Spring days at Trelissick

Orange tip butterfly illustration by Sonia Hensler

May is upon us and spring has finally declared itself at Trelissick. April has come and gone and with glorious sunshine mixing it up with heavy rain, largely lived up to its reputation of being all months in one.

Swallows, one of the true heralds of spring, have returned from their astonishing odyssey over the Sahara and can be seen swooping and head skimming their way around our work-sheds. Nearby, the orchards around the farm grounds are brimming with pink and white blossom, abundant in its promise of sweet autumn apple harvests.

An amble through the park or a stank along the woodland walks in the coming days will affirm that all but the most reluctant trees are bursting their buds in a barrage of fresh green leaves, casting shade on constellations of celendines and primroses as they cluster along the footpaths, speared by the occasional spike of rust-tipped sorrel.

Bluebells and celandine along the woodland walks
Bluebells and celandine break through the lush greenery in Trelissick's woodland
Bluebells and celandine along the woodland walks

If you decide to venture further, across to the paths and tracks of Tregew, you will find them crowded with towering alexanders, cow parsley and hogweed, whilst spindly stitchwort and brazen patches of pink campion stand out defiantly from the seasonal dress code of green. 

When walking in this area, please consider the skylarks that have returned to nest the ‘stubble’ fields. This species are one of the classic British songbirds but are becoming increasingly rare owing to habitat loss. Skylarks both nest and feed on the ground during the spring months, making it extremely important that dogs are kept on leads in this area. We manage the cutting of these fields to allow for nesting times and leave the stubble to provide plenty of food for the lean winter months.

If you are a regular reader of our ranger’s blog you might have seen our previous article on woodland management and how important it is that the trees we plant are from local provenance. Trelissick offers fairly challenging conditions for a young tree to establish itself but if we gather seed material from our existing veteran trees (which have already proven their ability to thrive in the locality) then the saplings will already have a genetic pre-disposition to grow and endure on the Estate.  Over the winter, to better help us with bringing along our own sessile oaks, we have constructed a pagoda to protect our saplings as they grow and to stop the acorns from being stolen by mice and birds!  

The pagoda protects the seedlings.
A pagoda constructed by the rangers to protect seedlings.
The pagoda protects the seedlings.

Over on the North Woodland Walk, below the zig-zag path that winds down into the woods from the Old Lodge, there are a series of ponds that flow through the valley and out into Lamouth Creek. Unfortunately, the dam that prevents these ponds from spilling over onto the path itself has sustained some serious erosion over the past few years, mainly owing to dogs accessing the water. During early spring we have been carrying out some essential stabilisation work to preserve the integrity of the dam and prevent it from being breached, which would result in a costly and difficult situation. To this end, we are constructing a willow revetment to strengthen the bank. Over the next three years we will be carrying out a program of restoration on these ponds to reduce sediment and improve the structure of the dams. These areas of fresh water are currently an important spawning site for frogs, toads and newts (species that are all sadly on the decline) and we would like to protect these amphibians from further disturbance. Please respect the fencing and keep dogs out of the pond. There is a ‘plunge pond’ below the waterfall that dogs are very welcome to use.

Willow revetments to strengthen the bank.
Willow revetment to repair a dam on the woodland walks at Trelissick
Willow revetments to strengthen the bank.

Spring wildlife to look out for

Illustration of queen bumblebee by Sonia Hensler

Queen bumblebee

From March onwards, look out for newly emerged queen bees. These are the strong individuals which have survived the winter and awoken to seek out pollen from spring flowers. The buff-tailed bumblebee Bombus terrestris is our largest UK species and is usually first to come forth. This is the very first phase of a bumblebee life-cycle, with the queen feeding and searching out a suitable nesting site for the warmer months ahead. The first eggs she lays will be female worker bees but she still has to feed them throughout the spring until they are finally able to go it alone in the summer.

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Frogs and toads

One of the earliest signs of spring is the appearance of jelly-like spawn in local ponds and ditches. From as early as February, frogs and toads surface from hibernation and begin to spawn. Toads move around at night and are known to travel surprisingly long distances to find a suitable pond for breeding. Male frogs on the other hand, will always return to the same pond in which they reached maturity, coming back to the same spot for the rest of their lives. Frog and toad spawn are easy to tell apart with frog spawn appearing in clumps whilst toad spawn looks like a long, thin chain. As spring turns to summer, tadpoles hatch, grow little legs and finally emerge from the water around June. 

Illustration of bluebells by Sonia Hensler

Bluebells

The famous bell-shaped flowers really need no introduction but it is always worth a reminder to get out and see one of the great spring spectacles – a carpet of bluebells can really transform woodland for several stunning weeks during late April to early May. The National Trust is one of the most important organisations in the UK for bluebell conservation. A quarter of the woodlands we look after are classed as ancient or semi-natural; the perfect habitat for bluebells whilst the UK itself is home to about half of the world’s bluebell population! Our woodland management at Roundwood has let a great deal of light back onto the woodland floor and encouraged bluebells and wood anemones to come up and establish themselves in the area.

Illustration of a swallow by Sonia Hensler

Migrant birds

Some of our migrant birds have become the most famous standard bearers of spring with many people using the arrival of certain species’ as the true marker of a change in the seasons. Chiffchaffs are often the first to arrive in March and can be heard making the repetitive ‘chiff chaff’ call that gave them their name. Swallows and house martins land on our shores in April followed up by their close relatives the swifts in early May. None of this is set in stone however because – with generally warmer weather – many migratory species are now arriving as much as two weeks early and leaving later as well. Neil, our lead ranger, keeps a record of when he spots his first swallow of the year and his first sighting was on 9th April this year, as opposed to 16th April last year.

Herons

Out on the river, herons too have begun to breed for the season.  Britain’s heron population are among our best understood birds, having been monitored since 1928 and we are very privileged to have a heronry here on the estate. These unmistakeable birds are a wonderful sight as they stalk or stand solitary on the shore at all times of the year and their breeding season is very long with the first eggs in mid-February and the last young of the year in early September. It will also take a young heron three months to learn how to fly!  

Woodpeckers

All around the woods at Trelissick you can often hear the drumming of woodpeckers, reverberating through the trees.  The unmistakeable sound of the woodpecker is a strong indication to the rangers that the breeding season is about to begin and we must relinquish our chainsaws and cease our woodland management for the year. These charismatic birds are actually using their famous ‘drumming’ to set up territories and partnerships and our population at Trelissick is a fantastic endorsement of our previously mentioned deadwood policy which supports the insects that, in turn, sustain these birds. 

You can find out more about this by following the link to our previous blog post below.

- The National Trust ranger team, Trelissick and North Helford

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