Wildlife at Croft Castle

A white-clawed crayfish in Fishpool Valley at Croft Castle in Herefordshire

From fallow deer to fungi, there's so much wildlife to spot in Croft's historic parkland.

Fallow deer

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.

See if you can spot the fallow deer in Croft's parkland
A group of fallow deer in the parkland at Croft Castle in Herefordshire
See if you can spot the fallow deer in Croft's parkland

Mistletoe

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.

Mistletoe is common in Herefordshire
Mistletoe at Croft Castle in Herefordshire
Mistletoe is common in Herefordshire

White-clawed crayfish

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.

Monitoring the white-clawed crayfish at Croft
Man holding crayfish in hand
Monitoring the white-clawed crayfish at Croft

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 green woodpecker finds insect larvae.

Fungi

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.

Birch polypore fungi can be found at any time of year
Birch polypore fungi on a tree at Croft Castle in Herefordshire
Birch polypore fungi can be found at any time of year

Our senior gardener Jon talks about how we take care of our wildlife at Croft:

"Here at Croft we garden on a big scale with around eight acres of formal gardens to care for but we are always adapting the way we do things to make the garden attractive to visitors and wildlife. It is a challenge though – it isn’t just a case of not bothering to garden certain areas. We have created wildflower areas, ponds, high rise bug hotels and put up countless nest boxes for a wide range of species. We have our reptile nurseries where stacks of brash and compost provide homes for slow worms, grass snakes and common lizards. When we plant new areas with perennials we always go for flowers which are recognised as a good nectar source for insects."

Bug hotel in the walled garden
A bug hotel in Croft Castle's walled garden made from old pots, bottles and sticks.
Bug hotel in the walled garden

"All this effort is well worth it. The walled garden on a sunny day is literally a hive of activity. The borders are full of bees, hoverflies and butterflies which lots of visitors comment on as it really does add another dimension to the garden. The old walls are alive with dapper little mason bees and flying gems such as ruby – tailed wasps. Birdsong is our constant soundtrack during spring and summer with bands of goldfinch, linnet, greenfinch and chaffinch roving through the garden while squadrons of house martins patrol the skies above the garden and farmyard.

I think for us, increasing biodiversity to such a level has been our proudest achievement and it brings a lot of joy to everyone. So buy or make that bug hotel, plant a few wildflowers or just don’t cut the grass too short and you too will have your own wildlife oasis."