Leisure Review: Otters and Butterflies

What is it?

Located at Buckfastleigh just off the A38 in South Devon, this animal sanctuary consists of two major exhibits. The first is a tropical greenhouse housing dozens of different varieties of tropical butterflies. Also in the greenhouse are numerous terrapins, rescued as former pets. Outside are around 6-8 pens of several different species of otter, a sanctuary for those unable to live in the wild. Copyright MG Mason 2017

Arrival

It’s a little tucked away but well signposted from the A38. Get off at the Buckfastleigh exit (also signed for Buckfast Abbey) and turn left at the roundabout. It’s about half a mile down on the left hand side and under the A38 overpass bridge. Despite seemingly in the middle of nowhere, carry on down the small lane. You’ll notice it is opposite Buckfastleigh Railway Station and The Miniature Railway. With the railway station behind you, the miniature railway is to your left and the entrance to Otters and Butterflies to your left. The three facilities share the large car park.

Entrance fee (correct at May 2017): Summer price is £8.50, winter price is £6.50. However, during cool, grey and wet days during the warm season the price will be discounted to winter prices. This is because butterflies as less active when it is overcast and you are less likely to see them. You may come and go as often as you like throughout the day.

The Butterfly Greenhouse

Once you’ve gone through the entrance door, you will find yourself in the greenhouse. Depending on the weather, butterflies will either be flying about or resting in the trees. Be careful where you tread, they have no concept of footpaths! It’s warm and muggy as they tropical butterflies. Take your time here. You may need to look long and hard for the most exotic ones. Walk around a few times, you have plenty of time and much to see. You’ll see they have an iguana and many terrapins. These terrapins were rescued from families who soon got bored with them or found them difficult to manage.

Copyright MG Mason 2017

The Otter Pens

Otters are one of the UK’s greatest conservation success stories. Once almost extinct from most of our waterways, these small, humble and shy apex predators are now making a welcome return. That’s not to say they don’t require nurturing and help though. That is why Otters and Butterflies exists, as a retirement home or to help sick and injured otters recuperate before being released back into the wild.

Copyright MG Mason 2017

Otters and Butterflies has three different species here – the British Otter or Eurasian Otter, the Asian Shortclaw and the North American River Otter. Each have their own distinct personalities. I strongly recommend staying around for feeding time. The keeper on duty will take you through each of the pens in turn, introducing the otters and explaining their individual history and species. Unlike most talks, it lasts a long time and is comprehensive.

Insects

Back to the entrance now, Otters and Butterflies is presently working on turning over a part of the entrance hall to insects and other small animals. It still seems a work in progress, but you can watch leaf cutter ants, stick insects and even toads in the glass cages. The site is expanding. I last visited some 10 years ago and it all seems bigger than it was then.

While You’re There, Why Not…

If you’re thinking of taking a steam train ride from Buckfastleigh Station across the car park, it’s worth getting a joint ticket. You get £2 discount for buying both together, essentially paying the winter price regardless of the weather. The steam train takes you from Buckfastleigh to Totnes Riverside. The stations are largely kept as they may have looked in the early part of the 20th century. If you’re a steam train nerd (like me) then simply going on one is excitement in itself. However, it’s a lovely ride along the River Dart to Totnes and a nice station to wander around. Don’t forget to visit the small museum on the station platform.

Around 1-2 miles away is the working Benedictine monastery of Buckfast. Although the complex is just 100 years old, it’s based on the plans of the original medieval monastery. You can still see some of the ruins within the grounds. Be sure to visit the gardens and learn about some monastic plants. And, of course, visit the church to see the striking stained glass window of Jesus. Quite striking.

Verdict

On its own, Otters & Butterflies is a great way to kill a few hours. If you’re lucky to go at a time when feeding is in progress, you’ll easily spend much longer there because of how much detail there is in the talks. O&B have really thought about what their visitors want from the otters and you feel on good terms with the animals. You get to see their distinct personalities. It’s a nice touch to offer winter rates for bad weather days too. It’s quite magical walking around a greenhouse, surrounded by butterflies.

If you get the combination ticket, you can easily spend a whole day at the facilities here for around £20 per adult. Even if you don’t get on the train, I recommend the free museum at the station and hanging around long enough to watch the steam train come in.

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