North American River Otters at Dartmoor Otters and Buckfast Butterflies Sanctuary at Buckfast
Devon, Family days out, UK

Devon day out: Dartmoor Otters and Buckfast Butterflies

Tucked away down a siding of one of Devon’s beloved steam railways is a conservation project helping to reintroduce endangered species to the wild. The Dartmoor Otters and Buckfast Butterflies Sanctuary at Buckfastleigh is a small visitor attraction where you can learn about these beautiful creatures and the important work happening to protect them. We were invited to review the sanctuary by Visit Totnes.

This was our first mini-adventure of the summer holidays and the girls and I had roped in Tin Box Grandma and Grandpa for the experience. None of us had been to the sanctuary before despite riding the South Devon Railway between Buckfastleigh and Totnes on other occasions. Tickets are available to combine the train, otter sanctuary and Totnes Rare Breeds Farm at the other end of the track. Together they make a full family day out in South Devon.

Steam train at Buckfastleigh Station, South Devon Railway

Things to see and do at the sanctuary

If you don’t combine a visit to Dartmoor Otters and Buckfast Butterflies with a train ride and the farm then I’d allow no more than an hour and a half for your visit. The best time to arrive is just before one of the three daily otter feeding tours. These happen at 11.30am, 2pm and 4pm.

Otter feeding time tours

During the feeding times a keeper takes you on a tour of five enclosures to meet the three different breeds of otters at Buckfasteigh. They are the British otter, Asian short clawed otters and the large North American river otters. The tour takes up to an hour, which is a much longer and more in-depth experience than we’ve had elsewhere. It’s perfect for wildlife lovers but a bit too much for our fidgety four and two-year-old girls.

Our tour was busy but we were still able to find places to watch the otters playing and eating on the sidelines of each enclosure. Unfortunately it was sometimes difficult to hear what the keeper was saying as she did not have a microphone and some the enclosures were quite large.

If you’d like to get closer you can book an Otter Experience. We saw one of these happening during our tour. The ladies involved were feeding the otters a delicious breakfast of mince, chicken and fish from their hands. It looked like smelly but rewarding work. As well as helping with feeding at breakfast time, people who buy an Otter Experience are given a private tour of the sanctuary. They also help clean out the pools and holts.

Visitors at otter enclosure at Dartmoor Otters and Buckfast Butterflies Sanctuary at Buckfast

Otter being fed at Dartmoor Otters and Buckfast Butterflies Sanctuary at Buckfast

The Buckfast butterfly house

Tin Box Tot had enough of the otter tour quite early on and was keen to explore the butterfly house. So Grandma took her off inside. We joined an excited Tot a little later as she introduced us to Izzy the Iguana and rows of chrysalis. While we were there a few butterflies were nibbling their way out of their little cocoons and drying their wings. Next to them we also met one of the world’s largest insects, the Atlas Moth. It seemed happy to sit and be pictured, unlike the other winged butterfly house residents who rarely stopped flitting around.

Tin Box girls looking at Izzy the Iguana at Dartmoor Otters and Buckfast Butterflies Sanctuary at Buckfast

Izzy the Iguana at Dartmoor Otters and Buckfast Butterflies Sanctuary at Buckfast

Butterfly coming out of a chrysalis at Dartmoor Otters and Buckfast Butterflies Sanctuary at Buckfast

Atlas Moth at the Dartmoor Otters and Buckfast Butterflies sanctuary

Tin Box Baby and Grandma looking at butterfly at Dartmoor Otters and Buckfast Butterflies Sanctuary at Buckfast

Butterfly at Dartmoor Otters and Buckfast Butterflies Sanctuary at Buckfast

Butterfly on flower at Dartmoor Otters and Buckfast Butterflies Sanctuary at Buckfast

Terrapins on side of pond at Dartmoor Otters and Buckfast Butterflies Sanctuary at Buckfast

As well as the insects and Izzy, the tropical hot house was the perfect habitat for dozens of Red-eared Terrapins. These lounged around the side of the ponds, seemingly keeping out of the way of the huge fish swimming below them.

I love butterflies so wandering around paths of the small hot house was a highlight for me. The girls were also more interested in the reptiles and insects than the otters, but I think that was to do with the length of the tour. Older children would have enjoyed it more.

Back in the gift shop there’s more reptiles and a Leafcutter ants colony. These small but mighty insects are fascinating to watch as they collect food and wind their way back to their Queen along what seems to be an impossibly long piece of rope. We also saw our first Moor Otter here. It’s one of 100 works of art dotted around Dartmoor this summer to heighten awareness of Moor Otters and raise money for conservation in the Dartmoor National Park. We’re hoping to spot more in the coming weeks.

Bright Side Moor Otter artwork at Dartmoor Otters and Buckfast Butterflies Sanctuary at Buckfast

Our thoughts on this Devon day out

Had our girls been a bit older and less fidgety, I think they might have enjoyed the Dartmoor Otters and Buckfast Butterflies Sanctuary more. It’s certainly doing some great not-for-profit work and the staff are keen to share this. However, it all went a bit over my girls’ heads. If it had been up to them we would have been in and out of the attraction in less than half an hour.

Definitely visit with school-aged kids who are keen on animals or if you’re a wildlife lover yourself. We’d also recommend combining your visit with a trip on the steam train and a visit to Totnes Rare Breeds farm where younger children will find more activities on their level, like animal feeding and a petting area.

Tips for visiting Dartmoor Otters and Buckfast Butterflies with children

  • This is a small attraction so little legs don’t have a lot of walking to do. However, if you do need a pushchair you will be able to navigate around the sanctuary without problem.
  • Make sure your children don’t drop anything into the enclosures. The curious otters will destroy anything they get their paws on.
  • Make the most of the toilets at the train station before you go to the sanctuary as there are no visitor toilets there. You’ll find baby changing facilities on the platform and in the cafe nearby.
  • The station cafe is a great place to fuel up on enormous cakes and reasonably priced lunches.

Are you a fan of otters or butterflies? And have you visited Buckfastleigh?

Disclosure: we are guests of Visit Totnes and received free entry to Dartmoor Otters and Buckfast Butterflies in exchange for a review on the blog.

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A visit to Dartmoor Otters and Buckfast Butterflies with toddlers. This Devon day out is a worthwhile addition to a ride on the South Devon Railway