Furry riverside faces
Sherborne Park Estate is a wonderfully diverse habitat for wildlife in the Cotswolds. Thanks to the work of our rangers, we’re boasting otters and even water voles.
A perfect riverside home for otters
The river corridors at Sherborne Park are nicely secluded, so there is very little disturbance to otters’ habitat. There’s also a fantastic amount of varied bankside vegetation, with plenty of trees and shrubs, which is perfect cover for when otters want to move around unseen. The cover also allows opportunities for underground holts (an otter home) between roots, as well as above ground areas called ‘couches’ where otters rest during the day.
There are plenty of fish and other aquatic nibbles for otters in the river. The neighbouring water meadow also provides lots of frogs and toads, which can sustain otters in leaner times.
Otters are notoriously difficult to spot. Simon Nicholas, Countryside Manager of the Estate, had to make do with his first otter through a lens.
“The first time I saw an otter at Sherborne was on a camera trap we set up on the estate. I’m still waiting to catch my first glimpse of one with my own eyes.”
With the BBC revisiting Sherbourne Park throughout the course of the year, he is excited to see how the abundance of cameras and tech will help us track more animals.
“The more we know, the more we will be able to do to protect and enhance their habitat.”
Spotting water voles – our top tips
Water vole numbers have been declining even more drastically than otters in recent years. However we are proud to say that, thanks to our habitat conservation work, Sherborne’s water vole population is booming – but they are very tricky to spot.
Spring and early summer are the best times of year for actually seeing a water vole. Earlier in the year means there is less vegetation growth so, in theory, they should be easier to see.
Looking along the banks for their burrows or signs of feeding and droppings will give away their territory.
Simon says ‘their droppings are odourless and about the size of tic-tacs and rounded at the ends. If you found a pile, then you’ve found a latrine and you’ve found water voles!’
Water voles also eat in a distinctive way. They chew vegetation to leave a neat 45 degree angle. If you find any of these sings then it’s a case of waiting quietly and patiently in the hope that you’re lucky enough for one to show up.
Keep your ears open too – if you hear a ‘plop’ then you may have just heard a water vole dropping into the water.
Future conservation of water voles at Sherborne
We don’t currently know a huge amount about the breeding patterns of water voles at Sherborne. The slow rate of decline of these mammals is something the team has been tackling. Another successful example of reintroduction is the water voles at Malham Tarn in North Yorkshire.
Simon and the team will continue to look at this over the next few years as part of wider wildlife conservation at Sherborne Park. They will move to extend the areas of suitable habitat along the river and brook through appropriate management. They hope to increase buffer zones which protect the water voles' habitat and feeding ground as well as protecting the river and all the other species that rely on it.
It’s also vital to be doing more monitoring and surveying to make sure we know what is happening along the river. The work to date, including physical habitat management and monitoring, has been supported by Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust who continue to support the team at Sherborne.
By visiting the Sherborne Park Estate, you help the countryside team look after these habitats for the wildlife that continues to thrive there.