Want to have an up close and educational otter experience in Devon? Dartmoor Otters and Butterflies Sanctuary is the best way to meet these beautiful creatures.

Read on to find out more about this place to visit in South Devon and how to turn it into a full day out.

Please note: the sanctuary’s outdoor areas reopened on 12 April 2021, but the butterfly house and indoor spaces will reopen at a later date.

This guide was originally published on my other blog, Tin Box Traveller, after we were invited to review the sanctuary by Visit Totnes in 2017. Grandma and Grandpa joined us too.

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About Dartmoor Otters and Butterflies

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

The Dartmoor Otters and Butterflies Sanctuary at Buckfastleigh is a small Devon attraction where you can learn about endangered species and the important conservation work helping to reintroduce otters to the wild.

Find out more about otters in the wild and go spotting otter sculptures during the Moor Otters art trail this summer.

Otter feeding time tours

The best time to arrive is just before one of the three daily otter feeding tours. These happen at 11.30am, 2pm and 4pm.

Allow a bit more time if you are visiting during the pandemic as extra cleaning is happening between feeding times. Check the website for full information.

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.

Otter experiences

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.

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

The Buckfast butterfly house

My eldest – four at the time we visited – 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.

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

While we were there – we visited in July – 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.

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

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.

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

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.

Combined attraction tickets

Steam train at Buckfastleigh Station, South Devon Railway

You’ll probably spend no more than an hour and a half at Dartmoor Otters and Butterflies.

But if you want a full day out we can recommend getting a combined attraction ticket with South Devon Railway and Totnes Rare Breeds Farm, which is at the other end of the line in Totnes.

Best age to visit

We visited when my girls were pre-school age. Had they been a bit older and less fidgety, I think they might have enjoyed the 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.

I’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.

Prices

In 2021, there’s a family ticket for two adults and two children for £25. Adult tickets cost £8 and children’s tickets for three to 15-years-olds cost £6.

Book tickets and check the most up-to-date prices on the attraction website.

Find out more about the combined attraction ticket with South Devon Railway and Totnes Rare Breeds Farm.

Where is the Dartmoor Otters and Butterfly Sanctuary?

The Sanctuary is tucked away down a siding of South Devon Railway. It has its own car park.

Address: The Station, Buckfastleigh, Devon, TQ11 0DZ.

More things to do in South Devon

Check out my guide to things to do in South Devon for more ideas.

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