I almost didn’t take any shots of this Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) as I thought it was a buzzard, having only my 70-200 lens and it being a long way away it didn’t seem worth the effort. However needing to practice my manual focus on moving targets I fired off a few shots, I’m so glad I did as checking the back of the camera to see if I nailed the focus I realised it was an Osprey carrying off a fish!
The Osprey was above the Kingsmill Lake area of the River Tamar only a little way upstream of Plymouth, shot from the shore near Lanulph.
I had set out to check a trail camera I have set up on what I hope is a Badger sett (no badgers on the camera), it’s a gorgeous area on a summers afternoon so I decided to take a stroll with the camera and found an Osprey! Whilst the images aren’t very good I’m still very happy to have them and I had not expected to see, let alone get a shot of such an amazing bird, this experience has certainly highlighted that just spending the time in places where wildlife is can lead to great encounters.
The Osprey is a Schedule 1 species on The Wildlife and Countryside Act due to historical decline thanks to egg collecting and killing. With an estimated 200-250 breeding pairs in the UK seeing one is a real privilege (especially in Cornwall!). The RSPB website shows a more positive trend with growing numbers.
Ospreys hunt fish, both saltwater and fresh, soaring above the water before diving onto their prey (close to the surface, generally not exceeding one meter) and as can be seen in my shots they carry their prey facing forwards.
Migrating from Scotland to West Africa for the winter Ospreys can travel up to 5,000 miles, stopping often to hunt and providing us with opportunities to see them on the Tamar.
Like many fish eating predators the Osprey is at risk to poisoning from pesticides (run off from fields that then enter watercourses and are absorbed by fish) and entanglement with fishing line. As with many animals the very presence of humans can be an issue, if you do find a nest (not down here in Cornwall) please ensure you keep your distance and ensure you do not cause the animal any stress. Ospreys along with many other species can abandon a nest if disturbed, enjoy these fantastic birds responsibly.
This part of the Tamar is part of a nature reserve managed by The Cornwall Wildlife Trust. If you enjoy spending time in places like this and care about our wildlife, please join your local trust and support the great work they do.
If you have seen one of these fantastic birds in Cornwall or Devon please leave a comment below.
The marker on the above map is for the car park – you can drive to the end of the old ruined tarmac road that you turn into from the main road, but please take it slow as you pass through peoples property.
The reserve is one of the best places for finding wildlife I have ever visited. It has a a range of habitats covering wetland, heathland and open grassland. As well as being great for nature it’s also home to the remains of several WW2 pillboxes, Bronze Age barrows and a windmill, that now serves as a sheltered viewing platform with incredible views in every direction, and to cap it all off whilst everywhere else on the Lizard was busy I was the only person on the reserve!
I have been wanting to see adders for years and despite multiple trips to areas I know adders inhabit I had no luck until visiting Windmill Farm.
You’ll often read how adders are more scared of you than you are of them, which is certainly true, however I was amazed at how nonplussed they were by my presence. Of course I tried to minimise any disturbance to them and they rewarded me by allowing me to stay with them for about 15 minuets before moving on. One thing to note is they are surprisingly well camouflaged, so watch where you stand if you find one! At first I thought it was just the one snake in the image above, but there was actually three adders here, it was just that the others were well hidden.
One thing that really stood out about this site was the sheer amount of wildlife you can see. I have never seen so many dragonflies and damselflies and there were loads of butterflies and other invertebrates as well as evidence of foxes.
There are several paths around the site and one – the nature trail, takes in a full tour of the site which includes quite a few boardwalks which are perfect for spotting wildlife.
As well as fantastic trails that lead around the site there are a couple of hides for watching birds. Unfortunately I was unable to enter them as they have been temporarily closed due to the current pandemic.
If this sounds good and is the kind of place you would like to visit, please join your local wildlife trust. They maintain this site and by joining you can directly support places like this.
A hidden gem of a nature reserve a couple of miles East of Bodmin. I have only just recently been to Cabilla for the first time and at the start it was a little underwhelming, following the track along the river, you are provided with few oppertunities to explore the surrounding habitat. However, go a little further and follow the marked path up the hill and this place really comes into it’s own. The reserve is run by Cornwall Wildlife Trust, which if you enjoy visiting the places you should join!
Park at the marker on the map, and initially follow the marked footpath through a Sawmill area and then keep following the marked wildlife trail.
The reserve is home to the Blue Ground Beetle, one of the rarest beetles in the UK. Whilst I didn’t see one there were a lot of the above Dung Beetles.
Once you start following the path up the hill you are presented with views out across the valley (which I didn’t get any pictures of!) and you will come to areas of woodlands that have been cleared and old mine workings. Both of these areas provide habitats to wildlife, the old stone walls of the mine buildings providing a home to insects, amphibians and reptiles alongside a host of plants. The cleared woodland, where plenty of standing deadwood has been left, makes an excellent area for spotting birds. Looking at some of the standing deadwood you can see evidence of both larvae that live in the wood and the woodpecker that eats them.
Other species that live on the site include snakes, amphibians and a whole range of birds.
Asides from a nice walk with great views and an abundance of wildlife, the other significant thing about Cabilla for me is how little use it gets! I have only been once so far, but I’ll be going back. The path along the top looks like it gets very little use, and as Cornwall continues to get busier finding a place like this is always good.
I have only just discovered this fantastic guide to Cabilla whilst writing this post. Looks like there is much more to see at this site.
Retire common is an area of special scientific interest just a few miles from Bodmin. It’s also very close to Goss Moor nature reserve. Whilst it lacks the acessibility and size of Goss, it is a fantastic place to get away from crowds and enjoy some time out in a wild Cornish Landscape.
The site is mainly wetland with some open areas of grassland and supports a rich selection of wildlife, including Adders, Buzzards and Owls. The South East corner is particularly good and I have never seen anyone else there!
It can be accessed via the track to Colbiggan just off of The Old Coach Road shown on the map above.
As the site is an SSSI please take extra care to minimise any disturbance.
Penlee Nature Reserve encompasses both woodland and open grassland and is maintained be the Cornwall Wildlife Trust. If you enjoy visiting these sites, please join your local trust. It’s sited on an old gun emplacement created for the defence of Plymouth, the remains of which can be seen throughout the site.
Heading through the site and down through the woods and across a field with amazing views out to sea will lead you to Queen Adelaide’s Grotto.
Whilst on my visits I haven’t seen much wildlife of note, the woodlands and fort area are host to a range of invertebrates and birds, whilst the grotto provides a fantastic spot to watch for marine life. It’s worth a visit for the views alone though.
It can be quite busy on weekends in the summer, especially if the weather is good. Tends to be quite quiet during the week and during the winter.
Goss Moor is a national nature reserve a few miles outside of Bodmin, in the heart of Cornwall covering approximately 2.7 square miles. It’s also one of my favourite places in Cornwall. It’s next to the main road through Cornwall and has a busy cycle path, yet it also is a great place for seeing wildlife and if you know where to go it’s easy to avoid the crowds.
Where to go
My favourite are on Goss Moor is the collection of lakes in the North West area, it’s a really diverse habitat and great for spotting wildlife, it’s also often very quiet.
The trails at Goss do get quite a lot of use and it is a wetland environment – so wear appropriate footwear, during the summer if it hasn’t rained for a few days then the paths on the map above are fine in walking trainers/shoes, otherwise walking boots are best.
You can see more of my photography from across Cornwall and Devon here.
A wetland habitat as diverse as Goss hosts a huge range of wildlife, the above were seen whilst just taking a leisurely walk around. If you explore Goss Moor you will find other habitats as well, from woodland to areas of open grassland and I have seen Owls in the area on a few occasions.
Goss moor is managed by Natural England’s Growing Goss Project which manages the habitat and monitors the wildlife. Goss is home to some important species such as the Marsh Fritillary butterfly which has been in rapid decline.
Goss Moor also hosts other fantastic species such as otters, although you’d be very lucky to see one. The picture above shows a clay footprint trap, there are a few of these across the site and for a long time I couldn’t work out what they were. A floating platform with an enclosed space on top with a clay plate inside, allows conservationists to record the footprints of any animals that pass through.
If you spend some time walking around Goss (which if you love wildlife I highly recommend) you’ll see a host of other wildlife related stuff out in the environment, footprint traps in the lower branches of trees to nest boxes. The Growing Goss Project is now part of the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme and you may see some of the boxes for the mice out on the site. Please do not disturb any of the equipment you might find, if you want to get involved they are often looking for volunteers and you can find out more about current projects on their FaceBook page here.
Devon is home to a fantastic project; The River Otter Beaver Trial run by Devon Wildlife Trust. These amazing creatures are part of a trial scheme looking at beavers Recently announced – the beavers can stay permanently! It has been recently announced that they can now stay, this is fantastic news and shows the good work wildlife trusts perform. That’s it, we now have wild Beavers in England.
Some of the beavers live close to the village of Otterton in Devon. Follow the river downstream (South) from the village for just a few hundred meters at dusk and you stand a good chance of seeing them.
One thing that really surprised me about the beavers was their size, these animals are really big! Once you find one or more of the beavers, if you’re quiet and still they will happily swim up and down gathering food and branches. When I saw the one below it stayed in that section of river for over half an hour just going about it’s business.
If you decide to go and visit the beavers, please be mindful of the residents when you are parking and please keep dogs on leads. The beavers are very tolerant of people, but they are wild animals and it’s always good to try to minimise your impact – don’t get too close and try to be as quiet as possible. Please note down the location if you take any images as you can pass on the tag number and the location to Devon Wildlife Trust to help them monitor their progress.
I’m Josh and I live with my partner Rebeca in Cornwall. I was lucky enough to grow up in the Devon countryside and since then I have moved about Devon and Cornwall (often living on tiny boats) until meeting Rebeca, who had a house in a busy Cornish town.
Our Courtyard Nature Garden
Even the most urban house in Cornwall is pretty rural by most peoples standards, we are only 100’s of meters away from the river Tamar and the beautiful Tamar valley (you can see a video I made of the area here). Even so, having grown up in the countryside surrounded by animals (lots of rescues) and wildlife I found our little courtyard garden didn’t quite provide the access to nature I wanted. This post is about how we brought wildlife to a relatively small and very enclosed garden – both what to do and what not to do!
It must be said – I’m no expert at this and if I had known what I know now when I started with this garden there is a lot I would have done differently.
There are some great resources out there, I highly recommend the book Wild Your Garden: Create a sanctuary for nature I have just finished reading it and it was full of really useful, practical information. It’s also an enjoyable read and will have you planning your nature garden in no time! I also recommend watching the videos on the Youtube channel The Wildlife Garden Project, they have some great videos showing small projects that can easily make your garden more hospitable to a wide range of species.
What animals can you expect
We have managed to attract a wide range of animals, in particular birds. We have a large number of sparrows that spend a lot of time in the tree and they attract the Sparrowhawk. We have a pair of Wood Pigeons, a pair of Ringed Doves, Blue Tits, Magpies and Herring Gulls amongst others. As for non-avian species we have a wood mouse, smooth newts, a common toad and we had a hedgehog (if you have a pond put in a ramp for hedgehogs to escape!). I think that’s not too bad for an urban courtyard garden with 10ft high walls.
Put in a pond, nothing will attract more wildlife. A full diverse habitat in its own right it also provides much needed drinking water for other animals and a place for lots of invertebrates to breed. It’s worth saying again – if you have, or build any kind of pond put in a ramp for hedgehogs, a piece of wood wrapped in chicken wire works well. We found out the importance of this when one morning we found a dead hedgehog in our pond (this was before we were trying to attract lots of wildlife and before we cut a hedgehog hole in our gate).
Build a pond
If you have the space Sussex Wildlife Trust has a great video on how to build a pond for wildlife here or if you don’t have the space or can’t dig in your garden for any reason check out this fantastic video by Sally Le Page on how to make a pond for wildlife in a small container.
Get some bird feeders
The next thing would be bird feeders, but only if you already have either a tree or shrubs the birds can use for cover. If you don’t, start by looking for a tree or shrub birds could use to hide from predators. Ideally a species that are native locally if you can find them and anything that produces a lot of blossom and berries will also serve to help pollinators and provide food for birds. As for what feeders to choose, check out this guide from the RSPB. If you are on a budget some of the discount retailers provide bird feeders that are perfectly fine, we have used ones from B and M with no complaints.
Choose your bird food
Bird seed can be quite expensive, however, I often find that small independent pet shops offer the best value and you will be supporting local businesses. We tried the cheap seed that comes in huge bags from B and M and the birds simply pick out the few bits they like and the rest ends up on the floor. Interestingly under one of our feeders some of the dropped seed sprouted and some began to decay – this attracted lots of invertebrates and created it’s own little habitat. If you know what species use or are likely to visit your garden this guide form the RSPB covers all of the best choices for what to feed and when. Otherwise visit your local pet shop and get a general seed mix that will attract a range of birds.
Plant some wildflowers
Plant some wildflowers to attract and support pollinators, as a general rule perennials do better on poor soil and annuals do better on richer soils BBC Gardeners world has a short guide on what to choose here.
Create some new habitats
Include a rockery, it will provide a home for amphibians and reptiles as well as a whole host of invertebrates. Ideally this should be quite close to the pond and can be made of any rocks stones or even old bricks, the idea is to create gaps for animals to shelter in so it doesn’t need to be anything fancy.
Build or buy a compost bin, it makes no sense to send compostable waste to landfill and then buy compost in plastic bags (much of which comes from peat bogs which is terrible for the environment). It will also become a vibrant habitat for invertebrates which in turn will attract animals which prey upon them. If you can site your compost bin somewhere it will get the sun and follow the guides for turning etc to really get the most out of it. However our compost bin is in a shady corner and we have not looked after it the way we should, yet it is still a thriving habitat for invertebrates and our Wood Mouse also lives inside. For a quick guide on composting look at this from The Eden Project.
Make a hedgehog hole
If your garden has a fence or a gate you can cut a hedgehog hole to help them travel between gardens. This should be approx 13cm across (ours is a little narrow – cut before we began reading on the subject).
Plant some climbing plants
The last thing for this post for courtyard gardens would be to plant climbing plants. Not only do they help cover ugly grey walls but they provide a habitat to insects, food for pollinators, cover for birds and if you plant the right ones they can attract moths which will help draw in bats! Honeysuckle is particularly good for this, but any climbing plant will be significantly better for nature than a bare wall.
There is lots more that can be done, even in small enclosed gardens, but hopefully this has given you some ideas for ways of attracting wildlife into the most urban of gardens. We will be providing more detailed instructions for the above ideas and further projects in future posts. What are your top tips for attracting wildlife to courtyards gardens? Let us know in the comments below.