Devon has oodles of animal and wildlife attractions from farms and donkey sanctuaries to large-scale zoos. One of the less well-known family attractions is the Buckfast Butterfly Farm and Dartmoor Otter Sanctuary, located next to the station at Buckfastleigh.
It may seem an odd combination, but it does make an interesting attraction with wide appeal. The sanctuary is very easy to find, just south of the Dartmoor. Turn off the A38 at the Dart Bridge junction and follow the signs.
The sanctuary is open daily from 10am to 5pm, but I would recommend getting there for one of the feeding times when the otters are at their cutest. They are fed at 11:30am, 2pm and 4pm and it makes a great photo op.
A day out at Dartmoor Otter Sanctuary
The Butterfly Farm and Otter Sanctuary at Buckfastleigh is a very friendly family affair which is well run by a dedicated team of animal lovers. The Otter Sanctuary has to be my favourite part as these cute creatures are so lively and seemingly full of mischief ‐ I guess they remind me of the younger members of my own family!
There are three species of otters to see in the various pens and pools. The small native British otter is actually a European freshwater otter and is now a threatened species. You can identify them by their lighter neck and underbody.
The larger North American river otters are as yet still plentiful in their native homeland. They are always keen to show off and play to an audience. They usually only live for 3-5 years, but it appears the Otter Sanctuary in Devon is doing such a good job that their oldest resident otter us actually 25 years old!
The third species, Asian short-clawed otters, are tiny cat-sized creatures by comparison and are a vulnerable species in their native Asia homeland. If this sounds like I know a lot about otters, I have to confess that I knew nothing at all until I chatted with the resident otter keeper, Tim, who is always around to answer questions.
As well as being an educational and fun place to entertain the kids, the Dartmoor Otter Sanctuary exists primarily to help preserve wildlife, particularly otters and butterflies. They provide breeding and rehabilitation to wild otters and help promote eco-awareness throughout the Devon community.
Buckfast Butterfly Farm
The butterflies are all housed in a large butterfly house in nice warm humid conditions. This makes it a handy place to go on a potential showery day in Devon as there is always somewhere warm and dry to shelter!
As you look more closely you will see hundreds of colourful butterflies perched on the plants and flowers or sucking up the liquid nectar from the feeder stations. It's fun to spot and identify the different species from all over the world and with careful observation you should see some eggs, caterpillars and chrysalises.
Visiting the Otter and Butterfly Sanctuary by steam train
If you are planning a visit to the Otter and Butterfly Sanctuary, family tickets in 2014 are £25; individual adult admission is £8.25 and there are concessions for seniors and children under 15. You can also get a discounted ticket for combined admission and a ride on the South Devon Steam Railway from Totnes to Buckfastleigh. The station is just 2 minutes from the Butterfly and Otter Sanctuary.
Once your visit is done, leave your car on the free car park and enjoy the lovely walk beside the River Dart. It's a great place for paddling, letting your dog swim, having a picnic or letting the kids race sticks and “boats”. There's also a maze and children's play area near the footbridge over the railway which incidentally is a great place for train-spotting!
Let us know what you enjoyed about the Butterfly and Otter Sanctuary at Buckfastleigh ‐ we'd love to hear your personal impressions about your visit.