Archive for November, 2017

Where would we be without trustees?

Monday, November 13th, 2017
It’s trustees week – a chance to showcase the work of our trustees. Friends of Westonbirt’s trustees volunteer their time to make important decisions about the charity’s work, contributing their knowledge and skills gained in various industries.

 

We catch up with our newest trustee Beth.

 


 

What made you want to become a trustee with Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum?

When I saw that the charity were looking for new trustees, I thought what a wonderful way to support a charity that I care about. I don’t think many young people (I’m still putting myself in that bracket!) consider that they have the life experience to be a trustee, but if you have a love and a passion for a charity then why not?

You can help give a slightly different dimension to a board. The Friends are working so hard to bring in young families, and to open up the amazing world of trees to them, and I wanted to be a part of that.


 

What do you do outside of being a trustee?

At the moment I am on maternity leave but I work for the National Trust in outdoor Visitor Experience and so thought that my knowledge of the charity sector could be put to good use for the Friends.


 

What are you most looking forward to in your trustee role?

Lots of things! I already get all my other mum friends to give me feedback on their experiences when they visit Westonbirt. I hope I can help back the upcoming Westonbirt Wood Project and enthuse others to do likewise. I would also like to help expand membership, explaining to young families the huge benefit their support of the charity will have for their children in the future.

The research that takes place at Westonbirt, and the very fact that Westonbirt exists at all, is so important for the protection of our natural environment! Don’t they say that trees are the organs of our world? Our children need to learn to love trees in order to protect them in the future.

Beth and her son Tom discovering field maple leaves

We’ll shortly be recruiting for new trustees. Keep an eye out on our website if you think you could volunteer your time as trustee and make a meaningful contribution.

 

Return of the grazers – cattle are coming back to the downs!

Wednesday, November 8th, 2017

In mid-November, a group of Gloucester cattle will be taking up residence on the downland of Westonbirt Arboretum. They will be helping us to create and maintain diverse habitat for wildflowers and insects that make their home on the Downs.

 

Photo credit: Rare Breeds’ Survival Trust

 

The steep parts of the Downs here at Westonbirt are a particularly good example of  wildflower rich limestone grassland, and surveys over recent years have shown that they are home to at least 236 different plant species –  around 8.1% of the UK flora! In recent decades, this type of limestone grassland has been in rapid decline across the country; in the 1930’s 40% of the Cotswolds was covered in wildflower rich limestone grassland; today that figure has fallen to 1.5%, a decline which is reflected across the rest of Great Britain.

 
So why is this grassland disappearing? Well, a large factor is that many herbaceous plant  species found in these habitats , are susceptible to being outcompeted by more aggressive, tall rank species such as cocksfoot grass, docks and thistles.

 

 
Historically, these more competitive species have been kept in check and managed in Cotswolds grasslands by a combination of grazing, mowing, and burning. Burning is not an option at Westonbirt, and mowing is both labour intensive and does not produce as diverse a sward as grazing does. Grazing by livestock reduces the dominance of coarse, aggressive species (such as tall oat-grass and dock), which in turn allows less competitive species to establish and thrive. Through the action of their hooves, the animals open up the sward and soil to provide niches where seeds can germinate.

 

 

However, not all grazers are suitable for the Westonbirt downland. Sheep, for example, are highly selective grazers, preferring to eat flower-heads and buds of herbaceous plants rather than grass. Horses are also selective, and mainly eat finer species of grass, producing extensive ‘lawns’. Cattle are less selective than sheep or horses; they will eat grass and herbaceous plants equally, and are especially good at removing coarse grasses. The way cattle eat is important too: rather than nibbling with their teeth (as horses and sheep do), they pull clumps of vegetation from the ground with their tongues; this creates a more tussocky sward, and provides small areas of bare soil in which seeds can germinate.

 

Photo credit: Cotswold Farm Park

There are two other important factors to consider; the number of animals used, and the timing and duration of grazing. Too few cattle, and any beneficial effects will be negligible; too many, and the area will soon become too poached up with large areas of bare soil, which are too disturbed to allow seedlings to establish. In order to ensure that we are getting the number just right, we’ll be closely monitoring the effects of the grazing via vegetation surveys. If needed, we can adjust the numbers and frequency of grazing. Timing-wise, it’s important to stop the grazing when the vegetation starts to flower, then get them back on the ground once most of the species have shed their seeds. Grazers should also be removed if there are signs of excessive ground disturbance during periods of prolonged wet weather.
As long as the cattle are with us, it is important for our visitors to remember that, whilst Gloucester cattle are mostly docile, you should not try to touch or pet them. Whilst dogs do not have to be on the lead near the area where the cattle will be grazing, please ensure that all dogs are kept well under control and to heel when near them.

 

Watch this space as we share updates on the benefits that the cattle bring to the nationally important habitat of the Westonbirt Downs!

 

November Tree of the Month

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017

What is tree of the month?

Monterey cypress

Cupressus macrocarpa

 

Why is it tree of the month?

Restricted in the wild to Monterey County in California, Monterey cypress is well known in cultivation and is one of the most widely planted conifers in the world (Monterey pine, Pinus radiata, from the same area is another). Its original introduction is a little curious, when in 1838 an envelope of seeds turned up on a desk at Kew without explanation. A number of introductions have been made since, including in 2010, when colleagues from Bedgebury collected seeds from which young plants here now grow.

Where can I find it?

Our largest specimen grows along Main Drive. It is also illustrated in Westonbirt Arboretum’s Tree Spotter’s Guide! The young specimens that were collected as seed in 2010, are among the most vigorous trees in the collection and can be found in both the Old Arboretum and Silk Wood. Find the plant using the Westonbirt map.