Alfoxton Park – Amazing Ecology

Published by Jem Gibson on

Great Oak at Alfoxton Park (J Barrett)

Alfoxton Park is a historic parkland at the North-East edge of the Quantock Hills AONB, with some amazing ecology.

Culturally the estate is important in the Quantock Hills history of poetry. Dorothy and William Wordsworth lived at Alfoxton Park House from 1797 to 1798. Dorothy Wordsworth began her journal whilst living in the house in January 1798, and William Wordsworth with fellow poet Samuel Coleridge wrote Lyrical Ballads here, taking inspiration from the Quantock Hills. They were known for walking the hills and taking inspiration from the beautiful surroundings.

The House remained in residential use until the mid 20th century, after which it was a school and then a hotel before being essentially abandoned for a decade before it was bought by a Buddhist community in 2020 who are steadily repairing and restoring the site. The community has been very welcoming to the QLPS team and other groups using the grounds, and we rapidly realised that the magnificent collection of veteran trees in the parkland surrounding the historic house itself were likely to be of very significant wildlife interest.

Within the Quantock Hills, Alfoxton is significant as one of the only remaining and best preserved parklands, and it is one of the most environmentally and culturally significant parkland in the Quantocks. Parklands with their wealth of open-grown veteran trees can be expected to host significant populations of uncommon fungi, lichens, and specialist dead wood insects (Saproxylic Invertebrates), but there is a notable lack of available biological data for parks in the area.

In 2022, QLPS commissioned specialist ecologists to investigate Alfoxton Park for lichen, beetles and moths. It was believed that Alfoxton would be home to a broad range of interesting and potentially rare species, not yet recorded. You can download the full reports on our Downloads page, this summary aims to give a good overview of the results for non-specialists.


In March, Alan Orange surveyed Alfoxton Park for lichen. A total of 101 species of lichen were recorded within the parkland, with seventeen species that are considered ‘notable’. It is clearly a valuable site for lichens, although it is not regarded as in the top rank of sites in Somerset.

The Southern Oceanic Lichen Index (SOWI) is one of the indices designed to estimate the likelihood of age and ecological continuity of a woodland site. The SOWI species tend to occur where there has been a continuous presence of mature trees for several hundred years. The total of 13 SOWI species recorded at Alfoxton Park is rather modest and is below the threshold of 30 that has been suggested for consideration for SSSI status. Below are 2 examples of Lichen found at Alfoxton.

Fig 1. Chaenotheca hispidula on a branch of an old Hornbeam. Stalked fruiting body with bright yellow-green frosting and a brown mass of dry spores. Scale = 0.5mm. (A, Orange)
Fig 2. Calicium glaucellum on a dead branch of an Oak. Stalked fruiting body with a tall mass of dry spores. Scale = 0.5mm. (A,Orange)

Lichen can be used to assess air quality and this survey indicated clean air throughout the park.  Although Alfoxton was not found to be nationally important, the park is still supporting a great range of lichen, and some small measures could increase the diversity of lichen within the park.

The full report can be downloaded here.


Between May and October, ecologist James McGill surveyed Alfoxton Park for moths. Three moth traps were run overnight on six occasions, in five locations, either broadleaf woodland or grassland. A total of 308 moth species were recorded, with the most recorded in July.

Fig 3. Number of moth species recorded each month in Alfoxton Park. (J, McGill)
Fig 4. Cream-spot tiger moth. (J, McGill)

Above is a photograph of a cream-spot tiger, this is not currently seen as a threatened species but the distribution of these moths is decreasing, so it is important that their habitat remains protected.

Seven moth species with conservation status were recorded during this survey, all of which are widespread in Somerset. Alfoxton nevertheless supports a good diversity of moths, which reflects the range of trees in the park. Birch, hawthorn, and hazel had the most species associated as potential larval foodplants, and birch, beech, oak, and ash were sole foodplants for a small number of moths. It is also believed that Alfoxton is particularly abundant for moths because of the lack of artificial light.

A few species had particularly strong populations. 102 marbled white-spot were recorded on 17th June – the previous highest nightly count in Somerset was 26. There were also 36 grey arches with the previous highest nightly count in Somerset being 17. Fifteen species were associated with lichens as potential larval foodplants showing the link between different aspects of the ecosystem.

You can download the full report here.

Saproxylic Invertebrates

Between April and November, ecologist James McGill surveyed Alfoxton Park for Saproxylic invertebrates (invertebrates dependent on dead or decaying wood). 202 saproxylic invertebrate species were recorded, mostly on beech and sessile oak, and a lesser number were recorded from sycamore. More common species were encountered on ash, ivy, elder, hawthorn, hazel, horse chestnut, silver birch and sweet chestnut.

Fig 5. Phymatodes testaceus found on a fallen beech tree. (J, McGill)

40 invertebrate species with published conservation status or a provisional conservation status were recorded and four species were recorded for the first time in Somerset. The Index of Ecological Continuity is used to assess the quality of a site for beetles, Alfoxton Park is above the IEC threshold of 25 for national significance with a score of 34 meaning this is an important site for the conservation of saproxylic invertebrates in Somerset.

You can download the full report here.


It is clear from even just one season of surveying, that Alfoxton Park is both locally and nationally important for a range of wildlife. The lichen survey indicated clean air and a healthy diversity of lichen. High numbers of moths have been recorded including several important conservation species. Most notably, Alfoxton Park has been recognised as nationally important for Saproxylic Invertebrates. All research helps direct conservation activities towards better conditions for this important ecosystem.