Natural History of an unnatural England – Lecture from National Trust’s David Bullock

I recently attended a lecture at the Linnaean society about the “National Trust – an unnatural England”. This was given by the Head if Nature Conservation (UK Wide), David Bullock.

He talked about huge and forgotten influence of the National Trust properties on nature and conservation across the UK. Owning so many properties, scattered throughout England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Island, there are admittedly some black holes e.g. Cumbria. Highlighting that there are in fact 8 species found only in the UK; including thatch moss, the lesser horseshoe bat and wild asparagus – so it is vital that we protect our little island. Much of the National Trust land is in the uplands and 60-80% is farmed – often referred to as MAMBA (miles and mile of bugger all!)

To see the various places owned by the National Trust, visit their website here:

So many species have gone extinct in the UK, one he pointed out that was even before the introduction of machinery as a result of the industrial revolution – the corncrake. Previously abundant in lowland grassland throughout England, Scotland and Wales and now confined to Ireland and Hebrides. This ‘landrail’ was popular in cook books and likely now extinct as a result of overexploitation.

The National Trust is currently working on several big projects; a few of the following are highlighted below:

  • Cliveden House is known as the biggest bat roost in UK, with 8 species swarming here between Aug-Sept as part of a mating ritual.  This is the only activity of its kind in the world!
  • Marsden Moor estate has cotton grass replanting on the peat land in an effort to increase the carbon sink (a trait previously unappreciated until the acknowledgement of the true impact of carbon emissions)
  • The most successful scheme of late is the creation of 1000 new allotments which encourage both wildlife and community engagement in conservation
  • The successful reintroduction of the extinct large blue butterfly (from Swedish stock) on Collard Hill in Somerset (although considerations need to be made as to the effect of this non-native genetic makeup)
  • The new visitor centre at Giant’s Causeway in North Ireland has been a real success.  It’s extremely creative architecture was inspired by the vulcanism that occurred 60mya leading to such a unique rock formation.
  • Giant woollen Trilobite at Cloister’s Gloucester Cathedral was knitted communally; a good representation of fossils helping to bring together community in thinking about geology and the environment.
  • Cliveden house – home of the only population of Cliveden snail and also a vital bat roost
  • Tyntesfield aka Hogwarts is famous for its incredibly accurate wall carvings of various species, including some very rare or extinct. It is also apparent that the lesser horse show bats are totally reliant on buildings such as this, in fact there is only 1 known tree roost in Europe!!!



All of these clearly depict the conservation, educational and scientific value of England unnatural history, and being the daughter of an architect and fascinated myself with our countries Architectural Heritage, it is fantastic to be able to link two of my keenest interests.  Knowing that this kind of symbiotic relationship exists makes me appreciate the English countryside even more, and hopefully this will be the same for you!


However on the horizon we are frightfully aware of the rarity of these buildings. We are presented with more and more ecobuilds; housing built with good intentions under the premise of being environmentally friendly and sustainable, but are actually unsuitable for many species including bats, spotted flycatchers, swifts and swallows who make use of old houses having overhanging roofs and rafters.


About wilsoemi

A 1st Class Biological Sciences graduate, with a Masters degree in Conservation Biology. Dedicated to nature and conservation, with over three years voluntary experience in environmental and conservation charities and NGO's. Currently working for the World Society for the Protection of Animals and volunteering for London Wildlife Trust.
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