Sustainability on the Belvoir Estate 

An interview with Estate Manager Phil Burtt

Woodland Gardens

Phil joined the estate 15 years ago and found the grounds to be derelict and uncared for, with all the signs of decades of neglect. With the Duchess, he made it his mission to improve the land, both to support the English wildlife across the parklands, and to create space of tranquillity and beauty for all those who come to the grounds. This began with the creation of 200 acres of woodland gardens that you see today. These are a constant work in progress. As many estates find, there is an ongoing issue with trees unfortunately reaching the end of their long lifespans and becoming a danger to those walking through the parkland. As far as we are able, we try to leave dead wood habitat for invertebrate communities, nesting birds and bats, however the wind often scatters dead branches into paths and even uproots dead trees, so we have a constant clearing programme in place to keep everyone safe.

Nearer the castle much of the deadwood that posed safety risks and little habitat value was clear felled, whilst any mature trees that could be left were. Our hardworking garden and forestry team are always out planting new trees and shrubs, clearing invasive species such as Japanese knotweed, and ensuring the gardens are safe and attractive for visitors whilst still keeping the wildness of a natural woodland. One of the planting programmes involved replanting the avenue of sweet chestnuts that the 5th Duchess began around the top of blackberry hill, of which only 10 remained.

 

Nearer the castle much of the deadwood that posed safety risks and little habitat value was clear felled, whilst any mature trees that could be left were. Our hardworking garden and forestry team are always out planting new trees and shrubs, clearing invasive species such as Japanese knotweed, and ensuring the gardens are safe and attractive for visitors whilst still keeping the wildness of a natural woodland. One of the planting programmes involved replanting the avenue of sweet chestnuts that the 5th Duchess began around the top of blackberry hill, of which only 10 remained.

Shortly after the woodland project, an exploration through the archives unearthed the old Capability Brown maps with designs for the rolling woodland and pastures we see today. Following careful study of the plans, the gaps in the woodland gardens were planted with plant life as described by Brown, including hardwoods, shrubs, magnolias, rhododendrons and camelias. Brown’s plans also depicted an 8 acre woodland above the memorial lakes, which was planted to hold an informal line across the hill, creating the rolling landscape that defines Brown’s work.

 

Vineyard

On the outskirts of the parkland near Brewers Grave, a vineyard planted 4 years ago is bearing its first fruits, the chardonnay grape, to be crushed into still and sparkling wine. After weeks of meticulously tying the green shoots, our garden and forestry team are glad to see such good progress!

Did you know that because of climate change, England is becoming much more suitable for grape growing, so much so that French viticulturists, such as the famous champagne house ‘Taittinger’ are buying up plots of land over here! 

Water Features

Garden Ponds

Despite covering less than 1% of the earth’s surface, freshwaters host a staggering 33% of all vertebrates and half of all fish species. Freshwater ponds alone support 2/3rds of all freshwater species, making them exceptionally valuable habitats, ones that we cherish here at Belvoir. Once overgrown, the four ponds around Frog Hollow in the south of the parkland and the ponds in the Japanese section of the Woodland Garden have been cleared of sludge and scrubland and stand much improved. Now spring fed and clear, these ponds provide habitat for common toads, dragonflies, damselflies and other key freshwater species.

 

Memorial Lakes

The memorial lakes were originally dug out in 1826 after Elizabeth the 5th Duchess’ death but have stood for many years as little more than a swampy mess. In a momentous 2-year project, these lakes have been cleared of 8000 tons of silt and scrubby trees and now hold a staggering 5 million gallons of water! They are now visible as three separate but interconnected lakes, completing historic landscaper Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown’s vision of a river of water features.

memorial-lakes-belvoir-castle

Westminster Canal

Our latest project, headed up by Phil and Charles of Granby, is that of the Westminster Canal, on the left as you enter the main gates. This has recently been cleaned out and the silt is still laying to dry out on the banks. These banks will be the site for our third orchard, dedicated to the Queen for her Platinum Jubilee as part of the Queens Green Canopy, and completing the historic orchard plans. We hope to put a footbridge over the top, so visitors can enjoy the tranquillity of the water from up close.

 

Commercial Woodland

Belvoir Estate has over 1600 acres of beautiful woodland. This provides space for recreation, diverse habitats, carbon sequestration and sustainable timber such as our willow used for hurley sticks. To date, we have planted 300,000 trees and plan to keep improving on this.

We continue to clear fell and replant areas of trees tired with age and many unfortunately dying from ash dieback.  Ash dieback is a highly destructive disease caused by a fungus that is spread by spores carried in the wind. Diseased ash trees pose a risk to the surrounding woodland and, as they die and decay, they release carbon back into the atmosphere. Ash dieback also has negative implications for woodland biodiversity and the hardwood timber industry, so the worst infected trees are now being removed and replanted with a mix of native and climate resistant species.

Did you know, you can do your bit to help reduce the spread of this fungus by brushing mud and leaves off your boots or bike before leaving forests with ash trees.

 

 

Biomass Boiler

Our biomass burner was installed as part of our efforts to reduce our carbon footprint and wider environmental impact. We now use about 400 tonnes of woodchip annually, replacing up to 80,000 litres of oil! Not only is this much cheaper, but woodchip is a renewable, almost completely carbon neutral and reduces the need for disruptive oil drilling.

What we love about the biomass burner is that the whole tree can be made use of – all the bent, knotty bits of wood which are no good for other purposes can be chipped. Grown sustainably on the Estate, with next to no transport emissions, our wood is a truly green and renewable source of energy.

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