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“Let your imagination run free”: Lord Whitney talk creativity, childishness and mindfulness in Upon a Christmas Wish

Amy Lord and Rebekah Whitney

Amy Lord and Rebekah Whitney. Photo by Tom Joy

Lord Whitney is the the Leeds-based creative studio behind Upon a Christmas Wish at Harewood House. Led by Amy Lord and Rebekah Whitney, it is an innovative artist-led studio creating immersive experiences and spaces that spark wonder and inspire curiosity. They build cinematic worlds that allow audiences to journey into their imagination, see things differently and explore the possibilities.

We sat down with Amy and Rebekah to chat about the studio’s origins, their inspirations, and the importance of unlocking your inner child…

Thanks for making time for us – it’s been a very busy few weeks installing Upon a Christmas Wish at Harewood! To start, can you tell us how Lord Whitney came to be?

Rebekah: The two of us met at university in Leeds many moons ago, on a graphic art and design degree. We had a similar aesthetic, but we were working on opposite sides of the studio – I was all about illustration while Amy was more into photography. Our tutor noticed the similar themes in our work and put us together – and we instantly hit it off. We found we had the same mind’s eye. We’d talk about an idea, go away to develop it, and when we came back together we’d have drawn the same picture of how we wanted it to look.

Amy: It was the worst timing though! It was practically the last week of our third year, all our work had been handed in, and only then did we find eachother. We were so excited to have finally found something that made us giddy. It felt like we were playing as children again – time would pass so quickly and the security guards kept having to kick us out of the studio at night.

Photo by Tom Joy

I love that phrase, ‘the same mind’s eye’. How do you two see the world?

Rebekah: I think we’re able to return to being kids, and see things as a child would – just letting your imagination run free. It turns out we were basically the same child, both enjoying taking things down to set them back up again, and now we’re able to do that as adults. I think that if you can tap into the thing you enjoyed as a child, you’ll probably enjoy it as an adult.

Amy: Definitely – that’s an important message we have in a lot of our work, things that gave you joy as a child will give you joy now.

Returning to the origins of Lord Whitney – you’ve graduated, having only just found eachother as creative partners. What happened next?

Amy: We didn’t set up Lord Whitney straight away – we both had a few years trying things out and feeling quite lost, not knowing if or how we could get a creative job in Leeds. We’ve both worked in film and TV, festivals, children’s workshops, photography… we’ve been on a journey, and all those different experiences feed into what we do now. It makes us unique!

It’s actually really interesting to note that we’ve had our studio for 10 years now, having started up after the last recession; and we’ve met lots of other creative businesses who are also 10 years old. There was clearly a phase when lots of creative people decided they wouldn’t get a job through someone else, so they may as well do it themselves! And now, after the initial shock of the Covid pandemic, we’re seeing people do the same thing again – new creative businesses are springing up all over.

Rebekah: Creative minds will thrive in a crisis – we’re problem solvers!

The Lord Whitney team install Upon a Christmas Wish. Photo by Paul Craig Photography.

What’s Leeds like as a base for a creative studio like Lord Whitney?

Rebekah: It’s great! There are so many more opportunities than when we first started and we have an amazing studio that we couldn’t afford in London. It’s the same in Sheffield and Manchester. In fact we haven’t done a London job in a while. We did plenty when Lord Whitney first started, and we never made it an issue, travelling to London several times a week. I’m glad we did that, because it encouraged London brands to look further afield for their creative work. But we love Leeds – we did consider moving in the early days but just couldn’t give up the north!

Let’s chat about Upon a Christmas Wish, the remarkable experience that you’ve created for Harewood. What was behind the concept of the House telling the story of a little girl’s Christmas wish?

Rebekah: Last year was awful, very traumatic and difficult [Upon a Christmas Wish was originally planned for Christmas 2020, and had to be postponed due to Covid restrictions]. When we began thinking about it in the first lockdown, we had a conversation about doing something positive. It was a scary time – like everyone we were navigating our business and worried about family and friends, but we were starting to see creatives trying to do positive things in their communities. So what could we do to create a moment of respite? How we could create an experience that helped Harewood’s visitors to feel relaxed or try to forget what they were going through?

Amy: When we started talking about positivity, we quickly got to how Bek felt being a mum, and specifically reading to her kids. We talked about the lull of a story – children don’t necessarily understand the words or meaning but when stories are read out loud they are really calming. Stories were so important to us as children, and still are now. In our work, you can see bits of Narnia, bits of Peter Pan… all these references peeking through. So we wanted to use a story to help people reconnect with their inner child and imagination, and make something relevant for adults and kids.

The Lord Whitney team install Upon a Christmas Wish. Photo by Paul Craig Photography.

How did the work develop once you’d had the concept?

Rebekah: There was a lot of research, working with the Harewood Collections team. They dug out articles and artefacts relating to Christmas, and we pulled out gems and nuggets to be included in the fictional story, like the Christmas theatrics. We also spoke to David Lascelles, Earl of Harewood, who remembered amazing Christmas parties when he was a boy, with plenty of merriment and Christmas cheer.

Amy: Absolutely, the research phase is so important. You come with an idea but the project is Harewood specific, so it has to be developed in its own context.

We wanted a strong narrative, so we found an amazing collaborator in Toby Thompson, the poet and writer, and got Buffalo on board for sound design early on. We love collaborating, it adds such strength and creativity to a project.

Rebekah: Obviously we did have to consider how to create an immersive experience during a global pandemic! Everything had to be spaced out, you can’t touch anything – so voice and sound was really important to make a safe, immersive show.

What’s your favourite part of Upon a Christmas Wish?

Rebekah: The toy room really excites me. That room in particular is a moment for children, and for the adults who remember setting up the games. When I was little I had a book called iSpy Christmas, which was full of detailed photographic spreads – you had to spot the tin soldier or the bear playing a drum – and that book heavily inspired this room. The toys have come alive and they’re setting up games for Sophie to play. And I love the big moon for the moment of calm and stillness.

Lord Whitney work on the toy room in Upon a Christmas Wish

Amy: I like the dining room because of the contrast to the previous room. You’ve started the experience in the music room, with a film and audio – it’s clear what’s going on. But then you step into the dark dining room as if you’re stepping into Sophie’s imagination. It’s unexpected and we like to challenge people’s expectations!

What would you say to someone about to enter Upon a Christmas Wish?

Amy: Let everything go and step into it with an open mind. We thought a lot about mindfulness and healing in creating this piece – we tried to create moments of mindfulness even if people don’t realise they’re having them. So really, we’re interested to see what people feel like when they come out!

Rebekah: If people feel a sense of wonder, like you feel as a child, at any moment, then that’s fantastic – job done.

 

Upon a Christmas Wish by Lord Whitney is open now at Harewood House. Christmas at Harewood tickets include timed entry to the House, as well as Harewood’s beautifully decorated gardens and grounds. Pre-booking is essential at harewood.org/christmas.

‘Hello Darling’ – Remembering Jill Lord


‘Hello Darling’ – Remembering Jill Lord

A personal reflection from Edward Appleyard, Harewood Director of Engagement, in memory of a very special volunteer.

Harewood is truly fortunate to have a committed group of over 200 volunteers who give up part of their week to help the Trust. Whether as a House Ambassador, volunteer gardener, Bird Garden keeper, bookshop or conservation assistant, or shuttle bus driver, we – as a charity – simply could not survive without the devotion of all these unique and wonderful members of our wider Harewood family.

There are also a group of those that go way beyond the extra mile, and act not just as a leading light but as a huge support for a much wider group of volunteers and staff too. And no one more fits that than our friend and much-loved volunteer Jill Lord, who sadly passed away earlier in late October.

A committed volunteer from 2007–2021

Jill began volunteering at Harewood in 2007, and immediately made an impression on the whole team. Initially as a room guide in the House, she set about soaking up as much information as she could – something she did with fervour, a trait which cast a light on everything Jill was involved in.

Jill quickly became known not just for her passion for history and heritage, but more for how welcoming she was with people and how quickly she engaged our visitors, staff and other volunteers. She brought every single one of us with her on a journey through infectious enthusiasm, humour and warmth.

‘Hello darling, are you alright sweetheart?’, spoken in a light Geordie twang, was how Jill greeted me and many others from day one. Even on very rare occasions where she’d accost you with a ‘Ay, I’ve gotta bone to pick with you’ (not being one to hold back), Jill would never move on until she’d found out how you were, how you were feeling and if everything was ok.

Jill never veered from her stance of putting others before herself. Even if she was ill or under the weather she would be more bothered about making sure everyone around her was ok, before wanting to talk about herself.


Jill with Harewood’s Charity Champions

The Tuesday Team

It was with this care and passion that Jill became leader of the ‘Tuesday team’ – a group that not only volunteer in the House on Tuesdays but have grown to become a core part of our Christmas Crew with many, Jill included, becoming Charity Champions too. Between them they’ve baubled countless trees, wrapped thousands of Christmas presents (both faux and real!), adorned fireplaces in garland and much more besides.

As Charity Champions they have carried with them promoting Harewood’s charitable cause – to ensure that everyone can enjoy this wonderful space, a value that reflects Jill as a person completely. And if that wasn’t enough, Jill can add ‘book conservationist’ to her remarkable CV, as part of a team that assist with the biennial and meticulously-delicate book clean of all the books in Harewood’s vast collection.


Jill undertaking book cleaning with fellow volunteer Karen

It might seem hard to imagine a group of volunteers being raucous, but the Tuesday team do not disappoint by any stretch of the imagination. Loud and always fun-filled when not greeting members of the public, one of the Tuesday team bought Jill a service bell to ring them all to attention when they began their team briefing of a Tuesday morning, the only thing to cut through the giggles. They’d meet at the end of their shifts late on a Tuesday afternoon to have coffee, cake and more catch-up every week without fail, always with a weekly dose of laughter.

Lockdown was particularly isolating for some of our volunteers, many retired, some living alone. Jill was the glue that kept the Tuesday team together – sharing stories and jokes through their WhatsApp group, lifting everyone’s spirits.

At the end of each season Jill would arrange for a Tuesday team outing for dinner and an annual celebration, at which she gave each one of them a thoughtful gift as a thank you for the support she had received throughout the year.

Books, books and more books

Her generosity with her time, but also just her sheer determination, led to Jill joining the newly-formed Secondhand Bookshop team when it opened in 2011. Here Jill found her real passion with something that met all of her natural skillsets – leadership, grit, organisation, salesmanship and more, many of which she honed during her many years working at Marks & Spencer (a place where even if she was just shopping on her day off she couldn’t help herself popping on a till and showing a new staff member how to do something, with speed and kindness).

Jill kept meticulous records for the Bookshop. She would think nothing of challenging our Director of Finance if the income listed on reports did not match what she expected them to be, accounting for every penny which acts as a donation to the charity.

Earlier this year, Jill was the driving force behind the bookshop’s relocation from Terrace Cottage to its new home in the Courtyard. A huge success, it has already raised £6,750 for the Charity since it reopened in August, and in its 10-year history Jill’s been part of a team that have raised £125,000 for Harewood – an incredible achievement. One of her proudest moments was marking reaching £100,000 at a celebration with Lord Harewood.


Jill with Harewood House Trust Director Jane Marriott at the £100,000 milestone celebration

A moment in the limelight …

And then came Jill’s moment in the limelight when, in 2018, she was part of a one-hour TV special – Mary Berry’s Country House at Christmas – in which she was filmed icing some of the 1,000 gingerbread men alongside Mary that overflowed in Harewood’s Old Kitchen during Christmas 2018; her cheery smile beamed into our homes on Christmas Day on BBC Two. Jill, overjoyed, fitting the natural bill of Harewood’s very own national treasure, alongside another much-loved national treasure.

Jill the Leader

Leadership doesn’t happen by chance though, and part of Jill’s charm was her bold, forthright belief in what she was trying to achieve. For new volunteers and those that she mentored, there could be no doubt that it was the ‘Jill way’ or no way – not that it wasn’t meant with the sincerest kindness.

Jill could be counted on to stand up at an all-volunteer meeting and challenge our leadership team on anything she believed that needed to happen – a consistent and passionate voice. If anyone questioned why she might be doing something they’d get short shrift – ‘mind your own business, you’ve got your own job to do’ – though it was always with a wry smile and a twinkling eye.


Jill and fellow quiz team members winning the trophy at the 2019 volunteer summer party

Our friend

Losing a member of our Harewood family is always difficult, but losing Jill – after a short but defiant fight with Covid-19 – feels especially hard. To mark Jill’s incredible contribution, the Trust will be adopting a book in Harewood’s library in her memory, keeping a piece of Jill in the archive for all time, in a place where Jill gave such joy to so many people and where she found such a warm home for her passion and energy.

Would you like a cup of coffee sweetheart?’, she’d say when I walked into the old bookshop in Terrace Cottage which had its own kitchen.

Come and sit down and let’s see what we can do about this, together’.

Jill’s family have set up a JustGiving page, donating towards the charities that Jill was passionate about. Donate here >>

Horticulture and its role in tackling climate change

Trees in the West Garden

The West Garden at Harewood

During the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow, the horticulture industry, alongside agriculture and many others, will be presenting its sustainability targets and demonstrating the progress being made towards net zero. Sustainable food production, urban tree planting, reduction in the use of peat, investment in renewable energy, increasing circularity in horticultural plastics and the responsible management of water resources are among many environmental issues affecting the horticulture industry that will be discussed at the climate change summit.

The role of Gardens

Gardens are vital to our health and wellbeing, as well as to the health of the planet. They provide space for relaxation, exercise and play, as well as for the growing of beautiful plants and nutritious food. Crucially, gardens also serve as valuable havens for wildlife and so are environmentally and ecologically important. It is estimated that UK gardens cover a total area of over 430,000 hectares – more than four times the total area of our National Nature Reserves*. And with the number of gardening enthusiasts in Britain now at 30 million*, there is a huge potential for gardeners to collectively play a major role in mitigating the impact of climate change. This can be done in many ways by adapting our gardening methods to reduce our carbon footprint, planting more trees and shrubs, and creating more wildlife habitats in our gardens to support biodiversity.

How are the gardens at Harewood contributing to the climate change emergency?

Soil

Crops growing in the Walled Garden at Harewood

Crops being grown by the ‘no-dig’ method in the Harewood Walled Garden

Soil stores carbon captured from the atmosphere through plant photosynthesis. Soils generally contain about three times more carbon than the atmosphere. When soil is dug over, this carbon is released back into the atmosphere. The action of digging over the soil also destroys the intricate networks of beneficial fungi, microbes and organisms living in the soil. This symbiotic ecosystem of soil-borne organisms is known as the ‘soil food web’ and is vital to plant health, as well as to the health of the planet.

At Harewood, we use ‘no-dig’ methods to grow food crops in the kitchen garden. Instead of digging the soil over and releasing the carbon into the atmosphere, we apply composted organic matter to the surface and allow the soil food web to break it down naturally, thereby locking in the carbon whilst protecting the ecology of the soil and feeding our crops in the process.

 

Peat

A digger carrying compost and mulch

Huge piles of leaves collected from the grounds at Harewood being converted into our peat-free compost and mulch

Peatland habitats as blanket bogs, raised bogs and fens cover around 10% of the UK total land area.* Peatlands have formed over many thousands of years, they are essential terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and support a unique biodiversity. Undisturbed peatlands also store huge amounts of carbon below ground, but the carbon is released into the atmosphere and habitats are lost when peatlands are damaged or disturbed through activities such as drainage, peat extraction, agriculture etc.

We don’t buy peat composts or use any peat in our gardens at Harewood. Instead, we produce our own composts and mulches. This is done on site through the recycling of a wide range of green waste materials, including garden clippings, prunings and especially from the many tonnes of fallen leaves, which we collect from all around the gardens and parkland every autumn. We are also looking carefully at the sustainability of our supply chains to ensure that the plants and products we purchase in the future are peat-free.

Biodiversity

Bee and flower

Harewood’s flower-rich gardens are beneficial to vast numbers of insect pollinators

Biodiversity loss through habitat destruction is a primary concern today and one which will be addressed during COP26.

As well as caring for the ‘world beneath our feet’ by protecting a myriad of soil-borne organisms through our ‘no-dig’ system, we work diligently to protect and enhance biodiversity throughout the gardens. Harewood contains a diverse range of habitats for an abundance of wildlife. Birds, fish and mammals, including bats, hedgehogs and otters live in the lakes, ponds, rivers, woodlands, grasslands and hedgerows, as well as the many old buildings, walls, ditches and even compost heaps and log piles. Our gardening practices support the stable food chains required to sustain this biodiversity. Vast numbers of bees, hoverflies, butterflies and moths visit the garden attracted by our amazingly rich flower borders, meadows and planting schemes. These provide a wealth of nectar pools and benefit huge numbers of pollinating insects. We create habitat piles for beetles and other woodland insects and adjust our mowing regimes according to the seasons so as to protect frogs, newts and toads emerging from the lake and migrating into the lakeside woodlands.

Trees

Beech Tree trunk

A gigantic veteran beech tree in the Lakeside woodlands at Harewood

Trees and woodlands are immensely valuable to us in the fight against climate change caused by increasing levels of atmospheric CO₂ and rising global temperatures. Many experts agree that trees are ‘our most powerful weapon against the devastating consequences of climate change and offer our simplest solution to helping avert the irreversible collapse of ecosystems’*. Global deforestation is a huge concern as habitats are destroyed and the planet’s ecosystems are put at risk. Alongside drastically reducing our CO₂ emissions, we simply must plant millions of trees to restore habitats and create the climate-cooling woodlands and urban greenspaces of the future.

Trees are champions of carbon capture. They absorb CO₂ from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and can lock it up below ground for many years, even centuries. Native broadleaf woodlands play a vital role in locking up hundreds of tonnes of atmospheric carbon per hectare.

Protecting ancient trees and established woodland ecosystems is essential. At Harewood, we plant trees for landscape continuity and conservation, as well as grow young trees from seed in our tree nursery. A large part of our work in the park and gardens is the monitoring and protection of veteran and ancient trees. Not only are these old trees carbon sinks, they are also unique ecosystems and therefore important habitats for wildlife. We responsibly manage and maintain a large number of mature trees at Harewood, thereby preserving our parkland trees and the habitats they support for future generations.

Water

lavender plants on the Terrace at Harewood

Drought-tolerant, perennial lavenders have replaced annual bedding displays at Harewood

Water supplies for public use are under pressure across the UK. It is reported that we need to reduce our demand and cut down on wastage to avoid many areas facing water deficits in the future. The amount of water available for households, industry and farming etc is limited and there is little capacity to meet increases in demand. Such pressures can affect the availability of water to a range of important habitats, such as bogs, fens and marshes, and place them under threat. Water resources will continue to be affected by population growth and climate change, so it is important that we keep the use of drinking water for the garden to a minimum and look to collecting rainwater wherever possible.

Here at Harewood, we have considerably reduced our consumption of water in the gardens. The irrigation system on the Terrace, which was installed in 1993 as part of the restoration project, has now been permanently decommissioned. The twice-annual planting of spring and summer bedding plants has been scrapped in favour of more drought-tolerant perennials, such as lavender. In the kitchen garden, we selectively spot-water our crops and keep this to an absolute minimum through the use of mulches: either compost, wool matting or cardboard. Mulching suppresses competing weeds and prevents the evaporation of soil moisture. We also have a rainwater barrel for collecting rainwater from the glasshouse roof and use watering cans fitted with a fine rose held low over seed drills to avoid wastage.

By using the ‘no-dig’ method, we also avoid soil erosion in the kitchen garden. When the soil is dug over and broken up, subsequent rainfall washes loose particles of soil, along with fertilisers, into land drains and eventually into water courses, where it forms as silt deposits. This ultimately affects the condition of the downstream freshwater environment. By adopting the ‘no-dig’ method and keeping watering to a minimum, soil erosion and siltation are considerably reduced.

 

Plastics

Plastic plant pots

Plastic pots are continuously washed and re-used for plant propagation at Harewood

We all know how useful plastic is in the garden, but it is also widely known that plastic and the processes by which it is made are not good for the environment. Some plastics can take hundreds of years to break down and some can contaminate soil and water as they degrade, causing harm to wildlife.

The decision to plant drought-tolerant perennials at Harewood, such as lavender, as a change to buying in thousands of bulbs and bedding plants each year, was made entirely for environmental reasons. Drought-tolerant perennials not only save water, they reduce soil disturbance caused by regular changeover lifting and planting. This helps the ‘soil food web’ to establish and also prevents soil erosion. And as well as reducing our carbon emissions from vehicle transport, the thousands of lavender plants provide a benefit to insect pollinators and support biodiversity. But one of the main reasons for the change, however, was our desire to seriously reduce the amounts of plastic trays and pots coming into the garden. We also wash and re-use our plant pots and trays for growing a wide range of plants and vegetables from seed and cuttings at Harewood.

 

Fossil Fuels

Robot Mower

Zero-emission robotic mowers powered by renewable energy being trialled in the grounds at Harewood

It is widely known that diesel and petrol-powered engines produce CO₂ emissions, which pollutes the atmosphere. In the garden, this includes lawnmowers, strimmers and hedgecutters. In large parks and gardens like Harewood, covering hundreds of acres, this range extends to include large and small tractors, ATVs (all-terrain vehicles) and chainsaws etc.

As well as investing in electric ATVs to facilitate the efficient transportation of staff and goods around the gardens, we are phasing out our petrol-powered hand-held equipment, such as hedgecutters and leaf-blowers and moving over to electric, battery-powered alternatives. This is expensive to do all at once so phasing is important, but the results so far are impressive. Not only are these machines re-charged using renewable energy produced at the Harewood Estate’s biomass energy centre, making them even more eco-friendly, they are safer for the staff to use at close quarters because they produce no toxic emissions. The acquisition of a battery-powered lawnmower for small areas this summer proved to be well worth the investment. We also invested in a battery-powered chainsaw, which offers our grounds team excellent performance without toxic emissions and no risk of spills or contamination from handling petrol. We recently had two models of robotic mowers on trial at Harewood and are looking at having further trials for cutting the larger areas. This could provide an environmentally-friendly alternative to using diesel tractors and gang mowers to cut the parkland areas and also remove the risks of soil compaction around the roots of our veteran trees.

Food

Bed of vegetables growing in the Walled Garden

Organically-grown vegetables intermixed with flowers in the Harewood Walled Garden

Harewood offers people the opportunity to visit a place of great beauty and to engage in creative and thoughtful activities, which provoke new perspectives on art, nature and life. Health and wellbeing, the environment, sustainability and biodiversity is at the heart of what we do here in the park and gardens, and food plays an extremely important part in the overall experience of Harewood today. The food journey doesn’t begin at the table, but in the Walled Garden where it is grown using organic methods and with considerable concern for the environment and the impact on climate change. The soil is carefully nurtured using ‘no-dig’ methods to protect the soil food web, lock in carbon, save water and prevent siltation. We grow fresh, nutritious vegetables, fruit and herbs without the use of pesticides and intersperse our plots with nectar-rich flowers for bees and other pollinating insects.

Produce is harvested fresh and transported half a mile by electric vehicle to the Courtyard restaurant. The chefs take all that we can produce from the Walled Garden and also creatively use a range of farm products and foraged food from the Harewood Estate, thereby seriously reducing the food miles of their overall stock. The vegetables, fruit and herbs from the garden are delivered without any packaging and all stackable crates are washed and re-used. Any damaged or surplus fruit or vegetables from the garden are sent to the Bird Garden for feeding the birds and animals, and all trimmings are composted and returned to the garden as mulch, thereby creating a zero-waste system.

-Trevor Nicholson, Head Gardener

*Sources 

http://www.wlgf.org/garden_resource.html

https://www.rhs.org.uk/garden-inspiration/get-gardening/2021-gardening-predictions

https://www.iucn-uk-peatlandprogramme.org/about-peatlands/uk-peatlands

https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/how-trees-fight-climate-change/

Mimicking natural ecosystems: what’s important in aviary design?

Bali Starlings on branches

Bali Starlings

When preparing an aviary for a bird species its as simple as putting down some wood chip and a couple of plants to make it look nice, right?

Well actually we put a little more thought into it than that and try to replicate the natural ecosystems of the bird as closely as we can. Aviary designs in zoological collections are always a balancing act between providing enough cover for the birds and making it possible for visitors and keepers to be able to see the birds.

Other factors which effect what we can plant are of course the Yorkshire climate, which means we must substitute tropical plants for cold hardy plants, and toxicity. Some plants can be poisonous, especially to parrot species who like to chew everything they can get their beak on.

Mimicking a bird’s natural ecosystem is particularly important when it comes to species with an active conservation programme, such as the Vietnam pheasant (Lophura edwardsi). This will see parent reared pheasants from zoological and private collections returned to Vietnam to form a release programme. It is therefore important that the environment that the pheasants are reared in is as close as possible to that which they will encounter in their new home and will help them to adapt more easily.

There is very little known about the habits of the pheasant in the wild, which has not been seen since 2011, and the study of their behaviour within zoological collections can help the conservation programme to ensure that they are releasing birds into areas with the habitat they prefer.

However, in the case of the Vietnam pheasant their behaviour within zoological collections can help to show conservation programmes how the birds interact with their habitat. There is very little known about the habits of the pheasant in the wild, which has not been seen since 2011, and the study of their behaviour within zoological collections can help the conservation programme to ensure that they are releasing birds into areas with the habitat they prefer. At Harewood we have kept and bred the Vietnam pheasant for many years and are currently assisting the release programme in association with the WPA (World Pheasant Association) by providing information on the birds roosting and perching habits. Information about which perch size and location are preferred by the pheasant will help to furnish release pens and provide knowledge of the bird’s behaviour seldom seen in the wild.

Vietnamese pheasant

Vietnamese pheasant

It’s not just perching and vegetation which can be helpful to conservation programmes. Several conservation projects use artificial nest boxes, tried and tested in a captive environment, to help provide breeding opportunities for species which have had lost nesting sites due to habitat destruction.

Although the main threat to the Bali myna comes from poaching, they also suffer from a lack of nesting hollows due to deforestation.

Artificial nest boxes have been used in the reintroduction of the Bali myna (Leucopsar rothschildi) to help provide them with nesting opportunities. Although the main threat to the Bali myna comes from poaching, they also suffer from a lack of nesting hollows due to deforestation. The provision of nest boxes has helped to stabilise released populations and allow birds to breed in their natural habitat giving the population the bests chance to thrive. Wild populations of the Bali myna are estimated to be between 50-80 birds. They are under constant persecution from poaching for use in songbird competitions and the pet trade. Nest box design and popularity are first tested in zoological and private collections to find the most suitable designs. At Harewood we have been keeping and breeding Bali Mynas for at least 30 years, which have been sent to collections across Europe.

 

Another project benefitting from artificial nest boxes is The World Parrot Trust lovebird project, which helps several lovebird species in Africa. The project is investigating the use of nest boxes to replace natural nesting areas destroyed by habitat loss due to agriculture. At present this project is focussing on Lillian’s lovebird (Agapornis lilianae) but will expand to feature the Black-cheeked lovebird (Agapornis nigrigenis) which we keep and breed here in the bird garden. At present we are contributing through donations and are hoping to start a project assessing the preference of different box designs and nesting materials, the results of which will be reported to the project to assist their work. We will also be assisting the project by providing genetic samples to compare wild and captive populations and assess species hybridisation.

Lillian's Lovebird

A Lillian’s Lovebird in a nest box

The biggest factor affecting the progress of the conservation programmes we support is the destruction of their ecosystem and to give these projects the best chance of success, we hope that COP26 will provide protection for these ecosystems and the species within them.

 

Find out more about the birds mentioned in the blog below …

Bali Myna

Bali Myna – Asian Species Action Partnership (speciesonthebrink.org)

Lovebird project

Parrot Encyclopedia | Lilian’s Lovebird | World Parrot Trust (parrots.org)

 

Habitat Destruction and Climate Change highlight the need for breeding programmes

Great argus pheasant

Great argus pheasant (Argusianus argus). Photo credit Peter Stubbs.

In the Bird Garden the themes of climate change and habitat destruction are daily topics of discussion. Whether it’s on signage, in public talks or just between the team chatting about how we can make our daily practices more sustainable. Whatever the context, it is clear that many of our bird species are affected badly by these global issues, and we need to think about how we can help.

The primary way in which we try to help species is by participating in global breeding programmes, which cooperate with other collections and conservation efforts to protect and breed bird species.

A bird that particularly needs our help is the critically endangered Vietnam pheasant (Lophura edwardsi), which has not been sighted in the wild since 2011. They are native to a habitat of primary forest which has been destroyed due to logging, agriculture, and chemical use during the Vietnam war. At Harewood we house two breeding pairs of Vietnam pheasant, which we encourage to parent rear their own chicks. This is to support World Pheasant Associations (WPA) programme to reintroduce captive bred parent reared pheasants to their native Vietnam. Whilst this programme is being set up, we are helping by providing information to the WPA about the roosting and breeding habits of the pheasant in captivity so they can ensure that release sites are suitable for the bird’s needs.

“The male has a loud booming call to mark his territory and has been known to bring the filming of Emmerdale to a halt in previous years. However, this charismatic species is suffering a population decline due to the deforestation of primary forest, which has seen their habitat shrink by 16.4% over the past 16 years.”

Pheasant species can be particularly affected by habitat destruction and four of the breeding programmes we participate in focus on pheasant species. The Palawan -peacock pheasant (Polyplectron napoleonis) and the Great argus pheasant (Argusianus argus) are both in population decline due to logging and deforestation of their habitat. The Great argus pheasant was featured in the latest David Attenborough series ‘The Mating Game’ on BBC1 showcasing its spectacular mating display, which we have been lucky enough to witness first-hand in the bird garden. The male has a loud booming call to mark his territory and has been known to bring the filming of Emmerdale to a halt in previous years. However, this charismatic species is suffering a population decline due to the deforestation of primary forest, which has seen their habitat shrink by 16.4% over the past 16 years. Research attributed this habitat loss to palm oil plantations and industrial logging especially in Borneo and Sumatra. Images of this habitat destruction are usually shown in relation to the Orangutan and the Argus pheasant is one of the many species also affected by that same process. This year saw our female lay her first clutch of eggs so we are hopefully that next year will bring chicks.

Peacock Pheasant

The Palawan -peacock pheasant (Polyplectron napoleonis) and the Great argus pheasant (Argusianus argus). Photo credit Peter Stubbs.

“Lack of suitable nesting sites and the fact that Palm cockatoo only lay one egg per clutch means that on average each pair only rears one chick every 10 years.”

Breeding programmes can help those birds who are not yet endangered but whose population is declining rapidly due to climate change and habitat destruction. The Palm cockatoo (Probosciger aterrimus), one our flagship species in the bird garden, is facing calls to be reclassified as endangered after research in Australia projected a 50% decline in its population over the next 50 years. This is attributed to habitat destruction due to logging, mining, agriculture, and the increasing occurrences of forest fires associated with climate change. Lack of suitable nesting sites and the fact that Palm cockatoo only lay one egg per clutch means that on average each pair only rears one chick every 10 years. At Harewood we have been keeping and breeding Palm cockatoos for almost 30 years. We are very lucky that our pair rear their own young and are one of the few (if not the only) zoological collections within the breeding programme to do this. So far, we have sent cockatoos around Europe to form new pairs. As with the Vietnam pheasant we are currently contributing information to the captive breeding programme to help identify the best practice for breeding the Palm Cockatoo, which will go on to instruct other collections.

 

Palm Cockatoos. Photo credit Peter Stubbs.

Even our beloved Humboldt penguin (Spheniscus humboldti) is suffering from the effects of climate change due to warming of the ocean current which it relies on for its food. The Humboldt current which runs along the penguin’s range is replaced by a warm current during El Nino years, which in turn causes a failure of nutrients to support life in the ocean. During these years all species in this range suffer and the penguins, who are unable to find enough food, have poor breeding results and high mortality causing a population decrease. It is not all bad news as corresponding La Nina years see the cold current restored with bountiful food and breeding results. It is hoped that climate change action and legislation can prevent El Nino years becoming more common.

Humboldt Penguin swimming

Humboldt Penguin. Photo credit Peter Stubbs.

During COP26 we hope that world leaders will discuss and support actions which will help stop climate change and habitat destruction, to protect the bird species that we care for and love.

If you are interested in finding out more about our birds:

Vietnam pheasant

Vietnam Pheasant (Lophura edwardsi) – BirdLife species factsheet

 

Great Argus pheasant

Great Argus (Argusianus argus) – BirdLife species factsheet

BBC One – The Mating Game, Series 1, Jungles: In the Thick of It

 

Palm cockatoo

Palm cockatoo populations projected to halve in 50 years – Australian Geographic

Palm Cockatoo (Probosciger aterrimus) – BirdLife species factsheet

 

Humboldt penguin

Humboldt Penguin (Spheniscus humboldti) – BirdLife species factsheet