Wildlife at Manor Bottom
Manor Bottom is an excellent place to see undisturbed wildlife. Sitting on any of the hillside benches at twilight you can see the animals come out one by one. Usually first along is the fox, hunting its early evening meal. Then come the badgers. If you are lucky in spring, you can see young badgers gambolling about with each other. At other times, if you keep quiet and are downwind, they will pass close by you snuffling along picking out good things to eat. Next up come the bats. Again, keep quite so as not to disturb them and if you do so you are rewarded by having them flit around your head catching the flying insects that are circling around just above you. Types of bat (we think) we have identified here are pipistrelle, barbastelle, brown long-eared bat and Bechstein's bat. If the bats seem to be keeping a low profile, then is often means the owls are on their way. An owl silently gliding past your bench is an amazing sight. You are out to observe them, but they see you first, observing you! As a rule, if you spot a bird of prey, assume it has spotted you. In our time here we have seen barn owls, little owls, long-eared owls, and short-eared owls.
When you finally walk down from the bench you see, hear, or sense the shrews, field mice, rabbits and stoats hurrying about around you.
Don’t forget that you could, occasionally, be lucky and see the famous red squirrel dashing along the fence or scrambling up a tree.
The beautiful horses that live in the stables belong to Anna who lives in the village and comes twice a day to ride them and look after them. Please don't feed them – they have a special diet. If you want to meet the horses ask Anna, who is always happy to introduce you and tell you all about them.
The Island has over 200 species of birds either in residence or visiting. Manor Bottom itself is a great place for birdwatchers. Just from the window you can often see pheasant, greater and lesser spotted woodpeckers, green woodpeckers, buzzards, sparrowhawks, kestrels, little owls, barn owls, long-eared owls, jays, magpies, rooks, wood pigeon, swifts and swallows, house martins, goldfinches, bullfinches, chaffinches, greenfinches, blue tits, great tits, coal tits, long tailed tits, house, hedge and tree sparrows, wrens, song and mistle thrushes, blackbirds, robins, occasional skylarks, and if you are lucky, lesser whitethroat, yellowhammer, treecreepers, and goldcrest. There are bird feeders hanging from the veranda where they can be seen from the windows and there are a couple of bird books on the shelf in the sitting room to help you identify birds.
We are also just a short walk downhill from Wroxall and Ventnor Down which join other downs forming a horseshoe around the property. Other than the beautiful views, walking these downs rewards you with many bird sightings. The birds that can be seen up on Ventnor Down during the seasonal migration (April/May and Sept/Oct) include wheatear, stonechat, ring ouzel, redwing, fieldfares, and various warblers. Occasionally honey buzzard, short-eared owl and long-eared owl can be seen. Further afield there are many great places for spotting, a favourite place for us being the cliffs on the back of the Wight. The chines there, along the Military Road, often attract migratory birds and the St Catherine's Lighthouse area, just beyond Niton is popular for sea-watching. Rarities are often recorded by the enthusiasts during migration.
Of course, the above hasn't mentioned the majestic white-tailed sea eagles, re-introduced here a few years ago. Seeing one of these soar overhead is simply magnificent, a sight never to be forgotten.
The below links are very good guides for places to go spotting:
We try to keep our gardens, hedges and fields as attractive to wildlife as possible; we have ponds, areas of wild flowers, wild areas full of brambles and nettles, plants and perennials to attract insects, bees, butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies, as well as a host of other bugs. The grounds are completely organic, and wildflowers are allowed to self-seed. In spring, the garden is a mass of primroses and violets, followed by the white stars of wild garlic, red campion and foxgloves. Other plants are chosen for being drought (and rabbit) resistant - lavender, geraniums and pelargoniums. Rainwater from guttering is harvested in water butts and used to water the pots in summer. Well-rotted manure comes from the Arab horses who graze in the surrounding paddocks. We make our own nettle tea for fertilizer and buy peat-free compost if we don’t have enough of our own.
We have a small wood, named Dorothy’s Wood, planted in 2012, and the grounds generally have some fine trees. We try to keep them all native as much as we can to benefit the wildlife. Native trees support more insect life than non-native trees - oak for example supports 284 species of insect and 324 lichens. Other than the stalwarts of ash, oak, cherry, thorn and hazel, we have over 30 species of tree in total on our six-and-a-half-acre plot, including mulberry, gingko, elm, beech, birch and almond. Among the trees and shrubs planted recently are pear, plum, cherry and apple trees and thorn less blackberries.
Alexanders (a bit like a cross between parsley and celery) grow wild beside many roads from early March. Wild garlic leaves (ransoms) grow beneath the trees by the paths in April and May (good for soup and frittatas but a bit tough for salad). In May and early June, you can make elderflower cordial from the large, white, flat flower heads that grow on trees all around (not cow parsley). In the summer months please help yourself to the herbs in the pots in the courtyard; there should be chives, coriander, parsley and basil in summer. There are blackberries in the hedgerows from late August. Plums, apples, grapes, and pears ripen in late September so please don’t pick them before that just to see if they are ripe – they won’t be. There are sloes in the hedgerows in autumn if you would like to make sloe gin or vodka. We also have medlar fruit if you are brave enough. Hazels provide us with cobnuts and we even have almonds growing in Dorothy's Wood.