Dr Phoebe Helps Give Ashton Keynes School’s Nature Garden a ‘Wild’ Makeover

Immerse yourself
We're very pleased to give back to the local community via the Lower Mill Estate Nature Conservation Fund

Chief ecologist at Lower Mill Estate, Dr Phoebe Carter said: “It was wonderful to see the children having such a great time outdoors despite the weather and to see them reconnect with the natural world. There are so many measurable benefits to children being connected to nature and it was lovely to see the children and the local wildlife benefitting.”

View the full article HERE

On Saturday 27th October, we hosted The Cotswolds’ first ever Pumpkin Flotilla on Spinney Lake. Over 100 families turned up to carve their pumpkins in our tepee and it was fantastic to see the children’s excitement as their creations were carefully rowed over to the Flotilla.

Come the evening, the temperature had plummeted, so we made sure everybody kept warm with some lovely bonfires, marshmallows and liqueur coffees.

We have had some wonderful feedback and as a result, we have already committed to bringing the Flotilla back in October 2019 with space for more pumpkins and a couple of extra treats for the kids.

Be sure to follow us on social media to hear about things first.

It all seems to have happened very suddenly, especially after the summer we’ve had. Those long, bright, hot days, that went on and on and on. Daily conversations about how long it was going to last, how no one can believe what an amazing Summer we’re having and the questions about when it’s all going to come to an end have now tailed off. I think that time has finally arrived, and in some ways I’m pleased. I love the fact that we have seasons. Seasons allow us to appreciate the good weather, to notice our surroundings and look forward and backwards at what was and what is yet to come. The change of season allows us to enjoy the beautiful country we live in and appreciate the incredible landscapes right outside our front doors.

There are not many better places to go to notice the change and appreciate the moving of the seasons than at Lower Mill estate and Silverlake. Our recent visit to Lower Mill was a perfect one. The change was very definitely in the air, whilst still holding onto a fragment of the Summer warmth. The leaves had started to turn, green mixed with yellows, oranges and the more hasty species already beginning to drop in the light breaths of wind that passed through. The Lakes stretched out in front of us looking glassy and cool, their temperature dropping by the second as the Summer warmth disappeared from the surface.

We spent a lot of time peering into the water from the pontoon on Mill Lake. The sun was shining bright and all five of us lay down looking deep into the clear depths to see what life lay below. I’m always amazed by the clarity of the water on the Estate and as we peered in we watched the fish flitting around beneath us. We spent the stunning Autumnal Saturday walking from Mill Lake, skirting Somerford Lagoon, watching the birds move back and forth on Farmhouse Lake whilst hidden behind branches and undergrowth, our own natural bird hide. It’s pretty difficult to keep our three youngsters, Jasper, Daisy & Jesse quiet for more than 10 seconds so the wildlife knows we’re coming from a fair way off! Despite this, the water surface was teeming with life for us to test our identification skills.

As we took a break in the meadow alongside the rugby pitch to have a snack and a drink Jasper proudly opened up his new birthday present penknife. A Swiss Army knife with scissors, a toothpick and a screwdriver amongst other features. I remember my first penknife and no doubt Jasper will remember this one, and the time he sat whittling us all walking sticks we had collected on the way. We were all on an adventure, we needed walking sticks to help us find our way home, so with gusto, our handles were carved, some turned into dodgy-looking spears but by the time we moved on we were all happy and not a drop of blood had been spilt!

For years now I’ve been trying to spot a Beaver. Flagham Fenn is my go-to place if I get the chance to decide on an exploring route. This visit was no different to the previous ones, however, not a Beaver in sight. Just one little glimpse one day would make my year! Instead of Beavers, we came across the most incredible collection of freshwater Crayfish shells, claws and remains. It was surely the work of an Otter family which brought us great excitement to think they had been standing in the shallows right where we were.

Back in the apartment for lunch, a much-needed coffee then we were off again, this time to the swimming pool. An impressive jump into the freezing outdoor pond from the kid’s mum Emily surprised us all and set the precedent. I was, without doubt, the biggest wimp taking forever to build up the courage to plunge into the beautifully cold outdoor water, but back into the heated outdoor pool was utter bliss after that! We can’t drag our kids out of the swimming pool. Like so many things we’ve done at Lower Mill, the memories we are lucky enough to create there will last for us as a family for the rest of our lives. It was the first place Jasper (now 9) could ride his bike without us by his side. It’s the place where all of our three children have really learnt to be confident in a swimming pool because of the unlimited time we’ve been able to spend with them in the water. We’ve learnt about and witnessed so much of the natural world while exploring the hundreds of acres on the site and we’ve seen, felt and appreciated the changing seasons. Memories are made when we spend time together and this was another memory making weekend for us in the Cotswolds.

A nationally rare plant, Heath lobelia (Lobelia urens), has just been given a helping hand by the Habitat First Group at Silverlake, Dorset. With only six populations of this plant known to be remaining in the UK it is considered to be vulnerable to extinction.

In a trial that is the first of its kind for this species, Heath lobelia plants have been translocated from a local Dorset population to a site at Silverlake where they have been protected from grazing animals using secure wooden enclosures.

The project, funded by HFG, brings together botanical expertise from Dorset County Council, the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland, and Natural England.

Read the Full Article Here

Come and join us if you dare for The Cotswolds’ first ever pumpkin flotilla at Lower Mill Estate

Drop in between 9am and 12pm on Saturday 27th October to carve your family’s pumpkin and then re-join us from 6pm to watch your pumpkin set sail on a beautiful flotilla over Spinney Lake, whilst shrouded by a ghostly October mist.

We’ll have hot drinks aplenty and lakeside firepits to keep you toasty and marshmallows to keep the kids happy.

There is no charge for tickets, but there will be an opportunity to donate to the wonderful charity Dreamflight on the day.

*The Pumpkin Flotilla is exclusively for owners of properties at Lower Mill Estate and guests staying on the Estate at the time of the event.

**We regret that we will not be able to return the pumpkins entered for the Flotilla, but these will be used sustainably at Lower Mill Estate.

One of our main priorities at Silverlake is helping to reintroduce plant species that have been lost as a result of intensive quarrying. This month, we have been busy sowing Pennyroyal seeds, one of the rarest plants in Britain, in the hope that it will flower in the Autumn next year. This mini member of the mint family grows to just 30cm high and is recognisable by the flourish of little lilac flowers around the stem’s leaves.


The Dorset county recorder, the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland and Dorset County Council’s ecologist have all worked hand in hand with us to make this happen.


This project follows the successful reintroduction of Heath Lobelia, which is only present in 6 sites in the UK.


We intend to bring as many of Silverlake’s original native plants back to the estate as possible. To follow our progress, sign up to our Newsletter.

Building with Nature is Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust’s pioneering first certification scheme for green infrastructure. Encompassing the planning and design stages of development, as well as the long-term maintenance of green infrastructure, it’s now being rolled out across the UK. https://www.buildingwithnature.org.uk/


This is amazing recognition for all the ecological work that goes into Lower Mill Estate ranging from the planning and design through to development works and the long-term management.


After weeks of assessment and site visits by the Wildlife Trust inspectors, this is proof that conservation and development can go hand in hand when managed as one entity.


This is big news for our principal contractor and recommended construction partner, Conservation Builders Ltd, too as they are the ones who have implemented many of the ecological designs.


The Service Charge Team, managed by HML Andertons, are obviously key as they ensure the long-term management of all habitats that have been created but the biggest congratulations must go to everyone’s favourite ecologist, Dr Phoebe Carter for her outstanding work in helping the flora and fauna at Silverlake thrive.

On Tuesday, Habitat First Group ecologist Dr Phoebe Carter and head groundsman Bob Iles went to check our specially crafted Barn owl nesting boxes, here’s the story of what they found…

Yesterday we went to check the Barn owl boxes we have on the wider estate. We were told that because of the cold winter the Barn owls across Gloucestershire were all a bit late in breeding this year. However, our owls in the box on the corner of Somerford Lagoon haven’t waited around and 3 owlets were found in the box. The owlets are all of varying ages (around 5 days, 1 week and  2 weeks old) as the eggs are laid at different times over a few weeks so that the parents aren’t having to provide food to lots of hungry mouths all at the same time.  At this age the mother is still brooding them to keep them warm but once they are around 3 weeks old they will be left alone apart from the parents dropping off food for them. Normally we put a leg ring on the owlets so we can identify them in the future, but these were all a little small still. We will go back in a few weeks and put rings on their legs and by then they will also be looking a little prettier!

Here are some photos from Bob of the owlets and of one of the parents taking food to the young. The habitats we manage on the Estate support lots of small mammals (mice, voles, shrews) that the Barn owls rely on for survival. This is at least the 16th year that we have had baby Barn owls in the box at Somerford Lagoon. The other 2 boxes have yet to be used by Barn owls but hopefully, they will be in the future.

Happy 16th Baby Barn Owls Anniversary everyone, we look forward to celebrating two decades of barn owls at Lower Mill Estate in a few years time.

We were very pleased to welcome Melissa Sweeney and her family to Lower Mill Estate for a weekend of family fun at the end of last year. Her piece highlights the multitude of activities on offer here at Lower Mill whilst heaping particular praise on the spa, restaurant, nature reserve and, of course, the wonderful Terry and Jenny of Activity Hub.

Here are a few of our favourite bits from the article…

“The Activity Hub, run by the lovely Jenny and Terry, hire out all sorts of equipment for playing on the lakes, including canoes, kayaks, stand up paddle boards and katacanoes. It’s the sort of place where you want to continuously explore the whole time you’re there”

“Being a nature reserve, there’s so much to explore and the lakes are filled with wildlife.”

“Then there’s the lovely spa. Here, there are more two more fabulous 20 metre pools, one indoor and one outdoor, both nicely heated and a great contrast to any previous chilly lake activity.”

“There’s so much to do whether you want to spend the whole time relaxing, exploring or getting active; everyone will be looked after.”

Read the full article HERE

Friday afternoons are always exciting for kids, big kids like me and the normal sized ones. The start of the weekend brings an air of relief that the week is over, and intrigue about what’s to come over the next few days. I’d clocked off work an hour early to pack-up our car, fit to bursting with bags, scooters and bikes we picked up Jasper and Daisy from school and hit the road. This was going to be a weekend to remember!


Driving South we headed to Silverlake Dorset, a new development of sustainable holiday homes from Habitat First Group. We’ve stayed at Lower Mill estate in the Cotswolds a number of times so we knew we were in for a wonderful weekend, but this felt different, even more of an adventure.


It was late by the time we arrived at the gates, with darkness falling we couldn’t wait to see for ourselves the development that we’d heard so much about. Slowly winding down the roads the countryside appeared before us in the evening light. We could see evidence of new development hidden behind hedges and trees, with wide expanses of lakes amongst the hills and undergrowth. Our little cottage, No. 23 was on a quiet road, brand new and immaculate. We jumped out of the car and peered into the windows to see the luxurious interior, spotless open plan kitchen and comfortable sofa facing an inviting wood burner. There seemed to be no-one around as we unloaded, the quiet peace, difficult to maintain as our kids ran riot exploring our new home for the weekend. Locking out the cold night air we settled in for the evening, pizzas in the oven fuelling up for a big day of exploring tomorrow.


Anyone with kids will know lie-ins don’t exist. As painful as that is sometimes, it didn’t matter here. We were all up early, dressed and ready to head out to discover what Silverlake had to offer! The development is in its infancy, there’s plenty more to come, but now was a great time to see the place. The layout of the site means the houses are all set out in certain areas and encroach very little on the wildland around. It was only a few hundred meters from our front door before we were standing on the edge of a lake, desperately holding back Jesse, our youngest, from filling his wellies! Looking out across the water on the far bank we watched a group of Dartmoor ponies grazing happily. There is a herd of these ponies on the site that carry out the maintenance of the vegetation in the vast areas that are difficult to get to. They are conservation grazers, and take their role very seriously! Semi-Wild you can’t get up close as they need to remain in those wild areas, but they are amazing to see from a distance.

Moving on we wound our way down paths, between growths of trees and hedges of gorse, the tiny yellow flowers in full bloom. The site is so very different to Lower Mill Estate. You can immediately see and feel the difference in vegetation and topography. Silverlake is set within a far more varied landscape with exciting things to discover around every corner. In a grove of trees screams of excitement rang out as Jasper and Daisy discovered a tree house climbing frame and when we thought excitement couldn’t be peaked, a zip wire right over a pond! A happy hour was spent clinging to the rope, speeding out across the water, laughing as we all had a go holding on for dear life. It really was a great start to the day and a fantastic surprise for our young family!


Over the course of the weekend, we discovered more of what this superb place had to offer. Constant requests to head to the brand new Hurricane spa meant we swam every day in the beautiful, heated outdoor pool which we had completely to ourselves. There’s not a single thing I could think of to change about that pool, gym and spa, it’s perfect in every way. From the views to the rustic, luxurious decor with wood and stone panelling, it’s a pleasure to even be in the building or floating in the warm water looking out over the nature reserve. Needless to say, we couldn’t stay away, but there was still so much to do!


A highlight for our family is always a wildlife discovery, luckily, there are many to be had. We discovered a mass of toads crossing a track one afternoon and to the delight of the kids, we stopped to help them on their way. The prize of all prizes, however, basking in the sun we spotted a beautiful slow worm, which slinked off into the undergrowth as we approached. These legless lizards aren’t everywhere so to spot one so easily was such a treat for us, clearly showing the suitability and diversity of the species that thrive there in the nature reserve.


Our visit was on a very cold spring weekend. We sat there as a family, by the side of a lake fishing in the cold air. Most of the time I spent untangling the lines as the kids tried their best to snag ‘A whopper’. We didn’t catch a fish, but when we retreated back to our cottage to warm up in front of the wood burner, we were deeply happy. Our weekend had been filled with exciting discoveries, outdoor activities and relaxing moments indoors in beautiful surroundings. Silverlake is a remarkable place to spend time, as it develops it will only improve and we can’t wait to watch its progress and visit again.