mark this moment and raise awareness of the wetlands of our future.

Reeds at Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve, Cambridgeshire, in April.Photo credit: National Trust Images / Robert Morris

Wetlands are land areas that are saturated or flooded with water either permanently or seasonally. Inland wetlands include marshes, ponds, lakes, fens, rivers, floodplains, and swamps. Coastal wetlands include saltwater marshes, estuaries, mangroves, lagoons and even coral reefs. Wetlands range in size from less than a single hectare to the Pantanal in Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay, which covers an area three times the size of Ireland.

Across the world, over 2000 wetlands of international importance have now been designated RAMSAR sites, covering over 208 million hectares. However, recent studies have also shown that 64% of the world’s wetlands have disappeared since 1900. So why is it so important we help to protect them?

Well wetlands act as a natural sponge against flooding and drought, they protect our coastlines and mitigate against climate change. They’re also bursting with biodiversity, filter our water supply and are a vital means of storing carbon.

This year one of Europe’s most important wetlands, Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve, will mark its 20th anniversary since it was designated a Wetland of International Importance. Joan Childs, is the manager of the reserve…

“Wicken Fen is a unique remnant of the Great Fen Basin that once covered the vast lowlands of Cambridgeshire, Suffolk, Norfolk and Lincolnshire; an area of approximately 3,850 km2. The vast majority of this land area has been drained for agriculture with only around 0.1% surviving in its original wild un-drained state.

Since 1999, the National Trust has created an additional 200 hectares of wetland habitat as part of the Wicken Fen Vision and the reserve now supports over 8,600 species. The Vision is the Trust’s long-term plan to create a landscape scale nature reserve stretching from Wicken Fen to the outskirts of Cambridge, creating new habitats for the benefits of wildlife and humans alike.”

So next time you visit Wicken Fen, remember you’re walking through a wetland that needs your support. And as part of World Wetlands Day on 2 February, a picture of Wicken Fen could be your ticket to a world adventure! The Wetlands Youth Photo Contest is open to anyone aged between 15 – 24 years of age. Photographs should be taken between 2 February and 2 March 2015 and the winning photographer will receive a free flight to a famous wetland of their choice, courtesy of Star Alliance Biosphere Connections.

Anglesey Abbey’s ever-evolving Winter Garden

It’s not just the delicate snowdrops that are the star attraction at Anglesey Abbey, visitors are often left spellbound by the beautiful Himalayan Silver Birch grove, which has become an iconic feature of the Winter Garden. And thanks to your support, work has now started on a new project to plant 112 more trees to extend and safeguard this plantation for the future.      

Silver birch trees in The Winter Walk at Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire.

We asked Head Gardener Richard Todd, who has been gardening at Anglesey Abbey for more than 40 years, to tell us more about the ever-evolving gardens, which are among Cambridgeshire’s greatest horticultural treasures…

Richard Todd, Head Gardener, at Anglesey Abbey, CambridgeshireWinter may seem like the time to put your feet up and sit by the fire with a warming tipple – but not at Anglesey Abbey! The Winter Garden bursts into life at this time of year. Designed specifically with plants that give winter colour and fragrance, it’s a beautiful sight that always stops people in their tracks.

Prunus serrula, Cornus sanguinea 'Winter Beauty' at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire.Along the 450m serpentine pathway, coloured stems and barks come into their own. I can honestly say the winter borders are my favourite part of the gardens. The way the light picks out the peeling bark on the Tibetan cherry, it’s that lovely rich red, it really glows. And the way the light shines through the miscanthus, the tall grasses – I love that! But for many the silver birch grove is their favourite spot and we want that to remain the case for generations to come, working to preserve and conserve the garden, but also develop it for the future.

The closely planted trees, with their brilliant white trunks are the perfect contrast to the thousands of Tulipa ‘little beauty’ that emerge at their feet in spring; whilst creative lighting transforms them into an enchanted wonderland during our annual Winter Lights Festival.

Copse of Betula utilis var. jacquemontii at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire.

We always knew there would be a time when the trees would need to be replaced. We’re not there yet, but are very conscious that a plan needs to be implemented sooner rather than later to keep this much loved area of the garden alive and well. I think of it as a piece of horticultural art. It’s a piece of artistic planting; a living sculpture, if you like.

The plan is to extend the area beyond the current plantation of Birch and plant this with a new younger plantation. This means our Himalayan Silver Birch grove, will initially more than double in size, creating an amazing experience as it grows. But there will of course come the time when the original planting will need to be worked on to regenerate it. This will not happen until the second planting is sufficiently established in 10 years or so and by then the new trees will be ready to take their place.

Our job is to preserve and conserve – but we also want the garden to evolve. A lot of gardens within the Trust had been developed over generations, but Lord Fairhaven had only been here for 40 years when he died in 1966. If he’d lived longer, the garden would have developed further. The way I look at it, we’re picking up the baton, finishing what he started.

So if you’re visiting over the coming weeks to see the magnificent snowdrop displays, you’ll see that work has already started as the site has been cleared of old trees and shrubbery ready for planting the new saplings in February. We will be planting 112 new trees in total and this is only possible thanks to your support, here’s how you can help.

Photo credits: National Trust Images Marianne Majerus / Rod Edwards

Blakeney seals its place in the record books

Blakeney Point has shot to number one as the largest breeding site for grey seals in England. The number of grey seals born on this beautiful stretch of Norfolk coastline has increased one hundredfold in just 14 years, when the first 25 pups were born on the spit.

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Photo credit: Ian Ward

National Trust rangers monitor the colony by tracking and recording seal pups born at Blakeney Point throughout the winter. The count, which began in November, revealed that a total of 2426 seals were born this season, almost double the number born there just two years ago.

So, we asked coastal ranger, Ajay Tegala, who lives on Blakeney Point to tell us more…

Ajay Tegala Old Lifeboat stationThis season has been absolutely incredible at Blakeney. It’s breathtaking to see such large numbers. Having first been here five years ago, you can see how much it has increased in such a short space of time. It really is mind-blowing to see the change.

Blakeney is a perfect site for grey seals, not least because of the absence of predators and the relative remoteness which keeps disturbance to a minimum. On top of that, it’s a safe place with a sheltered, sandy beach providing plenty of space to support the large numbers, which keeps mortality rates low.

In December 2013 we saw seal rookeries across England devastated by a tidal surge which hit the English coastline. However, at Blakeney the height of sand dunes kept the colony protected, meaning that they were barely affected.

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As well as grey seals, the rare habitat of sand dunes on the shingle ridge at Blakeney Point attracts unusual plants, insects and birds, making it a popular destination for walkers. However, disturbance caused by walkers during the breeding season increases the chances of fighting amongst the adult grey seals, which can lead to pups being crushed.

To help prevent disturbance to the seals and to keep visitors safe, we’ve fenced off the westerly-most mile of Blakeney Point’s beach and dunes. Signposted viewing areas have been introduced, keeping access open while limiting the dangers to seals and walkers.

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Photo credit: Ian Ward

A more intimate view of the colony will be available on the new series of BBC Winterwatch which begins on Monday 19 January. Thermal imaging techniques were used for the first time to film the reserve at night, when the seal pups are born.

Across the National Trust, there are a number of other sites which give visitors the chance to see this winter wildlife spectacle. Coastal spots include Giant’s Causeway, Baggy Point and the Farne Islands. The Farnes have also celebrated a successful breeding season, with the rangers recording a total of 1651 seal pups born this winter, the islands’ highest total since 1971.

The record-breaking year for Blakeney Point comes as the National Trust kicks off a year of celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of its Neptune campaign. Launched in 1965, the campaign set out to raise £2 million to protect coastline around England, Wales and Northern Ireland from the threat of development. Fifty years later, the appeal has raised more than £65 million and the Trust now protects and cares for 742 miles of coastline.

Supporters wishing to donate to help the National Trust look after the coastline around the East of England and the wildlife which calls it home, including the grey seals, can text NTCOAST to 70060 to give £3.

Wildlife has a rollercoaster of a year

Extreme weather in 2014 created an unpredictable rollercoaster of a year for our beleaguered wildlife and saw a raft of migrant species visiting our shores.

spoonbill-Joe-Cockram

The winter storms had a huge impact on the coastline we look after and our rangers witnessed several years’ worth of erosion. Inland many of the gardens and parklands in our care suffered their greatest tree losses in almost 30 years.

“This was a remarkable year for much of our wildlife, with many extreme highs and lows. Some species fared exceptionally well, others very poorly, with many faring differently from region to region,” said Matthew Oates, National Trust nature and wildlife specialist.

After such a helter-skelter year we wonder what lies ahead for wildlife in the face of the long term challenges of habitat loss and climate change.

Here were some of the wildlife highs and lows of 2014:

Winter storms batter the coast
2014 was marked by a wild wet and windy start. The 2013/14 winter was the stormiest on record for the UK and January the wettest on record for England and Wales. Our coastline took the full force of the storms and at Blakeney in Norfolk severe tidal surges changed the beach profile, forcing little terns to nest in low areas. High tides in June caused the low-lying nests to flood resulting in a poor breeding season.

Spring arrives early
The mild winter weather gave way to an early but rapid spring which arrived with a bang on 7 March. Primroses and celandines put on a short but spectacular show while insects such as bumblebees and butterflies appeared far earlier than usual. It was also a good breeding season for frogs and toads, particularly at Sheringham Park.

April showers
The good weather held until the rain began in the last week of April, which unfortunately wiped out the early spring insects. The early spring had brought an outstanding bluebell season to the Blickling Estate in Norfolk however it was also swiftly halted by the wet weather at the end of the month. Most trees unfurled their leaves early and quickly.

May leads to new discoveries
Despite the wet beginning and end to the month, May was recorded as the third warmest spring on record. The right weather conditions help the return of the rare fen violet at Wicken Fen which was last spotted in 2003. And the field fleawort is rediscovered on Dunstable Downs after an absence of 40 years due to the long and generally warm spring.

Fen Violet May 2014 022

The start of a long hot summer
After a wet start to the year June was blessed with a hot and dry spell. The sunny weather brought lots of butterflies out early. However, Little terns at Blakeney were washed out with only 10 young from 108 breeding pairs.

The rise of the biting fly
In July the hot and sunny weather continued however with it came thunderstorms. Conditions proved perfect for many horse flies, midges and mosquitoes, which breed in moist ground or shallow water. We also found that wildlife was thriving in the waters at Oxburgh following work to repair the watercourses running through the Estate, as well as  prevent the moat around the Hall from leaking.

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A second spring
The second driest September on record (and one of the five warmest) meant an abundance of nuts, seeds and berries on branches. A 2-spot ladybird at Wimpole in Cambridgeshire was the 100 millionth record to be submitted to the National Biodiversity Network this month.

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Feasting on fungi
September’s drought had a negative impact on autumn fungi. This was damaged further due to an abundance of slugs in October thanks to the wet and mild conditions. But there was some good news, the tantsy beetle was re-introduced at Wicken Fen, currently under threat in the UK, this species hasn’t been seen at Wicken for more than 30 years, until now that is.

Tansy beetle (c) Richard Aspinall - web

Not such a white winter?
We experienced a surprisingly warm start to winter. In the south of the UK, roses and other flowers lingered longer in the absence of hard frosts which didn’t appear until 23 November. Due to the mild conditions the sea remained warm, resulting in a rare sighting of 28 long-finned pilot whales off the north Norfolk coast. Also in Norfolk a rising seal pup count meant Blakeney Point became the largest breeding colony of Atlantic grey seals in England. With over 2,300 seal pups born in recent months, that’s 800 more than last year. It’s great to see how well there doing, when you consider that there were only 25 pups born back in 2001.

Seal pup born on Blakeney Point, Nov 2014 - Photo by Justin MinnsPhoto credits: Justin Minns, North East Wildlife, Richard Aspinall, Carol Laidlaw, Joe Cockram