Life on the wild side
The gardens and woodland are great for wildlife explorers to discover a wide array of animals that call Stoneywell 'home'.
With the protection provided by Stoneywell Woods and the generosity of volunteers ensuring the table is always well stocked with suet balls, birds of all shapes and sizes are perhaps the most regular of visitors to Stoneywell. Countless bluebirds can be seen at the bird table each morning and, if you listen carefully, you can often hear a pair of common buzzards calling to one another above the tree tops.
Undoubtedly the bird that makes the most repeat visits is the swallow. Upon their return from a winter spent in southern Africa, the swallows make their nests in the stables or above the toilets, as they have done long before the National Trust began to care for the building. Stoneywell's pair of swallows will soon begin to breed, laying up to eight eggs each time. You can often hear the chicks cheeping from the rafters above and, as they start to leave the nest, they'll even come to say hello. Swallows can have up to three clutches each year, and the growing family of swallows tends to stay close to Stoneywell for the duration of the summer, until it is time to migrate in September and October.
Swallows are found in areas where there is a ready and accessible supply of insects, which makes Stoneywell a perfect summer home for them. An abundance of moths and butterflies can be found in the meadow grass of the gardens and for some rarer species, such as the barred umber moth, the woodland here is the only site in Leicestershire and Rutland where they breed. The small, sooty-coloured moth with white edges seen fluttering amongst the meadow grass is the chimney sweep moth. It can be spotted between June and August feeding on the flowers and seeds of pignut, a small perennial herb.
A particularly significant creepy-crawly at Stoneywell is the slow worm. A legally protected species, the slow worm is fairly uncommon in Leicestershire and it is believed that Stoneywell may be home to one of the largest populations of slow worms in the county. With long, shiny bodies slow worms are often mistaken as small snakes, but they are infact harmless, legless lizards. You may see some in the gardens this summer, hiding under logs or slithering through the long grass.
There are two species of bat which call Stoneywell 'home': the common pipistrelle and the brown long-eared bat, whose ears are almost as long as its body. The pipistrelle is one of the most common bat species in Britain and the smalled in Europe. Both bats can be found roosting in older buildings and rearing their young in the loft spaces. The stables at Stoneywell are used as a maternity roost for both species and, consequently, we work very carefully to ensure that their roosts remain undisturbed. In fact, the bats have exclusive use of the first floor of the stables - though they still swoop down now and then to say 'hello'!
If you sit patiently on a sunny day you may be lucky to spot a common lizard basking in the sunshine on a rock. Conditions at Stoneywell are ideal for this species of lizard since they usually inhabit heathland, woodland and grassland. Perhaps unusually for the lizard world, these creatures give birth to live young rather than laying eggs.
So as you explore the gardens and woodland at Stoneywell, keep your eyes peeled and your ears pricked and who knows what wildlife you will encounter.