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Our work caring for nature at Canons Ashby

Bumblebee feeding from yellow rattle wild flower at Bath Skyline, Somerset
Our work helps wildlife thrive | © National Trust Images / Sara Strawson

The team at Canons Ashby are on a mission to improve biodiversity in the green spaces here. By planting wildflower plugs, throwing seed bombs with visitors, and providing safe habitats for insect, bird and animal life, we hope to provide a welcoming and healthy home for all kinds of creatures.

Wildflowers at Canons Ashby

We have been planting wildflowers like red clover, yellow rattle and ox-eye daisies in the paddock. These are all wildflowers which are popular with pollinators and should encourage plenty of insect life.

By encouraging diverse wildflowers and supporting insect life, we hope to support a whole range of local wildlife which relies on these things.

The wildflowers and grasses are managed to make the most of the natural wildflower seeding in the summer, whilst in the winter fruit is left in or under the trees to provide food for birds and other creatures in the coldest months.

Bird sightings

Around 80 different types of birds have been spotted at Canons Ashby including a pair of reed buntings recently seen by the restored medieval stew ponds, which are proving a popular wildlife refuge full of birds, amphibians and insects.

There have been barn owls nesting in a neighbouring field as well as regular nesting swallows and kestrels at Canons Ashby.

The team have been adding new nesting boxes, bird feeders and improving other nature habitats across the site to provide plenty of safe spaces where wildlife can take shelter.

Reed bunting perching in reeds
Reed bunting perching in reeds | © National Trust Images / Douglas Holden

Great crested newts

In 2020 the team were thrilled to discover Great crested newts hiding under the seed trays and plant pots in the gardeners' potting areas. There's a small pond nearby and plenty of damp hidden spaces to hide. Hopefully they'll stay for many years to come.

Restoring the medieval stew ponds

The three stew ponds at Canons Ashby would have been used by the monks in the 12th-century Augustinian Priory to store fish and provide a valuable source of food. With a natural flow of water into the closest pond, fish required no feeding and were available all year.

Today many rural areas are suffering from pond loss because mains supply allows farmers to get water directly to troughs in the fields. Without continual maintenance, the ponds have been neglected, allowed to become overgrown and eventually dry up. This results in a loss of valuable wildlife habitat.

The stew ponds are not within the main grounds open to visitors, but we do have guided walks during the spring and summer months, so keep an eye on our website to find out more.

Broad-bodied Chaser dragonfly (Libellula depressa) at Harewoods, Surrey
The stew ponds are a thriving wildlife habitat | © National Trust Images/Andrew Wright

Restoration project

In 2015, in partnership with Natural England and with the support of Daventry District Council, the National Trust undertook to restore the ponds back to their original condition and create a tranquil spot where wildlife can live without threats.

The ponds were re-dug to reveal the shape of the medieval ponds and the banks re-built using the excavated soil. Rain and natural spring water filled the ponds and within three months they were already attracting wildlife.

‘This project will deliver huge benefits to wildlife habitat as well as providing an exciting opportunity to further tell the story of medieval life at Canons Ashby’

- Chris Smith, Project Leader

A thriving habitat

Now the stew ponds are a thriving wildlife habitat. The team regularly see many birds, including tufted ducks, little grebes, swallows, whitethroats, and flycatchers. As well as mammals: noctule bats, field voles, and regular visits from badgers, foxes and deer.

Closer to the ground the team see plenty of insects, great crested newts, grass snakes and a healthy abundance of damselflies and dragonflies.

A recent moth survey found an Obscure wainscot at Canons Ashby. The caterpillars feed on reed beds at night and hide in the reeds during the day. It is likely that this tiny moth came from the reed beds at the stew ponds. These moths are not very common in this area so it’s great that the stew ponds are giving them a home.

Moths are an excellent indicator of biodiversity. When an area has a wide range of moths, it often indicates that nature is doing well in that space.

Thank you

With your ongoing support, we're able to continue our vital conservation work. Thank you for helping to protect these special places.

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