+44 (0)113 218 1010

[javascript protected email address]


Andrew Williamson

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



Learning at Harewood : Effective learning leads to change, development and the desire to learn more.


Girl outdoors looking at grass with magnifying glass

As an educational charity, learning is a central part of the work of Harewood House Trust. Learning is wide ranging – it may involve the development or deepening of skills, knowledge, awareness, values, ideas and feelings. Effective learning leads to change, development and the desire to learn more.


The environment and living responsibly are key objectives at Harewood. My role at Harewood is to look at this in a variety of ways – through our permanent collections in the House, Garden and Bird Garden, temporary exhibitions and our learning offer for all ages. We are fortunate that our collections unite science and art, nature and culture, giving us endless opportunity to further awareness and encourage individual agency through our programmes. For example, birds and plants enable us to look at loss of habitat and the subsequent displacement or threat of extinction. Our teams collaborate with external partners in Education and the Charity sector to train the next generation of professionals and develop new research in species conservation and environmental sustainability. Providing access to in-house expertise is a key part of how Harewood House Trust can contribute beyond its walls and be a cog in the wheel of progress globally.


The Harewood Biennial returns in 2022. It looks at the role Craft has to play in the world today, rooted in 250 years of craft and making at Harewood. Next year’s Biennial, ‘Radical Acts: Why Craft Matters’, will showcase contemporary craftspeople, designers and brands investigating regeneration in their work. As the exhibition’s curator Hugo Macdonald writes, “We speak of sustainability but to sustain means to keep going and we’ve already gone too far.” Learning will respond to this theme, working in partnership with exhibitors to create new resources and activities that encourage awareness and care of our planet. The Biennial Symposium in May 2022 will provide a platform to share views on how Craft knowledge can help build a more responsible way of living as individuals, communities and societies. Finally, part of each Biennial is long-term research into Craft and the Sustainable Economy. We embarked on an exciting project in partnership with the Sustainability Research Institute at the University of Leeds in 2019 that we are delighted will continue next year.



-Hannah Obee, Director of Collections, Programme and Learning


A Photographic Tour of the West Indies

an old photograph of the Barbados Coast


In 1906, the Lascelles family set sail in their yacht, the Dolores, for a several month-long holiday to the Caribbean. Accompanied by domestic staff and a crew of 14 men, the family visited at least six West Indian islands on their island-hopping tour: Barbados; Trinidad; Grenada; Martinique; Dominica and Jamaica. 

Photograph of The Dolores Boat

The Dolores

Photograph of the Crew of the Dolores

The Dolores Crew



Unusually, the trip is known to us only through photographs – those taken by Florence, the 5th Countess of Harewood – who was a keen amateur photographer, and who compiled and annotated her photographs in albums. The photographs that document the family’s West Indian trip show that they often visited popular tourist destinations, though the family also visited several of their estates in Barbados. 


Two centuries earlier, Edwin Lascelles, builder of Harewood House, had been born on the island of Barbados. This country became the epicentre of the Lascelles family’s business interests in the West Indian sugar trade, a trade that thrived on the systematic and brutal exploitation of trafficked Africans. At its peak, Edwin owned or managed a total of 24 West Indian sugar plantations, which included over 3000 enslaved individuals. These individuals were considered chattels (property that was not land), having been stripped of their rights and identities, and forced to work under brutal conditions. 


Following the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, many of the Lascelles family’s remaining estates were sold off, though by 1906, the Lascelles family still had possession of four plantations in Barbados – Fortescue, Thicket, Mount and Belle. The 5th Countess took a small number of photographs of Mount and Belle, capturing some of the individuals who most likely lived and worked there during the 20th century. Further research is needed to understand more about the plantation’s workforce and management during this period. 

The Mount Estate, Barbados (Owned by the Lascelles family from 1780 – 1974).

View of Bridgetown, Barbados












During their stay in Barbados, the family also visited its capital, Bridgetown, which had, during the 17th and 18th centuries, been a British trading port for sugar and enslaved Africans. Henry Lascelles – father of Edwin – had once been the town’s Collector of Customs, which had enabled him to invest in every aspect of the 18th century sugar and slave trades. The family also visited a number of nearby landmarks, such as Cole’s Cave. During the 19th and early 20th century, Cole’s Cave was (and remains to this day) a popular destination for tourists, known for its underground rivers and geological features. The cave was also known to have been a refuge for escaped enslaved individuals during the 18th century.

Photographs taken whilst on an excursion to Cole’s Cave, Barbados.

Photographs taken whilst on an excursion to Cole’s Cave, Barbados.












From Barbados, the family travelled south to Trinidad, then back north to the Windward Islands. During this part of the journey, the Dolores navigated past St Vincent – an island with a territory smaller than the size of Leeds. This was a deliberate route that enabled them to return George ‘Bertie’ Robinson – the Lascelles family’s footman, who had been brought to Harewood by the 5th Earl and Countess following one of their previous trips to the West Indies – to his country of birth. Bertie had accompanied the family on their trip, presumably fulfilling his role as footman until disembarking for St Vincent. One of the 5th Countess’ annotated photographs identifies Bertie (and a large trunk) being rowed to shore in a small boat. The intention was probably to drop Bertie off on St Vincent where he would remain, however archival records document that he made his way back to Harewood independently. Find out more about Bertie Robinson’s story here. 

“Bertie landing, St Vincent”.

Finally, the family headed westwards to Jamaica. Jamaica was one of the leading sugar producers in the world during the 18th and early 19th centuries. It was also the location of 8 of the Lascelles family’s historic estates, which together had a total acreage of over 20,000. The 5th Countess’ photographs show that the family took a ride on the now abandoned rail line between the town of Bog Walk in the Parish of St Catherine and Port Antonio on the northeast coast of Jamaica. The rail line was built in the late 19th century to enable the easy transportation of goods, such as bananas and citrus fruits, for shipping. The rail line passed through the town of ‘Harewood’ (which had its own station – ‘Harewood Halt’) that took its name from the nearby Williamsfield plantation. Williamsfield had been one of the largest former Lascelles sugar plantations, which had been worked by almost 300 enslaved individuals. No doubt the Lascelles family stopped off during their sojourn along the line to visit the Jamaican town that had taken (or perhaps been given) their name – whether they understood the full and lasting impact of their family’s business interests on the island and its inhabitants beyond historic place names is unlikely. 

Images taken from the Bog Walk to Port Antonio railway



Images taken from the Bog Walk to Port Antonio railway











The 5th Countess’ photographic record of the Lascelles family’s 1906 Caribbean tour offers a rare visual glimpse into the life and landscapes of the West Indies in the early 20th century, however it is one that is undeniably nuanced and idiosyncratic. Florence’s images are framed by her perspective as a wealthy White British tourist and landowner, one that was both aristocratic and female, and who also had a family history that was intertwined with that of the region and its people. 


View the full album of photographs and explore more about the Lascelles family’s 1906 trip to the West Indies here.

Harewood House Shortlisted for Historic Houses Garden of the Year Award

Terrace Garden. Harewood House,Yorkshire, UK. Early Autumn, September 2015.


The beautiful and diverse gardens of Harewood House have been shortlisted for the prestigious Garden of the Year Award from Historic Houses, sponsored by world-famous auction house Christie’s.””


Decided by a public vote, the Award recognises the importance of some of the country’s most spectacular gardens with outstanding horticultural and public appeal. The 100 acres of gardens at Harewood include the formal, intricately designed Italian parterre on the Terrace; the Himalayan Garden that takes visitors to mountains on the other side of the world; the naturalistic planting of the lakeside woodlands; and the inviting Walled Garden, used now to grow produce and for innovative, immersive exhibitions.

Ben Cowell, Historic Houses Director General, comments:

“We are a nation of garden lovers. The experience of lockdown has only made us appreciate the wonders of the garden even more. This is true whether we are lucky enough to tend a garden of our own, or simply enjoy visiting professionally maintained gardens to appreciate the work of talented gardening teams.

“Every year, we hold a vote in a competition to find the UK’s greatest garden. The eight gardens in our shortlist represent the very finest gardens open to the public across the country.

We are proud to have run the Garden of the Year award annually since 1984 with the support of Christie’s. Every year the race to the title is hard-fought, and this year’s shortlist is no exception. Please do cast your vote, and show your support for these wonderful gardens and the talented gardeners who brought them to life.”

In 2020 Harewood’s gardens became even more important, providing a vital source of respite for local communities during the coronavirus restrictions.

Jane Marriott, Harewood House Trust Director comments:

“Visitors enthusiastically returned when the gardens were re-opened in July 2020, with the wide open spaces allowing families and friends to meet safely, and the beauty of the surroundings promoting peace and wellbeing for all. It brought a lot of joy for us at Harewood, to be able to provide a space for people to come together during such difficult times. We do hope that our wonderful gardens brought some relief, and that visitors will vote for us for Garden of the Year.”

“Harewood’s gardens nod to the past whilst looking to the future. The Archery Border takes inspiration from the Victorian obsession with exotic planting, since it lies beneath the Terrace built by Sir Charles Barry in the 1840s. The Himalayan Garden grew around Princess Mary’s 1930s rock garden, with planting informed by her correspondence with the Royal Botanic Gardens; and the Walled Garden, once a kitchen garden to support the House’s role as a hospital during the First World War, now again has fruits and vegetables planted in neat allotments. However, the methods for growing are changing with Harewood’s environmental concerns.”

Head Gardener Trevor Nicholson, who has been at Harewood for over 25 years, comments:

“Our vegetable plots have been converted to a ‘no-dig’ cultivation system to conserve soil ecology, save water and reduce the carbon footprint. Plants for pollinators are interspersed among organically-grown crops, to enrich the biodiversity of the garden, and plant material is recycled into compost, used throughout the gardens as mulch and soil conditioner.”

Anyone who appreciates and values the stunning Harewood House gardens can vote for Harewood to win the Garden of the Year Award here.

Voting closes on Thursday 30 September and the winner will be announced in November.