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Sumer Is Icumen In………

Summer is a-coming in
Loudly sing cuckoo
Groweth seed and bloweth mead
and springs the wood anew
Sing cuckoo!

Since Medieval times and before, the rhythm of the countryside has been dictated by the seasons.

Get out and about as a Volunteer or Visitor on one of these Summer events on the Estate.
You will need to check on the event details before you sign up at helping.ashridge@nationaltrust.org.uk for one or two.

Sunday 2nd June 10 am-12.30pm Canine Capers – watch the ProDogs team demonstrate agility with their dog George, before having a go with your own pooch.

Tuesday 4th June 2.30-4.30pm Ashridge House – join the volunteers and the Head Gardener at Ashridge House for a special tour of the gardens.

Sunday 9th June 1-4pm The Dovecote – a rare chance to see inside Ashridge’s 18th century dovecote. No parking on site. Park in the recreation ground car park on Stocks Road in Aldbury and walk. HP23 5RX.

Sunday 16th June 9-12am Fun Ride – a way-marked two-hour horse ride through some of Ashridge’s most beautiful landscapes.

Monday 1st July 2.30-4.30pm Gentle Stroll to see Chalkland Flowers – Join our knowledgeable volunteers for a gentle stroll through Ashridge’s chalklands (some steep slopes). Meet at Beacon car park.

Friday 12th July 8.30-10pm Totally Batty Walk – try to catch a glimpse of these amazing creatures with the help of the rangers.

Sunday 21st July 10am-4.00pm Bioblitz – join wildlife experts at the family-friendly bioblitz and help to see how many plant and animal species there are on Ivinghoe Beacon.

Tuesday 30th July, Tuesday & Thursday 1, 6, 8, 13, 15, 20, 22, 27 & 29th August 10.30am-12pm and 1.30pm – 3pm Ashridge Adventurers – join for either a morning or afternoon session of family led activities and crafts. Learn more about Ashridge’s animals and plants. Suitable for children aged 4 and up.

Tuesday 6th August 2.30-4.30pm Hanging Coombe – join the volunteers for a gentle stroll through this less well known area of the Estate (some steep slopes). Meet at Steps Hill car park.

Saturday 17th -Sunday 18th August Big Camp – a special opportunity to camp at Ashridge for the night and take part in a number of family activities.

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Pond Life

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On reflection there is no substance in the derogatory term “pond life” – Ponds are important hotspots for biodiversity. … As well as aquatic species, ponds are also wonderful for our terrestrial wildlife. They provide drinking water during dry weather, a supply of insect and plant-based food, and shelter among the emergent and surrounding plants and trees. Most of the twenty or so ponds on the Estate are silted up or dried out and Clinkmere, nestling just two minutes walk away from the V C has seen better days – it is the oldest deepest and largest of the ponds on the Estate.
The volunteers recently carried out an annual tidy-up removing leaf debris and rotting tree branches which affect the water quality – a putrid job! If the water quality deteriorates and the pond silts up the biodiversity is lost.
Clinkmere has been used for educational purposes in the past as part of the National Trust’s “Forest School”, while it was originally dug to provide water for the commoners’ livestock on the open common. It was no doubt used by the passing drovers and was the main water supply for the nearby hamlet of Moneybury Hill in earlier times.

A rare artefact


Clinkmere has been there since “time out of mind” as the locals would say, dating back to pre Norman times, when it was clearly used as a boundary marker. The boundaries of the parish, county and ecclesiastical districts were laid down in Anglo Saxon times, and all pass through the centre of the pond making it over one thousand years old. With the parish boundary between Pitstone and Aldbury passing through the centre, it meant that the commoners from either parish could use the water – hole without fear or favour. First mentioned in the 14th century when “clink” referred to a keyhole, a legend has it that it was the location for the settling of affairs of honour.
It is regrettable that the National Trust have not honoured their founding principles in the case of Clinkmere, which seems to have fallen through the net – preserving and restoring an ancient artefact, and protecting wildlife. In March 2017 the National Trust agreed that it had lost sight of the founding principle of protecting wildlife – Peter Nixon, Director of Conservation of the National Trust, said “the charity had a duty to help prevent wildlife decline, which currently affects 56 per cent of British species.”
Unused since Victorian times, and following the inevitable encroachment of trees, Clinkmere has become sterile.
The degradation of the ponds at Ashridge has been recognised for some time, when in the Spring of 2014 the Trust had a plan to improve all of the water-holes within a five year period using fixed point photography to record progress. Clearly this did not materialise, and following an incident in 2017 the Trust carried out a public safety survey of all the ponds, which has resulted in a number of dead-hedges being built.
The Norfolk Ponds Project created in 2014 is a pioneering organisation attempting to safeguard the ponds in Norfolk through restoration. They maintain that the best ponds for restoration are isolated ponds with no contaminants present from roads or adjacent farmland – so Clinkmere can be saved. The N P P are a fount of knowledge which should be tapped!

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Lock up your Hornbeams

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To prevent the resident deer herd from taking advantage of the recently planted hornbeams on Aldbury common, the trees have been given twenty four hour protection – a six foot high wire mesh fence with a padlocked gate! The Trust have to go to extraordinary lengths to secure their work. Two hundred years ago when Rail Copse was probably enclosed by the 7th Earl Bridgewater as the family set out to become landed aristocrats, deer damage was not a problem. The fallow and red deer were imparked around the Mansion and the muntjac deer had yet to arrive – today they run wild! A benefit of such an enclosure avoids the necessity of using the dreaded plastic tree guards which shatter after a few years. The fence will need to remain for a number of years until the leaders on the saplings grow above the reach of the deer and the trees are established, when they may well be pollarded.
The volunteers helped prepare an experimental site just south of Rail Copse and plant up some two hundred and thirty hornbeam saplings of UK origin, as the first part of the twenty year restoration plan. Supplied as bare rooted “whips” which are cheap and easy to establish they were set in a morning using the notch method of planting. The trees have been planted to a high density to encourage competition and growth with the expectation that some saplings will fail.

Watch this space.


Deciduous trees like hornbeam should be planted any time from leaf fall in the Autumn until late Winter according to the R H S. They need to be well watered in and watered regularly for the first two years during dry periods – the Trust have two large water butts on site.
Hornbeam used to be the best source of very hard wood in Britain, available in larger sizes than the equally prized boxwood. It is a native of south east England, but not normally native north of Hertfordshire. The common English name of hornbeam derives from the hardness of the wood – likened to horn – and the Old English beam. The full Latin name is Caprinus betulus.
Hornbeams are relatively small hardwood trees. They produce catkins in spring followed by a winged seed which spins in the wind as it falls to earth to create the next generation. The hornbeam prefers a well drained sandy or gravel soil, and rarely grows to a height of more than forty feet after sixty years of growth,
Hornbeam can be easily coppiced or pollarded. In the past, hornbeam was used in the production of charcoal as well as being a source of excellent firewood. This is evident from the number of pollarded hornbeams in Epping Forest, relics of the times when common fuel-wood rights existed there as they did and still do at Aldbury – in the 19th century the trees at Ashridge would have been coppiced and the poles used for charcoal for the local blacksmiths. The nearby brick making at the Outwood Kiln appears to have been fired by coal, certainly after 1810 when the canal was in operation.
Hornbeam is almost white, patterned with lovely flecks and swirls in its grain. When well finished, it is very smooth and often compared to ivory. These days it is mainly sold for furniture or turnery. Hornbeam is a very hard timber, so it is rarely used for general carpentry because of the difficulty of working it. Its hardness means it has been used for carving boards, tool handles, coach wheels – places where a very tough wood is required. In fact the timber is so hard it’s been used as gear pegs in simple machines, including traditional windmills. It is sometimes coppiced to provide hardwood poles, and also used in parquet flooring. It has even been used to produce wooden screws.

The hornbeams will now be left to do their own thing – happy hornbeams!

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An arresting place


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An arresting place – striking, eye-catching and silent.

From ancient Greece, Rome and China to the present, there has been a persistent belief in the restorative power of nature. That belief has formed the bedrock of a passion for gardening, the enduring literary genre of pastoral, the concept of national parks and the philosophy of the Arts and Crafts movement at the turn of the 1800’s.
The English are particularly susceptible to the lure of nature: witness our gardens, our anglers, birdwatchers and ramblers. There is a long tradition that defines Englishness by way of landscape and what William Wordsworth called “local affections”

Dockey Wood is one of those special places

Almost all of life’s pleasures can turn out to be bad for you. Eating, drinking smoking – but one of the most enjoyable activities around can reduce stress and depression, ease muscle tension, counter attention deficit disorder, even calm an erratic heart. What is this wonder therapy? A walk in the woods.
Dr Karjalainen from the Finnish Forest Research Institute maintains, “Many people feel relaxed and good when they are out in nature. But not many of us know there is also scientific evidence about the healing effects of nature.” Forest bathing or ‘shinrin-yoku’ was first developed in Japan in the 1980s, following scientific studies conducted by the government. The results showed that two hours of mindful exploration in a forest could reduce blood pressure, lower stress levels and improve concentration and memory. They also found that trees release chemicals called phytoncides, which have an anti-microbial effect on human bodies, boosting the immune system. As a result of this research, the Japanese government introduced ‘shinrin-yoku’ as a national health programme. The National Trust are featuring this topic in their May ideas program.

Britain is one of the least forested countries in Europe, but woods still cover 12% of the countryside, and half of that is open to the public. According to the Woodland Trust, almost two-thirds of us live within two and a half miles of a wood that covers at least fifty acres. To enter even the smallest wood is to cut yourself off from work, home and responsibility, and thanks to the volunteers effort Dockey Wood is well prepared for forest bathing.

Within those walls of bark, it’s just you, and mother nature. If you can, try it on your own when there are few visitors – you can’t get lost! Savour the silence, for that’s what nature serves up, unless there is a strong wind blowing. In Spring it’s time to wake up and smell the flowers and sap. The emerging tree ceiling of green leaves provides a perfect cover for the violet blue floor. The flowering of the bluebells creates a carpet like effect with a dense blue haze, which combined with a delicate fragrance creates a heavenly experience. The volunteers have created the perfect picture by removing all of the undergrowth and fallen debris from the plantation to give a sanitised result – not normally the case with the natural wildness of the Ashridge Estate. This provides the silence for there is nowhere for the wildlife to hide or nest so it is absent. The Trust have provided some seating for anyone wanting to stay a while and take in the state of well-being afforded by the ancient wood, while some visitors will stay permanently being scattered amongst the oaks seeking the spirit of the place.

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That’s a big delivery of eggs in anyone’s book.

And that was not the end of it for servicing the ever popular children’s egg hunt this Easter at the Visitor Centre, as extra supplies were needed.
It also required volumes of volunteers to support the staff running the annual event.
Set to coincide with the Easter school break the trail was priced at £3 as an “Early Bird” offer for the three days preceding Easter, and £5 over the four day Easter holiday week-end.
Good weather ensured that, at this fickle time of year it would be a run-away success.
Nowadays there is competition from other local venues like Aston Clinton Park, Waddesden and Ascott, so Ashridge needed to have a compelling offer. There were over two hundred and sixty N T egg hunts held across the Country.
The two tier pricing was aimed at spreading the visitor numbers and to encourage early visits – some visitors took to social media complaining that the £5 charge was excessive compared to other venues charging less than £3 – you get what you pay for.
What you got was a cleverly designed woodland trail introduction of migrating birds arriving from around the world – Easter Bunny had invited a bunch of birds to his party.
Several visits to a local supermarket were required to have adequate supplies of chocolate eggs available to give out as prizes on completion of the trail – Easter’s most treasured staple melting in the hot weather!

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What’s in a name?


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From nowhere, violets are suddenly everywhere –

the flower that is, not the floral females – emerging from a subterranean world their ephemeral scent signals the rebirth of spring with a fleeting embrace.
Our hills, hedge banks and woods at Ashridge are full of violets: From nowhere, they have materialised everywhere; as if from memory, they return through a whiff of sweet violet that conjures something mysterious from long ago, something ephemeral to be forgotten again when the noise of life shouts them down.
The name comes from the Old French violette and the Latin viola. Violaceous describes a colour, the innermost arc of the rainbow, but many of these flowers are mauve, purple, lilac, blue, claret, smoky or white. Violet describes a fragrance: a sweet, powdery, earthy, woody, floral odour created by ionomes in the flower. It was reckoned bad luck to pick the first violets and bring them into the house – they could also bring fleas, rain, the death of a loved one.
The British love of floral names is long established. The Edwardians took their love of flowers and elevated them to the heights of fashion in girls’ names – but it started with the Victorians. There was Violet Attlee wife of the PM Clement Attlee, and the famous Lilly Langtry, actress and mistress to the Prince of Wales.
But, before they took off as names, flowers were used as an intricate form of communication known, quite grandly, as floriography.  If a Victorian lady received flowers, she would automatically consult her floriography handbooks and dictionaries to see what messages were being sent – a white rose meant purity and violet was for modesty.
We may have had a mother or an aunt given the name violet, daisy, rose or lilly for these were the most common of floral names chosen by the working classes. As many as thirty names of flowering plants are recorded like ivy, may, pansy, marigold or primrose – more modern variants are poppy, heather, honeysuckle and fern.
The fashion for floral names coincided with the emergence of the Arts and Craft design movement at the end of the 19th century which was influenced most prominently by the imagery of nature. Disenchanted with the impersonal mechanical direction of society, and wishing to return to a more simpler life in the countryside away from the city slums they could remain in touch with nature. Abject poverty in the industrial towns gripped the lives of many – it did not cost anything to have a petal or blossom around the place.

Thanks to Paul Evans for his contribution.

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A walk in the Park


The Trust have introduced four new way-marked walks of varying length and difficulty, to supersede the existing descriptive routes. There is just one leaflet now covering the four walks with a pictorial map. On the ground the pathways are marked by roundels describing the immediate locality. Miss one roundel and you are probably lost! Getting “lost” at Ashridge is no hardship but one of those expectations – you end up seeing more of the countryside than was originally intended!

The Foresters Walk with purple roundels is a revised version of the Old Copse and Thunderdell Wood walk which covered the following three miles, now with some local interest added by the Blog.

1 Leaving the Visitor Centre behind follow the road to the left around the café and cottage and down into the tree line. When the path forks take the right hand option which descends slightly downhill following markers for the Ashridge Estate Boundary Trail.

2 When the track forks again take the left hand option to continue ahead on a level, well-made path, still following the Boundary Trail. Continue for about ½ mile (800m) until arriving at a junction with a telegraph pole. The Trust intend to open up the view to the right overlooking the ancient village of Aldbury as part of their twenty year Woodland Plan.

3 At the junction turn left passed Old Copse Lodge which dates to around 1813 when the road from Aldbury was built to give access to the Mansion from the West. Cross a hard-surfaced road onto a well-surfaced bridleway continuing straight ahead for about ½ mile (800m), ignoring any cross paths and eventually arriving at a main road. Before the road note the huge clay pit to the left used for brick and tile making in the 17th century.

4 Before crossing over the road which is particularly busy, note the “laid” hedge on the left recently restored by the volunteers which forms the road boundary for the Old Dairy Farm once owned by Elizabeth 1st – a favourite spot for the grazing fallow deer. After crossing the B 4506 you will be in a small pull-in car park. Behind the car park take the bridleway to the left which is the well maintained path-way known as Lady’s Walk. It runs between two notable soil banks. Proceed straight ahead until an open field comes into view on the left – this is part of the original deer Park landscaped by Capability Brown in 1760 for the Bridgewater family.

5 At this point turn left following the footpath around the field. The route deviates from the main paths so continue to follow the fence line around the field until arriving at a hard-surfaced track.
6 Turn left onto the track and continue to a junction with another surfaced road then turn right onto this new road.

7 Follow this road until it crosses a broad, grassy avenue which is known as Princes Riding – King Edward V1 and his sister Elizabeth 1st grew up at Ashridge. Turn left onto the avenue and walk towards the Bridgewater Monument to be seen in the distance. Before starting off take a look at Old Park Lodge over to the right built in 1619. Before reaching the Monument you should look back along the riding and view the new Mansion completed in 1813. It was built in the Gothic style and replaces the original monastery built in 1283, dissolved in 1538 and retained as a royal palace until 1604.

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Over the Hills


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The extraordinary humps and bumps seen all over the hills in the Chilterns are home to the yellow meadow ant – more modest examples of anthills than the exotic ones found on the continents of Africa or Australia. Conservation by the volunteers removing scrub and long grass enables the ants to survive over many decades – they hide away out of sight busy keeping their house in order. The ant hills are often well over a foot high and extend down to the chalk subsoil often a few feet below.
Like all species of ants, the yellow meadow ant lives in organised social colonies, consisting of a reproductive female known as the queen, a few males, and a large number of workers which are non-sexual females.
During warm, humid days in July and August, winged male and female ants emerge from the mounds and swarm in a mating flight, after which the females land on the ground, shed their wings, and search for a suitable place to establish a new colony. – they make a new chamber in the ground staying throughout the winter until they can begin egg laying in the spring.
The vegetation growing on the ant hills helps to regulate the temperature and humidity of the soil with the plant roots reinforcing the structure and providing a food source for aphids which in turn create honey-due for the ants – another symbiotic arrangement of nature. If left to nature scrub and long grass would shade out the fine grasses and plants, and the ants would move out so livestock grazing is essential.

An increase in biodiversity

Ant hills provide a diverse range of micro-habitats in the grassland supporting many species of wild flowers and insects like the chalk hill blue butterfly. Yellow meadow ants have a special relationship with the caterpillars of the chalk hill blue – the ants have a liking for the honeydew secreted by their emerging caterpillars, so the worker ants bury the butterfly larvae, protecting them from predators. Rock rose, marjoram thyme and other herbs are a common sight on the grasslands supporting a host of insects, birds and mammals.
Yellow meadow ants are a suitable study subject for young nature lovers to keep as a colony – might be of interest to the Learning and Events volunteers.


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The Visitor Centre draws visitors and volunteers alike, with volunteer shopkeepers, greeters and teachers working alongside the NT staff – there is a noticeable spirit of togetherness despite the ever changing shift patterns and the unsociable hours. With the unseasonably good weather attracting large crowds coinciding with the completion of the shop makeover there is a real buzz about the place.
The VC is now the main attraction on the Estate having developed over the years from a sleepy back-water in the sixties until 1983 when Margaret Cleaver became a paid staff member  supervising the operation run by the Friends of Ashridge incorporating some two hundred members –

“the number of people visiting and the work just grew and grew. We started serving refreshments from a hut at the back. Volunteers started selling postcards and pencils and even set up an information point. They were Friends of Ashridge who cooked cakes and scones and made soup. It was all prepared in Monument Cottage. We usually started at six in the morning and often finished at ten at night”.

Margaret retired through ill health in 1993 and the Trust were inclined to take over the enterprise and extend the facilities. There was something of a disorderly period with the Centre being closed for a full year. The Trust gradually got to grips with the situation and implemented their plan to upgrade the shop and create an education centre.
The external appearance of the attraction has not changed in the last twenty five years – architecturally speaking it is a vernacular style timber framed field centre with horizontal tarred external boarding, and a cedar shingle roof designed to be in keeping with its surroundings – but step inside and the décor changes to a modern enterprise. As with any retail outlet the offer has to be regularly refreshed and kept upto date with the latest demands as with the need for a reduction in plastic products. Whilst footfall on the High Street is in decline, numbers of visitors to Ashridge are still increasing which bodes well for the VC – if only they can get them through the door!

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Wood you believe it!

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Volunteers will be pleased that for the first time Ashridge has published a long term woodland management plan for the Estate allowing public comment. The draft twenty year plan is being displayed at the V C for a few weeks but if you miss it you can view the details by accessing the report on the banner headline.
Hoping for public input the Estate are asking for comments with three questions in mind;
What do you value most about the woodland at Ashridge?
What would help you enjoy the woodland more?
What would you like Ashridge to look like in twenty years time?
With two thousand acres of woodland Ashridge boasts the largest N T area cared for in-hand, comprising ancient woodland, coniferous and broadleaved plantations, five registered commons, remnant wood pasture and large areas of secondary birch woodland, most of which is designated as a Special Area of Conservation for lowland beech woodland and as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The Estate also includes Grade 2* registered Parkland.
Management of woodland introduces more sunlight by opening up the canopy As a general rule, woodlands which are structurally diverse and have a wide range of micro-habitats tend to have more biodiversity. Structural diversity means that there are, for example, trees of different ages which is not the case in a beech or conifer plantation, but also different physical ‘layers’: leaf litter and soil, ground vegetation, an understorey of saplings and shrubs, taller coppice and young trees, and then the woodland canopy. Microhabitats include standing and lying deadwood, damp and shady areas, sunny, sheltered glades, scrub, ponds, single stem timber trees, veteran trees, pollards and coppice stools. Research indicates that many species prefer to live in the first thirty feet from a woodland edge, where there is more sunlight. Coppicing and creating rides and glades can enhance the biodiversity of a woodland by increasing the levels of light, rejuvenating individual trees and allowing shorter vegetation and shrubs to grow, thus creating more structural diversity and micro-habitats leading up to the edge of the taller trees. An untidy wood is a healthy wood.

Look forward to coppicing glades and rides.


Species which benefit from coppiced woodland, rides and glades will include dormice and other small mammals, dragonflies which forage for insects along woodland rides, birds such as nightingale and chiffchaff, and reptiles which like to bask in the shorter, warmer grassland areas with scrub and tall grassland for cover nearby. Butterflies and moths will benefit from an increase in wild flowers and grasses, since many species have very specific larval food plant requirements like the caterpillars of the silver-washed fritillary which feed on common dog-violet and others that are reliant on nectar for food. Other species such as bumblebees will also benefit from an increase in nectar and pollen-rich plants. Bats forage for insects along woodland rides but some species prefer closed canopy and dense under-storey and will not benefit from the opening up of woodland.
Both coppicing and the creation of rides and glades mimic natural processes of fires and storms like the 1987 hurricane, which open up expanses of woodland to sunlight, allowing ground flora to flourish, taller grassland areas to thrive, and fallen trees to rot down. Eventually, scrub takes over, saplings grow, and the woodland canopy closes up again. All of these areas provide unique habitats for an array of species
Ashridge woodland is of course for nature conservation and public access – not timber production – and once approved the plan will provide felling licences for the next ten years and will enable grant funding for works identified within the plan. It is the intention that contractors will be employed for large scale clearance work as with conifer removal, with in-house staff utilised for more detailed work with the support of the volunteer groups.
Work has already started at Rail Copse, and other plantations have priority status having been neglected like Ringshall Copse, and the mixed plantation at Crawley Wood which is probably the oldest wood on the Estate – a waymark for early travellers on the Icknield Way being the highest point at 816 feet.
We can now see the woods for the trees so we must hope that we live long enough to appreciate the end results!

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