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Wildlife in the Teign Gorge at Fingle Bridge

A close up of a small pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly sat on a bluebell
A pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly on a bluebell | © National Trust Images / Ross Hoddinott

The Teign Gorge at Fingle Bridge is home to an array of wildlife, from birds and butterflies to Dartmoor ponies and fallow deer. What will you spot?

Salmon and trout in the River Teign

The River Teign is home to a variety of fish, especially salmon and brown trout. When the river is in spate (high water) and the fish are running, it's a spectacular sight to see them jumping up the weirs below Drogo and near Fingle Bridge. This mostly happens in September and October after heavy rain, when they search for their spawning areas to lay their eggs.

Birdwatching at Fingle Bridge

You have the chance to spot several raptor species in the local area. These include the buzzard and kestrel, which are regularly seen hovering over the valley. You will also see woodpeckers and all manner of other farmland and woodland birds, not to mention wagtails, dippers, herons and kingfishers.

Dartmoor ponies

Winter sees a small group of Dartmoor ponies grazing on the slopes of Piddledown Common below Castle Drogo. These ponies are mostly wild but they'll come to a bucket of food. They are used as living lawnmowers and help to shape the habitats on the common for the benefit of butterflies and other heathland species.

Common lizard at Bickerton Hill, Cheshire
A common lizard | © National Trust Images/Phil Neagle

Lizards and snakes

On a rare occasion you will be able to spot a black adder in the gorge. Piddledown Common is home 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.

Finding fungi on Dartmoor

The damp woodlands of Dartmoor harbour a tremendous range of fungi. The most widely recognised is the fly agaric, which is the classic red toadstool with white spots. There is also a wide range of tree fungi which act through the decay of living or dead wood to create some amazing habitats for many other species. These include insects, birds and bats. Trees need symbiotic fungi to enable them grow properly, so the woods literally would not be the woods without them.


These creatures are an essential part of the Dartmoor woodlands. The beetle species living here 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 rare and unusual beetles living in our old trees and feasting on the dead wood.

Rare butterflies in the Teign Gorge

There are many species of butterfly in the Teign Gorge, but perhaps the most special are the fritillaries. The area is host to many species including the silver washed, pearl bordered and small pearl bordered fritillary. Some areas of Piddledown Common were once home to the very rare high brown fritillary, a species which still exists further down the valley.

These butterflies are woodland species but they are being driven to bracken and grass areas by the increasing rarity of coppice managed woodland. It is hoped that coppicing for the biomass boiler at Castle Drogo may provide a better habitat for these species.

Fallow deer stags at Petworth House and Park, West Sussex
Fallow deer stags | © National Trust Images/Adrian Holloway

Fallow deer

These elusive creatures live throughout the valley all year round. 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.


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 the older trees are nationally rare.

Red wood ant

These ants are rare throughout the rest of the country, but abundant in this valley. They live in colonies of more than 500,000 ants and build huge nests of woody debris, which can be seen all over the area. From their 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.

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