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Micro wasps save priceless treasures at North Norfolk’s Blickling Hall

The south front of Blickling Hall with a gravel path leading towards the main entrance
The magnificent south front and service wings of Blickling Hall ©National Trust Images/Annapurna Mellor

Pioneering trials using microscopic wasps at North Norfolk’s Jacobean Blickling Hall have slashed the number of destructive clothes moths and saved priceless treasures.

These wasps could be the answer to save many valuable artefacts in Blickling Hall, the birthplace of Anne Boleyn, King Henry VIII’s ill-fated second wife, where Covid lockdown between 2020 and 2022 saw a boom in insect pests which now threaten precious exhibits.

But the National Trust plans to get rid of these unwanted guests by introducing thousands of micro wasps rather than use chemicals. The wasps lay their eggs inside the eggs of the destructive clothes moths and this destroys moth numbers. The trial at the National Trust-owned property has cut moth numbers by 83 per cent and is saving many Blickling treasures.

The tapestry showing Peter the Great hangs on the wall in Blickling Hall's Peter the Great room
The valuable tapestry depicting Peter the Great is at risk of clothes moth damage ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Blickling Hall near Aylsham has been called the National Trust’s most-haunted property thanks to Anne Boleyn, perhaps Britain’s most famous phantom.

On the anniversary of her execution, May 19 each year, the headless ghost is said to return to Blickling. She arrives outside the hall at midnight in a carriage driven by a headless coachman and led by spectral horses.

Sightings of the ghost date back to the 18th century and the numerous sightings also include hauntings by her brother, executed two days earlier than Anne, and her father who failed to stop the killings.

Her ghost, with head attached, has also been seen inside the hall as well as at the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Windsor Castle and Hever Castle in Kent.

Anne, King Henry VIII’s second wife and queen of England from 1533 to 1536, was beheaded in 1536. She was tried on what are believed to be trumped up charges of treason, adultery and incest, because she had failed to give the king an heir. This made her a key figure in the political and religious upheaval that marked the start of the English Reformation.

Blickling Hall was built as a stately home for Sir Henry Hobart, the Lord Chief Justice, between 1616 and 1626, on the site of a late medieval moated hall. It had elaborate gardens and a banqueting house, set within two deer parks and the original Tudor moat. The Tudor house it replaced is believed to be the birthplace of Anne Boleyn in around 1501. She was the granddaughter of Sir Geoffrey Boleyn who bought the estate in 1452.

Today, the magnificent Blickling estate, 15 miles from Blakeney, extends to 4,600 acres with 950 acres of woodland and parkland, and 3,500 acres of farmland. The manor of Blickling was first mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 when William the Conqueror ordered a manuscript to record a survey of much of England and Wales.

The hall was given to the National Trust when Philip Kerr, the 11th Marquess of Lothian, died in 1940.

Apart from ghosts, there is much to see in Blickling Hall including the National Trusts’ most prestigious book collection. The hall houses between 12,500 – 14,000 volumes mostly dating back to the 1740s when Sir John Hobart, the Ist Earl of Buckinghamshire owned the estate.

The National Trust is in the middle of a five-year conservation project to catalogue every book in the Long Gallery Library which is said to contain one of the most historically significant collections of manuscripts and books in England.

A woman sits in front of books at Blickling Hall library
The library at Blickling Hall ©National Trust Images

During World War II Blickling Hall and its estate was requisitioned by the government and used by the RAF to create a bomber airfield, RAF Oulton, one and a half miles away. Blickling Hall became the officers’ mess and servicemen and women were housed in Nissen huts in the grounds. The lake was used to practice dinghy drills.

The base was decommissioned in 1949 but the National Trust has created a museum housing displays of memorabilia including documents, oral histories and objects relating to RAF Oulton. The museum is in the former accommodation space for leading Air Crew and Wing Sergeants during the war.

A mock ‘crew room’ complete with authentic furnishings has been created where bomber crews would spend time before and after each flight cooling down, writing letters and doing minor chores.

Blickling Hall was de-requisitioned at the end of the war and let as a private home

until 1960 when the National Trust began restoration of the property before opening to the public in 1962.

But closure of the Hall during the Covid pandemic created a new threat to the hall’s treasures with a boom in insect pests. National lockdown closure helped create the type of environment where pests and mould settled and spread.

But the pioneering trials using microscopic wasps have slashed the number of destructive clothes moths at Blickling and helped quell a boom in insect pests.

The Blickling trials have also used pheromones designed to emulate the natural chemicals given off by female clothes moths, which confuses the male moths at mating time.

Climate change is also impacting insect pest numbers with warmer, wetter winters driving disease and supporting - among others - moths, spider beetles, booklice and cluster flies whose eggs are subject to fewer harsh frosts. The variable spring and summer weather is also thought to be encouraging more or longer breeding.

The tapestry of Peter the Great was given by Catherine the Great to the owner of Blickling Hall, John Hobart, the 2nd Earl of Buckinghamshire in 1765. It is among the most valuable treasures at Blickling - and it is one of many which could be vulnerable to clothes moths.

The tapestry dates from 1764 and depicts Peter The Great at the Battle of Poltava in central Ukraine.

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