National Trust countryside and coastal locations remain open with parking charges waived – but gated gardens and parks are now closed

Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod

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Published: 22 March 2020

This Article was Written by: Katie Hill - My Green Pod

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From midnight on 21 March, the National Trust closed all of its gated gardens and parks to help restrict the spread of the coronavirus.

The move follows the closure of pubs, restaurants, cafés, gyms and leisure centres announced by the government on Friday, and tightening travel restrictions and public health advice.

At the start of this week the conservation charity announced that despite closing its houses, shops and cafés, it would work to keep gardens and parks open so people could access open space.

However, the Trust warned that a fair weather forecast and Mothering Sunday could tempt people onto the roads over the weekend and National Trust sites would close if high demand meant social distancing could not be enforced.

‘Despite our desire to keep our outdoor spaces open, the health and wellbeing of our staff, volunteers and visitors has to be our top priority. Having observed the numbers visiting our properties today I am no longer convinced we can maintain social distancing over Mother’s Day when numbers are likely to grow, and beyond.

‘We have now sadly taken the decision to close all of our parks and gardens, in addition to our houses, shops and cafés, to avoid crowding that puts social distancing at risk.

‘We know that people are likely to need space and fresh air in the coming weeks and months and we will do all we can to provide access wherever possible.

‘Our countryside and coastal locations remain open with parking charges waived, but we encourage people to stay local and observe social distancing measures.

‘Over the coming weeks our digital platforms – our website, social media feeds, podcasts and video – will become even more important, ensuring the places of nature, beauty and history that we care for on behalf of the nation can remain open for business virtually while we are temporarily closed.

‘We will also be ramping up our efforts to help people connect with nature wherever they are and to find moments of joy in the world around them. We will be providing rich content and staying in touch with our members and followers throughout this time.’

HILARY MCGRADY
National Trust’s director-general

The first ‘super’ National Nature Reserve

The closure of National Trust sites comes hot on the heels of the creation of a new ‘super’ National Nature Reserve (NNR) at landscape scale in Dorset.

The new Purbeck Heaths NNR ‘knits’ together 11 types of priority habitat to enable wildlife to move more easily across the landscape. This will give rare and varied wildlife – including the sand lizard, the Dartford warbler, and the silver studded blue butterfly – a better chance of adapting and thriving in light of the current climate crisis.

A reserve the size of Blackpool

The new super NNR combines three existing NNRs at Stoborough Heath, Hartland Moor, and Studland and Godlingston Heath linking them with a significant amount of new land including nature reserves and conservation areas managed by seven partners.

It is 3,331 hectares (8,231 acre) in total, expanding the current NNR in Purbeck by 2,335 hectares (5,770 acres). The new designation has resulted in a landscape-scale haven more than three times its original size, and similar in size to the town of Blackpool.

Benefits to wildlife

The expansion will create the largest lowland heathland NNR in the country providing tremendous benefits to wildlife by allowing all species the opportunity to move around the landscape more easily. Building resilience into the landscape will help tackle the decline in nature, with 41 per cent of species in decline in Britain since 1970.

By working together and combining land, expertise and a common vision, the National Trust, Natural England, RSPB, Forestry England, the Rempstone Estate, Dorset Wildlife Trust and Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, along with other landowners and managers, are taking important strides forward in landscape-scale conservation and nature recovery.

This super reserve is a rich mosaic of lowland wet and dry heath, valley mires, acid grassland and woodland, along with coastal sand dunes, lakes and saltmarsh. Conifer plantations are also being carefully restored to heathland.

‘For generations to come, Purbeck Heaths will be at the heart of a healthy, resilient landscape brimming with wildlife. As well as creating a special place for wildlife to recover and move around freely, we hope to inspire people to engage with nature and explore the great outdoors.

‘All the rare and beautiful wildlife living in and beyond the reserve will benefit hugely from a landscape where habitats are bigger, in better condition and better connected – and where natural processes are restored. Here they will be able to spread and build more resilient populations.’

MARK HAROLD
National Trust Director of Land & Nature

Biodiversity record

Purbeck Heaths is one of the most biodiverse places in the UK – home to thousands of species of wildlife, including 450 that are listed as rare, threatened or protected. Indeed, Purbeck includes the richest recorded 10km square for biodiversity in the UK.

All six native reptiles call this reserve home – including endangered smooth snakes and sand lizards. Heathland birds include breeding nightjars, Dartford warblers and woodlarks. And raptors such as hen harriers, marsh harriers, merlins, hobbies and ospreys all find these productive hunting grounds.

At least 12 species of bats live on the NNR. The Purbeck Heaths are some of the last strongholds for many specialist insects and other invertebrates, such as southern damselflies (Britain’s rarest dragonfly) and the Purbeck mason wasp. This reserve is also home to Dorset’s only colony of small pearl-bordered fritillary butterflies.

Rare plants include marsh gentians, great sundews and lesser butterfly orchids. And there are at least two fungi that are found nowhere else in England and Wales – the sand earthtongue and Roseodiscus formosus.

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