‘Otter poo smells of Parma Violets and other things I learnt on a wildlife walk in East Yorkshire’

Day of discovery - a free spring walk event was hosted by Carr House Farm, Foston on the Wolds, East Yorkshire
-Credit: (Image: Deborah Hall/Hull Live)


The sky was a perfect, uninterrupted shade of cornflower blue, the birds were singing and the hedgerows were bursting into blossom.

It seemed the ideal time to be venturing deep into the East Yorkshire countryside for a day of discovery. Carr House Farm, at Foston on the Wolds, near Driffield, had announced an addition to its more regular winter wildlife walks programme with a new spring open event on its calendar.

On this particular Sunday there were to be guided walks around the farm, led by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust (YWT) experts, a chance to meet some pet lambs and the opportunity to pick your own rhubarb. Oh, and the promise of home-made, freshly baked refreshments, courtesy of the Side Oven Bakery, to which Carr House Farm is home.

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I’m not a complete stranger to this place, which is not many miles from home, as I’ve been on one of Side Oven’s bread-making courses before (and can highly recommend those). However, the public are not normally at liberty to venture across this organic farm’s fields and footways, with sights of the gorgeous Wolds scenery unfolding way into the distance.

After an introduction beside the barn by the YWT’s Callum and farmer Tim Sellers, which told us how the way the land is organically farmed here lends itself beautifully to the encouragement of wildlife, our walking party of people, plus a few dogs on leads, was off. Callum led the way out of the farmyard, with the Trust’s John bringing up the rear – this is inevitably where I found myself during the hour-long ramble, because I just had to keep stopping to take pictures, trotting to catch up.

Our first stop was at a bridge spanning a crystal-clear chalk stream, the banks topped with pretty red campion and white campion, newly in bloom. As Callum spoke about the scarcity and therefore the importance of chalk streams (about 85 per cent of the world’s offering is in the UK), a grass snake that had to be 2ft long decided to put in an appearance, much to the excitement of everyone. It was almost as if it knew.

We strolled on along the farm track that follows the stream, skylarks singing overhead and swallows dipping beside us, as the first of the season’s oxeye daisies showed their faces along the field margin. At the next stop, before re-crossing the stream, we learned about the otters that make this area their home.

Callum said: “Some people say otter poo smells of Parma Violets; I think it’s more like oily rag.” If you see a tunnel through the undergrowth beside a waterway, this will likely have been made by an otter, whereas other animals tend to trample everything underfoot.

John also opened a box he’d been carrying to show us an otter skull – and how its fine set of teeth display just how much of a predator it is. The walk continued, this time single file, along the edge of a field to another spot where we had the surrounding hedgerows and trees pointed out, as well as a crop of vetch (putting valuable nitrogen back into the soil).

Out on  the trail at Carr House Farm, Foston on the Wolds
Out on the trail at Carr House Farm, Foston on the Wolds -Credit:Deborah Hall/Hull Live

Carr House Farm’s untamed hedges and small but key stands of trees mean it is a stronghold for the endangered tree sparrow and turtle doves are much more likely to be attracted to this kind of landscape than more manicured sites. The farm is also a haven for the corn bunting and the yellowhammer and, when the time of day is right, it won’t take you long to spot a barn owl as they are prevalent in this part of the world.

As we turned back towards the farm buildings, we passed the farm’s heritage apple orchard and the elder bushes whose crops go into the making of all kinds of cordials, jams and other goodies sold by Side Oven Bakery. The bakery shop was open (yes, I purchased) and there was time for a tasty sweet potato and mixed veg roll with a drop of sparkling elderflower drink from the refreshment stall.

I finished my visit with a stroll down to the soft fruit orchard, where I pulled some fine sticks of rhubarb, which were weighed and paid for before I reluctantly drove away. The next farm and bakery event will be its blackcurrant open day, on Sunday, July 7, from 10am to 3pm.

There were will be pick-your-own organic blackcurrants, the farm’s nature trails will be open, and the bakery shop will be open, with hot and cold refreshments served throughout the event. Visit sideoven.com for more information.