Today I joined our wildlife expert, James Chubb, on a ramble to catch up with some of the wild residents here at the Sanctuary. I must say it was a real eye-opener to realise just what we have on our doorstep and it was a chance to ask James questions as we went round checking mammal traps and reptile refuges, to find out what lives in the woodlands and fields around Slade House Farm.
The adventure started in the main car park where a group of visitors had already gathered by Percy (the white statue donkey) to meet James. After introductions, we were on our way and as we walked towards the woodland, with the help of James, we recognised the bird songs of chiffchaffs, robins, great tits, woodpeckers, nuthatches, blackcaps and buzzards.
We stopped off at the Hermitage that had been made from stone quarried from this area for use in local buildings. It was originally carved in 1824 by a Miss Leigh to improve the view! The bed and fireplace are still clearly visible inside. And what a surprise was waiting for us. For inside the old chimney is a colony of very rare lesser horseshoe bats. We couldn't see them as it was very dark looking up inside, but the tell-tale signs were their droppings on the floor. James told us that he would be working with University of Exeter staff to carry out further research.
On we walked passed the newly planted apple orchard to a section of ground I didn't know belonged to the Sanctuary. It's relatively overgrown with ferns and this is where the reptile refuges had been laid. Now I'm not very comfortable with the idea of seeing snakes I must confess, but having recently found slow worms (lizards) in my garden back at home, I felt this might help with my phobia. James made sure we kept our distance from the refuges while he checked and to be honest I don't know how I would have reacted if there had have been an adder in the refuges.
As we walked further up, a buck roe deer broke its cover to run further into the woodland while two buzzards circled low looking for prey. In the distance, the call of a greater woodpecker was heard in the woods by the old Hermitage.
Another surprise was waiting for us under another reptile refuge... while there was no adders we identified a glow-worm. The glow-worm, once a widespread and familiar insect, is becoming a scarce sight so James will be contacting the Devon Wildlife Trust who are doing a glow-worm survey to register this sighting. How cool is that to witness a rare insect in the Devon countryside?
As the ramble came to an end I felt the 15 or so people who had joined James had really learnt a lot and seen many birds, insects, animals and flowers they would normally have just walked by without realising they were there. It was amazing to watch the kids start the ramble not really interested, but as they went deeper into the woods they became more aware of their surroundings spotting butterflies and insects. Their faces as James turned over an old stone or uncovered the reptile refuges was a real picture of wonder and excitement.
Thanks James for opening my eyes!