Nature Notes are written by Neil Pinder and were originally published in Nottingham Local News.

Nature Notes 2010

June 2010

Wilwell farm Cutting

Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust has nine nature reserves to the south of the River Trent; four in Rushcliffe, three in the Clifton area of Greater Nottingham and two close to Newark.

Botanically the best of these is Wilwell Farm Cutting between Ruddington and Wilford. Indeed, this site is one of the richest wild flower sites in Nottinghamshire with more than 230 species so far recorded and the list includes some very special plants. The cutting was created in 1859 as part of the Great Central Railway and the excavations into the Mercia Mudstone has resulted in a patchwork of zones from neutral grassland to acidic fen.

Meadow Saxifrage is common at Wilwell though a look at the tetrad scale maps on the BSBI (Botanical Society of the British Isles) website shows just how scattered this plants is; unfortunately, there are no squares at all in Nottinghamshire so they lose points there, whilst Green-winged Orchid, another Wilwell speciality, has just three squares shaded blue in Notts. A few Bee Orchids and many Southern Marsh Orchids thrive, though these fluctuate in numbers from year to year. And in addition to more than 60 grasses, sedges and rushes there are of course many butterflies, moths and birds.

With a tightened economy, our natural environment is splendid value for money; for the cost of a field guide and a notebook the family can have a fascinating day out without travelling beyond the borough, but support the Wildlife Trusts if you can!

May 2010


By mid-May the country lanes of south Notts are shrouded by bountiful flowers of Queen Anne’s Lace, better known as Cow Parsley.

Its dominance of the hedgerows is unfortunately due to high nutrient levels and the verges might be more attractive with a show of less vigorous wild flowers but nevertheless, at their peak, the billowing white display is characteristic and full of summer’s promise.

The plant is a member of the umbellifer (or carrot) family, the name recalling the flat, umbrella-shaped head of tiny flowers set atop individual forking rays and pedicels. Cow Parsley is easily the best known but there are over 100 species on the British list, some of which are superficially similar, such as Hedge Parsley; more delicate and flowering a little later, Hogweed; much taller and rugged with ridged stems and Hemlock, with blue blotches on the stems and finer, more delicately divided leaves. Others, such as Astrantia and Sea Holly, which aren’t found wild in Nottinghamshire but are grown as garden plants are very different in appearance.

A few members of the family are poisonous and Hemlock is said to be the poison used to kill Socrates; as children we were always cautious not to modify their stems into pea-shooters. Hemlock Water-dropwort is deadly and has killed people who have mistaken its leaves for parsley and its roots for parsnip.

April 2010

Nottinghamshire Birdwatchers

The county’s society for all serious birdwatchers (though there’s lots to interest the garden twitcher too) was formed in East Bridgford in 1935 and was known as the Trent Valley Birdwatchers until it changed its name to Nottinghamshire Birdwatchers to reflect what had long been the true extent of the society’s interest.

Austin Dobbs was the county recorder and driving force for many years and he edited “The Birds of Nottinghamshire” published in 1975. Mr Dobbs also has the distinction of seeing a Nighthawk (a vagrant from N. America) from his home village of Bulcote.

Now is the time of year to be brushing up those song identification skills and getting out and about to see the summer migrants as they arrive and establish territories in Rushcliffe. One of the easiest songsters to identify is the Nightingale but you will be very lucky to hear one: Mr Dobbs’s book estimates 50 to 100 pairs nested in the county at the time of publication whilst the latest information to hand (courtesy of the above society’s Annual Report for 2007) shows that there were then perhaps two to three pairs in an area in the north of the county.

But you don’t need to travel too far to hear the “light-winged Dryad of the trees” (as Keats wrote) for there is a “melodious plot” on the Hambleton peninsular at Rutland Water.

Joining the “Nottts Birders” gets you annual and monthly reports, local and more adventurous outings, talks and social events and, importantly, good company too. Their website is

March 2010

Garden Moth Survey

The Garden Moth Survey, which has been running since 2007 aims to pull together the data recorded by hundreds of moth enthusiasts throughout the land. In 2009 there was a push to get more “moth-ers” involved from the east midlands and there were over a dozen of us who contributed. The beauty of garden mothing is twofold: One it’s dead easy – just switch the trap on before dusk and rummage through it in the morning. Two it’s dead exciting because you never know what it might contain.

Moths have a reputation for being dowdy and annoying and there are some that are just that. Unfortunately, the results of the GMS show that the most frequent visitors to the garden traps fall into this category with the most common being Heart & Dart followed by Large Yellow Underwing and it is number nine on the list before anything obviously not dowdy appears; the Brimstone moth (as you might expect) is bright yellow and very pretty – “like a butterfly” many will say.

There are so many species of moth; many thousands in Britain alone, compared to the 70 or so British butterflies that it is inevitable that there is greater variety and yes, some moths are stunningly beautiful with even the tiniest worth a closer look through a hand lens. For it’s not just in colour and pattern that they vary – the biggest moth I get in my garden has a wingspan of nearly 120mm (4¾ inches) and the tiniest is just 4mm.

February 2010

Trees in Rushcliffe

There are around 30 native tree species in Rushcliffe and on farmland Ash and Oak predominate. These, along with Elms, were planted or grew up along the enclosure hedges that are now around 200 years old.

Elms still exist in the hedgerows and grow into tall bushes before being stricken with Dutch Elm disease once more, only for suckering re-growth to return. Hedgerow elms are mainly English Elm whilst Wych Elm is more a woodland species and is common in Old Wood at Bunny, the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust’s reserve on the A60, where mature Wild Cherries grow too.

Hornbeam is not common but can be found along wooded margins near Gotham and Widmerpool for example, whilst mature specimens of Beech are a lovely feature on the Belvoir escarpment at Barkestone Wood (just across the county boundary). Willows and Sallows dominate in the wetter areas along with Alder and Aspen around Holme Pierrepont.

Native lime trees are not common and one must cross borough boundaries into Ashfield to find good numbers of mature Small and Large-leaved Lime. Scots Pine, though native to the UK has not grown naturally here since the establishment of warm conditions after the retreat of the last great ice advance. The Yew is peculiar in being an evergreen that bears berries rather than cones. Ancient specimens exist in some churchyards.

There are far better botanists than me out there and I for one would love to see our native trees mapped and recorded. Such a map would, I think show Wild Service Tree and Native Black Poplar to be the scarcest. Perhaps someone would take up the challenge.

January 2010

Gulls in Rushcliffe

“Seagulls” as they are often called are not as similar as this group term implies.

It is quite easy to see five species of gull in Rushcliffe in the winter and some of them spend very little time at sea. By far the most common is the Black-headed Gull and this is also the smallest of the regulars with red legs, and in winter, a dark smudge behind the eye that is all that remains of its breeding plumage, chocolate-brown hood.

Next up in size is the Common Gull which is superficially similar to the still larger Herring Gull. The latter is the noisy frequenter of coastal caravan parks and promenades and in Rushcliffe these spend time around recreation grounds and arable fields.

Lesser Black-backed Gulls are the same size as Herring but have a dark blackish back and upper wings, and yellow, rather than pink legs, whilst the biggest of the lot, the Great Black-backed, has a wing span of over 1.5m and is blacker above than most Lessers. I say most because there are different races of Lesser and now also of Herring Gull being identified locally with some of these races being “split” into defined species.

So, we now have Yellow-legged Gull to look out for and there is always the possibility for the more persistent bird-watcher of finding the arctic “white-winged” species, Glaucous and Iceland Gull, the migrant Little Gull and a wind-blown Kittiwake!

Perhaps “seagull” is easier after all!