Our work on the Sherborne Estate
Since the National Trust took over ownership of the Sherborne Estate in 1987, we’ve set in motion some ambitious plans to help wildlife thrive. These changes allow farmers all along the Windrush Valley to live in greater harmony with the environment while still being able to grow crops and raise livestock. We’ve introduced wildlife corridors and water meadows as well as installing boxes for an array of birds – and bats to nest in.
By reintroducing hedgerows, wetlands and grasslands we’ve created routes for animals, insects, bats and birds to be able to move between one happy habitat to another. Water meadows have been restored so that there’s both lush pasture for animals to graze as well as ideal ecosystems for a host of birds and insects.
We work with tenant farmers and partners to restore the health and beauty of the countryside, bring back wildlife and create ‘nature friendly’ farmland. Farming practices have changed since the early days of National Trust involvement here. For example, conifers for timber aren’t planted any more, wider banks are left either side of the river and some of the limestone grasslands are now enriched wildflower meadows.
Roads, buildings and arable fields create huge barriers to wildlife. By filling in the gaps and creating wildlife corridors that connect different nature-rich habitats, animals, birds and insects can move safely from one place to another.
Sustainable farming techniques play an important part in this: leaving uncropped field margins, planting woodland and creating new hedgerows are all wildlife corridors. They connect individual – and sometimes isolated – habitats, allowing wildlife to move freely between them, without threat from predators or traffic.
Before the National Trust started managing the land, there were 70 small woodland blocks, many of which were isolated from one another. They’ve now been linked together with double hedgerows which has proved especially good for bats and small mammals which, in turn, has attracted barn owls, tawny owls, little owls, red kites, sparrow hawks and hobbies.
How bats use wildlife corridors
Once a struggling species, bats are now protected across the UK and, with the help of wildlife corridors and friendly farming practices, populations are beginning to flourish.
Eleven different species of bat have been identified across the Estate. Simon Nicholas, Countryside Manager says: ‘They rely on them as navigational aids. Using the hedgerows and woodland as features in the landscape to help them find their way to and from their roosts and feeding grounds is much easier than over a large, featureless arable field’.
Restoring the water meadows
Water meadows are created on river flood plains by digging ditches and installing sluices so that winter flood waters can cover the ground and stop it from freezing. The silt creates a natural fertiliser that feeds the growth of large swathes of lush grass in early spring for sheep to graze.
The Windrush water meadows were originally created in 1844 but by 1965 they had been ploughed up, drained and used for growing wheat and barley.
When the National Trust took over in the early 1990s, we began by opening the channels and restoring the sluice gates. That work created good grazing for the tenant farmers’ cows and sheep as well as an abundant habitat for many wild species to thrive.
Wildlife in the water meadow
Mammals from water voles to rare water shrews have made these water meadows their home and even otters, though rarely seen, leave tell-tale signs.
Dragonflies and damselflies like the slow-moving water in the channels and plants like pink ragged robin thrive here in the wet ground.
Birdlife is also abundant: lapwings breed here and it’s home to waders including snipe and golden plover. An array of water fowl make their home on the open water and you’ll easily spot herons, egrets, a variety of ducks and maybe a flash of a kingfisher.
Helping homeless animals
Homeless animals searching for the right place to live or raise their young can find a little extra help at Sherborne, where our ranger team do a few simple things to encourage them.
Holes for stoats
Stoats nesting in the tumbledown drystone walls on the estate delighted viewers of the BBC’s Springwatch in 2018 and, thanks to a £100,000 bequest to fix them, we’ve been able to rebuild around 350 metres of wall.
One hazard for stoats, however, is the risk from collapse of these delicate walls. But dry stone waller Andy Chapple, devised an ingenious way of including stoat-sized cavities into the centre of the structure. He’s also included passageways so the stoats and other animals, such as hedgehogs and rabbits, can get to the other side.
Simon Nicholas, Countryside Manager says: ‘Andy came up with the idea and the design and we think it’s brilliant. We’ve always known that collapses inside the walls open up bigger spaces which animals such as stoats can use. New walls – especially Cotswold walls – are quite tightly built so there’s less opportunity and building in the holes offers an opportunity that would not otherwise arise for quite a few years.
To attract an array of birds, the team at Sherborne discovered that it’s possible to make nest boxes for almost any bird that nests in a cavity or on a ledge. Barn owls like big, open-planned living spaces, while little owls like a long corridor to their living space to ensure it’s dark enough inside – mimicking cavities found in walls or old trees.
Garden birds including blue tits and great tits like boxes with a small hole, whilst robins prefer an open front. But more unusual species also use boxes – on the estate there are boxes for kestrels, swifts, house martins, dippers and willow tit among others.
Nesting boxes aren’t just for birds, the Sherborne bats have many roosts for raising families, winter hibernation and summer roosts. We help by making sure their natural homes are safe and little disturbed – but occasionally we help with some boxes too.
Bats like a draught free and well insulated home – and a ladder to help them get in with a few slots sawn into rough timber the ideal thing.
With your ongoing support, we're able to continue our vital conservation work. Thank you for helping to protect these special places.
Sherborne Park Estate has been farmed for generations and, thanks to the efforts of the current tenant farmers, it’s one of the best places in the south west to see rare farmland birds like corn bunting and skylarks.
Sherborne estate is a great place for a walk throughout all seasons. It is also a haven for wildlife, so bring along your binoculars and see what you can spot.
We believe that nature, beauty and history are for everyone. That’s why we’re supporting wildlife, protecting historic sites and more. Find out about our work.
Read about our strategy 'For everyone, for ever' here at the National Trust, which will take the organisation through to 2025.