Tracking Bluestone's Wildlife With Ranger Rob

The life of Rob MacKeen – or Ranger Rob as he’s known here at Bluestone National Park Resort – isn’t always as glamorous as you might think. But thanks to his eagle eyes, knowledge of animal poo and patience, Ranger Rob knows what’s happening on the resort more than anyone else. We caught up with Ranger Rob to find out what makes him tick.

The harvest mouse was a pleasant surprise appearance at Bluestone for Rob: “They build nests in tall grass,” he said. “I didn’t really expect to see them.” But look closely and you might see their round woven-grass nests suspended in long grass, just like Rob did. He first spied them two years ago and they’ve quickly become his favourite.

He’s holding out for his first sight of a brown hairstreak – an elusive butterfly that spends much of its time in the treetops feeding on aphid honeydew. Mostly found at woodland edges and along hedgerows in southern England from late July until November, Rob is dreaming they may one day make an appearance at Bluestone.  “They have been very common in the past but modern practices have caused numbers to dwindle,” he said. Historically, there’s records of a colony in nearby Martletwy. He’s hopeful that Bluestone can be the next. Female brown hairstreaks lay conspicuous, round, white eggs on young blackthorn shoots. Looking like blackthorn leaves, the older caterpillars are extremely well camouflaged and feed only at night. It means Rob must plan carefully when he might undertake any hedge cutting.

The abundance of wildlife species is a sign of how Bluestone has transformed from a working farm to something resembling a nature reserve. In 2022 the Wildlife Trust studied the resort and declared it in keeping with a nature reserve “The whole place was barren before,” Rob explained. Today it’s teeming with wildlife, if you know the clues to look out for.

“We’re coming up to toad breeding season,” said Rob. “There’ll soon be thousands of toads and frogs making their way to the lake.” There have been periods when the whole lake path has been covered with the amphibians, one reason why the Winter Lights display has been moved to the Serendome.

And while people “react excitedly” to snakes in the undergrowth, it’s the smaller, more elusive species that brings Rob great joy. He carries out monthly surveys looking for otters, bumblebees, harvest mice, reptiles, bats and butterflies. In the summer, he does the same walk every month and counts the bees. There are definitely otters making Bluestone home, Rob said. “I’m not counting otters though,” he said. “I’m looking for their poo.” What does otter poo look like? “Like a poo with fish scales and bones in it,” Rob explained. It also has a distinctive smell, he added.

His reptile surveys have discovered common lizards, slow worms and grass snakes on the resort while barn owls have bred in the nest boxes for six years running. “We never grow out of it,” said Rob about the appeal of wildlife and nature. “We’ve all sat in the grass and looked for beetles when we were kids.”

The magic of nature still ignites Rob’s imagination, especially the Cleddau Estuary which is also known as Pembrokeshire’s ‘secret waterway’. “There’s all sorts on the river, it’s an amazing place,” said Rob. He’s been known to paddle home by kayak to Pembroke Dock on a summer’s evening. With Black Pool Mill now part of the resort, there’s never been a better time to walk through the trails from Bluestone to the Mill and the banks of the Eastern Cleddau. Perhaps you will spot an otter on the way if you’re lucky, or a family of ducklings on the water.


Woodland Animals
Nature and Wildlife
Feathered and fury friends
Coastal Wildlife
Nature and Wildlife
Living beneath the waves