After 15 years of waiting, an Osprey has arrived at Lower Mill Estate and has been putting on some spectacular displays as it fishes in Somerford Lagoon in the heart of the development. Ospreys are awe-inspiring birds of prey. They are a migratory species, with British ospreys spending the breeding season (March-September) in the UK, then migrating to Africa for the winter. It is during the spring and autumn, as they travel to and from Africa, that some of these birds pass over the Cotswold Water Park. This is the first year that one has stayed at Lower Mill for any length of time and this is absolutely incredible.
The main requirement for these birds is a good supply of medium-sized fish, which can be caught from the surface of the water, which we have provided through careful management of our lake environments and with our approach to building with nature. To encourage Ospreys to stay we have created two artificial nesting sites at Lower Mill. As Ospreys like to build nests at the top of prominent trees, we have created these nesting sites as high as possible.
Ospreys were driven to extinction in most of the UK in the late 19th Century. A small number managed to hang on in Scotland but became officially extinct in 1916. In 1954, Ospreys from Scandinavia returned and bred in Scotland and now thanks to being given the highest level of legal protection in the UK, and thanks to a project to provide artificial nesting platforms, Osprey numbers began to increase in the 1980s.
To have Osprey stay a while at Lower Mill is testament to how we put nature at the heart of development. What an incredible visitor! With Osprey now residing at Lower Mill before they return to Africa, we can only hope they will return and start to breed on site in the coming years. Keep everything crossed!
Habitat First Group is committed to creating spaces where wildlife thrives. One species doing really well on all of our sites is the otter. This wonderful mammal suffered a catastrophic decline in numbers during the late 1950s and early 1960s. The cause was probably the combined effects of pollution and habitat destruction, particularly the drainage of wet areas. Thankfully these wonderful mammals are now doing better and they have been recorded once again in every county in England.
At Lower Mill Estate, otters are often spotted in our lakes and along our waterways. Families of otter have been spotted in Spinney Lake and Howells Mere during the daytime and signs of otter are found everywhere – even within a few feet of some of our properties. At Silverlake, otters have already started moving through our waterbodies, even those that haven’t been completed yet! We’ve recorded otters on trail cameras in Wakeling Island and there are already signs of them in the new waterways around Overton Island. The River Venn at Birchwood is also home to otters and as we create new habitats on the site, we hope these otters will find new places to visit and explore.
Making space for nature means thinking about nature’s needs. Being mostly nocturnal, otters require dark spaces to travel through and to feed. As well as creating well-vegetated, healthy waterways for otters to move through, we keep artificial lighting low on our sites. This means light spilling onto our waterways is minimised, maximising our chances of otters using the development. Building for nature brings great benefits. Where else can you live foot to paw with otters?!
“Our family was truly humbled by the dedication, courage and resilience shown by our amazing NHS workers during this pandemic. Moved by their selflessness, we decided that the Habitat First Foundation needed to do something to show our deep gratitude to those on the frontline.
We hope that the gift of time away from it all, in such beautiful surroundings, will allow these incredible people to relax and enjoy some respite and peace. We cannot wait to welcome your Habitat Heroes, and their loved ones, to Lower Mill Estate. To have the chance to spoil them, and their loved ones, is a privilege”
Red, Ruby and Rory Paxton, Owners of Habitat First Group
We may no longer congregate on the streets for the weekly #clapforcarers, but for Habitat First Foundation, the sense of community has not diminished. In April we invited colleagues, family and friends to nominate a dedicated frontline NHS worker to win a break in a stunning modern apartment at Lower Mill Estate, Habitat First Group’s inaugural nature reserve.
We were truly humbled by the nominations of those that have gone above and beyond their call of duty during this pandemic, and those who have shown exceptional bravery or kindness. Some have had to move out of their own homes, separating themselves from vulnerable friends and family, so that they can continue to save lives each day, while others have missed holidays and the opportunity for a well-earned break. The toll on their physical and mental health has been immense.
Our team is now set to roll out the red carpet for your 50 Habitat Heroes. A total of 300 guests are set to enjoy 200 night-stays, giving these amazing individuals the chance to put their feet up, relax and reconnect with family and friends.
All of our winners can look forward to some well-deserved downtime at our unique natural retreat, surrounded by freshwater lakes, rivers and acres of untouched woodland. Our team looks forward to spoiling them with menus of seasonal produce in our Ballihoo restaurant, and for the more adventurous, we will be on hand to assist with any of the many activities available.
In their own words…
We asked our winners if we could share their pandemic stories, so in their own words, here are your habitat heroes.
“I’ve been nursing now for almost 20 years in Intensive Care. When Covid hit, our services were stretched to the limit, as the sickest patients were admitted and placed on ventilators and other lifesaving equipment. It was one of the hardest challenges of my career. Even for the most hardened Intensive Care nurse, walking into that Covid Unit and seeing all the patients squeezed in, suffering, recovering or dying was overwhelming. I would start my shift with a pause just to take it all in, then take a deep breath before leading my team through the shift in such difficult circumstances. I‘ve never in my life felt more overwhelmed or cried so much at work. We nursed our patients for 12-hour shifts day and night in heavy layers of suffocating PPE. Every one of us has struggled with the aftermath of this first surge, and now plans are in place for Surge-2, though I pray this does not happen. I want you to know that you have made one nurse very happy by giving away these free holidays to NHS staff who have had a very tough this year. I will savour every moment in our luxurious apartment at the Cotswolds with my precious young family.”
“I am a therapist but was re-deployed to A&E and only had 2 days off during the pandemic. Working has helped me to deal with the trauma of my daughter having cancer, though I feel totally wiped out and exhausted. Being able to go away with her and my family, somewhere so beautiful, is so needed. It’s not just a holiday, it’s making up for lost time. We fell in love with Lower Mill Estate as we holidayed there in 2015 when my daughter was diagnosed, and she was too ill to fly. It has a lot of very special memories for us.”
“I am a consultant anaesthetist and became very ill with Covid in March. I returned to work as part of an emergency response team. We were responsible for intubating and ventilating Covid patients at the peak of the pandemic, and latterly dealing with trauma related mental health and domestic violence. The whole team worked extremely hard, trying to stay ahead of the virus, while overcoming our own fears. I’m thrilled to win this break, it’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Dr Annie Hunningher
“I’ve nursed on a Trauma Ward for 22 years. It’s always hard work but during the pandemic I’ve seen things and worked in conditions I never thought I possible. We were moved from ward to ward on a daily basis, all full of very ill COVID patients. Working in PPE, with the fans and air con switched off, was unbearable. I also got COVID and have never felt so unwell in all my life. Months later I can still feel the effects. Winning this break means I can spend quality time with my loved ones and I’m very grateful.”
“I’m an Advanced Critical Care Practitioner and also a single parent. At the start of the pandemic we made the tough decision that my daughter would live with my mum for 10 weeks. It was so hard not being able to hug or kiss her, but I had to keep her safe. My colleagues were frightened and anxious of what was to come, but in my eyes, they were all heroes. I’m extremely touched to be nominated and cannot wait for our family time together in the Cotswolds.”
“My husband and I lead a Community Respiratory Service, treating highly vulnerable patients with chronic respiratory diseases. Early on my husband contracted COVID-19 and was very ill and bedbound. It was so stressful quarantining with 2 young children, and still leading the team at the forefront of the pandemic. Our battle with the pandemic will be ongoing, but we’ll pick up the pieces of the NHS and put it back together again. We want to say a massive ‘thank you’- we are so grateful to have this holiday to look forward to.”
“I’m an apprentice within the NHS maternity service. It’s been hard working all day in hot, uncomfortable PPE and then facing outside obstacles like huge supermarket queues to find the shelves empty. I suffer from anxiety and depression which has been so much worse throughout this time and have had to live at friend’s houses as my stepfather is vulnerable. My pay is so low I haven’t been on holiday for 3 years. To have something positive like this to look forward to makes it all so worthwhile.”
We know that everyone, in their own way, will want to give something back to those people working at the forefront of the fight to control this virus.
If you’re inspired by their stories and would like to give a little something back, now is your chance. We’ve selected a handful of items, you can donate to our winners, which they’ll receive during their stay, making their time away that little bit more special.
The Habitat First Foundation is Habitat First Group’s official charity and has so far raised £23,205 towards building dedicated holiday homes to provide complimentary accommodation for children with serious illness or disability to enjoy a much-needed holiday, along with their loved ones.
In addition to our main cause, we support other charities throughout the year. This includes donating to the charity, Dreamflight, and our recent #HabitatHeroes campaign. Habitat Heroes is providing 50 NHS workers and their families with all expenses paid accommodation at Lower Mill Estate, with a total value of over £34,000.
We are delighted to announce that two of our countryside estates, Silverlake, Dorset and Lower Mill Estate have been short-listed from a list of over 200 entries for a Landscape Institute Award 2020.
Among the landscape industry’s highest accolades, the Landscape Institute Awards celebrate the value of landscape in connecting people, place and nature.
Both estates have been recognised within the brand-new Building with Nature category that celebrates residential and commercial schemes which have secured Building with Nature Accreditation and have been signed-off post-construction as completed development phases.
Entrants to this category can showcase how they have secured high-quality green infrastructure features at every stage of development: from planning, design, and implementation, through to management, maintenance and monitoring.
Our Chief Ecologist, Dr Phoebe Carter, has recently been interviewed by Radio 4 as part of the work she undertakes with Building with Nature on the impact of the Government’s ‘Build, Build, Build’ mandate.
Phoebe discusses the importance of having an upfront plan when it comes to ecology, ‘working out what you have on site and how to protect it.’ Phoebe goes on to explain how Habitat First Group always prioritises nature – prior to and during the building process – and addresses some of the many species we protect and house on our country estates.
The full show is available here and Phoebe is introduced at Lower Mill Estate at about nineteen and a half minutes into the programme.
Habitat First Group has featured in an article by The Daily Telegraph that looks at how families are purchasing second homes as protective bubbles.
One of our owners, Red Paxton, explains that we are seeing an increasing number of families seeking double plots in order to incorporate their own protected facilities, including swimming pools, cinemas and games rooms.
Red Paxton, Co-Founder of Habitat First Group recently spoke with Jemma Lester, MD of Luxury Marketing House. They discussed the story of Habitat First Group, it’s working with nature ethos and some of the many other exciting projects that are in the pipeline.
Silverlake is home to a huge range of wonderful insects thanks to the diversity of habitats it hosts. Of these insects, moths are often overlooked as many only fly at night and even the day-flying moths aren’t always easy to spot.
There are actually over 2,500 species of moth in the UK and they are a major part of our biodiversity, playing vital roles in the ecosystem. Moths are a food source for numerous other species such as bats and birds and are also vital pollinators. In the last 60 years, moth populations in southern Britain have declined by a staggering 40%!
At Silverlake we value our moths and their populations are regularly monitored as part of our ongoing wildlife auditing. In 2019, surveys by renowned moth experts Phil Sterling and Mark Parsons recorded 297 species at Silverlake. Of those species recorded, there was 1 Red Data Book species called the Dingy Mocha, 14 Nationally Scarce species and 65 species considered to be Local on a national scale.
Phil Sterling said: “A good range of species were recorded in just 7 visits, with a number of highlights. It is likely there are many more species present at Silverlake, and yet more that will colonise as the number of plant species increases, the existing habitats mature on site, and new niches are formed.”
By looking after our habitats at Silverlake carefully, we hope to record even greater numbers of these wonderfully diverse moths in the next few years.
Habitat First Group have recently been getting things ready to welcome Sand martins back from Africa.
The Sand martin (Riparia riparia) is a tiny earth-brown and white bird that arrives from Africa as early as mid-March. Following severe droughts in Africa in the late ’60s and again in the early ’80s, the Sand martin population declined to just 1/10th of its original size. Despite their populations recovering, it is important that we take steps to boost the numbers of these amazing little birds.
Sand martins are common visitors to sand quarries where they use their tiny beaks and feet to excavate tunnels and nesting chambers deep in the sand faces. In its former days as Warmwell Quarry, Silverlake was host to breeding Sand martins every year. When the quarrying stopped and Habitat First Group took over the old quarry they retained the last sand face that the Sand martins had used and integrated it into the development. Year on year the Sand martins have come back but, with over 240 nesting pairs each year, the sand face has begun to erode. To make sure there is room for the birds to nest after their long flight from Africa we have now installed artificial nesting banks for them. These structures are created with pipes leading to nesting chambers and each of these is packed full of sand for the birds to excavate. In time we hope these will be used and that we will be able to ring any young birds to help with monitoring studies.
Over at Lower Mill Estate, we have also put up these artificial nesting sites to attract the Sand martins that arrive in the Cotswold Water Park every year. With quarrying reducing in the Cotswold Water Park there are fewer nesting sites for the Sand martins and we want to make sure there will always be places for these fabulous little birds to nest.
Lower Mill Estate is also home to what is thought to be the UK’s biggest population of House martins thanks to conservation efforts that have been going on for over 15 years. Swifts are also getting a helping hand with swift nesting towers at both Silverlake and Lower Mill Estate and a swift brick being installed in every new house we build at any of our sites.
We will keep you updated on how all of our African visitors are doing.
Wildflowers bloom with brilliance at Lower Mill Estate from late spring to autumn. They don’t just bring us great joy, but are also a lifeline for our bees, butterflies, pollinating bugs and birds.
Swill Meadow on the wider estate is a wonderful example of a native wildflower meadow that we have been managing carefully for the last 15 years to help conserve our native wildflowers and all the invertebrates and other wildlife that rely on them. Orchids, Lady’s bedstraw, Knapweed and Yellow rattle are in abundance. Clouds of blue damselflies take flight as you walk through this picturesque meadow; butterflies flutter from wildflower to wildflower and the crickets and grasshoppers seem to play you a symphony. By cutting the meadow at the right time of year we ensure our wildflowers are preserved, something that is essential, as the UK has lost over 97% of its wildflower meadows since World War II.
In other areas of the Estate, we have tried to address the catastrophic decline of the UK’s insect populations, by creating wildflower areas where we can. In places where we know there is likely to be good seed stock of wildflowers in the soil, we have relaxed our mowing regimes to allow these wildflowers to emerge and spread. By cutting these areas once or twice a year and removing the clippings we help create a less nutrient-rich soil which is great for wildflowers. In other areas of the Estate, we have started from scratch and lifted and removed the turf and sown the areas with native wildflower seeds.
All of these approaches have resulted in vast increases in wildflowers and a great richness of biodiversity across the Estate. Insects play a vital role in all our lives and by boosting the wildflowers they need and by building with nature, we are giving them a helping hand.
“If we and the rest of the back-boned animals were to disappear overnight, the rest of the world would get on pretty well. But if the invertebrates were to disappear, the world’s ecosystems would collapse.” Sir David Attenborough.
We know how unsettling the past few weeks have been for families and understand that the prospect of weeks at home trying to educate and entertain the kids is seriously daunting.
To help the days to go a little quicker and to boost the dose of Vitamin D, we have created a 30 day plan of activities that can be done in the great outdoors.
From making a floral perfume to string laser tag, these activities have been designed to reduce stress for kids, enabling them to focus on something fun and natural. These activities have been created for the back garden, should be possible with existing resources and are adaptable for different ages.
We would love to see how you get on. Please post any images of your families undertaking the challenge with #30daysofthegreatoutdoors if you are happy for us to share some of the results.
Now that we’ve formally left the EU, we are in a period of transition, but at the moment there are no planned policy changes with regards to wildlife legislation.
This means business as usual for us at Habitat First Group
with us continuing to protect and conserve wildlife on our sites just like
Each of our country estates has its own distinct set of
planning conditions that cover nature conservation. Our commitment to long-term
nature conservation management is one of the reasons that we were granted
planning permission to develop an area of open countryside.
These conditions include the production of a Landscape &
Ecological Management Plan (LEMP) for each estate and they are agreed in
writing by the local planning authority. The plan includes all aspects of how
we will manage the habitats and species on site. Any management issues relating
to SSSIs (Sites of Special Scientific Interest) are also approved by Natural
England. The LEMP covers the entirety of each site from the villages to the
wider Estate and undeveloped areas. The plan will remain in place for the
lifetime of the planning permission.
Similarly, planning conditions state that we must undertake
annual wildlife auditing to show the results of our nature conservation. This
auditing also helps us to assess our aspirations for future biodiversity of the
site, in particular that we are having no negative impact on the wildlife and
habitats on our sites. Our audits have to be agreed in writing by the relevant
councils and the audits are undertaken by independent surveyors to maintain
transparency over the data. The results of this monitoring are used by the Local
Planning Authority to measure the ecological success of the development and are
a determining factor in the granting of further permissions.
Any restrictions on the timings of when we can run
activities on site, from water sports to hedge cutting are all set by current
wildlife legislation, the local authorities and Natural England and incorporated
into the LEMP.
Our commitment is to meet these nature conservation
conditions and maintain and enhance our wildlife at all stages of
Purchasers of holiday homes at our estates are
also tied into these conservation commitments through the land transaction and
the service charge management.
We’re delighted to announce a new partnership with professional big wave surfer, Andrew Cotton. As a fellow outdoor enthusiast and lover of all things North Devon, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to work with him.
Having grown up in the South West and having surfed all of his adult life, Andrew understands the draw to raise his family near the coast more than most.
Andrew shared a few words with us on why he decided to partner Birchwood, North Devon:
‘Growing up in and living in North Devon has really influenced my surfing career and lifestyle choices. That’s why having the opportunity to work with Birchwood, who aim to deliver an eco-friendly and sustainable holiday community so others can appreciate the outdoors and local environment, was the perfect partnership for me’.
Keep your eyes peeled for some exciting new announcements, including the opportunity to design a surfboard with Andrew and to have some professional surfing lessons from one of the world’s most respected big wave surfers.
Andrew is currently living the wild life out in Nazare, Portugal, surfing 70 foot waves. We wish him all the best for his adventures and look forward to seeing him when he gets back.
We are delighted to announce a new Habitat First Group company, Habitat Zero.
For the past two decades we have strived to have a positive impact on nature, the community and the well-being of the families who invest in our natural retreats. For the next decade we will be taking our efforts a step further by working towards Habitat Zero; our commitment to deliver an environmentally responsible, carbon neutral business by 2030.
Our mission will see us saying goodbye to single use plastics across our offices and our estates, introducing electric vehicles across our estates, expanding EV charging points for residents and introducing a Habitat First Group electric mini bus and taxi service.
As a business with ecology at its heart, this endeavour means a lot to us and we look forward to updating you on our progress over the next decade. To track our progress, you can follow us on Instagram.
While some people are shivering, we look forward to Autumn at Habitat First Group, as our country estates come into their own. Along with thousands of trees changing colour, this is a great time to spot some of our wildlife and birds in their natural habitats.
At Silverlake [www.silverlakedorset.com], it’s hard to mis3s the incredible starling murmuration over Starling Lake and Beaumont Lake. The skies will be full of noise while they do this and then as they drop from the sky to roost in the reedbeds, everything goes quiet again.
On the ground our dormice will be active until November, before finding a cosy spot to hibernate for around six months. As we create more wetland areas, we are starting to see a range of wintering waterbirds passing through or stopping for Winter. It’s also worth looking for passage migrants.
Silverlake’s surrounding areas are also pretty special in the Autumn. The National Trust owned Brownsea Island is a fantastic place for birdwatchers. The largest single Avocet flock in Britain was recorded here and in Autumn there are regularly up to 2,500 Black-tailed Godwits as well as Curlew, Grey Plover, Dunlin and Oystercatcher.
Over at Lower Mill Estate [www.lowermillestate.com], our wintering waterbirds begin to arrive to spend the Winter feeding with us. Species to look for include Tufted duck, Coot, Wigeon, Red-crested pochard, Goldeneye and Gadwall. Somerford Lagoon also attracts gulls in their thousands, including Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Common Gull and Black-headed Gull. Look out too for Linnets and Reed Buntings roosting around the lake edges. At dawn and dusk, Autumn is a wonderful time to spot our resident otters and it is definitely worth a trip to Flagham Fen at this time of year to look out for our beavers.
If you spot any of our Autumn wildlife, we would love to see your images through our social media channels.
The 2019 EUGIC conference showcased the best of pan European learning focused on creating resilient, healthier cities through nature-based solutions and water sensitive urban design.
Green Blue Urban sang the praises of Dr Phoebe Carter, Habitat First Group’s chief ecologist, for her work incorporating biodiversity and city habitat space for the wellbeing of humans and animals alike.
Wilmore Iles Architects have written an excellent article about the benefits of Biophilic Design and its positive impact on mental and physical well-being as well as environmental, economic and social prosperity, using images of Habitat First Group developments as prime examples.
As many of you will know, we have motion activated nature cams dotted around the nature reserve to keep track of our resident wildlife and particularly the effectiveness of our ecology management plan. Every now and then, these cameras capture an extraordinary moment of natural beauty that shows us exactly why we all love our little corner of the Cotswolds; this footage was just far too good to keep to ourselves…
Habitat First Group is a family-run development company founded on the principle of creating holiday home communities that share a deep love for Mother Nature.
Combining excellence in architecture, interior design, state-of-the-art facilities, security and service, Habitat First Group creates an oasis of space where families can holiday comfortably and responsibly, while safely exploring the great outdoors.
After successfully launching Lower Mill Estate in the Cotswolds 19 years ago, the company has gone from strength to strength and has a number of other exciting projects in the pipeline.
‘HABITAT FIRST IS A DEVELOPMENT COMPANY FOUNDED ON THE PRINCIPLE OF CREATING HOLIDAY HOME COMMUNITIES THAT SHARE A DEEP LOVE FOR MOTHER NATURE.’
Koto are very excited to be collaborating with Habitat First on bespoke holiday home and design projects.
‘MY AMBITION IS TO CREATE THE MOST EXCITING COLLECTION OF MODERN RESIDENTIAL ARCHITECTURE IN THE WORLD. WE ARE WELL ON THE WAY WITH AN EXCLUSIVE COLLECTION OF LANDMARK HOMES DESIGNED BY SOME OF THE WORLD’S LEADING ARCHITECTS.’
RED PAXTON – DIRECTOR HABITAT FIRST GROUP
We look forward to releasing further details in the near future.
Interaction with nature is
critically important to human well-being and development, but has become
diminished in modern times. For over 20 years, Habitat First Group has been
developing architect-designed homes for people who want to live side by side
with nature – a system that has been
shown to benefit both people and wildlife. A recent survey of our residents
revealed that lakeside living, countryside views and abundant wildlife all help
them to escape from city life and gain a sense of relaxation that they hadn’t
Whilst the benefits of the great
outdoors make perfect sense to anybody who spends time in the open-air,
scientific research gives this sentiment a much deeper meaning. Biophilia – the
love of nature and living things – has been proven to have measurable benefits
on productivity, emotional well-being, stress reduction, learning and healing.
Being immersed in nature has been
proven to reduce stress by 19% (Kuo & Sullivan (2001)), whilst children
learn up to 26% faster, when doing so in natural daylight environments.
Conversely, Nature Deficit Disorder (the lack of contact children now have with
nature) is now being explored as one of the contributing factors to ADHD.
At Habitat First Group, we are
committed to Biophilic design from the architecture of the properties that
permit maximum light and lake views to outdoor bathing opportunities; and managing
hundreds of acres of nature reserves, allowing people to connect to nature. Our
Chief Ecologist, Dr Phoebe Carter, is currently busy across our group developing
and protecting wildlife habitats, improving the built environment for wildlife,
and creating forest playgrounds and forest spas. All this helps to ensure that
people experience and benefit from the natural world and in turn are inspired
to appreciate nature and motivated to protect the environment.
In an era where people’s last
priority at night and first priority in the morning is their smart phone, a
Biophilic way of living is needed more than ever.
At Habitat First Group, we will
continue to push the boundaries of Biophilic living, ensuring that people
interact more with nature than technology and benefit from the incredible
natural world around them.
Although we have been leading the field in Biophilic design in the UK for some time now we are always open to new ideas and collaborations. For more information or to discuss ideas please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.