National Trust’s coastline campaign celebrates 50 years

We go to the coast to play, to relax and to connect with the natural world and the elements. Trips to the seaside are deeply engrained in our collective memory and we need to cherish them. Thanks to your support, the National Trust now cares for 117 miles of coastline in the East of England and this year we hope you’ll join us as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of our coastline campaign.

Sheringham-31 (1)Sheringham Park, Norfolk (photo credit Justin Minns)

Thank you to everyone who has worked so hard and given so generously. We hope you agree, that it’s important that Britain’s shores stay as beautiful as they were when we were children – for today’s children and generations to come.

Watch the short film below to see just what makes the coast in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex so special and why your help is so important…

As we look ahead to the next 50 years and beyond, the questions we’re addressing have changed, from ‘What piece of coastline needs saving?’ to ‘How can we manage our coastline with foresight and sensitivity?’ And, ‘How can we help people enjoy it more?’

We want there to be enough space for wildlife to thrive and for people to enjoy all that the coast has to offer, and we’ll be working with partners, tenant farmers, neighbours and local communities to make this happen.

It takes an intimate knowledge of the features and conditions of each stretch of coastline. But ultimately, our vision in the years ahead is to work with natural processes as they continuously shape our coastline, conserve our coastal and marine wildlife, and where possible we’d like nothing to get in the way of an amazing view. We’ll help more people enjoy access to the seaside, celebrate the history that has shaped our coastline and explore ways to continue to raise funds for its care.

Living on an island with a proud maritime history, we all have a deep emotional attachment to the coast and the sea. If you’d like to donate and help the National Trust to continue to look after the coastline in the East, please text NTCOAST to 70060 to give £3.

*This is a charity donation service. You will be charged £3, plus one message at your standard network rate. The National Trust will receive 100% of your donation.

Unique mapping project to capture the sounds of our shores

From the crashing of waves to the sound of children’s laughter floating on the air. The shrill of a victorious arcade machine to the wall of noise from a seabird colony; these are the sounds of our shores.

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As the National Trust celebrates the 50th year of its Neptune Coastline Campaign and the 775 miles of coastline it looks after, we’ve joined forces with the British Library and the National Trust for Scotland to celebrate every inch of the coastline by creating the UK’s first ever coastal soundmap.

This week, Cheryl Tipp, Wildlife and Environmental Sounds Curator, at the British Library reveals more about the project…

Over the next three months, the project is encouraging everyone to grab their smartphones or digital recorders and head out to capture sounds from along our much-loved coastline; from the bustling beaches of Cornwall to the remote cliffs of the Scottish islands, or the urban humdrum of the Thames Estuary.

These sounds play a powerful part in shaping our memories of days spent on the coast. They have a wonderful way of connecting us to our favourite places. For some it might be the sound of the waves lapping along the shore on a favourite seaside stroll or the comfort of a whistling kettle from inside a beach hut, ready to warm you up after a valiant swim in the still biting sea.

Whatever it is, once you’ve found the sounds that perfectly capture your idea of the coast, you can upload them to the sound map via the audioBoom ‘sounds of our shores’ channel. Tag the location of the recording, add a picture and jot down a few words describing the sound and what it means to you. We’d love to hear your stories about favourite coastal sounds that remind you of your seaside experiences.

For those who would like some more guidance on sound recording, keep an eye on the Sounds of our Shores website. As well as being able to hear what other people have been recording, you can also check out a list of ‘top tips’ – including a new use for that odd sock you’re about to throw out!

The project will run until 21 September so there is plenty of time to upload your sounds.  We’ll be picking out our favourites throughout the project so make sure you share yours with us on social media using #shoresounds.

Runnymede, Magna Carta and the Anglesey Abbey connection

Magna Carta is perhaps the most famous example from history of a monarch conceding powers to his subjects. This June marks the 800th anniversary of this Great Charter of Liberties being sealed, on the meadows of Runnymede in Surrey.

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Ben Cowell is Regional Director of the National Trust in the East of England, and author of the new National Trust guidebook to Runnymede and the Magna Carta…

In 1215 England was in political turmoil. King John had become vastly unpopular, thanks to bitter disagreements with the church and a series of high taxes to fund ongoing war with France. An alliance of disgruntled barons and important members of the clergy had been mounting pressure on the king for years. At the start of 1215 the barons seized control of London – giving him no choice but to negotiate.

Events came to a head in June, when King John finally met with the barons to hear their demands. By 15 June he agreed to seal the proposed ‘Great Charter of Liberty’, enshrining their rights in law.

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The charter represented a colossal climb-down for the king, who not long afterwards reneged on the agreement and plunged the country into civil war. But the Magna Carta survived. After John’s death in October 1216 it was reissued in the name of his 9-year-old son and heir Henry III, in a smart piece of statecraft by William Marshal, the king’s regent. The move was enough to end the civil war and restore order.

Magna Carta went on to be reissued again several times by Henry III and his successors, each an attempt to unify the nation by reaffirming the limits of the king’s authority. Kings may have ruled by divine right, but Magna Carta demonstrated that they operated within some commonly agreed constraints.

Two clauses in particular remain of fundamental importance to us today – the freedom from arbitrary imprisonment, and the right to a fair trial. These clauses are now regarded as the basis of our modern system of law and governance, and are the reason why Magna Carta is still venerated, 800 years on. The barons and King John himself could never have imagined it, but their actions on that June day in 1215 changed the course of human history forever.

Magna Carta has not always been held in such esteem in the country of its origin. By Shakespeare’s time, the charter had almost been forgotten (the bard’s play about King John does not even mention it). Its significance grew in the era of the Civil War, at a time when the limits of monarchical authority were again under intense scrutiny.

But in many ways we owe it to our American cousins for keeping faith with the Charter of Liberties. Its clauses directly influenced the USA’s founding documents, and some US states still keep Magna Carta on their statute books today.

Runnymede is today managed by the National Trust, but it very nearly was lost to development. Its open, natural character was only saved by the generosity of the Broughton family, who also went on to bequeath Anglesey Abbey near Cambridge to the nation. This link explains why visitors to Anglesey Abbey are able to see numerous references to Magna Carta in the collections on display in the house.

Urban Broughton made his fortune in America and married the daughter of a wealthy American industrialist. The family’s fortune enabled them to acquire several properties in England. He and his wife offered to buy the meadows at Runnymede, in order to save them for the nation. Urban was nominated for a peerage, but died in January 1929 before he could assume the title.

Cara, his wife, became Lady Fairhaven, and his eldest son became the 1st Lord Fairhaven. Lady Fairhaven and her two sons purchased the meadows at Runnymede in December 1929 in Urban’s memory, and passed them to the National Trust for protection in perpetuity.

Lord Fairhaven by this time had also acquired Anglesey Abbey near Cambridge. For more than forty years he carried out extensive improvements to the property, and filled it with fine art. A special gallery was built simply to display Lord Fairhaven’s collection of views of Windsor Castle, which include one of nearby Runnymede. His library meanwhile holds a unique edition of Magna Carta, produced to mark its 600th anniversary in 1815 and printed using gold leaf.

As part of the 800th anniversary celebrations we’ve teamed up with the Houses of Parliament to ask the nation to take a moment to celebrate, debate and reflect on their liberties by hosting or joining in at a LiberTeas event on Sunday 14 June. LiberTeas events will be taking place at Anglesey Abbey, Shaw’s Corner and Peckover House.

New experience at Blickling, set to reveal story of Lord Lothian

You may never have heard of Philip Kerr, 11th Marquess of Lothian, but he’s vital to the story of the National Trust. Without him, it’s unlikely Blickling Estate would still be here for you to explore, along with the hundreds of other places you love.

The Parterre Garden at Blickling Estate, Norfolk.

2015 marks the 75th year since Philip’s untimely death and bequest of Blickling to the National Trust. From the 6 June, visitors will be able to immerse themselves in a new visitor experience that will reveal the world of this politician and diplomat, who entertained the powerful and famous on this Norfolk Estate.

Working alongside November Club, an award winning arts company known for their unique approach to storytelling, we’ll be inviting visitors to see parts of the house he used privately, as well as for entertaining; and photographs, sounds, objects (and even smells) will create a sense of what it would have been like to be a house guest in the period leading up to the Second World War.

In the most radical change to our visitor experience since the house opened in 1948, it will feel as if Lothian has just stepped out of his country house.

So who was this man and what’s his story? Jo Bosch from Blickling fills us in…

Philip Kerr, the 11th Marquess of Lothian inherited the Blickling Estate in 1930, having already embarked on a successful political career. He was a leading statesman between the two wars, forging a career as secretary to the Prime Minster, Lloyd George.

20131209-_R9A5217He was also a member of the so-called ‘Cliveden Set’ of the 1930s and used Blickling to entertain the country’s first lady MP Nancy Astor, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, comedienne Joyce Grenfell and more controversially, German Ambassador Joachim Von Ribbentrop.

During this time, he also carried out a number of alterations to the interior of the house and to the gardens, with horticultural advice from famous socialite and garden designer Norah Lindsay.

But matters on the home front also occupied his thoughts. In 1934 he addressed the National Trust’s annual meeting, warning of the perils confronting historic houses and strongly urging the formation of a Country Houses Scheme. He understood the importance that country estates would have in protecting open spaces for future generations, saying:

“I venture to think that the country houses of Britain with their gardens, their parks, their pictures, their furniture and their peculiar architectural charm, represent a treasure of quiet beauty…”

During a critical period in which he met twice with Adolf Hitler to try to negotiate peace in Europe, Lothian became instrumental in passing the National Trust Act  which enabled the first large-scale transfer of country houses to the National Trust in lieu of death duties.

Unable to avert war, he became Ambassador to the USA in 1939 and played a major role in encouraging the USA, then neutral, to supply Great Britain with weapons, warships and food to support the war effort, an act which arguably changed the course of the war. He persuaded a reluctant Churchill to write to President Roosevelt, arguing that Britain must put all its cards on the table to show that, if America didn’t help, the war would likely be lost.

Lord Lothian died in 1940 leaving Blickling’s house, most of its contents and 4500-acre estate to the National Trust in his Will, ‘subject to regular access to it by the public.’  He understood that the preservation of the fine Jacobean house and its historic garden and parkland depended upon the public visiting it regularly and holding it dear. As it happened, Blickling was one of the first houses to be approved for ownership by the National Trust under the Country Houses Scheme, an irony which wouldn’t have been lost on Lothian.

His bequest enabled the preservation of Blickling and paved the way for the subsequent acquisition by the National Trust of many of the houses that are visited and loved by National Trust members in this country and beyond. We hope you will come to admire Philip Kerr, Lord Lothian, as much as we do and to understand just how important he is to your life today.

You’ll find things looking a little different inside the Hall this year. We hope that it encourages debate and reflection, and helps you to answer the question “Why are you here?” Come and experience the story for yourself from 6 June and find out more about the man who gifted one of our great country houses to the nation.

Unravelling Paycocke’s

A new interpretation project at Paycocke’s House has just been completed, revealing the history of this Tudor house in a way that seeks to make sense of the unknown.

Five years ago, Paycocke’s in Coggeshall was a tenanted residence, now it’s open to visitors five-days-a-week. With visitors arriving in their thousands each year, we knew we needed to improve the way we revealed the story of this house. So we asked House Manager, Karen Marchlik, to tell us how the team have done it…

The history of Paycocke’s is both varied and mysterious, going from humble medieval butcher’s dwelling to a grand wool merchant’s home and business premises; from shabby Victorian tenements to carriage haulier’s shop and store-rooms; and finally from restored tenanted town house to somewhere visitors today can experience their heritage.

Susannah Elliott and Jane Roberts who worked with the National Trust to deliver the award-winning Ickworth Lives project have helped us deliver another fascinating experience for visitors. The new scheme devised by them focuses on the two people most important in the House’s story – Thomas Paycocke, the wealthy Tudor wool merchant who built the flamboyant north front and Noel Buxton, the brilliant liberal politician who from 1905 spent 20 years restoring the house his family owned centuries before.

The first thing to do was to distill the story of the building and its people and we have displayed this history on colourful woollen banners in the rooms. These are a nod both to Thomas Paycocke’s great wealth, accumulated through the East Anglian wool trade, and to late medieval wall hangings.

BANNER IN HALL

Thomas Paycocke’s Study has been completely re-displayed, taking it right back to the office of this important Tudor man of business, with the set-dressing of objects to add detail. Cutting-edge technology has been used with energy-efficient flickering lightbulbs mounted in wax candlesticks. Throughout the House the lighting has been improved to make it more period-appropriate and to make greater use of light and shade to create mood and atmosphere.

Upstairs arguably the most exciting room is the simplest – in the Ante Chamber samples of wool-cloth believed to be as close as possible to the ‘Coggeshall-whites’ that made this town famous are draped over timber frames. This is in part an art installation and in part a reference to the commercial use of the House as a business premises. Either way it makes a big impact on visitors with the light shining through the cloths in channels. It also refers to the vertical stepladder that used to allow access up to the floor above.

Ante Chamber

Placed around the House are free-standing displays that tell the story of different people connected with the House using a variety of objects, documents and pictures. The one (pictured below) in a gardener’s box tells us about Miriam Noel, the wife of Buxton’s cousin Conrad. She was a keen gardener who set out the Arts and Crafts garden in the early twentieth century.

MIRIAM NOEL

The passing of messages has been subtle yet effective, the bedspread upstairs sums up the spirit of Paycocke’s whilst around the table cloth of the dining table in the Chamber (which looks like a scene from Wolf Hall) are listed the many duties of a Tudor wife in managing the home. The table is set for two, a reference to the sad fact that with neither of his two wives was Thomas Paycocke able to see a child, his daughter being born shortly after his death.

The volunteers have been instrumental in shaping the detail of this project. Their research and sense-checking has been invaluable for elements such as the architectural folders for those wanting to delve deeper. These tell the story of the real star – the building itself.

There has never been a better time to visit Paycocke’s. We hope you like the new experience and we’d love to know what you think on your next visit to us.

Manuscripts return to Peckover House

Ancient and fascinating manuscripts, which were once the pride and joy of Lord Peckover’s library, have returned to Peckover House for the first time in more than 80 years.

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We caught up with the House Manager at Peckover, Ben Rickett…

Alexander, Lord Peckover, was an avid collector of rare and ancient books and amongst his treasured collection were a number of illuminated medieval manuscripts, dating from the 13th to 15th century.

After his death, some of his collection was sold; they went to other private collectors and eventually found their way to the Blackburn Museum in Lancashire. Now, for the first time some of those books are returning to Peckover and will be on display this summer.

“I’m delighted that these beautiful books are returning to Peckover. It’s the culmination of two years’ work with the museum to bring them here and now that the relationship with Blackburn has been established, we hope to borrow other items in future years.”

One of the books to go on display is known these days as The Peckover Psalter, to honour Alexander’s past collection.

The words of the psalms in this beautiful book are lavishly decorated and illuminated with gold. It begins with a calendar of important feasts and saints’ days, and is decorated with signs of the zodiac to depict the time of year. Enclosed within the opening words of the first psalm are scenes from the life of King David – firstly with his harp as he composed the psalms, then as a boy with his sling shot confronting the giant Goliath.

The psalter is thought to have been created in a Parisian monastery in around 1220. Following a long life, during which it had been extraordinarily well cared for, it found its way to the collection of Alexander, Lord Peckover, by the end of the 19th century. He greatly valued these ancient religious works, having an innate understanding of their quality and beauty, and his collection would have been considered priceless today, had it remained together.

Sadly, it was sold by the family in 1927, passing into the collection of Mr. R E Hart who then bequeathed it to the Blackburn Museum. The museum has very kindly loaned the Peckover Psalter and four other manuscripts, also believed to have been part of Lord Peckover’s collection. They are now on display where they originally would have enjoyed pride of place – Lord Peckover’s library.

Alexander’s library was once renowned for its valuable collection of early bibles, atlases and early printed books. So it’s great to see these manuscripts back on temporary loan.

The manuscripts will be on display at Peckover House until 1 November 2015.

National Trust to complete largest ever survey of its coastal wildlife

This summer, hundreds of wildlife lovers and nature experts will help the National Trust to carry out its largest ever survey of coastal wildlife as part of the conservation charity’s year-long celebrations of the coast.

National Trust Images / John Millar

24 places along the 775 miles of coastline looked after by the National Trust across England, Wales and Northern Ireland will host a BioBlitz, a race against the clock involving rangers, experts and members of the public to record as many different species as possible.

In the East of England, BioBlitzes are due to take place at Dunwich Heath (27/28 May), Brancaster (20 June), Copt Hall (7/8 August) and Blakeney (5 September).

Everyone who gets involved in the BioBlitzes will be looking for wildlife and discovering nature found in rock pools, sand dunes, woodland and heathland around the coast.

David Bullock, Head of Nature Conservation for the National Trust, said:

“We know that people visit Trust properties on the coast because they are so beautiful. But we also know that many would like to get under the skin of what is there; the special plants and animals that call it home.

“Our coastal BioBlitzes offer a unique opportunity for experts to tell us more about the wildlife that is on our coasts, and for visitors to learn more about what is in the rock pools and mud, and what can be found flying around at night.”

All discoveries will be submitted to local wildlife record centres and the National Biodiversity Network to help understand how wildlife along the coast is changing. The findings will also help to determine the conservation management needs of each property. The BioBlitzes are part of our year of celebrations along the coastline making 50 years since the launch of the Neptune Coastline Campaign.

National Trust Images / John Millar

As well as BioBlitzes, the Trust will also be partnering up with Butterfly Conservation during the summer to carry out surveys of butterflies and moths on the coastline as part of the annual Big Butterfly Count. People will be encouraged to count butterflies in coastal places, between 19 July and 9 August, with the focus of the survey on the Common Blue to discover whether it thrives better closer to the sea than inland.

More than £65 million has been raised through Neptune over the last 50 years, enabling the National Trust to protect and care for some of the most beautiful, environmentally significant and historically valuable stretches of coastline.

Securing the future of Suffolk’s coastal heathland

More than 36 acres of coastal heathland are set to be opened to visitors and managed as valuable wildlife habitat following an acquisition by the National Trust at Dunwich Heath.

Dunwich Heath-1Photo credits: Justin Minns

We asked Countryside Manager, Grant Lohoar, to explain…

On 11 May 1965, the National Trust launched the Neptune Coastline Campaign, a fundraising campaign with a single focus – to protect the coast. Named after the Roman God of the Sea, Neptune tapped deep into our emotional roots. We Brits love our coast, and many people recognised that it was under threat so gave generously. It all made a huge difference and over the past 50 years Neptune has raised more than £65 million.

This fund has enabled the National Trust to buy and look after significant stretches of coast, to protect them for everyone to enjoy, for ever. The next 50 years is likely to present an even greater challenge as the pressures on the coast – from people and from climate change – become more extreme and widespread.

The new land we’ve acquired, which is adjacent to Dunwich Heath, has been purchased as part of long-term plans to secure the future of this constantly changing stretch of Suffolk coastline.

Re-named Mount Pleasant Heath, the 36.5 acres will be incorporated into Dunwich Heath, meaning visitors will be able to explore further, and the wildlife that already calls this land home will have a secure future.

We know that much of the Suffolk coastline is subject to change, both through coastal erosion and from extreme weather events, such as the tidal surge seen in December 2013. So, it is vital for us to plan ahead and ensure we are providing places for both our visitors to discover and explore and for wildlife to thrive.

Formerly farm land, Mount Pleasant Heath was purchased with funding both from Neptune and largely thanks to a grant from WREN, which funds community, conservation and heritage projects. The funding was provided through WREN’s FCC Biodiversity Action Fund.

Being able to purchase this land means we will be able to care for it to the same high standards already in place across the rest of Dunwich Heath and goes a long way towards helping to secure the future for this very special place, which is home to Dartford warblers, nightjars and woodlarks.

Dunwich Heath itself was purchased as part of the Neptune Campaign, and so it is very fitting that we are able to continue that legacy today.

We are grateful to our donors from WREN and to everyone who has contributed to the Neptune fund, those donations have made a significant contribution to the future of this part of the Suffolk coast. To find out how you can support our work on the coast or want to know more about the events we have planned in this anniversary year, check out our coastal programme for 2015.

70 years on from VE Day

Many places now looked after by the National Trust played their part in defending our country during the Second World War. As we mark the 70th anniversary of VE Day on 8 May, we look back at the role these places once played…

The view from one of the weapons slots in a pillbox in Sheringham Park REDUCEDView from pillbox at Sheringham Park

Troops get royal send-off at Melford
Just a few days before the D-Day landings in June 1944, King George VI visited Melford Hall in Suffolk to inspect British soldiers preparing for the Normandy landings. The men of the 1st Battalion, Royal Hampshire Regiment, were about to go into action as spearhead troops in the assault on Gold Beach, one of the landing sites in the battle to wrestle Europe from Hitler’s grasp.

Old photos copied at lavenham 010

Melford Hall, still in private ownership in those days, had been requisitioned and occupied by the British Army earlier in the war. This event was undoubtedly something that brought home the harsh realities of the Second World War to rural Suffolk, which was a relatively safe place when compared to the urban centres suffering so badly from German bombings.

By the end of the war 12 successive battalions from nine regiments had made the Estate their home, living in the house or camped out in Nissen huts in the surrounding parkland.

“My final memories of the war are as a child on VE Day, standing by the biggest bonfire I have ever seen, on Long Melford Green. There were no fireworks during the war, so the army fired endless flares that criss-crossed the sky like searchlights, but in red, green and yellow. There were troops from the camps at Melford Hall and Kentwell Hall, Americans from the aerodromes at Alpheton and Acton, and us from Melford with the many evacuees who came from London to live with us.” Sir Richard Hyde Parker

Preparing for the D-Day landings at DunwichDunwich Heath-1The Coastguard Cottages with the lookout added (Photo: Justin Minns)

Preparations for war were also taking place on the Suffolk coast. Dunwich Heath had been requisitioned for military training, including for the D-Day landings. Shooting butts, still visible at Dunwich today, were used by soldiers for target practice and tank traps designed for both training purposes and to stop any possible German invasion, can also still be seen.

Dunwich may have been used primarily for training, but the threat of a German invasion fleet coming over the North Sea horizon was ever present. A tall lookout was added to the seaward end of the Coastguard Cottages in the early part of the war as an observation post, while anti-aircraft guns were sited on the cliffs and the beach was fortified with large concrete blocks, tank scaffolding and mines in a bid to stop invading forces.

Top secret weapons testing at Orford Ness

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Just down the coast and Orford Ness was the base for a top secret weapons testing programme, designed to give the allies the upper hand in the war. Experimental work concentrated on bomb ballistics and firing trials, experiments which grew in sophistication as the speed and height of aircraft increased and bombs became larger, culminating in the 22,000lb ‘earthquake’ bomb.

During the war and for some time afterwards, experiments also focused on determining the vulnerability of aircraft and aircraft components to attack by various projectiles. Whole aircraft or individual parts – such as fuel tanks, oxygen tanks or running engines – were subjected to carefully controlled and recorded simulations of attack.

Many of the former buildings and weapons testing laboratories used by the military, from before the war until the base’s closure, can still be seen at Orford Ness.

Preparing for an invasion at Sheringham ParkA restored pillbox in Sheringham Park and the view towards the sea REDUCEDPillbox with view towards the sea

Imagine it’s 1940 on the North Norfolk coast and nervous soldiers look out from positions in Sheringham Park, towards a horizon loaded with anticipation and fear. Hitler’s plans to invade Britain were well known and the whole of the area south-east of a line from Bristol to the Wash was placed on high alert by military commanders.

Sheringham Park, became the base for uniformed soldiers armed with Lee Enfield rifles, mortars and PIAT anti-tank weapons. Pillboxes were hastily constructed on the estate’s coastal edge and preparations made for possible German landings at Spalla Gap, a low-lying dip on the coastal ridge between Weybourne and Sheringham. An anti-tank ditch was also dug 30 yards inland and formed the first line of defence.

It’s easy to forget that all this actually happened from the relative security of the 21st century, the reality of Britain falling to invasion seems almost unthinkable. But if you take a trip to Sheringham Park you can still see the remains of these wartime defences.

Saluting the brave aircrews flying from Blickling
The fact Hitler’s planned invasion never came to fruition is in no small part thanks to the brave men of nearby Royal Air Force Oulton, which was a bomber base created on the Blickling Estate in 1939 that undertook work vital to the war effort. Remains of the airfield can still be seen in Oulton Street, just over a mile from Blickling Hall itself, where the aircrew were billeted. In 1940 it was home to 2 Group.

Flying lightly-defended Bristol Blenheim aircraft and facing the might of the Nazi’s air defences, these brave crews carried out bombing raids on key ports in occupied Europe. The success of the raids prevented Hitler from launching Operation Sealion – the codename for the invasion of Britain – by destroying important invasion shipping, installations and forcing the Germans onto the back foot.

But the success came with a very high price. Corporal W.D. ‘Skull’ Thomson was a member of the ground crew for 114 Squadron, part of 2 Group. Writing in 1983, he said:

“The growing casualties were horrendous, the average life expectancy of aircrew being some six weeks. There were many harrowing scenes of utter despair among the young wives who lodged nearby when their husbands did not return from ops.”

Planning the bombing raids in 1940

Blickling Hall was attacked regularly, with Luftwaffe pilots strafing the land with machine gun fire. On one occasion, the men were just tucking into their evening meal when the sound of low-flying aircraft was heard rapidly approaching Blickling.

“Suddenly came the ear-splitting crack of bombs exploding in the immediate vicinity,” said Cpl Thomson. “To a man, everyone moved at the same time – and all in different directions. Men could be seen everywhere with a plate carefully balanced in one hand and a full mug of hot tea in the other, all moving at a fast but carefully controlled pace, the top priority being to avoid spillage.”

Later in the war, RAF Oulton was the base for 100 Group, which flew missions using top secret radio counter-measures. Their job was to confuse and deceive the enemy, allowing the rest of the main force to complete their bombing runs.

The Second World War changed the country forever. Over the coming decades many of the places requisitioned during the war would in turn be placed in the care of the National Trust. Next time you visit, why not take a look at some of our nation’s hidden wartime history or delve into the past at places like Blickling’s RAF Museum?

Konik pony sponsorship scheme launched

They are the star turns of an ambitious project to create a truly natural habitat in the heart of Cambridgeshire – say hello to the wonderful Konik ponies of Wicken Fen. But can you help us care for them?

Wicken-Autumn-28Photo credits: Justin Minns Photography

Howard Cooper from Wicken Fen chatted to us about the ponies and the new sponsorship scheme that will help support their care…

Introduced to the National Trust’s nature reserve near Ely around 10 years ago, the herds of cattle and ponies earn their keep as natural grazers. They help manage the fenland environment and in turn encourage other species to flourish.

The animals have become a popular sight with visitors as they roam freely about the reserve’s wide open spaces, allowed to live as naturally as possible thanks to the Trust’s deliberate policy of minimal human intervention. Their introduction was part of a project known as the Wicken Fen Vision, which aims to create a landscape-scale nature reserve over the next 100 years that will provide a genuinely natural environment and an important refuge for wildlife.

Grazing animals are essential to influence the developing vegetation in this fen landscape. Some trees and shrubs may grow, but the grazers keep the landscape open and help the wetland and grassland plants to become established. Grazing animals, through their feeding and foraging behaviour, create different amounts of grazing pressure on different places and on different plants across the restoration land. This develops into subtly different habitats in the landscape, and these may change between seasons and years as the restoration proceeds.

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The Konik Polski is a very hardy, primitive looking breed originating from Eastern Europe. It is well-adapted to and thrives in wetland habitats and has been used successfully to help manage nature reserves right across Europe. They have a stolid nature and even temperament, even when left un-handled, so they make the perfect breed for an extensive grazing programme such as this.

They form small groups, known as harems because they are made up of females and young protected by one or two dominant stallions. There is a fascinating hierarchy between the groups, with the largest harem being the most dominant. It has primary access to drinking points, shelter and grazing over the other smaller harems and the group of bachelor males, who tend to stay on the margins of the herd. And the position of the mare within the harem is dependent upon her age, experience and the time she joined the harem.

Conflicts do happen and males will sometimes display and fight in order to defend their right to the females in their harem.

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But did you know it costs around £5,000 a year for us to care for a Konik? So, for our new Konik Pony Sponsorship Scheme, we’re asking for donations of £25 per year, for which you will receive a certificate, regular newsletter, the chance to name a foal and the opportunity to join our ranger’s on exclusive walks to see the ponies.

So, if you love the Konik ponies of Wicken Fen and want to sign up to sponsor one, then please e-mail wicken.koniks@nationaltrust.org.uk (yes – the koniks really do have their own e-mail!) for an application form.