We recently had the pleasure of hosting conservationist, Lucy Lapwing at Silverlake, Dorset. This is her story…
I’d only been at Silverlake for around an hour when I heard it. A faint, constant noise – eerie and strange…almost mechanic. One of my favourite sounds in the world and of the night. A nightjar! Weird nocturnal birds, with huge mouths and an uncanny ability to impersonate a dead branch. They make a bizarre noise, known as churring, which they do as night falls. And I could hear one from the garden of the holiday home I was staying in.
It was my first evening staying at the amazing Silverlake resort in Dorset, for a few days. Sat in the dark at my garden table, I couldn’t help but be flabbergasted to hear a nightjar; I normally have to travel to a very specific site to see them!
Most of the headlines we see about nature give us bad news. We hear about species declining and special natural sites being lost, all too frequently. Silverlake’s vision is to actually help nature, providing a holiday home community where people and wildlife can live side-by-side, so nature isn’t pushed out.
The first word that sprung to mind when I arrived at Silverlake was “lush”! Greenery and greenspace seemed to be everywhere. The verges, roundabouts and margins all burst with plant life – in fact any spare patch of land seemed to be alive with wildflowers. This starkly contrasted with the world outside, where manicured lawns and mowed verges are a very common sight.
The morning after my garden nightjar encounter, I awoke early to find a woodlark singing from the rooftop opposite. A woodlark! This is a bird of heathland; a beautiful songster whose numbers dwindled in the past and are still low today. It was the first of many I’d see during my stay. Shortly after 6am (early bird catches the worm), I headed into the woods on a dawn chorus walk to hear birdsong ring through the morning mist. We heard song thrushes, blackcaps, nuthatches, treecreepers, and goldcrests. Wandering past the heath, the woodlark was singing away again!
The night before, I’d set my moth trap and was excited to see what I’d caught. Inside sat two of the chunkiest moths I’d ever seen. I’d caught myself two ENOURMOUS privet hawkmoths – with a wingspan more than 10cm, they’re the UK’s biggest moth! Grey wings, with pink-and-black stripes down the body, they’re a sight to behold. They absolutely dwarfed the green and pink elephant hawkmoth, normally the big shot of any moth trap, which sat alongside them.
Silverlake has very limited artificial light after dark; it helps wildlife like bats and allows you to really appreciate the starry night sky – it also means moths, many of which pollinate flowers by night, aren’t needlessly drawn to the lights!
The next day, I joined Dr Phoebe Carter, Silverlake’s Chief Ecologist, for a tour around the Estate to look at Silverlake from an ecological perspective. Around the established properties we saw how nature had been woven into development; buzzing banks, verges full of flowers and insect life bordered every property. Sustainable drainage channels were lined with vegetation and were thrumming with zooming dragonflies. Many of the properties and communal buildings were home to bat boxes, nest boxes and bee bricks; some even had living roofs!
It was clear to see how the disused quarry was being transformed; sand embankments now housed hundreds of sand martins and evidence of otters could be seen around new water ways. I learned about plans for the extra quarry space; an area for leisure where people could walk their dogs, and a wider area that would be a brand-new nature reserve.
Walking further around the Estate, even more humming, thrumming life became apparent; I saw common lizards, grass snakes and my first ever slow worm! I watched endless dragonflies and damselflies hunting around the water; golden ringed, emperors and even a keeled skimmer.
Out of many of the verges sprung orchids – including the gorgeous and hilarious-looking bee orchid. This is a flower that lives in disguise; it evolved to look and even smell like the female of a type of bee found in Europe. This imitation is so convincing that the male bees are tricked into mating with the flower; this helping with pollination. Sadly, we don’t have the right bee in the UK, so the orchids have to pollinate themselves. It’s always such a treat to see one!
For my final evening, I followed Dr. Phoebe into the dark… it was time to find those nightjars. On the heath, only a couple of hundred metres from my digs, we saw them! Eerie silhouettes against the night sky, clapping their wings and churring away relentlessly. It was magical.
Staying at Silverlake was a wonderful experience – it was a lovely place to holiday and I’d recommend it to everyone! The accommodation was beautiful, the facilities brilliant and the staff were welcoming and lovely.
There was something else that made it truly special. At a time when nature is so often on the back foot, it was so refreshing to see a place that is actively encouraging it. For me, the uniqueness of a place like Silverlake is its wildlife! A place where nature isn’t sanitised or excluded, but it is celebrated.
Following a year of lockdowns, we’re all aware of how important quality greenspace is for us. The innovation of a place like Silverlake shows that this could be possible for the places we live. Perhaps future towns could follow the lead of Habitat First Group? Buzzing verges, towering trees, clean, fish-filled rivers and space to roam for kids and families. My passion is to find the weird, wonderful and just plain bizarre elements of our wildlife to communicate this to wider audiences.
Nature is in trouble and we need as many people as possible to speak up to help to reverse the biodiversity crisis. I often feel despondent about nature, but the kind of work carried out by Habitat First Group shows we can do things differently. Imagine the future if we did just that and used our imaginations!