Saturday, 15 August 2009

Beavering away to give you a fabulous family day out

It’s not just the beaches of East Devon, including Budleigh Salterton’s, that make the area popular with tourists. The cathedral city of Exeter with its shops, ancient buildings, quayside and guided tours is not far of course.

But Devon is a largely rural county with major visitor attractions based on country estates which are still independent family-run affairs. Bicton Botanic Gardens http://www.bictongardens.co.uk/gardens.html with one of the finest collection of trees in Britain are just outside Budleigh Salterton. And just outside Exeter is Crealy Great Adventure Park http://www.crealy.co.uk/ with a huge list of rides, attractions and events attracting up to 500,000 visitors a year.

One attraction with its own special character is Escot (pictured above), near Ottery St Mary and only 30 minutes from Budleigh. Set in 220 acres of 18th century parkland, Escot prides itself on being a place for people who love nature, being uniquely attractive to garden enthusiasts and families alike. There are vistas, places to picnic, things to enchant and delight, and everywhere beautiful flowers, shrubs and specimen trees. With many other features including an Adrian Fisher-designed maze, a letterboxing trail, a ‘Forest Leap’ woodland drop slide and the park’s collection of animals such as wild boar, otters, red squirrels and birds of prey, Escot is a great place for kids.

Godfrey Kent, a Budleigh resident for 14 years, arrived at Escot in 1998 on a two day consultancy. He’s still there. His task is to diversify a traditional, family owned Devon estate without losing its particular spirit, its magic. And so Escot is now a haven for children whose parents value a rather old fashioned kind of play, the kind that may well include a few cuts and bruise and dollops of mud.

And then there are the beavers, writes Mr Kent, who has taken a keen interest in two of Escot’s celebrity residents:

“The waiting is over: the pair of European Beavers at Escot Park has produced two babies, known as kits. The parents were originally from Bavaria and are now three years old. They met for the first time in 2007 when they were introduced to their two acre home of ponds, grassy banks and woodland at Escot Park, since when they have become inseparable. But when would they become parents?

Hopes were raised at the end of April 2009 when they built a new dam on their stream. Beneath, in the deep pool created by the new dam lay the entrance to a well disguised new lodge whose main chamber was up above ground, well covered by branches and vegetation.

At the end of May we heard shuffling within the lodge and just once or twice puppy-like yelps as if someone was vying for a feed. Neither parent was travelling far from the lodge, at least not during our twilight group beaver watches. Just once we saw the female's tummy as she reached up to nibble some willow leaves and we could see that she was lactating. By mid June she was dragging willow branches and soft rushes into the lodge. This meant that the weaning process for the kits had probably begun because beavers are fully vegetarian, eating soft cellulose in summer (grass, bank side water plants and leaves) and then gradually switching to hard cellulose during the autumn (roots, tubers, tree bark, and wood).

Then on 23 June in the early evening their keeper spotted a kit on the edge of the pool immediately outside its lodge. He watched it for ten minutes or so, no parent in sight, before it swam out in front of the lodge. There, after a couple of failed duck dives, he saw it master the technique and disappear back into its lodge.

For several days there were no further kit sightings, although both parents were seen regularly each evening. Then just before dark on 7 July, Escot's owner John-Michael Kennaway noticed what seemed to be the two adults grooming each other on a bank. When the male slid into the water the female remained, and there, now visible, was a kit suckling from her. Watching, enthralled, Mr. Kennaway was suddenly aware that although the male was in the pool in front of him, there was now a fourth, smaller head swimming straight towards him. Within moments this little beaver, resembling a wound up clockwork toy with a flat paddle sewn on behind, scuttled up the bank within feet of him, slid down the other side, and with a 'plop' disappeared under water back to the lodge.

European beavers are extinct in the wild in Britain but there are moves to reintroduce them to our waterways. Meanwhile these endearing nocturnal creatures can be seen an hour before dark by booking an Escot Beaver Watch appointment.”

Photo credits: Beaver pictures by Ben Lee Photo Imagery

Escot is only 30 minutes from Budleigh Salterton by car.

For more details see the website at http://www.escot-devon.co.uk/
Escot, Ottery St Mary, Devon EX11 1LU
Tel: 01404 822188
Email: info@escot-devon.co.uk

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