Not just a home for fantastic historic buildings, the Weald & Downland Living Museum is a great place for spotting the huge range of wildlife that makes its home in this beautiful West Sussex downland.
We have recorded over 53 bird species living here or visiting us during the year – some, like the mallards and the rooks, being happy to get up close and personal with the promise of a free meal of grain from visitors young and old; more elusive are those such as the tree creepers and blackcaps, there for the quieter visitor to see or hear. Some birds just pop in for a brief visit, like the two beautiful black swans that stopped all too briefly a few weeks ago.
With everything from woodland, fields and historic gardens too, there is a great range of habitats for insects, including over 19 different butterfly species such as Marbled Whites, large and small Skippers and the Common Blue.
Mammals include the roe deer that venture in after the visitors have gone for the day, risking the ire of the historic gardens team to snatch a tasty morsel from the tended gardens. Our traditionally managed coppice allow more light to reach the ground, encouraging yet more biodiversity.
The recently re-established pond is showing signs of maturity as little grebe join the ever-present mallards, coots and moorhen. Even the historic houses themselves form important homes for summer visitors such as the swallow and house martins; just recently we were excited to see signs of barn owls once again roosting on the window ledges of the House from Sole Street. It would be wonderful to welcome them again to one of our buildings – several owl families have been successfully raised in the past.
Our staff and volunteers are excited to play our part in being custodians of these wonderful habitats, we love to talk about all things wildlife with our visitors. Weald & Downland Living Museum is now a registered “popular place” on BirdTrack where anyone can enter their bird, mammal and dragonfly sightings: www.bto.org/our-science/projects/birdtrack/about
In January, we welcomed visitors and families to take part in the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch. We have sent off our results to join those from all over the country.
With spring just around the corner, we have got lots of plans including enhancing the pond area planting to encourage even more wildlife. We will also be running informal talks on our wildlife throughout the year, watch out on the daily flyers that you can collect at the entrance, and focus on the natural world in the May half-term.
We always welcome your news and sightings of wildlife during your visit, at any time of the year. If you visit on a Wednesday or Thursday, call into the medieval house from Sole Street where you can have a look at the owl pellets, see what’s been spotted around the Museum, talk to other wildlife enthusiasts and add your sightings to our bird spotting chart.
Later in the year, on Saturday and Sunday, 6-7 June, we will be hosting a special Historic Life weekend all about wildflowers. It’s all going wild here at the Living Museum.
Fiona Hargreaves, Domestic Interpreter.
All photographs taken at the Museum by staff member Piotr Dlugaszek