The National Trust tells of bats in need and water drying up in the heat

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The National Trust has reported significant effects across its estate from the recent extreme heat, including bats in distress, heather struggling to flower and historic water features drying up.

At Wallington in Northumberland, bats were found disoriented and dehydrated in daylight during the hottest days this summer, while in Cambridgeshire a water wheel powering a flour mill had to stop turning due to low river levels.

The charity said the record conditions must be a “watershed moment” for anti-emissions measures as it prepares for prolonged hot and dry weather by choosing drought-resistant plants, increasing tree cover and creating wetlands.

“It affects everything we do and we can see the trend going forward,” said Keith Jones, a national climate adviser for the trust.

“The one that really made me stop and think was the bats that fell to the ground in the heat and the rangers picked them up from the floor. It’s the smallest pieces of the jigsaw, like the bats, that seem to suffer the most.

“This must be a watershed, where we make a decisive shift from words to action.”

In eastern England, where temperatures reached 40C (104F) last month, 60-70% of heather plants on the rare lowland heath of Dunwich Heath in Suffolk are struggling to flower.

On Dartmoor in southwest England, some woody lichens, liverworts and mosses that normally thrive in the moist atmosphere of Lydford Gorge, a site of globally important temperate rainforest, are shriveling due to lack of moisture.

Elsewhere, gutters and water features in some historic gardens dried up during July’s heatwave, while several bushfires have broken out on trust land in recent weeks, including one in Devon that took two months to fully extinguish.

“We’re moving very quickly toward a pretty bad future,” Jones said. “We’re trying to make things more resilient. But resilience can only take you so far, we have to adapt further because at the moment we are not sure where the end point is on climate change.”

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The trust is implementing strategies to protect landscapes and buildings from the heat, such as a new drought-tolerant garden at Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk, which only required watering once this summer, and extra shading and ventilation for historic buildings.

It also introduces 20 meters of new trees by 2030 and restores landscapes to make them wetter. At Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk, a four-year project is restoring a 19th-century formal garden so that it is better able to cope with hot weather.

The house’s senior gardener, Dea Fischer, said: “In some parts the soil is like beach sand and needs constant mulching and attention to ensure it can nourish plants. It is so dry that some plants that once grew here will no longer grow.

“We’re not likely to see this back, so we need to prepare and learn to garden differently. We look for plants that can tolerate drought but also occasional wets, and group plants with similar moisture needs.”

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