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Climate Change

The Ferry at Harewood

Why isn’t the Ferry running?

Harewood’s Ferry made its maiden voyage in June 2018 and has carried thousands of Harewood visitors every week between the Bird Garden, Bothy and Walled Garden.
In May 2022, the water level in the Lake started to decrease due to low rainfall throughout winter and spring. In June the water level reached a point where the Ferry ran aground and could no longer run. The mud banking you can see around the Lake has not been seen since the Lake was last drained many decades ago.

When will it be operating again?

Unless the weather for the remaining half of the year features a consistent and heavy amount of rain, it is unlikely that the water level will reach a point where we can operate the Ferry again until 2023.
Harewood House Trust, the charity that looks after this site, and the Harewood Estate are working with the Environment Agency and Leeds City Council to ensure the health and wellbeing of Harewood’s wildlife that rely on the Lake. The Trust and Estate are also looking at the Lake’s infrastructure to help plan and mitigate against the impact of climate change, including prolonged periods of dry weather.

We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.


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?


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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






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