Wildlife in the Moulton Archives

on Wednesday, 20 July 2022. Posted in Archives, Wiltshire People, Wiltshire Places

Alex Moulton’s personal archive is packed full of interesting material on his engineering and design work, as you might expect, but one of the things that’s always caught my eye in the collection is Moulton’s interest in the natural world. The Hall estate provided him with ample opportunities to indulge his interest: until the 2000s it offered a range of wildlife habitats including the river Avon and the estate millstream, woodland both in the grounds and at Great Bradford Wood, the house’s grounds themselves, and marshland around the Avon south of Bradford Wood.

Amongst Moulton’s personal papers I recently discovered two books which Moulton and his friends & employees seem to have used to record their sightings, both dating from around 1970. The first is a scrapbook logging wildlife sighted in the estate, into which someone has carefully glued drawings of various species seen on the grounds.

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© Alex Moulton Charitable Trust

This volume seems to be more of a log book, but occasionally there are more detailed notes about the animals’ behaviours, as well as accompanying photographs.

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© Alex Moulton Charitable Trust

The second is a small RSPB Field Notebook, into which Moulton and his friends & colleagues have entered detailed accounts of their wildlife encounters. Both books give us a fascinating glimpse into the animals that passed through the estate or made it their home.

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© Alex Moulton Charitable Trust
Moulton’s long-time confidant and colleague John Benjamin heard nightingales singing in Great Bradford Wood one afternoon in May 1970, while in November that year there were two sightings of Woodcock in the same area. Both of these species are now on the UK Birds of Conservation Concern Red List because they are now in critical decline; earlier records such as these can help us see how much these species have declined both in range and numbers.
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© Alex Moulton Charitable Trust
The diaries also give us a sense of the simple pleasures that come from watching an animal in its natural habitat. In March 1969, the field note book records watching a Nuthatch foraging in an old Lilac tree on the estate. “It was quite friendly - I saw it on way to print room. It was still there on way back, and after a cursory glance was quite unperturbed by my presence and I was able to watch his antics for at least a minute. It was still there when I left”.
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4433 286 1 7 butterflies
© Alex Moulton Charitable Trust
Moulton also frequently allowed local naturalist societies to visit the estate to carry out surveys of the species living there. These visits included a survey of butterflies in 1983 during which ten species were seen in Great Bradford Wood (it’s possible that there were more species resident in the wood as the survey was carried out in the spring, whereas most butterflies are on the wing during the summer), and regularly visits to the Heronry located in the wood. The number of Heron nests in the wood had been counted annually by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) since 1952. The total number of nests in 1970 stood at 23 making it, according to the BTO officer, the largest Heronry in Wiltshire at that time. The regular surveys showed, however, that the number of active nests was decreasing: the 1970 figure was down from 27 nests in 1969, and 30 in 1968. The Heronry continued to decline despite efforts at conservation, much to Moulton’s dismay. 
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© Alex Moulton Charitable Trust
The modern estate, now owned by the Alex Moulton Charitable Trust, is much smaller as the woodlands and other areas have been sold, but the grounds of The Hall are still a haven for wildlife. On a visit to The Hall to collect Moulton’s archives last summer we saw a Kingfisher on the millstream and Ravens flying overhead, as well as numerous other birds. The volunteers and staff at The Hall have also reported badgers, foxes, deer (causing havoc by eating the newly-planted rose bushes and fruit trees!), and even grass snakes.
Snake 2020
© Alex Moulton Charitable Trust
The estate grounds aren’t generally open to the public, but the Trust are now offering tours of the house in July and August - having spent a lot of time in The Hall sorting and collecting Alex Moulton’s papers I can thoroughly recommend a visit.
Tom Plant, Archivist


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