20 May 2020
Continuing our #StayHome series, Area Ranger at Mount Stewart, Toby Edwards, gives an insight into the work he’s doing to manage the flora and fauna across the estate while it’s closed to visitors.
Most people will know Mount Stewart for its wonderful gardens and neo-classical house, but the whole demesne actually covers 1000 acres including 600 acres of woodland, and arable and agricultural farmland that we manage with our tenants.
We have an extensive list of what are regarded as essential tasks so that’s why I’m working rather than staying home. It covers everything from animal welfare and conservation programmes, to health and safety and invasive species management, where, if we were to miss some of the treatment windows we could lose five to ten years of work.
So as you can imagine, there’s never an empty space on my to-do list!
Rangering is lone working anyway so there’s not been a huge amount of change for me over these past weeks. I’m passionate about my role which combines conservation and giving people access to this beautiful place. It’s a job that allows me to get up to close to nature each day and monitor the activity of the wonderful species that we’re working to protect such as red squirrels, barn owls and moths, which I find particularly fascinating!
It’s a bittersweet experience at the minute, in that it’s nice having the whole place to yourself but, on the other hand, part of my role is to connect people with the outdoors and nature and obviously I can’t do that at the minute.
That’s why I started to do the livestreams on Tuesday mornings and daily Mount Stewart Moments clips, to bring this wonderful place to the people. We use the videos to show not just visuals but also to describe the smells and the sound scape. And I’ve been quite surprised by the appetite there is for them. We’ve been getting responses from viewers around the world, people that maybe grew up in Northern Ireland and are getting the chance to reconnect via these livestreams.
At the minute on the estate we’re seeing the last of the classic spring woodland flowers like the bluebells, primrose and wood anemone. In two or three weeks we’ll start seeing foxgloves and the formal gardens will be coming into their best.
If people were able to visit us now, they might catch a glimpse of our new cygnets down by the lake, which I caught on camera in one of our Mount Stewart Moments. The lake also supports lots of other wildlife like moorhens and coots and quite a few other species of wildfowl that are hidden away.
The dragonflies are just beginning to hatch out so there’ll soon be a cloud of emerald blues. And our red squirrels are doing really well. The kits are all starting to come out of their dreys and are moving around on their own rather than being carried by the mother. I’m seeing more of them in areas of the estate where I wouldn’t normally do as there are no visitors, whereas the mallards that are used to visitors putting down grain for them have gone off to find food elsewhere!
I live up on the Causeway Coast so I overnight on the estate once a week to do bat monitoring. At the moment I do about three days on site, and one day at home keeping records up to date. It’s great to be able to spend time in two such beautiful places.
The National Trust was established to give people access to open spaces, so for Mount Stewart to be closed really goes against what we stand for. We’re already planning for reopening but we know we’ll be dealing with certain constraints over a long period of time.
I’m really looking forward to people being able to enjoy Mount Stewart again and benefitting from the physical and mental wellbeing that being in a beautiful place like this brings. I love sharing my passion with the public and I’m most looking forward to seeing people smile and the sparkle in their eyes when they discover wonderful things at Mount Stewart.
Mount Stewart, County Down
Mount Stewart Gardens, County Down
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