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.


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.


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.


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

Orford-44 (1)

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.

Wicken-Autumn-30 (1)

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.


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.

Moving back into Blakeney Lifeboat House

As well as the return of the Common, Arctic and Little Tern, the time has come for our coastal rangers to move back out to Blakeney Point and into the Lifeboat House for another season.

blakeney-36Photo credits: Justin Minns

Ranger Ajay Tegala will be joined on the Point by this year’s seasonal assistants – Paul Nichols who is returning for his ninth season with his wife, Sarah, who is back for her second season. This year we’re also pleased to welcome our newest recruit to the team, Josh Barber.

We asked Paul what it’s like living on the Point and what it is about this part of the coast that brings him back each year…

P1030820From left to right, meet rangers Paul, Sarah and Ajay

I’ve been working as a seasonal ranger for the National Trust on Blakeney Point for the last eight years and can’t wait to get back out on the reserve to start my ninth season. Home for the majority of the year is the Lifeboat House, which is an iconic landmark on this stretch of Britain’s coastline. Visually appealing and bright blue, the Lifeboat House is visible for miles around.


Originally built in 1898 to house lifeboats for daring rescues out at sea, it only functioned for a few years before the build-up of shingle made it impossible to launch the boats. In 1923, Bob Pinchen, the first man employed to look after the Point moved in and ever since it has been home to National Trust rangers, with a brief interlude during the Second World War.

Visitors often ask us what the accommodation is like. We have four bedrooms, a kitchen and office/sitting room as well as bathroom facilities upstairs and downstairs. And the lookout tower on top of the Lifeboat House has a vantage point that I’d consider to be the best view in Norfolk. On a clear day you can see Beeston Bump to the East and Scolt Head Island to the West, while before you lies the scenic Blakeney Harbour full of boats in the summer. Then there are the coastal villages of Salthouse, Cley, Blakeney, Morston, Stiffkey and Wells.


From dawn till dusk on the Point you are serenaded by the most beautiful sounds of nature, be it skylarks singing, the harsh cries of the terns, or the mournful wailing and moaning of the grey seals, plus a myriad of different wader calls and songs. Your ears are always given a treat.

Many visual feasts are also on offer – my personal favourites include the seals scratching and yawning and the terns in a feeding frenzy that are continuously diving like a shower of white arrows onto a shoal of fish. I also enjoy watching the butterflies and day flying moths gliding and flitting through the dunes or feeding on the purple haze of sea lavender, which carpets the salt marsh in summer.

The life of a ranger is never dull and no two days are ever the same. We are on call 24/7 and have to respond to situations/crises at a minute’s notice, like a boat in distress. More common daily tasks include the continuous observation and recording of all forms of flora and fora seen on the reserve, and the protection of the breeding terns and waders. Plus we’re often out welcoming and talking to the thousands of visitors who make the trip out to the Point every year.

Blakeney Point has always been dear to me, but became even more so last year when I met my fellow seasonal ranger who I married in September.

To describe Blakeney Point in one word – magical.

Rewiring Shaw’s Corner

Behind the front door of Shaw’s Corner, work is underway to re-wire the house. A scene that playwright George Bernard Shaw would have been familiar with, when he first introduced electricity to his Hertfordshire home in the 1930s.

The rear garden and house at Shaw's Corner, HertfordshirePhoto credit: National Trust Images / James Dobson

Lizzie Dunford, Project Conservator, fills us in as to what’s happening…

One of the many fascinating things about working at Shaw’s Corner, is not only discovering George Bernard Shaw’s electrifying work, but also his passion for all things modern and the way he applied them to his homes.

I’ve been lucky enough to work at Shaw’s Corner for nearly five years, and in that time I’ve found out so much; from the ways that this great writer’s plays challenged the darker side of society to the fact that he used to eat sugar straight out of the bowl between meals.

But this spring I’ve been finding out more about the way Shaw’s Corner was powered in the past, as we embark on a modern day electrical project.

Cat sitting outside the back door at Shaw's Corner.

Behind this closed door is a hive of activity. The scenes would have been familiar to Bernard Shaw, from when he had the property first wired for electricity in the very early 1930s. Although I suspect that he would have very wisely gone on holiday while the work was taking place.

The floorboards are up, carpets are rolled back and all the furniture and bookshelves are shrouded in dust sheets, as our contractors follow the wiring around the bowels of the house.

Shaw brought electricity to Shaw’s Corner relatively late, but when he did, he brought it in style! He had constructed in the garden an “Accumulator House” designed and built by architects Parker and Unwin, who were also responsible for the nearby Letchworth Garden City, the vision of Shaw’s friend Ebenezer Howard.

The accumulators were batteries that powered the mains electricity in the house, including two Georgian silver candlesticks that were converted to light the Dining Room table. Unfortunately we don’t have any pictures of the Accumulator House in action, but we do have the original wiring diagram.


We’re also taking the opportunity to redecorate some of our spaces while the house is closed. We’ve started removing the peeling paper from the staircase and landing, revealing layers of paint, paper and plaster – dating right back 1902 and the original construction of the house!

Although the house is closed for a little longer this year, whilst we re-wire the house, visitors can still come and see our stunning garden.

We will be reopening at the end of June with an outdoor theatre performance of Shaw’s scandalous play Mrs Warren’s Profession.

Wicken Fen’s appeal – building a bridge for nature

This week Wicken Fen launched an appeal to raise £148,000 to build a bridge for nature. The bridge will link areas of the reserve, allowing the herds of Konik ponies and Highland cattle to range over a wider area, creating new habitats for our precious wildlife.

Wicken-Autumn-30 (1)Photo credit: Justin Minns

Howard Cooper from the Wicken Fen team talked to us about the appeal, why it’s important and what it will mean for the future…

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire is one of Europe’s most important wetlands, supporting some of Britain’s most declining species.

With your support this appeal will enable us to develop 300 hectares (741 acres) of land into a fenland, which is as rich in wildlife as the ancient part of Wicken Fen. Currently the two areas are separated by a road that the grazing animals can’t cross. We’re literally trying to bridge the gap.

tPhoto credit: Justin Minns

Here at Wicken Fen, Konik ponies and Highland cattle are helping us to manage the landscape naturally and create new habitats for wildlife. The bridge would mean that our ponies and cattle will be able to roam freely over the wider nature reserve.

This means that the seeds carried on the animals’ fur and in their faeces reach the newly accessible fenland, encouraging plants and habitats to flourish. So, they’ll naturally cultivate the grasslands, reed beds and swamplands, enriching biodiversity.

Did you know that over 2,600 viable seeds belonging to 18 plant families were germinated from horse dung samples collected once a month, for a calendar year on Wicken Fen!

Olympus OM-D E-M1

Photo credit: Paul Constable

Grazing animals are essential to influence the developing vegetation in this fen landscape.Through their feeding and foraging behaviour, they create different amounts of grazing pressure on different places and on different plants across the restoration land.

Some trees and shrubs may grow, but the grazers keep the landscape open and help the wetland and grassland plants to become established.

The cattle and ponies are the preferred species as, in combination, they offer us the diverse grazing characteristics we are looking for.

The hardiness of the Konik Ponies and Highland Cattle means they are more than capable of withstanding the rigours of a life on the fen throughout the year. These breeds also have temperaments well suited to the presence of people, although they can happily live with minimal human intervention.

The lack of human intrusion in their lives encourages members of the herds to determine where they go, what they do, who they want to be with and what they eat. This has given us the makings of as natural a herd of large grazers as it is possible to get in lowland Britain.


Photo credit: Justin Minns

In addition to grazing, these large animals create other habitats such as well trodden paths through areas of long grass, dusty hollows where they roll, water-filled hoof prints and piles of dung. The animals act as catalysts to introducing new types of flora and fauna to the fen.

The new habitats created by these grazing animals will go onto encourage some of Britain’s most rapidly declining species to flourish, from bitterns to hen harriers and skylarks and water voles to fen violets.

Olympus OM-D E-M1

Photo credit: Paul Constable

Will you help us improve this nature reserve to protect the rare and endangered wildlife that depend on it? Find out how you can donate to the Wicken Fen appeal and support our work to build a bridge for nature.

Did ewe know it was lambing time at Wimpole?

The sight of newly born and frolicking lambs has to be one of the most quintessential images of springtime. For most farmers, the arrival of lambing time each spring means long hours of work ensuring their new flock is safely delivered and special care lavished on the expectant ewes.Wimpole-9

Photo courtesy of Justin Minns

For the National Trust’s Richard Morris, Farm Manager at Wimpole Home Farm, lambing means balancing the practical work with ensuring visitors are also able to see the youngsters up close. He fills us in…

Lambing is a busy time for any farmer, but doing that alongside managing thousands of visitors can be quite a challenge, but extremely rewarding.

Wimpole Home Farm, part of the Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire, is home to seven different rare breeds of sheep. With around 300 ewes pregnant, we’d expect to see around 600 lambs. We would expect to see just one or two lambs born to each ewe. Some breeds of sheep can have up to three lambs each, but that’s the difference between those that are chosen by commercial farms and the rare breeds we have here.

With a gestation period of 152 days, my team are able to accurately predict when the first lambs will start to arrive too. Animals generally stick to their due dates better than humans do, so they are pretty predictable. We actually start planning for the lambing season a year in advance, so when it gets to that point we are ready.

I may be an old-hand at lambing, but even I admit those first spring arrivals are always special.

Mark, our stockman and the rest of his team of staff and volunteers have been busy preparing the farm for the new arrivals. We’ve set up a number of lambing pens – these are small pens that mother and lamb will be moved into shortly after the lamb is born, where they can be monitored and be given any extra attention they might need.

Ewes lie down to give birth, standing up almost immediately in order to turn around and get to their newly-born lamb. After the birth, lambs and their mothers are left for a time to form a close bond. Once this has taken place, the ewe and lambs are moved into individual pens for 24 hours to ensure they settle in together.

Visitors will be able to meet mums and lambs of all shapes and sizes from our Norfolk Horn, Hebridean, Whitefaced Woodland, Portland, Manx Loaghtan, and Oxford Down flocks. Stockman Mark and all the staff will be on hand to talk everyone through the process, and answer any questions.

In the days that follow and before the lambs are moved from this pen, they’re given individual ear tags, enabling us to record which ewe they belong to and if they’re male or female.

From the individual pens, ewes and lambs are put into group pens – providing the lambs are strong enough. After a few days here, they can then go out into paddocks, providing the weather is suitable. The lambs will drink anything between half and 1.5 litres of milk a day for the first couple of weeks, then from around three weeks they will start eating grass. As the lambs grow up we start to introduce them to little pellets of food, which they eat more of as the mother’s milk decreases.

We feel its really important that people know where their food comes from and that’s why we open our doors to the public during this time of year.

This approach continues the long tradition of ‘demonstration’ farming at Wimpole. It was built in 1792 by one of the country’s leading architects and was meant to show off the wealth, status and thoughtfulness of the 3rd Earl of Hardwicke, the owner of Wimpole Estate at the time. He wanted the farm to represent the best in current practice and, in part, to be an experimental unit. This legacy continues today and Wimpole’s lambing season is a great way to encourage interest in animal welfare, food provenance and rare breeds. Its also a great day out for the whole family!

We cannot promise that all visitors will see a ewe giving birth, but for those that do, they will remember that lamb’s first moments and their efforts to wobble onto their feet. Look out for other new arrivals at Home Farm whilst you’re there, like this White Park calf, another of our rare breeds that is doing well.


Photo courtesy of Justin Minns

Lambing time at Wimpole Home Farm will run from now until 26 April 2015. We hope to see you there and look out for Richard and Mark, they’re never far away.