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Our work on the estate at Ickworth

Ranger felling trees with chainsaw at Crom Estate, County Fermanagh
Ranger felling trees with chainsaw | © National Trust Images/Colin Beacom

Each winter we carry out vital conservation work on the estate. Discover some of the outdoor work that the National Trust Rangers team carries out at Ickworth, from managing the spread of ash dieback and maintaining the River Linnet to keeping tabs on a new family of barn owls.

Roof renovation project at Castle Drogo, Devon
Building work with bricks and mortar | © National Trust Images/William Shaw

Tackling the threat of ash dieback at Ickworth

National Trust places across the country are faced with a rise in ash dieback. Ickworth Ranger Matt Bevan details the work that’s being carried out to tackle the spread on the Ickworth estate.

How has Ickworth been affected?

‘A diseased ash tree that’s 20-30 years old will gradually decline before eventually dying after around five years. Larger trees seem to be more resilient, though we’ve still seen signs of dieback.

'At Ickworth, around a quarter of our woodland (60 hectares) is made up of ash trees, and there are more across the parkland. Our current situation is that around 75 per cent of our ash trees are infected with the disease and in some stage of decline.’

What do trees with ash dieback look like?

‘One of the obvious signs of ash dieback is that the tree will have very few leaves on its branches. As the condition worsens, branches die off altogether and won’t produce any leaves at all. The branches then become brittle, making it more likely that they’ll snap.

'This becomes an issue if the tree is positioned over a path. Over time, more major sections of the tree may weaken, and larger sections could fall. Potentially, the whole tree could come down in time.’

What’s happening at Ickworth?

‘At Ickworth, we survey all property boundaries, gardens and car parks, the play area, the multi-use trail and all other waymarked trails.

'The aim is to identify ash trees that have at least 50 per cent canopy loss, which is thought to be the stage where the tree is past the point of recovery and will pose a safety risk in the near future. While some trees are only just at this stage, others are nearing the stage where they’re completely dead.

What's being done to solve the issue?

‘We identified more than 1,100 trees with at least 50 per cent canopy reduction, half of which have needed to be dealt with by contractors due to their proximity to buildings, power lines or such like as this requires specialist equipment that we don't hold on the estate. The other half we have been able to deal with by the in-house felling teams at Ickworth. The survey work is ongoing so if you are walking around Ickworth, you may notice pink spray dots on some of the ash trees.'

‘Areas with significant numbers of infected trees include Lownde Wood and Lady Katharine’s Wood. Main routes will be kept open in the long term. However, less well-used routes with large numbers of infected trees may have to be closed off for a while.’

What’s the general outlook?

‘Many insects, invertebrates, lichens and mosses rely on ash as their habitat, and the timber is valued for a wide range of uses.

‘It isn’t all bad news, though; with areas of the woodland being cut back, more light will come in and it’ll encourage flowers, scrub and other species.

‘Additionally, some trees aren’t showing signs of dieback, so these will be left alone and monitored in the hope that they’re resilient to the disease.’

Lake and parkland at Ickworth, Suffolk
Lake and parkland at Ickworth | © National Trust Images/Rob Stothard

Maintaining the River Linnet

The Ickworth Rangers team has been working with Norfolk River Trust wildlife advisors to assess the opportunities for enhancing wildlife along the River Linnet, which runs through the Ickworth estate.

The river's condition

Generally, the river is looking in good condition, with the more 'natural' areas providing the best habitat for wildlife. These include the part where the river meanders between the Fairy Lake and the Canal, and the section close to the White House. Here, hawthorn, willow and other tree species provide dappled shade, while deadwood falls into the river, creating blockages, changing the flow, and creating more natural meanders, riffles and pools.

Making improvements

Some parts of the river – for instance, the stretch that runs through Saxham End – have very little shade and are pretty much dead straight. Along this section, we've been undertaking some recommended work such as planting hawthorn and willow. When grown, these plants will provide shade for a variety of species.

Monitoring barn owls

Barn owls have been spotted nesting in the Ickworth estate for the first time in over 20 years. The family was discovered on land that had previously been taken out of arable production. This freed it from chemicals and intense management, which helped improved the soil structure and vegetation – making it the prime place for mammals to thrive.

We’ve already had a visit from the Suffolk Barn Owls Community Project to record the young barn owls.

Improving the habitat for wildlife on the estate

As part of our management plan, we want to make our parkland as biodiverse as possible; to improve the natural habitat and encourage as much wildlife as possible to call Ickworth their home. Among other things, this will involve planting more wildflowers to attract wildlife to the estate.

Thank you

With your ongoing support, we're able to continue our vital conservation work. Thank you for helping to protect these special places.

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