After watching stoats building their nests inside tumbledown drystone walls, the wallers at the Sherborne Park Estate in Gloucestershire have set about creating ‘stoat holes’ built into new walls for the animals to nest in.
The stoats nesting in the collapsing walls at Sherborne Park have featured on BBC2’s Springwatch programme with viewers delighted at the tumbling antics of the kits as they emerged from the nest.
The National Trust is currently rebuilding some of the ancient park walls – and is now making sure that the stoats don’t lose out as a result.
Drystone waller, Andy Chapple, who is rebuilding a seven foot high section of former park wall, has engineered a cavity in the centre of the wall, capped with larger stones and with a small opening to allow the stoats in.
‘We’ve never done anything like this before,’ said Simon Nicholas, Countryside Manager for the National Trust at Sherborne Park.
‘We have always known that collapses open up bigger spaces which animals such as stoats can utilise. New walls – especially Cotswold walls – are quite tightly built so there is less opportunity and building the holes in offers an opportunity that would not otherwise arise for quite a few years.
‘Andy came up with the idea and the design and we think it is brilliant. We already put up bird boxes for different species and even bat boxes so of course we should be building stoat holes into the new dry stone walls on the estate.
‘We need to take some advice on the right size of cavity for a typical stoat nest and how many we can build into a wall, but it will be great to know that we can continue to offer stoats somewhere to raise their kits and ensure that Sherborne continues to stand out as a place where wildlife thrives while we repair the walls and improve this part of the estate.’
Another idea also being looked at is to make holes right through the walls for animals such as the stoats to cross a high wall without needing to climb it.
The park wall being restored is close to Lodge Park and the work is only possible because of a generous bequest left to the Trust.
A gift of £100,000 was left to repair the drystone walls at Lodge Park by a Mr Robert Robinson who loved the Cotswolds and especially the area around this part of the estate.
Impressed with the way the patchwork of fields that make up the Sherborne Park Estate are stitched together with Cotswold stone walls, he asked for the bequest he left to be used to help with their repair.
The park wall costs about £300 a metre to rebuild so his gift is likely to allow up to 350 metres of walls to be restored – and now also to protect the stoats, one of the several species which are doing well at Sherborne, even though many farmland areas are seeing dramatic declines in wildlife across the country.
Tim Barter, Estate Manager at the National Trust, said: ‘As an independent conservation charity, keeping up with such repairs is almost impossible. However, thanks to Mr Robinson’s very generous gift, we’ve been able to make a start again on rebuilding the park walls at Lodge Park.
‘Many sections of the walls around the estate are visibly crumbling and this vital conservation work would not be completed without this legacy which helps to conserve the beauty and traditional appearance of Sherborne Park Estate.’
The work to rebuild the walls is a slow steady process done by hand, one stone at a time in the traditional way and is likely to take some time to complete.