Caring for Clumber Park

David Mearsin Public Places

Bought by the National Trust in 1946, Clumber Park, originally home to the Duke of Newcastle and once part of the famous Sherwood Forest, is visited by thousands each year. Caring for the vast expanse of this 3,800-acre site comprising parkland, heath and woods is no mean task. David Mears went along recently to meet Gareth Jones, Lead Ranger and discover more.

I entered the park through the imposing Apleyhead entrance and then it was a two-mile drive along most of the magnificent Lime Tree Avenue (said to be the longest double avenue of lime trees in Europe at three miles long!) before turning left to the rustic entrance cabin and barrier to obtain permission to proceed. Then it was another left turn past the cricket field, with its wonderful thatched pavilion roof, to reach the Estate Office. This is one of a group of old buildings adjacent to the Walled Kitchen Garden which includes what was the Head Gardener's house in earlier times. It was here Gareth and I met and were joined by Gary Smith, Area Ranger, for a hot drink whilst chatting.

Gareth has been at Clumber Park for thirty-two years, coming straight from school and into a YTS scheme on the Forestry Team. "A necessity of the scheme was going to college in two-week blocks," said Gareth. "This was at Dartington Hall in Devon." Gareth achieved a City & Guilds qualification along with an NVQ in Forestry. "This was tailored to the National Trust. I also had land-based learning on tree climbing, pesticides, tractors, timber working including chain saws and achieved the necessary certifications."

I asked where the inspiration to make a career in this type of work came from. "No one person," he replied. "It was just what we did as I grew up. We were an outdoors family, always cycling, walking and hiking in Derbyshire, North Yorkshire Moors and the Yorkshire Dales mostly."

Left: Lead Ranger Gareth Jones Right: Winter preparations in the Kitchen Garden

The outdoor life and all the work involved really suits Gareth and, over the years spent at Clumber Park, he's progressed, achieving the position of Lead Ranger and has a team of rangers and volunteers to supervise and work alongside. Gareth is a budget holder and purchases within the budget agreed, spending up to £5000. Over this amount and a fixed assets (machinery and equipment) needs to be planned.

The Trust installed a ClearWater washpad water recycling system for washing machinery some years ago, to conserve water and prevent pollution. Classed as a tangible fixed asset, and as the Trust is a conservation charity, this system met legislative and environmental requirements.

With Gareth as Lead Ranger, his team comprises:

Gary Smith 60, Area Ranger. He's been at Clumber for sixteen years since he made a total career change; he'd been a motor mechanic for BT. "I fancied something different," he said. "I started as a volunteer and a position became available." He loves the job.

Matt Watson, Area Ranger, got into conservation through a Careership Scheme (a successor to YTS) in the Yorkshire Dales. He went on to National Trust Wallington, progressing his career and four years ago applied and secured the Area Ranger position at Clumber.

Lewis Wright, now a Ranger, started as an Academic Ranger (apprenticeship) on a three-year course and has now been at Clumber for eight years.

Andy Gray, Assistant Ranger, and has served at Clumber for thirty-eight years. Charis Ollershaw, Assistant Ranger, has been with the team for three and a half years. Amy Beevers, Assistant Ranger, is one of the newer members of the team and has been at Clumber for a year. Lucy Callaway is a part time Assistant Ranger who started at Clumber in 2020 as a volunteer.

The team photo shows, from left to right: Gary Smith, Amy Beevers, Lucy Callaway, Gareth Jones, Andy Gray and Matt Watson. (Lewis Wright and Charis Ollershaw were not on site on the day of my visit). There is currently a vacancy for an Assistant Ranger which Gareth says should be filled soon.

Extra help is provided for Gareth's Countryside Team by forty-five volunteers. (There are three hundred volunteers for all departments at Clumber Park). Volunteers are allowed to tackle a range of jobs which, in the main, are presentational tasks. "They assist Rangers; The list is endless!" says Gareth. One project now is replacing stiles with gates to provide visitors ease of access. Whatever work is tackled, full training is provided in whatever depth is necessary and particularly for tractor work or if brushcutters are to be used. "Some volunteers come with certificates already and want to perhaps improve their CVs and/or maintain skills," remarked Gareth. Training is continual with 'refreshers' and to meet new demands. There are no apprentices employed currently at Clumber Park, but nationally the National Trust has a scheme; one Ranger from Clumber obtained a place at Upskilling School not so long ago. Health and Safety Officers are employed by the Trust and amongst them are those with specialist skills. First Aiders are nominated within each team and other departments. All are monitored and safety ensured.

It doesn't need a rocket scientist to tell me what the soil profile is, as wherever you tread, it's obvious! As Gareth says, "it's sandy, very sandy! There is just one seam of clay on the southern border." Gareth continued, "sand is a blessing but also a curse. It provides good drainage and is easy to dig, especially for post and gate holes! Grass native to sandy soil is slow growing due to lack of nutrients. The curse, however, is that sand brings up pebbles which will blunt mower and chainsaw blades. Also, in very dry weather, you get loads of dust, so PPE and face masks are necessary."

Extra help for larger jobs comes from a wide range of contractors. Work includes: path laying, tree surgery and fencing. There are also commercial forest contractors for the timber produced which provides an income. The trees (Scots Pine, Larch and non-native broadleaf species) for this enterprise were planted between 1920 and 1950.

"The park is nearly 4,000 acres and we are Grade 1 listed," said Gareth. "A third of this is classified a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and broken down into approximately twenty-five units. These include lowland, heathland, acid grassland, the lake (margins and plants), woodland, and wood pasture; these are the main ones." I enquired about the cricket club and how this fitted in. "The cricket club is separate from us and, under Deed of Covenant via the last Duke in the Deed of Sale to the National Trust, they maintain that themselves." I had noticed that the lovely thatched roof on the pavilion had been recently renewed.

Lime Tree Avenue

Gareth explained to me that there are two principal stakeholders at Clumber; Natural England for the SSSI and Historic England for the Grade 1 Park. There are around sixty tenants at Clumber Park, the largest of which is the Forestry Commission. In 2012, the stakeholders produced a Parkland Conservation Plan to look at conservation of buildings, parkland, nature, etc. Consideration was given to the history of the park, places and items of archaeological interest and to formulate aims and objectives going forward. There is an aim to have the park look as it was at a certain period in time. The target date has been agreed as 1832. "It's going to be a long process to achieve this," said Gareth. "This will involve extensive woodland management to restore the non-commercial woodlands to how it was with straight rows of Scots Pine and Larch! There are over two hundred species of trees here including Walnut, Tulip Tree and Cut Leaf Beech. The Duke was an avid collector of trees and created a pinetum in the park."

We talked about maintenance and special considerations necessary. "Seasonality governs maintenance," said Gareth, "and we have to consider the SSSI regulations; for example, bird nesting. We have various grant schemes which specify certain operations at various times of the year." The Trust has a number of grant schemes which specify cross compliance; for example, hedges cut at certain times of the year. All these requirements go into the maintenance plan.

Starting on 1st March, fence lines are checked ready for the return of livestock. Then it's first grass cutting if spring weather permits. April through until August is generally park presentation: strimming and mowing amenity areas along with woodland paths and tracks. High pruning (low branches) is also necessary and path repairs are ongoing. Wildlife and habitat surveys are also carried out during this period. These monitor changes across the landscape and highlight necessary jobs.

Left: Clumber Park Cricket Pavilion Right: View of the Chapel and Gertrude

A good example of this is counting skylarks, would you believe! "The more that are singing, the better the habitat," said Gareth. "Four years ago, a tenant farmer changed from arable to grassland and planted two and a half thousand trees. Across the park we've gone from six to twenty skylarks! The habitat is agreeing with them; more seeds and insects available!" Surveys are important to Gareth and his team. "They help us ensure all is right, especially if what we experience is different from the country generally; then we'd know if we had a problem!"

Back to the maintenance regimes, Gareth said that certain team members had specialist maintenance skills and training but most can handle the majority of jobs. Pre-Covid there were two teams: an Estate Team and a Ranger Team.

The Estate Team had Gary Smith as Team Leader. Their work included grass cutting, hedge cutting, strimming and park presentation, with leaf clearance in the autumn. A contractor is employed to cut the five kilometres of farmland hedges annually. A hedge flail is used on farm hedges with hedge trimmers used in high presentation areas. Gareth pointed out that certain hedges are on a two-year rotation for cutting to ensure berries in the second year. Litter picking was also in their remit, especially after busy weekends!

The Ranger Team had Matt Watson as Team Leader. Conservation and SSSI management were their main concerns, alongside summer surveys, litter picking on the outer reaches of the park, tree felling and scrub clearance. (Cross Compliance applied in the winter months; 1st September to end of February). As there is a third-party grazier on site in the summer, the team ensure animals are contained and safe.

The greenhouse; said to be the longest belonging to the National Trust

"Then along came Covid, lockdowns and all that went with that!" said Gareth. Both of the two teams were furloughed leaving Gareth as the only Ranger. "Because the Trust is a charity, income virtually dried up" he said. "No visitors equals no sales, so everyone was on furlough virtually. The Trust then went through another process called Reset which meant further cost savings to be made. Expenditure across the whole organisation was looked at first, then non-paid costs and regrettably some redundancies followed." This left Gareth's teams unbalanced as everyone emerged from the Covid restrictions. It was then decided that one single Countryside Team be formed. "This is working well," said Gareth. "All have received extra training, so everyone can do everything!" Presentation still ranks high, however, particularly in high visitor areas.

Machinery is purchased ordinarily on a ten-year cycle, with the dealer that supplies a piece of kit carrying out major servicing too. Day to day maintenance is carried out in-house. There is no brand loyalty as the mantra is to buy the best for the job and ensure it is robust! "Do you have a favourite piece of kit that really helps you?" was my next question. "The Telehandler with log grab to move felled trees and more!" was Gareth's response. "It is probably the most versatile piece of kit on site with attachments including: snow plough, man basket (cherry picker), rotating brush and pallet forks." The next question was, "what's on the wish list?" Gareth said that this would more than likely be a multi-purpose machine with low ground pressure tyres that could take a variety of attachments front and rear to cover the amenity and conservation side.

Trees ready for orchard planting Right: Tower clock

Asking about pests and diseases, the main issue it seems has been AOD, (Acute Oak Decline). This, Gareth tells me, has been likened to Dutch Elm Disease. Acute oak decline is a combination of factors which cause oak trees to become stressed. Environmental stresses like soil conditions, drought, waterlogging and pollution can all impact the tree. Insects, fungi and bacteria then move in on the vulnerable tree and push it into decline. The disease is being thoroughly researched at present.

Fauna and flora are of importance on a site like this and, naturally, great care is taken. An environmental policy is in place as are environmental consultants working for the Trust. The team also work with The Environment Agency, particularly with regard to the water quality in the lake.

Next, we talked about legislative compliance. In addition to adhering to SSSI and Cross Compliance requirements, Duty of Care is very high for all on site. With over seven hundred thousand visitors per annum (pre-Covid), there is much work involved ensuring safety. The main areas that are always prioritised are: infrastructure, snow clearance and gritting and trees; risk management is a high priority.

An environmental policy is in place, as one would expect of this national institution. Pollution prevention is a must, hence the ClearWater washpad water recycling system, along with bunded and secure fuel/oil dispensing. Recycling is carried out as a matter of course and waste management is handled professionally and efficiently by approved contractors.

Roadways being laid for extra parking

We next discussed the weather patterns and noticeable changes. "Wetter winters are more prevalent and can cause issues, because there's no ground frost," Gareth said. "It's not a major concern however. Dry summers mean less cutting!" Clumber, as with all others involved with horticulture and groundcare, has seen weather patterns have changed and the long hard winters are no longer being experienced. Warm sunny days in March are not such a rarity nowadays either and spring seems to be arriving earlier. Interestingly, one weather incident that occurred back in the very hot spell in June 2018 created media interest; an example being The Yorkshire Post's headline at the time: Heatwave causes foundations of mansion demolished eighty years ago to re-appear at National Trust estate. The mansion referred to was Clumber House, the seat of the Dukes of Newcastle. Following a devastating fire in 1938, the property, close to the lakeside, was demolished. The outline of the foundations of the house re-appeared in the grassed area during the heatwave!

Mentioning projects next was a good reason to tour the grounds and show me some of the work being undertaken by the team. As we went out into the yard area, Gareth pointed to a collection of trees that he said were for orchard planting. (Somebody obviously had a sense of humour as our photo shows). We jumped in the pickup and travelled the short distance to a marked-out area. "This is where the Duke's Orchard was," explains Gareth. This one-hectare site adjacent to our meeting place area is being planted in the coming time with orchard trees. "Apples, pears, cherries, plums, greengages, etc., anything that bears fruit!" exclaims Gareth. So, the orchard will be re-established. The fruits will certainly come to good use, I'm sure. Gareth went on to say that they are replanting fifty-six parkland trees which have been lost since the 1920s onward. "We've also worked, in partnership with a tenant farmer, to create conversion from arable to woodland pasture. As a result, there's less water usage (irrigation) and a drastic reduction in pesticide use," said Gareth.

"Soil sampling has shown an increase of carbon too."

Whilst on the site of the Duke's Orchard and across the track we'd driven down, machinery was hard at work. Gareth explained that this was to create much needed overflow parking which included roadways to various sections. It's very clear that this demonstrates there's an increasingly growing demand from the general public for the type of outdoors experience that Clumber Park has to offer.

Our tour continued (photos were needed!) and we arrived at the lakeside near the Chapel, which certainly was a good photo location. Incidentally, the Serpentine Lake, as it's officially called, took fifteen years to build! It covers eighty-seven acres and is almost two miles long. Here a number of the original buildings survive around a courtyard area and are in use as a tea room, gift shop, food kiosks, discovery centre, etc. The chapel, commissioned by the 7th Duke of Newcastle, is a magnificent building and was built some time after the house in 1889. An interesting view of the spire was afforded to us through the Clock Tower arch where a life-size model cow, Gertrude, was placed (very realistic!); I guess she was there to encourage ice cream sales!

We continued to the four-acre Kitchen Garden where winter preparations were underway. However, the piece de resistance was the remarkable and original greenhouse. (Sorry, Glass House!). At forty-eight metres long, it is said to be the longest original example on National Trust property. It was certainly an amazing sight and well preserved.

It was now time to meet the team members at a suitable location off Lime Tree Avenue and where Matt was carrying out some chainsaw work. With a suitable photo taken, we moved on and Gareth stopped at a rather large tree. To give an idea of its size, Gareth stood by it: the largest girth tree in Clumber Park and quite impressive! Then it was back to the estate office to conclude the visit.

As I had discovered; there's so much more to Caring for Clumber than one imagines!


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