Friday, 22 November 2013

Fantastic fungi



 Laetiporus sulphureus or chicken of the woods

The Deceiver. Poison Pie. The Humpback. Devil’s tooth. Skullcap dapperling.

They might sound like a list of best-selling horror novels, but they are in fact the names of just a handful of the staggering 15,000 species of fungi found here in Britain. And after a hot summer and mild autumn this year the display of fungi at Lyme Park has been particularly spectacular.

What are fungi?

Fungi are often referred to as the recyclers of nature. This is because they break down dead and decaying organic materials and release nutrients back into the ecosystem. Put simply, without fungi, nature would be unable to renew itself.  

The fruiting body of the fungi is what most of us recognise as a “mushroom” or “toadstool”. This is actually only a tiny fraction of the fungi. To draw an analogy, a mushroom to a fungus is like an apple to a tree. Underground each fungus has a network of thread like roots known as mycelium, which absorbs nutrients from the surrounding environment. One particular type of honey fungus is thought to be the one of the largest organism in the world, strecthing over 3 kilometres in size! Much of this is underground and made up of the mycelium root system.

Fungi spread by releasing a huge amount of spores from their gills, which are carried by wind to colonise other areas. Spores to fungi are like seeds to a plant. For the majority of species, this takes place from September through to November, which is why you may have seen so many fruiting bodies of fungi on your travels around Lyme and elsewhere.

Unlike plants, which generate their energy themselves through photosynthesis, fungi generate energy to grow by absorbing nutrients from their surroundings. Most plants and trees have a “symbiotic” relationship with a specific type of fungi, which allows them to exchange nutrients in a mutually beneficial way.

Here are a handful of photographs the rangers have taken this autumn of some of the favbulous fungi to be found at Lyme Park. If you have any photos please send them to john.mead@nationaltrust.org.uk


Fistulina hepatica or Beefsteak fungus
Coprinellus micaceus or Glistening inkcap
Auricularia auricula-judae or Jelly ear
Amanita muscaria or Fly agaric
 
Ganoderma applanatum or Artist's fungus
For more information on fungi some of the videos on the BBC wildlife webpage are well worth a look:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Fungus 

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The rut

Of all Britain’s wildlife spectacles, the red deer rut has earned it's rightful place at the very top of the tree. It signifies the arrival of autumn, and demonstrates nature at it's finest and most majestic. Lyme Park's 300 strong red deer put on a phenomenal show at this time of year, and it's the stags that take centre stage.

 
 
What is the rut?
To many people, "the rut" evokes the dramatic sight of stags locking antlers in a violent struggle for domination, but this is just one thread in a complex weave of behaviour that the deer demonstrate at this time of year.
In it’s simplest terms, the rut is ultimately all about the males competing with one another with the aim of passing on their genetic material to the next generation. To do this, their goal is simple; to breed with as many females as possible.
In competing for the females, the males put on an incredible display of aggression and intimidation to give themselves the edge over their rivals. It’s this performance that makes the rut such a renowned exhibition of power and strength.
 
 
Why is it happening now?
Both male and female deer respond to seasonal changes. Temperature, rainfall, and day length all contribute to the deer producing increased levels of hormones. For the males it’s testosterone, for the females melatonin. The fact that breeding takes place at this time of year is no coincidence. Through conceiving now, this ensures that any offspring will be born in late spring, when temperatures are more forgiving to newborns, and food is abundant.

 
Rutting rivalry
Clashing antlers is really a last resort, as male deer don’t want to expend valuable energy unless it’s really necessary. Before opting to settle their differences with brute force, they will try to gauge who is the largest and strongest by walking alongside each other or "parallel walking" to give it the official title.

Other tactics include "thrashing" bushes, branches and trees with their antlers in a show of strength. You don’t have to look far to see the damage their powerful antlers can do, just have a look at some of the trees around the park that have been on the receiving end of this treatment. It’s for this reason that we protect lots of trees with tree guards and chestnut paling.
 
Some stags and bucks will also drag their antlers through the undergrowth with the aim of getting grass, bracken or bramble in their antlers so that they appear larger to rivals. Every little helps!

 
And just as us humans like to slap on a bit of aftershave or perfume, deer have their own unique way of adding a scent to increase their appeal. Males often wallow in mud at this time of the year, and another favourite past-time is to roll in their own urine and droppings to add their very own distinctive "cologne". Who could resist?

 The other ploy to impress the females and scare off competitors is more obvious. The bellowing of red deer stags and the belching of fallow deer bucks forms the soundtrack to October at Lyme Park. Studies have shown that females can distinguish the differences between the roars and will often choose a male that has a lower roar. It is thought that they do so since males with lower roars tend to have a larger body size, which is a sign of strength and good health. 


 
The fight
When two rival males feel they are well matched, they have to decide who will be the victor in an ultimate test of strength. Generally, with both fallow and red deer, a dominant male will have a "harem" of females during the rut. The size of these harems can range from several to fifty or so animals. 
 
During the rut, the dominant males will often not eat for long periods of time, as all of their time is devoted to fighting of rivals and mating. As a result of this, as time draws on, the dominant stags and bucks will become weaker, and this allows other, often younger males the chance to take advantage and hijack their harem.
 

Observing the rut
The chance to witness this wildlife spectacle first hand is an opportunity not be missed. But if you're visiting to observe the rut, please ensure you do so in a way that won't impact on the behaviour of the deer during this crucial time in their calendar. 
 
As ever, the red deer sanctuary is out of bounds to the public to give the deer an area where they can remain undisturbed. Likewise, access to the fallow deer sanctuary is restricted solely to footpaths. By all means feel free to take photographs of the deer during this time to capture your own footage of this fantastic event, but please do not approach too closely, as this is likely to distress the deer. Likewise, if you're walking your dog through the park, please ensure they are on a lead or under close control.
 
Deer attacks on humans or dogs are very rare, but if they are going to happen it would be most likely at this time of the year when the males are pumped full of testosterone and are defending themselves or their harem from what they perceive to be a threat.
 
 
If you see any of the rangers around while you're in the park please feel free to ask any questions about the rut, or anything else for that matter. There's nothing we like more than waffling on about deer.

The rut tends to end in early November...and the clock is ticking. So it's time to get out there for yourselves if you not already done so to see Lyme's biggest and boldest wildlife display...

 
Thanks to Rich Steel for providing the photos. If you'd like to share any photos of the rut please send them to john.mead@nationaltrust.org.uk
 

 




 

Monday, 30 September 2013

Brown long-eared bat

This recently deceased brown long eared bat (no points for guessing how it got it's name) was found recently at Lyme and was brought up to the ranger's office for us to inspect and admire. 
 
The phenomenally large ears are not just for show; they help the bat to hear it's prey of beetles, flies, moths, earwigs and spiders. Like all bats, brown long-eared bats hunt through echo-location. In other words, the bats emit noises at high frequencies which strike the landscape around them. They can process this information to build up a sonic map of their surroundings. In this way, they can fly without colliding into objects, and can hunt extremely effectively.
  
 

The frequency and volume of the noise that the brown long-eared bat emits has earned it the nickname of the whispering bat. It's habit of flying close to the ground to hunt, and grappling with prey on the floor, has meant this species is particularly prone to being predated by nocturnal animals, including domestic cats.

 
Brown long eared bat - FACTFILE
  • As well as catching insects in free flight, brown long-eared bats are "gleaners", often flying slowly through foliage to pick insects off leaves.
  • Like all bat species in the UK, the brown long eared bat is legally protected, both by domestic and international legislation.
  • There are an estimated 155,000 brown long eared bats in England.
  • There are two species of long eared bat in the UK, brown long-eared and grey long-eared. Brown long-eareds are much more common; with greys confined to southern England.
  • The ears are nearly as long as the body but are not always obvious: when at rest long-eared bats curl their ears back like rams’ horns, making them less conspicuous.
  • Brown long eared bats are declining in the UK due to the removal of trees and woodland, which has resulted in the loss of suitable feeding habitats and hollow trees for roosting
 For more information on bats, visit the Bat Conservation Trust website: http://www.bats.org.uk/index.php

 

 

 

Monday, 26 August 2013

Estate Apprentice, Summer 2013

This summer's estate apprentice has been a big success, as we've renovated the footpath near Crow Wood with help from hundreds of tiny hands. We've had three events, and great turnouts for all of them, helped no doubt by the cracking weather.

All potential apprentices were kitted out with an Edwardian-style flat cap and waistcoat, before they grabbed a mini rake or shovel and got to work helping the rangers on the footpath. As the old adage goes, many hands make light work, and our army of mini rangers did a sterling job.

Our army of apprentices hard at work with the rangers
Along with the pathwork, several volunteers from our Wednesday volunteer group demonstrated the ancient craft of drystone walling to encourage the next generation to "Have a go". Who knows, perhaps the baton has been passed to some of the wallers of the future? 

The walling team get their stall set out 
And for those who weren't quite as keen on the "hands-on" activities, there was always the chance to sit in the tractor and pretend to drive...so everyone was a winner! 

The tractor proved to be very popular!
Many thanks to everyone who came along and helped, and as ever to our volunteers who contributed to making the event a success. And to volunteer ranger Graham for supplying the photos.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

The Big Family Day Out

Last Tuesday at Lyme, the ranger team were given a helping hand thanks to a new scheme being trialled by the National Trust in the North West region.
 
The Big Family Day Out is a new project to provide great experiences for families by helping them spend time together, whilst helping us get work done!
 
Employers who sign up to the scheme allow members of staff to have a day off to volunteer with their family at a Trust property. This year the scheme is being piloted in the Manchester and Liverpool area, and it was our turn here at Lyme Park last week.
 
 
On Tuesday morning, after an icebreaker session, our volunteer families made their way to the Fallow Deer Sanctuary, where the conservation task we had selected for them awaited. After a quick tool talk, the families were ready to get stuck into their mission of renovating a footpath through the sanctuary, that had been slowly eroded after years of rainwater and footfall.
 
Everyone worked extremely hard throughout the day, and we managed to get a good stretch of the path completed. The children and parents from different families created a work force to be reckoned with! By lunch we’d emptied a whole trailer load of stone. To put that into perspective, that’s about three tonnes! And after refuelling with a barbecue down at the Timber Yard, we managed another full load after lunch!
 
 
 
 After that, it was time for a wander through the fallow deer sanctuary, keeping an eye out for the conspicuous residents. The families listened intently to Doug’s talk about one of our two resident deer species, learning about all sorts of deer related facts, from antler formation to their eating habits.
 
 
 
The day was rounded off with a trip to Crow Wood Playscape to let off a bit of steam before heading home. A big thanks from us all at Lyme park for everyone who got involved in this great scheme, and for giving us a helping hand!
 
 
 
 
Click on the link below to see more opportunities to get you and your family involved with us here at Lyme!
 
 

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Peak District Fire Operations Group


After the heatwave that’s engulfed the UK this month, this week’s downpour has been a welcome sight as far as the ranger team are concerned.
You might have seen the “High Fire Risk” signs up at the Knott, on Park Moor, and Cluse Hey. We only put these up when conditions are dry enough to warrant a fire warning, and they’ve been up for the last three weeks.  So, I’m sure you can imagine why we were so relieved to see the rain return to Lyme Park this week with such conviction.
We don’t just rely on the occasional rain dance to reduce the risk of wildfire though. We’re proud to be a part of the Peak District FOG, or Fire Operations Group. This group consists of a collaboration of six fire services, various ranger teams, gamekeepers, water companies, landowners, and a local helicopter company, and aims to prevent and when necessary, combine forces to tackle moorland fires.
The Peak District FOG is the first of its kind in the UK, and is being replicated in various counties and national parks around the country. The group formed in 1996 after a serious moorland blaze to draw up site specific fire plans, to educate people on the risks posed by moorland fires, and to train staff to be able to deal with fires should they arise. Another key part of the FOG is to share resources including radio communication, local knowledge, and specialist firefighting equipment.
By pooling resources in this way, the fire services can call upon units which use ATV (all terrain vehicles) which can access remote areas which can otherwise be extremely difficult to reach. When time is of the essence, access to the correct equipment can be a huge advantage in tackling moorland and grassland fires.  Centaur 8WD vehicles, Unimogs, and tracked vehicles such as Softtracks, along with a number of specialist mobile water bowsers and portable reservoirs can be used to speed up the process of getting water to the fire site as quickly as possible. And if deemed necessary, the FOG can call on Pennine Heliopters, a company based in Saddleworth which has years of experience in dealing with fires in the Peak District.
Long term damage
As well as the obvious threats that a wildfire can pose to visitors, they can also have a hugely damaging effect on the ecological value of the estate. Fire can cause disastrous damage to vegetation and wildlife, including ground nesting birds, along with sheep and cattle.  
How can you help?
The earlier a fire is reported, the less damage it has the potential to unleash; so if you see an open fire anywhere in the park, please dial 999 immediately to notify the Fire Service and notify a member of staff as soon as possible. When speaking to the fire service, please specify that it is a "Moorland fire". 
The most common causes of wildfires are arson, discarded cigarettes, barbeques and campfires. You can help to make sure you don’t run the risk of starting an accidental fire by ensuring that you barbecue in the Knott quarry area, our designated barbecue site, and by making sure that the barbecue is disposed of safely.
The ranger team and our volunteer patrollers will keep an extra close lookout for any signs of fires over the upcoming months. As Lyme Park consists of over 1400 acres, our visitors often see parts the far reaches of the park that we don’t always see on a daily basis. For this reason, we’d really appreciate it if you could remain vigilant while you’re out and about exploring the estate.   

Sunday, 30 June 2013

The pied flycatchers of Lyme

Every summer, sixteen million birds make the long, perilous flight from mainland sub-Saharan Africa to reach Britain.
 
Swallows, warblers, wagtails, wheatears, martins, thrushes, pipits, cuckoos, chats, all these and more have traversed land and sea to seek out a patch to call their own in the British Isles. And some of those that have made the journey are right here, within the boundaries of Lyme Park.

 
The stunning male pied flycatcher (left) and  female with a mouthful of food (right)
(Photos from Rich Steel)
 
The reason? To breed in our northern temperate zone, where for a few, all-to-fleeting months, the climate is perfect. Invertebrates such as flies, caterpillars and insect larvae are abundant to ensure both adults and chicks have a good food supply, and the daylight hours draw out longer, allowing more valuable time to feed and build up reserves for the long flight back south.
 
Amongst these long haul fliers is a bird that has been monitored closely at Lyme for the last 22 years: the pied flycatcher. It typically arrives on our shores around mid-April, and leaves around September. It's found in mature woodlands in the west of the UK, and as such is a bit of a specialist. According to Natural England, the UK's breeding population of these birds declined by a staggering 51% between 1994 and 2009.
 
 A brood of 6 pied flycatcher chicks in a nest-box at Lyme Park
 
On Monday evening I met up with volunteers Clive Richards and Dave Bissett, who have been closely monitoring the fluctuating breeding populations of these birds at Lyme Park since 1991.
 
Like blue tits and great tits, pied flycatchers take readily to nest-boxes in woodlands. The nest-boxes replicate the natural hollow cavities of trees, which are typically found in ancient woodlands. Over the years, Clive and Dave have put up around 30 boxes to encourage the "pied fly's" to choose the wooded areas of Lyme to breed. Each winter, Dave cleans out the old nesting material in anticipation of the arrival of these elusive migrants. And every summer, each box is monitored to keep track of the numbers of breeding pairs present.

 
This nest-box is one of the original boxes put up by Clive and Dave in 1991,
and it's still being used today!
 
In addition to this, Clive is a registered "ringer" with the South Manchester Ringing Group, which is licenced by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). Each year he rings the pied flycatcher chicks inside the active nest-boxes. In other words, he places a lightweight, uniquely numbered, metal ring around one leg of each bird in the brood. The reason for doing this is to generate information on the survival, productivity and movements of birds.
 
So, to put this into context; if one of the birds that has been ringed here in Lyme Park is found by someone in the middle of the Sahara desert in a few years time, that someone can contact the BTO, and we can trace that bird back to it's humble beginnings in Crow Wood, or Hamper's Wood.

With this data, scientists can gain a fascinating insight into the migratory routes that these birds take, how long they can live for, survival rates, a whole host of key information. And by understanding these factors, they can begin to understand how it affects population trends, which in turn provides knowledge that is vital for the future conservation of birds such as the pied flycatcher.

It's because of schemes like this, carried out by Clive and Dave, that will hopefully ensure that these birds will be returning to Lyme Park for many years to come.

With a bit of luck, one of these chicks could be returning to
Lyme Park in the future to lay a brood of their own

Pied flycatchers aren't the only birds of note recently seen at Lyme. Sightings of wood warbler, garden warbler, redstart, stonechat, wheatear, grey wagtail, green woodpecker and yellowhammer have also been reported. If you see any other notable sightings, please let me know on john.mead@nationaltrust.org.uk 


For further information on the BTO's ringing programme, visit http://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/ringing/about.

Or for results of ringing on pied flycatchers, visit: http://blx1.bto.org/ring/countyrec/resultsall/rec13490all.htm

I'll leave you with an extract from Ted Hughes' poem, "Swifts", a poem in praise of our summer migrants:
 
They've made it again,
Which means the globe's still working, the Creation's
Still waking refreshed, our summer's
Still all to come -
 

 

 




 
 
 
 
 

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Better late than never...


Walk down West Park Drive, or through Crow or Elmerhurst Wood at this time of year, and you’ll be struck by the familiar sight and scent of British bluebells in full bloom.



But what makes our bluebell woods so iconic? Well, for a start, even though they are several weeks late this year after our long winter, to many people they symbolise the arrival of Spring. They thrive on a relatively short window of time in which they can bloom. Conditions need to be perfect, as their late show this year has proven. The key is to have enough light reaching the ground floor from the canopy before woodland trees come into leaf. For this reason they only flower for several weeks before setting seed. 


Haze Bank and West Park Drive are areas of "ancient woodland". This is defined as a place that has been continually wooded since at least 1600AD. Bluebells are one of a number of species that are known as ancient woodland "indicator species". Other plants to look out for are wild garlic (often called ramsons), wood sorrel, wood anenome, lesser celendine, ground elder and violets. If you find these growing somewhere, it's more than likely that you're either in ancient woodland, or in a place that was once ancient woodland.

 Above- the on-going removal of rhododendron down West Park Drive.
With this invasive species eradicated, bluebells will thrive once more.
 
It's because of the ecological importance of these areas as ancient woodland sites that we are removing large tracts of Rhododendron ponticum. We are hoping to restore this once wooded area to it's former glory by removing this invasive species. Rhododendron was introduced to Lyme in this area in the 1900s, and has spread considerably since then, sweeping through native broadleaf woodland and altering the pH level of the soil. To put it simply, bluebells and rhododendron don't get on!

Britain holds a staggering 50% of the world's bluebells. The vast quantities of bluebells present in Britain is likely to be in part due to the fact that the bulbs are poisonous to most british mammals such as badgers and foxes, who may otherwise dig them up. Wild boar is the only british mammal that is known to unearth bluebells, but fortunately we don't have any of them here at Lyme. Well, none that we know of anyway!

Traditionally in Britain, we have managed our woodlands through coppicing, which is a method of cutting wood on a rotation. This allowed our ancestors to take wood in a sustainable way, which they would have used for fuel, and to make tools. Coppicing also benefits ground flora such as bluebells as it allows more sunlight to the woodland floor, allowing ground dwelling plants to thrive. This in turn benefits other woodland species such as butterflies, which in turn supports woodland birds and mammals.

I'll leave the last word to a visitor who flagged me down as I was driving down West Park Drive this evening. Her exact words were: "This is the best display of bluebells I've ever seen!" And to be honest, I found it hard to disagree.

Bluebells FACTFILE:
 
Latin name: Hyacinthoides non-scripta
Alternative names: wild hyacinth, wood bell, fairy flower, bell bottle
 
Habitat: Ancient woodlands,  hedgerows, shady banks, under bracken on coastal cliffs and uplands
  • Their rich nectar provides food for many butterflies and other insects.
  • Bluebells contain toxic glycosides and humans can be poisoned if the bulbs are mistaken for spring onions and eaten.
  • The bulbs were once used as glue, particularly for bookbinding.
  • The species has greatly declined over the past 50 years and is globally threatened.  It is illegal to collect seed or bulbs from the wild.
  • One of the biggest threats to the survival of our British bluebells is the introduction of non-native Spanish bluebells. Find out more by watching this short video on the Natural History Museum website: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/british-natural-history/survey-bluebells/index.html





 

Monday, 20 May 2013

The Walls of Pemberley


The National Trust’s property at Lyme Park, Cheshire, is famous throughout the world as the setting of the 1995 television adaptation of Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, as witnessed by the numerous international visitors still travelling to Lyme to step into their favourite scene. This seems particularly prescient as it was two hundred years ago this year since the book was published. 

Though to see many of the most notable views today, such as Darcy diving into the pond, one could be forgiven for not recognising the background, as the tumble down wall on the horizon, looking like a set of decayed teeth, has been completely rebuilt by Volunteers.



Every Wednesday, throughout the year, a dozen or so intrepid hobby wallers get together to repair or rebuild the 18 miles of dry stone walls, half of which, forming the boundary, are 2m high to keep red deer in and wild deer out.

After showing an interest in walling for the Trust the members of the walling team are sponsored on an initial training course run by the Cheshire Branch of the Dry Stone Walling Association. They, in turn, have supported Lyme by undertaking training courses within the park. Over the last few years Lyme volunteers have completely rebuilt a meadow boundary wall 200m long, as the original stone had crumbled almost to dust. As such, much of the stone had to be replaced. New stone was used for the lower section of the wall with the limited recovered pieces making up the balance.   
Incorporated in the wall are two gates, five lunkies (holes for wild life to pass through) and a stile, necessitating four cheek ends and the construction of a stone step-over stile. The step height has been kept to 230mm and, for safety, the steps and side support stones have been cemented.

Common, in the park, are ladder type stiles over high walls, which are made on site of aged oak. We were set the task of incorporating one in a rebuilt wall, at the corner of Knight’s Low wood, together with a creep hole (for dogs), a canalised stream and footbridge.

We were also asked to remake the cheek ends at the entrance to Crow Wood Playscape back in 2007. 
                            
The scope of skilled work undertaken by Volunteers at Lyme Park demonstrates what can be achieved by a dedicated work force, a little training and the active support of the staff Rangers.

I do hope that the close relationship between the National Trust and the DSWA will flourish in the future to the benefit of both organisations and countryside conservation as a whole.



This article was written by Barry Leary, a member of the Lyme Park volunteer walling team. The article was originally published in the Drystone Walling Association's magazine “Waller & Dyker”.

Many thanks to Barry for allowing us to publish this article and for all the hard work he and the volunteer walling team do here at Lyme Park.










Friday, 3 May 2013

The Secret Lives of Deer

The signs are there for all to see: The swallows are swooping low over the mill pond. The lambs are bounding in Drinkwater meadow. The ramsons and bluebells are preparing to bloom along West Park Drive. Chiffchaffs are chiming in Cluse Hey. Curlews are calling over Caters Slack. And the buds are waking from their long winter sleep and bursting into leaf.

Along with these famous heralds of spring, there is a more subtle indicator if you take a close look at our deer. Every year, from March to May, red and fallow deer cast their antlers, and almost immediately begin to grow a new set. This remarkable feat marks out deer antlers as the fastest growing bone in the animal kingdom. (Take note, you never know when that’s going to come up in a pub quiz!)
 

Spot the difference...the stag on the left still has his antlers, whereas the stag on the right has begun to grow a new set.
Now for the sciency bit…Once the old antlers are cast, the new antlers grow from an attachment point on the skull called a pedicle. During this time they are covered in a vascular skin known as velvet, which protects the antler as it grows, and provides them with blood, oxygen and nutrients. Once the antlers are fully formed, they “harden off” and the deer shed the velvet, leaving the antlers as we know them. They do this just in time for the rutting season, which typically takes place here at Lyme from September through to November. Until then, the antlers are extremely sensitive, and the deer will avoid using them at all costs. It’s for this reason that they sometimes “box” each other by supporting themselves on their rear legs and using their front legs to ward off rivals. They’ll also do this if one of the deer has a broken or missing antler.
 
Fallow bucks in velvet

Typically, the mature stags are the first to shed their antlers, while the younger apprentices keep hold of them for longer. This leads to a visible power shift, as the young males, who have spent the rut keeping their distance from the mature stags, suddenly have the upper hand (or should that be upper antler). At this time of year, it’s not unusual to see the young males giving their elders a poke in the ribs. Revenge at last!

A cast fallow buck antler
 
You might have noticed that the coats of the deer are looking a bit on the shabby side at the moment. This is because they’re currently moulting, shedding their heavy duty winter coat for the warmer months ahead. Look out for jackdaws tearing out chunks of fur from the deers' backs to use as nesting material. The deer don't seem to mind this liberty being taken; in fact they seem to quite enjoy being pampered, it's like a jackdaw health spa. Other birds use the fur as well; we found a nest in one of the Corsican pine plantations along the main drive last week, possibly belonging to a greenfinch or chaffinch.

 A bird nest lined with red deer fur.
 
The winter may have been particularly drawn out this year, but that just makes the arrival of spring all the more welcome. Everything in nature is interconnected. And at no time of year is this more evident than the present. So get out there, explore, and enjoy! 


Thursday, 18 April 2013

Nowruz

From Sunday 31 March to 2nd April, lots of families visited Lyme Park to celebrate the 13th day of Iranian New Year.

Iranian/Persian New Year, or Nowruz (pronounced: n’rooz has been celebrated for over 3,000 years. In Persian ‘Nowruz’ means "[The] New Day").
Nowruz marks the first day of spring and the beginning of the year in the Iranian calendar. It is celebrated on the day of the astronomical Northward equinox, usually 21 March. The moment the Sun crosses the celestial equator and equalizes night and day is calculated exactly every year and Iranian families gather together to observe the rituals. On New Year's Day, families dress in new clothes and start twelve days of celebrations, visiting their family and friends.


The thirteenth day after New Year is called ‘Sizdah Bedar(pronounced: seda bedar) which means "passing the thirteenth day", figuratively meaning "Passing the bad luck of the thirteenth day"). This is a day of festivity in the open, often accompanied by music and dancing, usually at family picnics. Lyme offers the perfect spot for relaxing and celebrating outdoors.

Sizdah bedar’ celebrations stem from the ancient Persians' belief that the 12 constellations in the Zodiac controlled the months of the year, and each ruled the earth for 1000 years, at the end of which the sky and earth collapsed in chaos. Hence Nowruz lasts twelve days; the thirteenth day represents the time of chaos when families avoid the bad luck associated with the number thirteen by going outdoors and celebrating!

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Monday, 8 April 2013

Little owls at Lyme Park

Driving toward Pursefield Wood a few days ago, we spotted a little owl perched on a fencepost. Its mottled brown and white plumage meant that it blended effortlessly into the trees behind it.

See if you can spot it through the binoculars..... 


Found it? Here's a close up....

The little owl eyes us warily
Since I started at Lyme Park last October, I've been lucky enough to have seen four owls: barn, tawny, short-eared, and now little. I just need to see a long-eared owl, and I'll have the full set! Let me know if you spot any by emailing john.mead@nationaltrust.org.uk

Little owl FACTFILE:
Latin name: Athene noctua
Habitat: Found in England and Wales with a few in southern Scotland. It likes lowland farmland with hedges and copses, parkland and orchards.
  • The little owl was introduced to Britain in the 19th century.
  • They hunt mostly at dawn and dusk, swooping down from a perch on to small mammals and insects. They are omnivores, occasionally eating plant material and berries.
  • In Greek mythology, the Little Owl was the messenger of Athene (note the Latin name), the goddess of wisdom.
  • Breeding Bird Survey data suggest that Little owl numbers are declining, with the UK population estimated to be down by 24 per cent between 1995 and 2008.
Further reading:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Little_Owl#p007vcns
http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/l/littleowl/index.aspx


Sunday, 24 March 2013

Weathering the storm!

High winds and snow have meant that we've had to close Lyme Park this last weekend.
 
Several large pine trees have been blown over along the main drive, and a large sycamore in Elmerhurst Wood has been effectively snapped in two by winds well over 50mph. On the plus side, at least we've got a few fencing jobs to keep us busy...
 

Ploughing and gritting has been the order of the last few days. On Sunday, a team of our trained volunteers conducted a thorough post-storm tree inspection ahead of reopening. After traipsing around for a few hours looking for hung up branches, lifted root plates, and splits in the trunks of trees, our volunteers grabbed some snow shovels and got to work clearing the timber yard and house steps.
 
Mission accomplished, and a well earned brew was in order, so it was all up to the estate office to warm up.
 
Spring might seem like a distant mirage, but Easter weekend is just around the corner, so let's all hope that the temperatures pick up soon!