The most visible mammal within the park is the common grey squirrel. Others observed include wood mice, yellow-necked mice, shrews, rabbit and bank vole. Fox, badger, muntjac deer have established breeding populations. On warmer nights, pipistrelle bats (right) may be seen, most frequently along the New Cut, or in the inner bailey.
The newest arrival is the otter, returned after long periods of absence. In the book ‘Pashler’s Alley’, Elizabeth Holdgate’s story of growing up in Clare, the local hunt pursued otters along the Stour just before WWII. Otters have been seen up the Chilton stream and have raided a pond in Hundon; they are elusive creatures and the best you may see of them are paw prints in the mud along the New Cut. Water voles are currently absent reflecting a worrying drop in numbers throughout the UK.
A particularly undesirable invasive pest is the American mink, which is an opportunistic feeder, killing fish, water voles, and fledgling birds, particularly ducks. It will happily feed on a clutch of bird’s eggs. Humane control methods are carried out to protect the native biodiversity of the park.
A variety of birds inhabit the park, from the smallest wren and long-tailed tit to the majestic swan. Moorhen and mallard ducks are always present. Some of the mallards are hybridised: a white bib suggests a cross with a domestic duck. A pure white duck hangs out with the Clare ‘flock’; as farming ducks has declined in the area, it may be a genetic throwback rather than a an escapee. Longer necked mallards might be the result of crossing with Indian Runners. Tufted ducks have not been seen for some years.
- Kingfishers (right) fleetingly whizz past along the New Cut, but also up the Chilton stream and the Stour proper.
- Both tawny and barn owls frequent the park, in pursuit of the smaller mammals. Kestrel and sparrow hawk visit.
- Redwing and fieldfare are the most regular migrant visitors, in search of winter berries, competing with the resident blackbirds and thrushes.
- Visiting birds include heron, little egret, cormorant, and high overhead, buzzard.
- Reptiles may be seen: slow worm, lizard and grass snake. These are usually only visible if disturbed.
The greatest variety of fauna is found amongst the invertebrates, from butterflies and moths, ladybirds, lacewings, dragonflies, damselflies, beetles and bugs. All 6 of the common bees are found. There are a surprising different number of habitats: woodland, scrub, water edges, marsh grassland, and hedgerow.
Two invertebrate species are locally significant. First are glow-worms (Lampyris noctiluca),(web link: http://www.glowworms.org.uk/) present along the old railway track. The female beetle (it’s not a worm, in spite of its name) glows to attract a mate, usually in June and July. After mating, the glow stops.
The second is the large garden bumble bee (Bombus ruderatus), again present along the old railway track. This is a priority species (web link: http://www.bwars.com/index.php?q=bee/apidae/bombus-ruderatus), nationally scarce, the UK Biodiversity Action Plan states that it is known at less than twenty sites. All black, including the tail, it has a very long tongue for feeding from foxglove and honeysuckle. It also forages amongst comfrey, yellow iris and marsh woundwort. The margins around the chalk waters of the Stour provide an ideal habitat, provided we encourage the growth of the bee’s food plants.
Fish may be observed in the New Cut and in the ponds. Pike are present as well as American crayfish (an unfortunate alien intruder). There are Carp, Roach, Perch and Chubb in the Stour.