So far in this blog, I’ve focussed on discovering and sharing places new to me in Cornwall, but I thought it was high time to turn my attention closer to home. Stithians Reservoir is a 15 minute walk from my front door, and I’m a conservation volunteer there, so I spend a fair number of hours walking round the lake, spotting wildlife and helping out with management tasks. Familiarity, however, far from breeding contempt, makes me love it all the more, and there’s always something new to find.
The Reservoir is owned by South West Water, but is managed for conservation and recreation by the fantastic team at South West Lakes Trust, who look after a number of reservoirs across Devon and Cornwall. Check out their website here to find out more. If you’re a watersports lover and live in the area, you probably know the lake really well, as do the many dog owners who enjoy walking with their pets beside the water, but there’s a lot of wildlife there, too! Here’s some examples.
Earlier this year, I turned a corner and came eyeball to eyeball with this buzzard! It won the ‘staring-out’ contest, posed for the photo, and then glided off across the fields. It’s unusual not to see a buzzard on a Stithians walk, but I’ve never been as close as I was this time.
The lake is in fact well known for birdlife, including many wintering water birds as well as residents. The Cornwall Bird Watching and Preservation Society manage two areas on the reserve – under the watchful eye of their Stithians Warden, my chum Simon, – and there’s a public hide near the Watersports centre (opposite the Golden Lion Pub) if you want to see what you can spot.
In the summer, you’ll find a lot of butterflies and day-flying moths (maybe not this summer – it was pretty dreadful – but here’s hoping for more sun next year!). Burnet moths were two-a-penny for much of the summer, brightening up the grasses with their vivid colours. Did you know their colouring is a warning to would-be predators? Burnet moths – both the five-spot and six-spot variety – contain cyanide, so are poisonous.
The butterfly species I saw most of this year was the plain and simple but rather fetching Ringlet, but I did also spot this very nice Gatekeeper, posing sweetly for me!
In the spring and summer, the areas around the lake are brimming with wildflowers. Even today, in December, some Red Campion was still flowering. Common Valerian (pictured) was beautiful back in July. It’s a constant battle, though, to keep the bracken and bramble cut back. We need a mix of habitats round the lake. Some thick scrub is good – for ground-nesting birds in the spring and summer, cover for other birds as well as for reptiles and amphibians and small mammals – but we also need more open areas where wildflowers can thrive, providing nectar for bees, butterflies and other insects. The conservation team have been doing a bit of ‘scrub-bashing’ this year, so we’re hoping to get lots of wildflowers (and butterflies etc.) next year!
You can walk pretty much all the way round the lake (it’s about 5 miles: it took me 2.5 hours this morning, dawdling a bit, though, taking photos), apart from one section where you have to detour for maybe half a mile onto the main road. This time of year, wear your wellies, though – the path is very muddy in places. The best place to start from is the Angling and Watersports Centre at the northwest corner of the lake (TR16 6NW). There’s also a cycle path, and you can even hire a bike there – details here.
If you time it right, you can end up at the Golden Lion, not far from the Watersports Centre. A good lunch, a pint in hand, and the mud and chill are soon forgotten!!