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

Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus)

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.