Wildlife on the Ashridge Estate
There is such a wide variety of wildlife at Ashridge, it's hard to know where to begin but here are some of the most prolific and the more rare to whet your appetite.
The varied habitats at Ashridge
The two major habitats found at Ashridge are the woodlands in the south of the Estate and the chalk grassland and scrub found on the hills to the north. It is this variety of habitats that provide a home for the vast number of creatures that live at Ashridge
Spring is also the best time of year to hear the abundant bird life as they go about the business of setting up territories and finding mates. In the woods listen out for the male great-spotted woodpeckers as they hammer away on resonant branches trying to attract a mate.
There are good numbers of nuthatchs, tree creepers and tawny owls as well as the smaller species such as goldcrest in the conifer plantations. If you are very lucky you may see a lesser-spotted woodpecker or a firecrest.
The scrub habitats on the Ivinghoe hills are thriving with bird life in the spring and summer. Many species of warbler and finch nest here, some returning each year all the way from Africa. Be sure to look for chiff chaff, willow warbler, blackcap, lesser whitethroat, linnet, bullfinch, yellowhammer, song thrush, and a whole lot more on a day’s birdwatching on the hills.
The extensive carpets of bluebells in the woods are one of the most spectacular sights at Ashridge, but there are plenty of other woodland flowers to search for in spring – look out for wild garlic, dog-violets, wood sorrel and lesser celandine.
In spring and summer the hills are alive with flowers: orchids, harebells, milkwort, horseshoe vetch, agrimony, salad burnet, and wild thyme to name just a few. This rich diversity of flowers supports an equally rich variety of insect life; amongst the most obvious are the butterflies. You can see green hairstreak, marbled white, small copper, dark green fritillary, small blue, and chalkhill blues in abundance.
A very rare butterfly is found near the Ivinghoe Beacon during spring – the Duke of Burgundy is one of Britain’s fastest declining butterflies but it has a strong population here at Ashridge.
There are also a great number of butterflies to be seen In the woods – you may be lucky and catch the spectacular courtship flight of the silver-washed fritillary whilst passing through a woodland clearing. The purple emperor is another magnificent butterfly but hard to see. It spends most of the time in the woodland canopy feeding on aphid honeydew but comes down to ground level occasionally to feed on carrion or animal dung.
On a summer’s evening bats can be seen hunting over the meadow near the visitor centre. Bats roost in decaying trees and use a huge number of individual trees over a season, some for only a few nights and some for longer periods. Nine species of bat can be found at Ashridge, including the common and soprano pipistrelles, brown long-eared, noctule and Daubenton’s.
It’s not only bats, but a huge range of creatures, many of them insects, that depend on decaying features in trees. We take special care to look after our deadwood habitats.
The fallow deer rut takes place around October when the woods resound to the noise of bucks trying to attract mates. Deer come from all over the Estate to gather on the traditional rutting stands where the males stake out their display areas by ‘groaning’ and scent marking. After about a month when the action is over, they disperse again.