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Special wildlife spotted in sparkland!

There have been a couple of very special wildlife spottings in Sparkland recently.

One visitor to Lawrence Weston Community Farm in Bristol thought he was watching rats or guinea pigs swimming when he spotted a rare family of water voles in the farm’s rhyne (drainage ditch). Water vole The water vole is a species which has been in serious decline in the UK over the last few years.

Recent funding from the Access to Nature programme, managed by Natural England as part of the Big Lottery Fund Changing Spaces Programme, enabled Lawrence Weston Community Farm to provide access to visitors to an area of woodland by working with local volunteers to put in a board walk and dipping platform.It also made habitat improvement possible, including dredging the rhyne in order to encourage a water vole population.

The farm’s education coordinator Kerry Rowe said: “We are delighted that the water voles have made their home in the farm’s woodland, our visitors now have the opportunity to see them up close. They are a real treat to see, they have rounder noses than rats, deep brown fur, chubby faces and short fuzzy ears and unlike rats their tails, paws and ears are covered with hair.”

A volunteer at the farm said: “It’s great; all of the hard work we put in to open up the woodland is worth it when you catch a glimpse of the water voles. Lots of our visitors have never seen them before and they are really excited when they spot them.”

Chris Burke, an advisor for Natural England said: “This is an excellent example of an Access to Nature project in action: not only are there fantastic benefits for the local community who enjoy visiting the site but now rare wildlife is settling in too.”

For further information about the project, contact Kerry or farm manager Paul Jayson on 0117 938 1128 or e-mail

Thank you to Kerry for providing the photo above.

Meanwhile, the Bishop’s Palace in Wells has had some special visitors... three young otters came to play in the moat and were spotted by gatekeeper Paul Arblaster as he closed the outer gardens for the evening.

Otter playing in moat at Bishop's Palace Wells
“As I was doing my usual end-of-day check for visitors who have lost track of the time relaxing in the gardens, I suddenly heard loud splashing noises and noticed some reeds flailing wildly,” Paul said. “Realising these weren’t visitors of the human kind I then saw the characteristic gyrations of otters at play in the water! I quickly rode off on my bike to get my camera as this was too good an opportunity to miss recording. Along the way I bumped into James Cross, our head gardener, and quickly told him to go see the otters playing."

Almost every year otters pay the Bishop’s Palace a visit, but rarely stay for more than half an hour or so, so to spot them is a real treat.

After collecting his camera Paul was back in the outer gardens and positioned on the far side of the St Andrew’s well pool in the hope of getting a closer view, whilst his wife Carol, also gatekeeper at the palace, took up her viewing position on the wooden bridge over the moat.

“Soon one swam out of the reeds and circled directly in front of me and didn’t seem to know I was even there. They had a good snoop around, played with each other and scooped up their fill of sticklebacks. I have never seen them in the upper well pools before or making such a brazen commotion. I count myself very fortunate to have gotten close enough to virtually touch them!” added Paul. (See photo above, for which we are very grateful!)

The otters eventually made their way down the diagonal sluice back into the moat before heading off in the direction of the River Sheppey.


Summer 2011. Bill Heaney. Online exclusive.


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