Nature Table

Matt Somerville preparing to raise the bee-kind log hive
A male Blackbird
The bee-kind log hive in place in the Church yard. The hive was funded by the Church and the CCF
A European Hedgehog


The scent of bluebells is in the air – at least of the native English kind, the Spanish ‘garden’ varieties don’t smell – and the first swallows are back in Cattistock. If you would like to have these wonderful birds nesting in your shed, stable or garage, just leave the door open – you could get lucky. If we have a dry spell, turn the hose on a patch of mud in the drive or farmyard or lane – they need it to make their nests. Lay a  slate or tile flat in a sunny, undisturbed part of the garden and after a while you could find a slow-worm warming up underneath… they are the gardener’s friend and eat all kinds of unwelcome bugs. Want to see a sparrowhawk? – the alarm calls of other birds will tell you where it is – attune yourself! And having attuned yourself, download a useful app called Chirp! and see how many of Cattistock’s birds you can identify in a half-hour walk.

Last month Matt Somerville installed one of his fantastic bee-kind hives in the ash tree in the churchyard. We are hoping it will soon be colonised, and Matt will return at the end of summer to view progress. His hollow-log hives are designed to benefit their occupants, rather than humans, and to promote the health and well-being of wild English bees. Have a read of his web at – Bees have also returned to the church roof, whence they were rudely evicted in less enlightened times, but this time efforts are underway – thanks to Sean Lavan who is organising repair to the plaster – to make sure they do not get inside the church itself. Now all we need do is sow masses of bee-friendly flowers, shrubs and wildflowers for them to make honey with, and keep an eye on the Telegraph Pole for news of any bee colonies taking up residence in the log hive. 

March – with satisfying obedience to tradition – ‘came in like a lion and out like a lamb’. Brimstone butterflies took off around the village during the warm latter days, and even the odd small tortoiseshell visited the primroses. The chiffchaff arrived – the first of the summer migrant birds to do so – and can be heard chiffing and chaffing in Duck Street and Back Lane.

Ramsons are burgeoning in the lanes – delicious in salads. Don’t forget to sniff the white violets on the bank opposite the Jones’s stone shed at Prospect farm.

Our garden ponds have been full of frogspawn – and now tadpoles – since February. Toads spawn a little later, but the tiny toad tadpoles are busy eating the blanket weed in my pond now. Establishing a pond is probably the single most effective way of increasing the numbers and diversity of local wildlife… it doesn’t have to be big – a hole in the ground the size of a kitchen sink will do for starters! What’s in your pond? I’d love to know. Email me at


Most Dorset villages offer diverse habitats for native flora and fauna, but Cattistock offers more than most. Almost every dwelling has a garden, and many of them are managed for the benefit of birds and insects as well as us humans. Interesting rarities often visit – a nightjar was photographed taking its ease on a sun lounger in a garden at Duck Street! And an otter was recently snapped making its way down Mill Lane past the village shop.

The contingent farmland is mainly pasture, dotted with copses and criss-crossed with footpaths – plenty of scope for the now-rare farmland birds, and the opportunity to spot them. Our valley, Lankham Bottom, is a noted butterfly reserve, with glow-worms on its chalk escarpments too.

At the heart of the village is the church and churchyard, a central green space seething with wildlife if you know where to look. On summer evenings at least five species of bat whirl above your head, while the swifts which nest in the church buildings speed shrieking around the rooftops as dusk falls. Some of the churchyard’s most famous visitors are the hawfinches which flock in winter to the magnificent row of hornbeams which border its south side, and following them the flocks of bird-watchers from all over the county. Dog-walkers sometimes encounter the now rare hedgehog foraging among the graves at night. In spring and summer the graveyard is a carpet of wild flowers, and the church’s programme of grass cutting is managed to ensure that they continue to proliferate.

The Friends of Cattistock church aim to implement a scheme to increase habitats for wildlife of all kinds around the church, perhaps in time to acquire a gold medal for conservation from the Eco Church Foundation.
In the wider village other steps are afoot to enhance the presence of wildlife. Tawny and barn owls boxes, made here in the village, have gone up this autumn, under the auspices of the Dorset Owl and Bird Box Society – a Cattistock-based initiative. Boxes for swallows and house martins were added to many of the houses, sheds and stables of the village this spring.
Plans to help slow the disastrous decline in honey bees are also underway… Matt Somerville, the brother of artist Liz Somerville, sometime of this village, will visit next year to explain how to do this –

Wildlife is more than ever dependent on us humans – to notice it, to include it, and most of all to enjoy it. We need all the observations we can get to form a picture of the wildlife in Cattistock, and thus to help it all thrive. Such information also goes to form a nationwide picture, though such agencies as the Dorset Wildlife Trust. So, if YOU have noticed anything unusual – more or fewer than usual insects or butterflies for instance, or variations in migratory species of birds, hedgehog encounters, the odd unexpected wildlife visitor or wildflower… or just anything that has attracted your attention – please contact the editor of this page Merrily Harpur, on 01300 320064. We will flag it up on this page – (named after the special table where we used to put our wildlife finds at primary school) and also pin it on the web’s Telegraph Pole.

Tawny Owl boxes in manufacture
Owl boxes being made in Phil Evans' workshop
A murmuration of Starlings
A Robin
A Goldfinch
A Slow-worm
A box being placed in position