About 3,000 red deer now live on Exmoor which has been their home since pre-historic times. The largest wild land animal in England can be seen on top of the moor and grazing amongst cattle and sheep on farmland. We are fortunate that a lot of this activity takes place annually on our farm in what we call reservoir field, on the slopes above Clatworthy.
In the past, when Exmoor was a Royal Forest, strict laws protected the deer to maintain a supply of venison and a hunting ground for the king. These days visitors stalk deer with their cameras. October is a popular season when the rut begins and stags across Exmoor can be heard bolving.
As well as red deer, you may spot muntjac, badgers, foxes, and just about any other form of indigenous small furry mammal as you walk the farm. In the evening, the house martins get to work, and just after that the bats, which contrary to popular belief do not get tangled in your hair but do perform some amazing aerobatics. Nearly all 18 bat species known in the UK have been found in the area, and if you walk along a country lane in dusk, you will inevitably encounter bats darting past you at top speed.
Owls can be heard hooting all night. The majority of them are Tawny Owls, but if you are lucky, you might also see a barn owl swooping across the open pasture at dusk.
On the strainer posts by the long drive, larger predator birds can often be seen perched during the hot days of Summer, including kites and buzzards, and in the early evening sometimes 4 to 6 of them can be seen circling the farm buildings in the sky above, on the lookout for supper.
The habitat is also home to hundreds of species of birds and insects. Birds seen on the farm and include merlin, peregrine falcon, Eurasian Curlew, European Stonechat, Dipper, Dartford Warbler, and Ring Ouzel.
The Beast of Exmoor
The Beast of Exmoor was a phantom cat that was reported to roam Exmoor. There have been numerous reports of eyewitness sightings. The BBC calls it “the famous-yet-elusive beast of Exmoor”. Sightings were first reported in the 1970s although it became notorious in 1983, when a South Molton farmer claimed to have lost over 100 sheep in the space of three months. In response to these reports Royal Marine Commandos were deployed from their Taunton base to watch for the mythical beast from covert observation points. After 6 months no sightings had been made and the deployment was ended. Descriptions of its colouration range from black to tan or dark grey. It was possibly a cougar or black leopard which was released after a law was passed in 1976 making it illegal for them to be kept in captivity outside zoos. In 2006, the British Big Cats Society reported that a skull found by a Devon farmer was that of a puma, however, Defra states ‘Based on the evidence, Defra does not believe that there are big cats living in the wild in England.’ Suits us.
Having said all that we do have our own Beast of Exmoor, a feral black cat that refuses to come into the house but has never knowingly turned down food of seemingly any quantity. It is known by our gardener as the ‘Beast’ but is actually pretty friendly, just a tad eccentric, which is accentuated by the fact it has a couple of missing teeth! Just stamp your feet and you won’t see it for the rest of the week.