Wildlife at Croft Castle
From fallow deer to fungi, there's so much wildlife to spot in Croft's historic parkland.
The fallow deer, now widely naturalised, was introduced by the Normans in the eleventh-century. It was protected in Royal hunting forests and also kept in deer parks. Part of the original deer park boundary runs along the northern edge of the main car park. Listen out for their short bark, which is the alarm call of a doe and the low groan of the stag during the rut in October.
Uncommon in much of Britain but common in Herefordshire where it is found in old apple orchards. It is parasitic, but well tolerated by its hosts; oak, apple, lime, poplar and hawthorn. The berry is eaten by the mistle thrush and other birds. The name is thought to have come from two Anglo Saxon words, 'mistle', meaning dung and 'tan' meaning twig.
The life span of the raven is 10 to 15 years, with a wing span of up to 130cm, which is as big as a buzzard. Monogamous and fierce defenders of their territory, they feed off invertebrates, reptiles, rabbits, amphibians and other small mammals.
The white-clawed crayfish is Britain's native crayfish and especially favours hard-water streams and rivers such as those in Fishpool Valley. They are in drastic decline in Britain due largely to the American signal crayfish. This species, introduced in the 1970's for the restaurant trade, out competes our native crayfish for food and also carries the deadly crayfish plague. You can find them in the water, under rocks, among fallen leaves and submerged logs.
Deadwood is full of life
On the Croft estate, we mostly leave branches where they drop and trees where they fall.
Fallen deadwood is a valuable habitat, a home to woodlice, beetles and countless other creatures. Standing deadwood is even better. Even after death trees survive as monoliths, a host to myriad plants and animals, and a roost for birds and bats.
Apart from the narrow ring of sap wood, all the wood on the tree is in fact dead and that's where the greater spotted woodpecker finds insect larvae.
White mycelium threads through the leaf-litter, through tree roots and the very fibre of the wood. Fungi help break down dead matter, are a food source for animals and some have a symbiotic relationship with trees.
There is an explosion of fruiting bodies in autumn but some such as the birch polypore, a species of bracket fungi, can be found at any time of the year.