Rare plant close to extinction given second home at Silverlake, Dorset

Immerse yourself
Dr Phoebe Carter has been working on a collaborative project at Silverlake which sees the first attempt to establish a new population of nationally rare Heath lobelia

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.

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“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.

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“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.”

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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 pcarter@nullhabitatfirstgroup.com.

Information about House martins

Photo credit Bob Iles.

Amy Dennis of The Week Online visited Lower Mill Estate in October and I think it’s safe to say that she certainly enjoyed her stay. Her fantastic review, released last week, is very positive and touches upon many of the factors that make Lower Mill Estate such a special place to spend quality time together and make memories that will last a lifetime.

“Lower Mill Estate’s houses pose the perfect juxtaposition – modern, sleek design sitting comfortably in England’s quaintest countryside. As we sit and contemplate our final fiery sunset, after a weekend swimming, relaxing, cycling and enjoying the views of the lakes and the comfort of our eco house, the only thing left to do is think about how we might be able to buy one of these Scandi homes to enjoy every weekend in this magical part of the world.”

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Following the Habitat House’s success at the What House? Awards 2017, winning the gold award for Best House Design in the UK, Country Living Magazine, Good Housekeeping and House Beautiful have included our triumph in their latest publications.

We’re very proud to feature on the pages of some of the country’s most prestigious publications.

Click on the links below to read the full articles.

Country Living

House Beautiful

Good Housekeeping

We are pleased to share with you a fantastic write-up by the Bat Conservation Trust about the important work we are doing to help increase bat populations at Silverlake and Lower Mill Estate, as well as the discovery of the Natterer’s bats (Myotis Nattereri) roosting in our Habitat Houses.

“Over the last 20 years, Lower Mill Estate has concentrated its efforts on providing artificial roosting sites for bats by installing bat boxes on buildings, under bridges and at various locations around the site, as well as converting the roof voids of several bin store buildings on site into bat roosts.

Excitingly, in recent months the Estate has discovered that the Habitat Houses on site are living up their name and are being regularly used by roosting bats. The results of the DNA analysis came back as positive for Natterer’s bats.”

Habitat First Group has built an outstanding reputation for our conservation work over the last 20 years and we look forward to another 20 years of proving that ecology and architecture can live together seamlessly in perfect harmony.

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This award’s season has been a resounding success for Habitat First Group, with three new accolades received at the What House? Awards 2017 to add to our ever-growing trophy cabinet. The What House? Awards celebrate 21 categories covering an extensive range of new build homes constructed by the UK’s top housebuilders.

We are extremely proud and humbled to announce that Habitat First Group won:

Gold Award – Best Design, Habitat House at Lower Mill Estate

Bronze Award – Best Sustainable Development, Silverlake

Bronze Award – Best Exterior Design, Light House at Silverlake

Conservation Builders also enjoyed a stellar evening on Friday night at the Grosvenor House Hotel, beating off stiff competition from some of the country’s top construction companies to win:

Bronze Award – Best Small Housebuilder

These are magnificent achievements and we are delighted that the hard work and dedication of our teams is getting the recognition it so richly deserves.

Howells Barn is one of the most unique properties on the entire Estate. The converted barn offers an intriguing mix of traditional Cotswolds vernacular and outstanding contemporary architecture. It was restored 15 years ago from its derelict state into one of the most impressive properties in the Cotswolds and sits behind its own private gate with over 2 acres of private grounds, a swimming pool, large party barn, games room and The Hide overlooking Somerford Lagoon.

“Such water babies might be tempted by Howells Barn, a five-bedroom converted Cotswold stone barn within the 550-acre Lower Mill Estate Nature Reserve near the Gloucestershire village of Somerford Keynes.

The house (one of just two on the estate that can be bought as a principal private residence) comes with a swimming pool as well as access to a large lagoon – perfect for that early morning dip. There is also an airy lakeside cabin, should you need a rest afterwards. It’s on the market with Knight Frank for £1.95 million.”

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