Winter did not leave quietly. Just before season-opening, Chatsworth, and most of Derbyshire and the Peak District, received a covering of heavy snow.
While the weather created many memorable 'picture-postcard' scenes, it also sparked the landscape team's trusty tractor and snow plough into action, clearing roads across the park and in neighbouring communities.
The snow also caused unprecedented damage to trees in Stand Wood and the Chatsworth Garden. Every day, for two weeks, the Chatsworth landscape, garden and forestry teams worked together to ensure that all roads and footpaths were clear of fallen trees and branches, including any at risk of dropping.
It took several days of chipping to remove the cut material as the brash piles were so large and numerous. However, the chippings can be repurposed around the estate.
Snowfall across the estate (credit Robin Kirkland, Chatsworth landscape team)
Spring brings with it a long list of regular maintenance. Around the villages of Pilsley and Edensor, the grass grows quickly once the weather warms and it is the responsibility of the landscape team to mow and strim these areas for the local community. Of course, care is taken to avoid cutting back spring blooms, such as daffodils, hyacinths and tulips - always a cheerful sight after winter.
In these villages, and across many areas of the park and garden, the team has set aside 'no mow' areas that will be left to grow wild over spring and summer creating improved habitats for bees and other insects.
Already, this has resulted in some wonderful flowering species, such as greater stitchwort and even meadow saxifrage, which is a declining species nationally.
Later into the season, strimming moves into Stand Wood as bramble and nettle can quickly encroach on many of the pathways, creating potential accessibility problems for walkers. The team walk each footpath and strim back verges that are becoming overgrown.
In the parkland, and in line with Chatsworth's 'leave no trace' approach to staging events, work continues on maintaining areas used for parking during the festive season. The team carry out chain harrowing and rolling with tractor-mounted equipment to remove dead grass and flatten any humps or hollows. This process also helps to aerate the roots and stimulate growth, allowing the grass to come back stronger.
As with every season, the team continue maintenance of footpaths, steps and bridges. Attention is also given to balancing the flow of water through the sluice gates, taking into consideration the need to prevent levels in the lakes from rising too high, whilst ensuring enough water is retained in case of drought in the warmer months.
Medieval footpath unveiled in Stand Wood
Just in time for the start of the new season, the landscape team completed the reopening of one of the original footpaths up to Bess of Hardwick's medieval Hunting Tower.
The Hunting Tower was built around 1582 and stands on the escarpment, 400ft above Chatsworth House. Work on the path was started last year following the discovery of an old set of steps buried in the undergrowth. It is believed that it is one of the earlier paths extending from 'Holmes Lane', the original track up to the tower.
The team has also completed work on the path that circumvents the eastern side of Emperor Lake, the lake built by Joseph Paxton, head gardener under the 6th Duke, to feed the Emperor Fountain.
While this path already existed, it was in need of a considerable amount of maintenance. The team built a new footbridge, installed new piping to stop some areas flooding, re-propped an eroded embankment that supports the footpath and undertook considerable pruning and piling of deadwood.
The medieval hunting tower in Stand Wood
Landscape volunteers have been helping with a new nature project at Calton Lee’s car park.
A wildlife pond is being created with the aim of increasing biodiversity and (hopefully) encouraging dragonflies, frogs, newts and aquatic invertebrates.
The volunteers have been digging the bed for the new pond out by hand and, soon, the liner and overflow pipe will be installed. The new pond will then be planted with native pond species, both marginal and fully aquatic.
As well as creating a habitat for a broader range of insects and wildlife, the pond will provide an attractive welcome to those visiting the garden centre or parking for walks across the estate.
Maintenance at Paine's Mill
Visitors enjoying riverside walks close to Calton Lees may have noticed barriers surrounding a large hole of water at Paine’s Mill.
This hole was caused by the collapse of ground above the historic underground watercourse, or leat, that used to carry water from the river to power the mill.
The landscape team managed to reduce the flow of water from the river down the leat to enable structural surveys to be completed to assess any damage hidden underground. Following the surveys, work on repairing the damage will commence and the leat will be reinstated.
A substantial programme of work has also been completed where the water re-enters the river once leaving the mill. A few years ago, this area of the bank, and the surrounding stonework, collapsed and was fenced off while repairs were conducted to ensure the structural integrity of the stonework and the bank.
Paine's Mill was designed by the architect James Paine between 1791 and 1792. It was damaged by falling trees in a storm in the 1960s but preserved as a ruin to maintain the historical integrity of the landscape.
Open to the elements, it requires considerable maintenance and is one of many projects at Chatsworth that requires significant funding through the Chatsworth House Trust charity.
The Chatsworth House Trust (registered charity 511149) is dedicated to looking after the house, collections, garden, parkland and woodlands for the benefit of everyone.
All income from ticket sales, Gift Aid, our Chatsworth Friends and Patrons programmes, partners, sponsors and funders goes directly to the charity and is reinvested in the upkeep, preservation and improvement of Chatsworth, our learning programme and essential conservation work, such as the repair of historically significant buildings such as Paine's Mill.
Find out more about the Chatsworth House Trust and how you can get involved using the links below.
About Chatsworth House Trust
Chatsworth House Trust is a registered charity established in 1981 to look after the house, collections, garden, woodlands and park for the benefit of everyone.
Benefit from unlimited access to the house, garden and farmyard plus complimentary tickets to selected events and discounts at the shops, restaurants, hotels and inns whilst directly supporting the work of the charity.
If you are able, support us by making a one-off or regular donation to the Chatsworth House Trust charity online.
When you use Gift Aid, the government gives an extra 25% on top of your kind donation, in lieu of tax you have already paid. It is a rare opportunity to decide how your tax is spent, and all of this money goes directly to the work of Chatsworth House Trust.
Patrons of Chatsworth
Patrons play a vital role in supporting the long-term stewardship of Chatsworth and enjoy exclusive access to the collections and curatorial team via special events.