Restoring the landscape of the National Trust's Blickling Hall, Norfolk
PUBLISHED: 10:40 12 March 2010 | UPDATED: 16:51 20 February 2013
Stuart Warrington, nature conservation advisor for the National Trust, explains the work that goes into restoring the glorious landscape of Blickling Park.
Stuart Warrington, nature conservation adviser for the National Trust, explains the work that goes into restoring the glorious landscape of Blickling Park.
A major landmark of north Norfolk is, of course, the great Jacobean house of Blickling Hall, set in its wonderful gardens and surrounded by sweeping parkland.
It is the lake and wonderful old trees of Mount Park, to the north of the hall and gardens, that first catch the eye, but the park is much bigger than this and stretches for 334 hectares (830 acres) away to the west.
The National Trust has owned the Blickling estate since 1942, and we
are working to restore the west end of the park, named Tower Park, to its former glory.
The first step was the restoration of the Tower House, which was built in 1773 for Lord Buckinghamshire, to combine the functions of a banqueting house and a race stand. The roof provided an excellent vantage-point from which horse races could be enjoyed. After horse racing on the estate lost its popularity, the Tower House was used as an estate cottage for many years, but by 2006 it had fallen into disrepair. The National Trusts restoration project saved the building, and today this unusual and magnificent tower offers truly unique holiday cottage accommodation.
The historic setting of the tower would have been grassland, with scattered parkland trees, but this area had been managed as arable crop-land for many decades. Thus, the next phase of the restoration is the gradual reinstatement of the classic parkland.
So far, two of the fields are down to grass with tree planting planned for this and subsequent winters. The other fields will be put into grass over the next few years, until there is an unbroken sweep of park grassland for over a mile down to the lake.
The soil around the tower is light and sandy, and we hope that acid grassland or even heathland may develop here in the future. Both these habitats are scarce in Norfolk and they can be very valuable for rare wildlife.
It is well worth walking through the park, away from the lake, to see the tower and the progress of the parkland restoration. In the winter, large flocks of fieldfares and redwings can be seen in the park, these birds having arrived in Britain from Scandinavia to spend the winter in our milder climate.
Another little visited but wonderful part of the Blickling estate is the meadow area alongside the River Bure.
A recent survey of the wildflowers and grasses of these meadows by botanical experts Mary Ghullam and Richard Ellis has revealed a fantastic diversity, with well over 100 species recorded. Some lovely, and rare, wildflowers were discovered such as Nodding Bur-marigold, Flowering Rush, Golden Saxifrage, Southern Marsh Orchid, Heath Spotted Orchid, Bog-bean, Marsh Valerian and Marsh Cinquefoil.
There were also numerous unusual sedges, pondweeds and club-rushes in the ditches. Most of these plants love the damp or even boggy areas of these riverside meadows, and benefit from the traditional management provided by the Blickling farmers, with beef cattle grazing through the summer months and no use of artificial fertilisers.
The meadows are also home to water voles, or Ratty of Wind in the Willows fame. The water vole is said to be Britains fastest declining mammal, so it is great news to find them in such abundance in the Bure Valley.
They feed on the wetland plants in the ditches and in the river, and they are active all year around, so you may be lucky enough to see one at any time when you are quietly watching the world go by down by the river.
Kingfishers and barn owls are also often seen in the valley. They are quite a contrast, with a flash of iridescent blue being the usual sight of a kingfisher, while the white barn owl floats gently to and fro over the fields listening for a mouse or field vole moving in the grass below.
The best way to get to the River Bure and the meadows, which are north of Blickling Hall, are on the footpaths from the villages of Itteringham or Moorgate. The paths will be wet and muddy so wear your wellies!
If you stand on one of the footbridges and stare into the River Bure, you may well see some of the brown trout that live in the river or even an unusual animal called the brook lamprey. The lamprey has no lower jaw, so it is not a true fish, and its mouth is surrounded by a round, sucker-like disc with strong, horny, rasping teeth. The brook lamprey is quite small at less than 15cm, and looks a little bit like a little eel.
Both the lamprey and the trout like gravel beds of the river in which to lay their eggs. But these gravel beds can get covered in silt if too much soil gets washed into the river and then the eggs dont survive.
To help clean the gravel bed of the river for the fish, Dave Brady, the head forester at Blickling, has carefully placed about 20 large pieces of wood into the river. This large, woody debris causes the river water to swirl and sweep past, and this helps to create enough force to shift the silt and clean up the gravel. In the quiet water behind the debris, the eddy allows fish to take refuge and save some energy, before they go back into the fast-flowing main stream.
This work on the River Bure, its meadows and in Tower Park shows that there is always something going on in the Blickling estate as well as in the hall and garden.
Blickling Park is open from dawn to dusk all year round so why not walk off the winter blues in this lovely piece of Norfolk countryside?
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