Water vole and mink inhabit
the canal banks, but are rarely
spotted, being very shy.
Hares can be seen on the higher
ground in the village, such as the
fields above Whitehill.
Polecats, extinguished by dutiful
Victorian gamekeepers, have
been seen in recent years.
Hamstead Marshall is rich in wildlife, thanks to the river Kennet, the canal,
park, the relatively high proportion of woodland and the 325-acre organic farm
the centre of the village. Below are detailed some of the less common species
which have been seen locally. Sadly, several are in decline.
Roe deer are numerous
throughout the parish because
Hamstead Park was, in medieval
times, a deer park. Until the
Second World War there was also
a herd of red deer in the park,
but these did not survive the
Muntjac deer arrived in the
twentieth century. They are
smaller, and sometimes look like
a small dog because they run
more often than they leap.
The common buzzard used to be a regular sight locally, circling high in the sky, but it seems to
have been driven out by the rapidly increasing population of red kite, which spread to this area
about 10 years ago from its reintroduction site in the Chiltern Hills. Kite are
now ubiquitous in
the village. Both species make a similar mewing cry, but the kite can be
distinguished from the
buzzard by a different flying patten, reddish plumage and, most
characteristically, its forked tail.
Barn owls used to be more numerous, and at one time nested in the church tower. When they
were evicted several years ago nest boxes were set up in surrounding fields and
sightings are now very rare. Tawny owls can be heard at night in woodland, and little owls
have also been seen in gardens.
Other birds of prey include kestrel and sparrowhawk.
Pheasant and partridge are reared for local shoots. The former are ubiquitous, the latter
mostly on higher ground.
Herons inhabit the park and they also frequent stocked garden ponds.
Kingfishers can be seen from the canal towpath, and sometimes visit garden ponds.
Nightingales used to be heard near the canal, but are now very rare.
Skylarks can be heard in summer on the Summerleas field of Elm Farm.
Sparrows do not seem to be in decline here. They are numerous in the hedgerows around
Lapwings and plovers used to be seen on higher ground, but are less common now.
Grey wagtails (looking more yellow than grey) dart around the river.
Swans breed on the canal, river and park lakes. Canada geese are ubiquitous on the park
lakes, as are mallard, coot, moorhen and tufted duck.
leisure and pleasure
local history books
St Mary’s Church
open for business
now take the tour...
gallery a choice of four slide shows of
village scenes past and present
Your comments and questions are welcome.
Copyright Penelope Stokes 2015