Welcome to “The Belvoir Ark”

One definition of a true conservationist is someone who knows that “the world was not given by their ancestors but borrowed from their children”. As current stewards of the Belvoir Estate, following in the footsteps of our ancestors here over the past thousand years, we are very conscious of our responsibilities in nurturing this land in the best way possible for future generations. The recent demonstrations by schoolchildren around the world, imploring our generation to act now to protect the environment and our wildlife from the dramatic climate change we are seeing, are a timely reminder for us all to do more.

At Belvoir, with over 16,000 acres of mixed farmland, woodland and aquatic habitats we have always prided ourselves on the wide range of animal and plant species that visit, stay and breed here – our biodiversity. Many of these species are threatened as a result of national and international climate change, evidence for which cannot now be denied. We are committed to do what we can for these wildlife species – to create an “Ark” if you like – to protect them from increasingly turbulent weather conditions and other threats to their habitats.

We have a number of projects already underway, and an increasing list of possible future projects, which we intend to tell you about on this page. If you have any ideas for possible projects for “The Belvoir Ark” or wish to get involved further, please do not hesitate to get in contact.

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) in flight

Ospreys at Belvoir

Up to five years ago Ospreys were an uncommon sight in the Belvoir landscape, with records showing that previous regular occurrences dated back almost 100 years and certainly not a breeding species for over 200 years – a time when the Capability Brown designs were first being created in the Castle parkland.

With the success of the nearby Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trusts Rutland Osprey project, helping to establish breeding Ospreys in central England, as well as the fantastic landscape of suitable ponds, lakes and waterways in the area it was inevitable that it would only a matter of time before we began to see Ospreys as a regular sight in the Belvoir area.

The period of March to September see Ospreys arrive back to the U.K having spent the winter months over 3,000 miles away in West Africa. This has become a time to be celebrated on the estate as sightings of Osprey during these months increase. Last year saw several individual birds visit the Belvoir estate, usually unattached male Ospreys who wonder extensively during their summer season in the hope of finding a breeding territory of their own. Some of these eligible bachelors have begun to favour the estate and surrounding landscape during the summer months.

You never know you may be lucky enough to spot one if you are ever visiting us!

Creating Woodland Homes For Birds

The significant area (approximately 1,700 acres) of mature woodland within the estate is a real ‘jewel in the crown’ from a biodiversity perspective. The majority of these woodland areas were first created in the mid to late 18th Century and hence have been continuously wooded for well over 200 years.

For the past eight years Belvoir has been working on a collaborative project with the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) and Forestry Commission, called the “East Midlands Woodland Bird Project”. The aim of this project is to use forestry management techniques to increase habitats for thirteen scarce, or declining, woodland bird species including the Willow Tit, Hawfinch, Spotted Flycatcher, Nightingale, Lesser Redpoll, Redstart and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.

Within the Plunger and Barkestone woods, the forestry team at Belvoir have created and maintained a number of cleared ‘alcoves’ along the sides of woodland rides to help promote growth of “understorey” – The layers of plants and shrubs growing below the main trees in a wood or forest.

The expected short-term changes are more positive population changes of bird species that use understorey or young “successional” woodland, Which often grows in space within the woods created when trees are felled. An increase in dead wood and multi-layered canopy, and bird species using this created habitat, is likely to occur over a longer time period.

Let’s hope this work ‘bears fruit’ in terms of encouraging these declining species to nest here.

Green-winged Orchid (anacamptis morio), Muston Meadows

Four spotted chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata), Debdale Meadow

Large Skipper (Ochlodes venatus) Croxton Kerrial

Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris)

The ‘Red-listed’ Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava), near Barkestone wood

The Red-listed Birds of Belvoir

Following a Summer 2019 field survey of the estate, it was estimated that we provide homes for age least 120 bird species, with 22 of these species currently “Red-listed”, which means they have been identified by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) as bird species of conservation concern and at risk of extinction. 

Red-listed Birds seen or heard on the estate in the last year include Lapwing, Curlew, Skylark, Starling, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, House Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Yellow Wagtail, Linnet and Yellowhammer.

We are determined to do what we can to protect these species, particularly those farmland species that have declined significantly over the past forty years.

Over the past five years we have made concerted efforts on the farmland we manage on the estate to plant ‘shelter belts’ (lines of trees and shrub within and alongside farmed fields) to help birds, and we sow over 700 tonnes of wild bird seed mixes each year. 

The positive impact on the biodiversity on the estate is particularly noticeable in terms of the bird species seen in these areas. One specific example to demonstrate this were sightings of Tree Sparrows (Passer montanus) in two of these shelter belts in different parts of the estate. They benefit from the shrub understoreys beneath the trees along shelter belts, which provide nesting and roosting habitat with ample supplies of seed (both wild and scattered bird feed) available throughout the year.


Moths on the Belvoir Estate

Unfortunately moths generally tend to get a bad press, which is perhaps unsurprising as a handful of the 2,500 species known to live in the UK are pests around our homes, eating textiles such as clothes (sometimes precious vintage fabrics as we have at the castle), and some foodstuffs, and can cause annoying and occasionally costly infestations.

Because of their largely nocturnal habits, little is known of the vast majority of the 2,500 UK moth species which live in the wild outside our homes. However, recently published studies have shown that many moth species have valuable roles as pollinators of our plant species – their furry bodies being great carriers of pollen – and thus support our biodiversity, and also our agricultural crop production. Concerns have been raised as moth populations have declined approximately 10% each decade since the 1960s. Given their sensitivity to habitats, and affects of pollution and climate, moth surveys are an important way of understanding how our environments are changing and help devise conservation strategies.

Thanks to local volunteers, in the last two years over 7,000 moths of about 450 species have been recorded outdoors across the estate. Most data were collected using light traps. These work by taking advantage of moths’ well-known (and still unexplained) tendency to fly towards a light. Baffles and a funnel below the light direct moths into a collecting box where they can be examined and logged the following morning, before being released unharmed.

Some of the more interesting species inhabit the extensive mature woodlands. Many had not previously been recorded in the north of the county, such as Pale Oak Beauty (Hypomecis punctinalis), Peacock Moth (Macaria notate), Black Arches (Lymantria monacha), White-marked (Cerastis leucographa) and Rosy Footman (Miltochrista miniata). As the pictures show many of these moth species are striking in patterns and colours.

In August 2019, a Dark Crimson Underwing (Catocala sponsa) was trapped in Barkestone Wood, representing not only a first for the county, but possibly the most northerly record in the UK. Interestingly, some species of moth probably benefit from the active woodland management we practice on the estate, as this creates structural diversity and encourages a broad range of ground flora.

Rosy Footman (Wood Lane) Pete Leonard

Dark Crimson Underwing – Adrian Russell

Black Arches, (Belvoir Fruit Farms) Pete Leonard