Top 10 wildlife to spot in the Teign Gorge
Tom Wood, Area Ranger on Dartmoor has written a top 10 of his favourite wildlife spots in the Teign Gorge.
Salmon and trout
The River Teign plays host to a fine array of wildlife, not least the fish, especially salmon and brown trout. When the river is in spate (high water) and the fish are running, it is a spectacular sight to see them jumping up the weirs below Drogo and near Fingle bridge in search of their spawning areas (where they lay their eggs). This mostly happens in September and October after heavy rain.
My favourite birds are the raptors (birds of prey). These include the buzzard and kestrel, which I regularly see hovering over the valley. You will also see woodpeckers and all manner of other farmland and woodland birds, not to mention the wagtails, dippers, herons and kingfishers to be found near the Teign.
The Dartmoor pony
Winter sees a small group of Dartmoor ponies grazing on the slopes of Piddledown common below Castle Drogo. We use these ponies, which are mostly wild, but will come to a bucket of food, as living lawnmowers. They help us shape the habitats on the common for the benefit of butterflies and other heathland species.
Lizards and snakes
On a rare occasion you will be able to spot a black adder in the gorge. Piddledown common plays host to a number of species of reptile, including the common lizard, slowworm (a legless lizard) and the adder. You might see them basking in the sun on rocks near the path early in the morning, in order to warm themselves up and enable them to hunt.
The damp woodlands of Dartmoor are home to a tremendous range of fungi. The most widely recognised is the fly agaric which is the classic red toadstool with white spots. We also have a wide range of tree fungi which act through decay of living or dead wood to create some amazing habitats for many other species. These include insects, birds and bats. Trees actually need symbiotic fungi to grow properly, so the woods literally would not be the woods without them.
Our beetle species range from the humble dor beetle, which you might see trundling along the side of the footpaths looking for food to feed to its larva, to some of the rare and unusual beetles living in our old trees and feasting on the dead wood. These creatures truly are an essential part of our Dartmoor woodlands.
We have many species of butterfly in the Teign Gorge, but perhaps the most special are our fritillaries. We are host to many species including the silver washed, pearl bordered and small pearl bordered fritillary. Some areas of Piddledown common were once host to the very rare high brown fritillary, a species which still exists further down the valley and which we are trying to encourage back. These butterflies are originally woodland species. They are driven to bracken/grass areas by the increasing rarity of coppice managed woodland. We hope that coppicing for the biomass boiler at Castle Drogo may provide a better habitat for these species.
These unusual organisms don’t do much, but grow on most trees and rocks. They are indicators of air quality and pollution. The lichens of the Teign Gorge show indications of very good air quality and some of the ones growing on our older trees are nationally rare.
Red wood ant
These ants are rare throughout the rest of the country, but abundant in the valley. They live in colonies of more than 500,000 ants and build huge nests of woody debris, which are to be seen all over the area. From the nests the ants travel in columns out into the woods looking for food. The colonies are highly organised and even have their own heating and cooling systems.
These elusive creatures can be seen all year throughout the valley. You're most likely to spot one early in the morning or late in the evening. If you want to improve your chances even more, come and visit during October and early November, when the deer are rutting. Then you will hear the bucks (males) calling up and down the valley to attract the ladies to their rutting stands. Their browsing habits affect tree survival and growth and so alter the woodland ecosystem which in turn affects thousands of other species.