Wildlife on the Golden Cap Estate in Dorset

The Golden Cap Estate is a haven for wildlife, from rare orchids in the carefully managed haymeadows to dragonflies in the ponds, wildflowers in the hedgerows and even an assortment of reptiles. Here's an overview of the wildlife you might spot on your visit.

Much of the ecology of the estate is of national importance and most is classified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Ponds are attractive to dragonflies, the hay meadows are rich in wildflowers and some of the woodland is ancient and rich in lichens. The orchards at Filcombe Farm and St Gabriel's are important biodiversity sites. We work with our tenant farmers to carefully manage and preserve these important habitats.

Fungi

Throughout autumn, some unusual shapes and sizes of fungi appear in the woodland at Langdon Hill.

Elsewhere, the fields and meadows can play host to fungi such as scarlet wax cap, the statuesque parasol, fairy ring champignon and the common field mushroom. Bring a good spotter's guide and see what you can identify.

Birdwatching

Bring your binoculars to catch a closer glimpse of these winged wonders:
  • buzzards and kestrels scanning the hedgerows for prey
  • a peregrine falcon - the fastest bird in the world - on the clifftops
  • the stonechat, whose song sounds like two pebbles being banged together, in the heathland
  • ravens, blue tits and long-tailed tits active in the late winter months
  • Let us know if you spot a now rarely seen Dartford warbler on the heathland.

How to record your bird sightings

Reptiles

Several areas of heathland on the estate support a variety of native British reptiles, including the adder, grass snake, slow worm and common lizard. Newt species, including the tiny palmate, live in the natural ponds.
Tell us what you've seen in our ponds

Noctornal nature 

On a nature walk at night you might see:

  • Roe deer in the fields at dawn or dusk
  • Badgers emerging from their setts in the fields at dusk
  • Newts hunting for slugs and insects in the ponds and streams
  • The rarely seen nocturnal dormouse in the hedgerows after dark

Grazing 

You're likely to come across cows and sheep as you explore the estate. Grazing by sheep and cattle keeps the turf short and prevents scrub from taking over. You might see playful lambs in the fields even in winter, as some Dorset breeds can lamb all year round.

Wildflowers 

The estate is awash with wildflowers in the spring and summer. Highlights include carpets of bluebells at Langdon Hill and rare flowers in the hay meadows including the green-winged orchid and corky-fruited water dropwort. The hedgerows are a tantalising tangle of foxgloves, red and white campion, herb-Robert and common vetch. Thrift and sea campion cling to the cliff edges but these should be admired at a safe distance.

Butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies 

The grassland on Stonebarrow Hill is home to many species of butterfly including the common blue, marbled white and small pearl-bordered fritillary. In spring and summer, watch for red admirals and peacocks hovering around the wildflowers in the hedgerows.

The emperor, Britain's largest dragonfly, is a striking blue, green and silver. It patrols the ponds and streams on the estate in summer.
 
Top tip: the little-known Copse Mead at St Gabriel's has two natural ponds which are home to butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies.

Record what you see 

Volunteer Ecologist John Newbould surveys the wildlife at our Dorset coast and countryside sites. You can help him with his work by recording your sightings while you explore the estate.