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.
We only have one planet, so we need to take care of it. Red Paxton, director of Habitat First Group, shares how his approach to property development is paying dividends for sustainable living.
Read the full article here
A rare plant which is vulnerable to extinction has been given a helping hand with a second home at our sister estate in Dorset, Silverlake.
There are just six populations of Heath Lobelia (Lobelia urens) remaining in the UK, and in a trial that is the first of its kind for this species, the plants have been translocated from a local Dorset population to Silverlake, where they will be managed by our group ecologist Dr Phoebe Carter.
At Silverlake, the plants have been protected from grazing animals using secure wooden enclosures.
The project was funded by the Habitat First Group (HFG) and brings together botanical knowledge from Dorset County Council, the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland, and Natural England.
“One of the UK’s most charismatic mammals has made itself at home in the Cotswolds.
An otter has been spotted on the Lower Mill Estate in the Cotswold Water Park, near Cirencester.
It hasn’t just been making use of the rivers, ponds, lakes and reedbeds in the wilder parts of the Estate, but also those right in the heart of the development, a mere whiskers length from humans and houses.
Over the last 20 years, Lower Mill Estate has created numerous lakes, ditches, ponds and reedbeds across the Estate which provide the perfect habitat for these elusive and nocturnal mammals to move through.”
Our aim as a group is to show that ecology, architecture and community can exist in harmony and flourish together and we continue to do just that. Development does not have to damage the natural environment, or even aim just not to disturb it, but done correctly, architecture and ecology can help each other thrive.
Click the link below to view the fantastic footage captured by our multi-talented groundsman Bob Iles and read the comments from our group ecologist, Dr Phoebe Carter.
“The opportunity to stay in the quintessential Cotswold countryside has to be the ultimate allure for anyone who’s watched The Holiday or is a fan of its part-time resident Kate Moss.
Lower Mill Estate makes that opportunity even more irresistible offering its guests 550 acres, eight lakes, two rivers, award-winning luxury sustainable lodging, a newly refurbished spa and a charming Cotswolds restaurant in on one of Europe’s largest nature reserves.”
We’re very pleased to share the attached coverage in last Wednesday’s Daily Mail following journalist Mark Palmer’s visit to Lower Mill Estate last year.
The piece highlights both the opportunity to own a holiday home at Lower Mill Estate and to stay in one ‘as a taster for those thinking of buying’ or for ‘a few days of relaxation’. He celebrates Lower Mill Estate as a great family destination, listing all the activities they got up to as a group during their stay from tennis and canoeing to swimming and R&R at the spa.
House martin populations are flourishing at Lower Mill Estate in the Cotswold Water Park, reflecting Habitat First Group’s commitment to providing homes for both people and wildlife.
The enormous decline in House martin populations in England (69% between 1967 and 2015), prompted Lower Mill Estate to do something to help these birds which are now an Amber listed species of conservation concern. In 2005 the Estate put up 60 artificial House martin nest boxes. These boxes were soon used, and year on year the number of House martins arriving to nest at the Estate each summer has increased with over well over 150 nests now recorded annually.
House martins start arriving at Lower Mill Estate from wintering sites in Africa in March/April. Weighing only around 19g with a wingspan of just 26cm, this annual journey is a remarkable feat. Once they arrive they begin repairing old nests or building new nests, using around 1000 mud pellets to make each nest, and they go on to have 1-2 broods of young before leaving again in September/October. The Estate encourages residents to leave old nests in place as these will be preferentially used by returning House martins and take only a few days to repair ready for use, rather than the 2-3 weeks it can take to build a nest from scratch.
Despite coming to the UK to breed each summer little is known about these birds when they leave our shores. The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) records show that over 400,000 House martins have been ringed in the UK since 1909 but only one of these British-ringed birds has been recorded south of the Sahara in southern Nigeria.
Ian Woodward, BTO House Martin Survey Organiser, said, “Our House Martin population has been in steady decline since the early 80s and we don’t really know at this stage what is driving the fall in numbers. However, it is likely to be a combination of factors that could include restricted nest site availability, limited food availability during the breeding season, limited access to the muddy areas that are needed for nest building, and problems affecting survival during migration or winter in Africa. Thanks to our amazing volunteers who took part in the House Martin Survey, we are currently undertaking research to look at some of these potential factors.” He added, “Given the extent of the decline, any action homeowners can take to protect and encourage nesting martins will be important whilst further research is ongoing.”
The Lower Mill Estate colony of these birds is now thought to be one of the largest in the UK and this is most likely due to the design of the houses and their enviable setting amongst lakes and rivers, which provides plenty of nesting sites, nesting material and flying insect prey to support the House martins. Dr Phoebe Carter, Chief Ecologist for Habitat First Group says, “The Estate continues to monitor the House martin population annually and takes measures to protect and enhance this significant colony as part of our ongoing commitment to building alongside nature. We are proud to have been able to give a helping hand to such a wonderful species”.
For further information about the nature conservation efforts at Lower Mill Estate and their sister site Silverlake, Dorset please contact Dr Phoebe Carter firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information about House martins
- Latin name – Delichon urbicum where Delichon is an anagram of Chelidon, Greek for Swallow, and urbicum refers to ‘City’.
- Species information available from British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and RSPB websites; bto.org and www.rspb.org.uk
- Information about the BTO House martin survey can be found at https://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/house-martin-survey
Photo credit Bob Iles.