Inspired by the Wildlife at Berrio Mill

Roe deer in our fieldThe natural wildlife here at Berrio Mill has been an inspiration to us since we arrived in 2003. We were fortunate to find a place that had not had anything meaningful done to it since the mill was built about 250 years ago. Yes there was a well for water, but it was contaminated and there was even mains electricity with just a couple of fuses and not very safe. There were many broken windows and water running through the basement, and an ineffective oil burner which was supposed to provide heat. If we wanted a bath, then the old Lister pump would kick in, pumping water from the well, taking about 24 hours to refill the header tank. Clearly we had some work ahead of us and it wasn’t going to be easy. We resolved this by installing a new borehole which is 50 metres deep and provides wonderful chemical free spring water. This is filtered and has an ultraviolet device to ensure no bacteria gets into the supply. As we are food producers, the water is also regularly tested to ensure it meets the very high standards required by Environmental Health. The water also makes wonderful tea!

On the plus side, the broken windows and very damp conditions meant Bat visiting Berrio Mill that  we had bats, lots of them. They are Lesser Horseshoe Bats and we had a summer breeding colony of about 60 occupying half the building (the half we were not living in!) with all the bat poo that comes with a large colony. In the winter half a dozen or so hibernated in the very wet basement of the mill, so we were clearly cohabiting with some very special folk and were keen to keep it that way. We took lots of advice from bat experts so that we could do what was best for the bats, but also make the mill more habitable for the human species of mammals. This was achieved by giving our bats access to the roof space in the mill for the summer and by creating a cave alongside the mill leat with the right cool damp conditions for bats to hibernate in through the winter. Those in the know call it a hibernacula. Now we live where the bats used to be and the basement where they used to hibernate is now the kitchen where we make our farm produce and totally bat free! The bats are clearly happy with the arrangement as they now number in excess of 100 during the summer months.

With lots of advice and some financial help from the Westcountry Rivers Trust we carried out a programme of management of the riverbank and streams to encourage Sea Trout, Salmon, Brown Trout and Eels to spawn. Every year the Environment Agency carry out a survey on our stretch of the River Lynher and the fish numbers are increasing, so we like to think we are helping in some way. Through the Westcountry Rivers Trust we encourage fishing along our banks so that those who do  not normally have access to such rivers can come here and enjoy the tranquillity.

Friend or Foe We actively keep the non indigenous American Mink under control which has seen an increase in Waterfowl and sightings of Otter and Water Vole over the years. We also control the non indigenous Himalayan Balsam which is ruining so many of Britain’s waterways.  The encouragement of wetland and large areas of natural foliage mean that we also have an abundance of Dragonflies, Damsel Flies, Toads, Frogs, Newts and Lizards. We do not keep cats or dogs, and are now rewarded with a wonderful  variety of birdlife. Watching Wrens, Swallows, Blackbirds, Thrush, Tits (5 varieties), Wagtails, Robins, etc. feeding their young is an everyday occurrence in the spring and early summer. We leave the old outside loo at the back of the mill open every year for the swallows to nest in. Every year we are rewarded by a family with 4-5 young swallows being taught to fly and fend for themselves. It doesn’t get much better than that.

The two holiday cottages are separate from the mill and are not inhabited by bats or other creatures. They are a conversion of an old cow barn (known locally as a shippen) and we managed to salvage most of the roof slates which came from a slate quarry in Delabole in North Cornwall. The shippen itself was built from slate dug out from a quarry across the road from us which was also used to build the original mill all those years ago. We are fortunate that we still have ample quantities of slate and stone available on our land. This has been used to great effect to extend the shippon and to renovate much of the mill. We will also be using the stone to replace a barn in the near future.

Coppicing of riverbank trees was a traditional means of providing firewood for heating. We are, to a certain extent, trying to emulate this with the use of very efficient wood burning stoves in the two holiday cottages and the mill where we live. This is to supplement the oil fired central heating and we encourage our guests to use the stoves instead of central heating if at all possible.

Recognising that we are the environmental custodians for future generations of the few acres we have at Berrio Mill. We encourage those that respect what we are trying to achieve to come and enjoy what this natural environment has to offer.

Welcome to Berrio Mill.