National Trust's Nathalie Bradley and Matt Stanway

PUBLISHED: 18:50 01 February 2010 | UPDATED: 14:46 20 February 2013

Natalie Bradley, head warden for Sherborne Estate

Natalie Bradley, head warden for Sherborne Estate

Nathalie Bradley and Matt Stanway are two members of the National Trust countryside team which cares for large tracts of Gloucestershire's countryside. Chris Newton met them.

From au pair to countryside warden

Brits who are tempted to envy the French their spectacular countryside should talk to Nathalie Bradley. Nathalie was born and raised in the foothills of the Vosges Mountains, one of the wildest and most beautiful regions of France - but it is rural England, and particularly Gloucestershire, that has won her heart.

Nathalie came to the UK in 1994 to work as an au pair and learn English. It was supposed to be a one-year stay, but things didn't quite work out that way.

"After a year I still couldn't speak English as well as I'd hoped" she says. "So I decided to stay on for a while and work as a volunteer for the National Trust at Osterley Park, on the outskirts of London - I thought it would give me some useful practice.

"Then a job came up as a warden, so I decided to work for the Trust full time for a while."

Thirteen years later, Nathalie is still here. She is now married (to an Englishman she met at Osterley Park) and they have an 18-month-old daughter. Her other responsibility is a good slice of Gloucestershire's finest countryside - at the end of last year she was appointed Head Warden for the Trust's Sherborne Estate.

"The English countryside is really beautiful. I do sometimes miss the sense of space you get in France - the roads over here can be so crowded - but I am very happy in Gloucestershire" she says.

Working for the National Trust has given Nathalie an education in countryside matters that she says she would never have been able to get in France.

"We have nothing like the Trust over there - it's all managed by the Government and most of it is left to look after itself. When I was a young girl growing up in the hills near Nancy, I took the countryside and the wildlife for granted. Now I have learned to appreciate the importance of looking after it properly."

Nathalie and her team of wardens, Mike Robinson, Hannah Cooper and Martin Jones, are responsible for looking after the welfare of the Trust's North Cotswold properties, including Sherborne, Chedworth Roman Villa, Crickley Hill and Dover's Hill. Issues range from colonies of rare bats (the disused quarries at Sherborne have Lesser Horseshoe and Natterer's Bats) to managing the huge and increasing visitor pressure at Crickley Hill, which now attracts 300,000 visitors a year.

Balancing the needs of wildlife, archaeology, agriculture and tourism is a challenge the Trust faces on most of its countryside properties. The average visitor knows Chedworth Roman Villa, for example, as an archaeological treasure - the 4th century AD villa, lost in undergrowth until its discovery by an 18th century gamekeeper, is now recognised as one of the most important Roman sites in Britain. Yet the woods and downland around the site are home to many endangered creatures, from dormice to rare orchids and butterflies.

The Trust has had to take steps to protect the south-facing grassy banks from the feet of visitors, and to make sure the rare Roman snail, introduced by the Romans and still doing well in certain areas, is not put at risk from walkers or greedy gastronomes.

Rare breeds on the common

Over at Ebworth Estate, on the high Cotswolds south of Painswick, Nathalie's colleague Matt Stanway is one of the very few professional stockmen in the pay of the Trust. The distinctive herd of Belted Galloways and Welsh Blacks that roam the Trust's properties in this part of Gloucestershire, most notably the Stroud commons around Minchinhampton and Rodborough, are all Matt's responsibility.

The cattle were brought in a few years ago to form the basis of the Cotswold Grazing Animals Project, a joint conservation grazing venture with Natural England. Their job is to graze 350 acres of the species-rich limestone grassland which stretches along the county from north to south and forms one of our county's greatest glories.

In past centuries, sheep bred for the woollen industry kept the grass on these hills short and the scrub at bay. Now that the economics of sheep farming have changed, cattle have to do the job. In fact they are the preferred choice of the conservationist - cattle are much less ruthless grazers than sheep, and although they eat a fair few buttercups, cowslips and orchids along with their grass, they leave most of them to blossom and set seed. They also leave the grassland in a more varied condition, with tussocks amid the grazed patches where insects and small birds can find shelter.

There are those who would have liked to see local breeds used for the grazing, but the Trust has good reasons for its choice. The Galloways, which come from a herd on Dartmoor, and the Welsh Blacks are both exceptionally hardy breeds which are well able to thrive on an exposed hillside through the winter.

The herd - there are 62 animals at present - receive no food other than the grass they eat, and the odd bucket of feed to entice them into the truck to be taken, literally, to pastures new. They're unlikely to get bored with the scenery - the Trust has 32 sites to manage, ranging from a single acre to over 30, so the cattle are deployed around the county in small groups to meet the week-to-week needs of the grazing regime.

"We move the cattle around according to a variety of factors - mainly the weather and the way the vegetation is developing" says Matt. "We usually keep them off the most sensitive areas in summer to minimise the damage to flowers.

"We do everything we can to reduce stress to them. There are occasional encounters with poorly-controlled dogs, but in general they have a pretty good life." Walkers are expected to keep dogs on a lead or under strict control, and to stay clear of cows with calves.

Each mature cow can produce a calf every spring, and they can go on calving into their twenties. Some of the new generation are sold to other farmers. The rest of the animals go for beef - a thriving business which does a good deal to justify the cost of management. At two and half years, they are sent for slaughter to an abattoir in the Forest of Dean approved by the RSPCA Freedom Food Farm Assurance Scheme. The meat is hung for 21 days and butchered to serve the needs of the more discerning restaurants and pubs. Jamie Oliver was an early customer; and the Falcon Inn at Painswick, the Bell at Sapperton and the Butcher's Arms at Sheepscombe are among those who serve it, billing it as Trust-produced, pedigree, naturally-reared beef (it can't be called organic - there has to be a degree of spraying to control scrub in some of the grazed areas).

The latest move is the introduction of boxed packs of jointed beef for the private customer - you can buy a 10kg pack direct from the Trust. The Trust has to do very little marketing, as word of mouth has proved enough to put the word around.

Although Matt is helped by an assistant, Mark Taylor, the job runs for 365 days a year, so breaks are few. Last year, Matt's dedication to his job earned him a City & Guilds Medal for Excellence in the Landbased Industries sector of the NVQ scheme.

Living in a Trust cottage on the estate and waking up to the Cotswold scenery every morning helps.

"I don't have much time off and the work can seem non-stop, but I wouldn't swap it for anything," says Matt.

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