A long overdue re-cap from the Trelissick Countryside

Wildflower field

As you are all no doubt aware, the last twelve months have been strange and challenging to say the least. Like so many, we have not been unscathed in the ranger team at Trelissick, with staff reduced by more than a third, no volunteers and significant restrictions on funding.

The team are now back to full strength and have been busy catching up on all that needs doing over the winter months, both here at Trelissick and on the North Helford which we also manage. Hence, there has not been a countryside blog for quite a while and we thought it proper to give you a very brief overview of some of the things we have been up to during this time.

For a large part of last year, Neil, our lead ranger, was holding the fort on his own and so had to prioritise efforts, focusing on wildlife conservation and important projects such as the arable planting at Tregew (a source of winter food for birds in the area). In these same fields, we launched a collaboration with the wildflower conservation charity Plantlife to introduce a nationally endangered wildflower (called small-flowered catchfly). Undertaking this work also afforded us the time and resources to properly survey our arable fields and assess the outcomes of our work after 12 years of management. The survey provided us with an in-depth species’ list which includes many important arable plants and wildflowers. Ultimately the survey and subsequent report acted as something of an affirmation that we are on the right track and that the project at Tregew goes from strength to strength. Elsewhere, benefits of our woodland management were recorded in the considerable increase of important woodland butterfly species on the Estate, such as the Silver-Washed Fritillary. 

Wildflowers in the barley crop
Wildflowers in the barley crop
Wildflowers in the barley crop

Down by the river, we have continued (in collaboration with Cornwall Wildlife Trust and Natural England) to help with the two-year project to control invasive, Pacific oysters around the Fal Estuary. This project has now come to an end in an official capacity, but the results of the work have been analysed and shown to be an effective control method that could help to sustain the Fal’s traditional, native oyster fishery. Another interesting part of the work involved researching alternative, sustainable usage of the oysters that could help provide a commercial incentive for others to get involved.

Pacific oyster
Pacific oyster
Pacific oyster

Many of our visitors will have seen that we welcomed Countryfile to the Estate during November. It was a wonderful platform for us to show off our woodland management at Roundwood Fort and introduce viewers to Keith Tricky and Jackson the horse, who we regularly employ to haul timber from our more sensitive areas of woodland. The program also featured our work with Falmouth Marine School to restore traditional, Cornish fishing vessels and train new boat builders.

This leads us seamlessly onto the subject of woodland. Winter is the time when the birds are no longer nesting, and the ranger team can get into the woods to work. This year, we have had the added issue of Ash Dieback which has become a serious threat to our plantations. Over the last 20years, we have planted 17,500 trees at Trelissick and a large percentage of these happen to be ash (and are therefore susceptible to the disease). Judging by other areas that have suffered the onset of Ash Dieback (Cornwall is among the last regions to be hit by the disease), we could lose up to 90% of our ash trees. Indeed, many are already dead or seriously declining and so extra care and attention must be given to those trees that are close to busy footpaths and roads as they may become fragile and unsafe.

Ash leaf
Ash leaf
Ash leaf

Recently, the return of countryside staff from furlough has meant that we could remove the last few turkey oaks on the South Woodland Walk. This has been a long-term project and we are very pleased with the natural regeneration of our native, sessile oaks that now have the space and light required for the long-term sustainability of this woodland. In another part of the woods, we have been carrying out a parkland restoration project as part of the National Trust’s nationwide ‘Land, Outdoors and Nature’ project. We will leave the details on that one for an upcoming blog however….

Wildlife at Trelissick

Birds on the river

Lots of wading birds have been passing through over the past month or so with grey herons beginning to nest, curlew and oystercatchers continuing their regular colonisation of the Trelissick Park and redshank, greenshank and godwit have been spotted picking their way along Lamouth Creek.

Shelducks can be heard on still, early mornings, noisily sorting out their pecking order on the foreshore whilst a pair of mergansers have been fishing at low tide.

Heron
Heron
Heron

Raptors and grass-land mammals

We’ve been busy over the early part of this year, mowing the rough grassland in our wildlife fields at Tregew. Whilst working, we do expose the occasional, unfortunate short-tailed field vole or harvest mouse. Ever the opportunists, our resident kestrel and several buzzards appear, as if by magic, at the sound of a tractor engine to follow in our wake, pouncing with precision at the slightest sign of movement.

We set the tractor-pulled mower very high during this work, so we can leave a dense ‘thatch’ of grasses and plants after cutting. This is the ideal habitat for maintaining large populations of many small mammal species’ which, in turn, provide food for raptors, stoats, weasels and other predators.

A buzzard hunting
A buzzard hunting
A buzzard hunting

Stonechats

For the first time in our experience, this year has seen the arrival of two pairs of stonechats to Tregew. So-named for its call, which has been likened to two small stones being hit together, this robin-sized bird feeds on beetles, flies, ants, grasshoppers, larvae and spiders.

It is immensely gratifying that our grassland management, intended to encourage wildflowers and pollinating insects, has enticed these birds into the area.

These are charismatic little characters which again watch the tractor as we work. Perched on willow scrub, they dart out to feed on insects that have been disturbed by the flail. Stonechats are lovely birds to watch because they move about in a seemingly inseparable pair and are never more than a few feet apart!

Stonechat
Stonechat
Stonechat

Larger mammals

Roe deer are now regular visitors to the Estate and are often sighted. Foxes can be heard at night screaming eerily and if you are very, very lucky, there has been a beaver spotted recently on the River Fal which would obviously be a fantastic addition to our local wildlife.

Beaver
Beaver
Beaver

- The National Trust ranger team, Trelissick and North Helford