I met with two members of the Dorset Mammal Group at our farm near Beaminster, Dorset today, to show them around one of the farm ponds here.
East Axnoller Farm is not only the source of the river Axe, but is also home to the last known population of native water voles remaining on this river and the pond is managed to retain a safe haven for this rapidly declining mammal. I accompanied Michael and Colin on a vole spotting session after lunch, scoping out the pond for potential wildlife photography opportunities.
A moorhen and little grebe which had been feeding on the water as we approached, dived out of sight as they do and without leaving the confines of the pond, we didn’t see them again while we were there! We circled the large pond slowly, me spending most of my time on hands and knees scrutinising the grass for signs of water vole activity. Most of the way round there were feeding tracks in the surrounding grassland, but this could easily have been created by field voles, a smaller and much more common vole species.
But then, just as we returned to the starting point of our circumnavigation, I found what I was looking for: an area of close-cropped vegetation near to the water’s edge, creating a tiny lawn, with a neat pile of rushes the length of matchsticks, and a big pile of soft brown droppings - hooray!
This tiny sign was enough to tell me that water voles (or perhaps even just one single vole) had survived the winter on the pond and were feeding actively this spring. The freshness of the feeding sign would suggest they were there while we were!
I will continue to keep an eye on the pond whenever I am lucky enough to visit the farm and monitor the population through the summer months. I hope to be able to bring you photographs of these endearing little mammals at some point soon.
On my way back to the main road a number of skylarks flew low over the roof of my vehicle and landed in the large cultivated fields either side of the driveway to East Axnoller, no sooner had they landed than a woodcock shot across my bonnet too! Two fabulous farmland bird species in a matter of minutes!
This farm is not open to public visiting, but there are a number of bridleways which cross the land. However, for anyone who fancies getting to know the place a little better, and leaving their mark for the better on the farm - I will be organising some summer work parties in Dorset to tackle an invasive plant, Himalayan Balsam, which is choking part of the watercourse here. If you would be keen to spend a day in the summer helping me and some of the farm team pulling balsam, please get in touch!
To read about our previous work tackling Himalayan balsam at East Axnoller Farm, why not read Jenifer Tucker’s account from 2008 – it will certainly whet your appetite for this fabulous summer activity!