Work and wildlife at Trelissick

Illustration of queen bumblebee by Sonia Hensler

With such glorious weather to start the summer off - and much to the delight of the ranger team - Trelissick has seen an abundance of butterflies this year. Read on to find out how you can help us count and identify them as well as what we have been up to lately.

Regular visitors to Trelissick always know that they’ve arrived when they see the roadside estate walls with their distinctive coping of ‘dragon’s teeth’. In the summer you may spot us giving them a much-needed spruce up. The walls are obviously very old and demand this bit of annual care to keep them in a safe and stable state. This work inevitably involves a fair amount of strimming as well as the removal of large patches of ivy, plants and trees that have seeded amongst the stones.

Removing ivy from the wall attracts an audience
A National Trust ranger removes ivy from a historic wall at Trelissick, Cornwall
Removing ivy from the wall attracts an audience

It has been an unusual year so far, with a cooler spring meaning all the wildflowers, leaves and plants came late and all at once in great abundance. Such vigorous growth means that the footpaths and hedgerows are now in almost constant need of attention to keep you all from getting snagged on encroaching vegetation, brambles and branches. 

We have a strong policy in the countryside of cutting quite late to allow the wild flowers enough time to seed. This means we do not deplete the seed bank or prioritise tidiness over sustaining the beautiful bounty of wild flowers and plants that are the foundation upon which much of our native British wildlife thrives. It also means we have our hands full come July…

The beautiful blue, almost ghost-like flowers of the hairy vetch. A member of the pea family, this character likes to climb up other plants which it takes into custody with grasping little tendrils.
Hairy vetch growing at Trelissick, Cornwall
The beautiful blue, almost ghost-like flowers of the hairy vetch. A member of the pea family, this character likes to climb up other plants which it takes into custody with grasping little tendrils.

The scorching heat we have enjoyed so far this summer provides the perfect opportunity for catching up with painting and maintenance jobs around the Estate. We indulge in seemingly endless tasks like renewing the paint on our park iron fence, so insurmountable does it appear that passers-by often comment 'it must be a bit like painting the Forth Bridge’; the many hands of our Wednesday volunteer group are very helpful indeed!

In the fields of Tregew, our seasonal ranger Olly has been undertaking butterfly surveys to monitor habitat and population changes in the area. Tregew lies at the north side of the Trelissick estate near Roundwood Quay. It is an area that used to be intensively farmed until, in 2008, the land was acquired by the National Trust and is now managed for wildlife and is also home to a community orchard. Future blog posts will explain our management of Tregew in more depth - you can follow Trelissick on Twitter and Facebook for updates from us. 

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The last few years have been fairly poor for butterfly numbers but they appear to be picking up, with large numbers of certain species recorded during the survey. It also appears to be the beginning of a new area of interest for Olly who has since been seen on all corners of the estate – camera in hand - chasing down butterflies with passionate zeal.

Anyone who fancies joining Olly for a Big Butterfly Count can do so on Saturdays 4 and 11 August at 11am. Meet at the car park's entrance to the parkland, all you'll need is sturdy shoes, a bottle of water and a keen eye for our fluttering friends. All ages welcome, we hope to see you there! 

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Wildlife to look out for at Trelissick this summer

Illustration of ringlet butterfly by Sonia Hensler

Butterflies

As stated above, the sustained sunshine of this summer has been kind to butterflies. Keep your eyes peeled for ringlets, meadow browns, whites and commas whilst walking through the Parkland or the diverse grassland habitats at Tregew. 

Illustration of a burnett moth by Sonia Hensler

Moths

Another wonderful creature to spot is the day-flying six spotted burnet moth. You could be forgiven for mistaking this vermillion and iridescent black beauty for a butterfly but that would be doing moths a disservice for they are not all drab and nocturnal. Indeed, many would be surprised to learn that there is actually very little difference between a butterfly and a moth – it actually all boils down to the fact that butterflies have a club end to their antennae and moths don’t!

Illustration of a bastard balm plant by Sonia Hensler

Bastard balm

Next up and ever the conversation starter, we have the wonderfully named bastard balm (Melittis melissophylum). Bastard balm is an eye-catching woodland plant that is a rare British native, only occurring in a few isolated sites limited to the South-West (mainly Devon and Cornwall).  Fortunately enough, one of those sites happens to be at Trelissick!

How this plant got its common name is seemingly unclear but as an herb it is rumoured to be an effective treatment for kidney problems and anxiety. The plant itself boasts buoyant, almost orchid-like, ivory white flowers that look like they are sticking out little pink tongues. This ‘tongue’ acts as a landing guide for bees who love to drink deeply from the nectar hidden within each flower. Unlike the strong, almost minty, aroma of other balms, the foliage has a light and sweet smell, not dissimilar to that of woodruff. Each plant can grow as large as eighteen inches tall and mature, year upon year, growing in size and substance.

Our woodland management along the South Woodland Walk is essential for encouraging woodland wildflowers like bastard balm. Over the last few years we have been removing the vigorous, non-native turkey oaks and favouring our native sessile oak trees which will allow their seedlings to develop without being out-competed. Sessile oaks allow a great deal more light to pass beneath them, creating ideal conditions for an enormous range of woodland plants such as wood sage, yellow cow wheat, gorse, heath, broom and, of course, bastard balm to develop.

Illustration of a mackerel by Sonia Hensler

Mackerel

The Fal is a breeding ground for a large number of fish species including many that are commercially important such as bass and mackerel. This fact can tempt many a sea bird to venture further up the river, taking leave from their usual haunts to feast on fresh fish. One of the ranger team’s most favoured ways to spend a lunch break has been to watch the gannets hunt with effortless elegance and sudden violence.

Illustration of a dor beetle by Sonia Hensler

Dor beetle

The famous dor or ‘dung’ beetle as it is commonly known, can often be found lumbering around areas of open ground or amongst the heather that is busy re-establishing itself down at Roundwood. This robust critter spends a good deal of its time underground, digging shafts in which to stash the dung it has found. The beetles then lay their eggs in the dung so the larvae are both well protected and have an instant food supply.

Did you know that their heavily armored exterior is often strikingly metallic on the underside and legs? As well as being wonderful characters in their own right, dor beetles are also extremely useful; clearing up some pretty nasty waste products and helping to recycle nutrients by turning them back into fertile soil.

Illustration of a dragonfly by Sonia Hensler

Dragonflies

Take a walk out into the countryside at Trelissick and there is a fair chance you will be rewarded with the spectacular sight and sound of a dragonfly or a damselfly. Superficially, it’s easy to confuse your zygoptera with your odonata; both have lacy, delicate wings, an elongated abdomen and orbicular eyes, but look closer and a few key characteristics will mean you need never suffer this ignorance again…

Dragonflies are large, sturdy and, because they are powerful fliers, can often be seen a fair distance from water. Their hindwings are more than likely shorter and wider than the forewings and both sets are held open when the insect is at rest. Lastly, those famously ample eyes are very close together and often touch.

Damselflies, on the other hand are smaller in stature and far more slender. They are weak fliers and can usually only be seen near water. All four wings on a damselfly are roughly the same size and are held closed along the length of the body at rest (with the exception of an emerald damselfly). The eyes of a damselfly are situated on the sides of its head and never touch.

- The National Trust ranger team, Trelissick and North Helford