Natural History

Some of the Wildlife and Fauna you may see on the White Colne Heritage Trails.

If there are any photographers out there that can send us some digital photos of these animals. birds, plants and insects they would be most welcome. If you would like to add to the list please contact us.


                                     Bluetit: Listen out for the 'tsee tsee tsee tsit' trillinq song of this insect eating, b!ue

                                                    crowned bird.


                                     Robin: Chosen as Britain's national bird in 1961, this territorial but friendly bird has a

                                                    a distinctive red face and breast.

                                     Mallard: A common and distinctive duck, the drake (male - illustrated) has an

                                                      unmistakable green head with a white neck ring. It has an often imitated 'quack

                                                     quack' call.

                                     Swan: Builds huge nests next to rivers and ponds. This most elegant of bird will defend

                                                  its young by hissing and raising its wings to confront any danger.

                                     Magpie: Often associated with superstitious beliefs, this distinctive black and white bird

                                                     has adapted well to living close to towns and villages, Often see scampering

                                                     along the ground scavenging for food.

                                     Kingfisher: May be seen perched on branches before diving head first into water to

                                                           catch small fish that it eats head first. Brightly coloured, it sometimes stuns

                                                           its prey by beating it on rocks before swallowing.

                                     Moorhen: The red bill and white line along its flank can be used to identify this bird that

                                                        nests in thick vegetation alongside water sides. Its large webbed feet help to

                                                        propel it jerkily through the water,


                                     Peacock butterfly: So named because of its distinctive colouring. The butterfly's

                                                                        caterpillar is dark and feeds on nettles. Adults may hibernate

                                                                        in buildings.


                                     White Admiral butterfly: The blackish caterpillar feeds on honeysuckle. The adult is a

                                                                                  superb flyer, often seen feeding on bramble blossom during

                                                                                  the summer.

                                    Marsh Fritillary butterfly: A small butterfly with beautifully marked wings Only flies on

                                                                                   sunny days between May and June.

                                    Devil's Coach Horse:  When disturbed this beetle may curl up its hind quarters and

                                                                              open its jaws to frighten off a threat. An all black beetle that hides

                                                                              under rocks, stones and logs during the day before corning out at

                                                                              night to hunt other insects.

Otters to Oaks



These shy creatures can be seen along the banks of the River Colne at dusk or during the night. They can grow up to 110cm long with a flattish head and small ears. Their fur is brownish on top with a lighter underbelly. More usually the presence of otters can be confirmed by the presence of spraints, left on prominent places to mark territory. The spraints, or droppings, have a distinctive musky or cut grass smell and should not be confused with mink scats that have a darker, thinner appearance.

As a top predator, the presence of otters indicates a healthy ecosystem. They have a diet of predominately fish but will also take amphibians and shellfish. The presence of mink, although not a direct competitor, has a similar diet to otters and this competition is thought to affect otter numbers.

Much work has been done along the River Colne to encourage the otter, including the construction of artificial otter holts, work to improve water quality and the provision of otter runs under road bridges.

Red Campion: A tall perennial plant, that grows from 20 to 90 cms, it flowers with red, or more accurately, pink flowers from May to November. Each flower has five deeply lobed petals. It is a common plant in this area, found at the edges of woodlands and hedgerows.

The scientific name for this upright flower is Silene dioica, This derives from the drunken merry god of woodlands, Silenus, and dioica meaning two houses relating to the fact that each Red Campion plant has flowers of only one sex, so that two flowers are needed to make seed.

In former times people used to fear this plant as it is associated with snakes, devils and goblins.

Jack by the Hedge: Also known as garlic mustard, or hedge garlic, this large plant grows to 120 cm and has nettle shaped leaves with small white flowers growing in groups. Best seen when it flowers between the months of April June.

When the leaves are crushed they give off a faint smell of Garlic which has been used to flavour foods and salads in the past, although it has a reputation of losing any flavour shortly after picking,

Known as Jack by the Hedge due to its distribution along the bottom of hedgerows.

Greater Stitchwort: Growing up to 60 cm high this white flowering plant tends to grow in groups on nutrient rich soils. The petals have a distinctive cleft, or notch. The leaves can also aid identification as they project directly from the stalk as they have no stem.   Placing a finger and thumb on the stem reveals a square, rough and characteristically weak stem.

It is a popular food source for many bees, butterflies and moths and has a  particular importance, as it tends to be one of the earliest plants to flower.

It name is thought to refer to the belief in its healing qualities for a pain in the side, or stitch. It is also known as the thunder plant from the belief that if it was picked it would summon a thunder storm.

Oak trees, Oak Pollards and Holm Oaks: There are many great oaks in the parish of White Colne including the two native species, Holm Oaks and superb examples of pollarding.

The native species can grow to 40 m high and in Britain can live for over 900 years. It has been said that a great oak will grow for 100 years, mature 100 years and take 300 years to die. As well as producing timber for a myriad of uses, including building, veneer and ship building, oak trees have other uses too.

Up to 50.000 acorns may be produced by a mature oak tree in a single year. These were once used to fatten up livestock for winter.

There are many pollarded oaks abound White Colne (Pollards are where the tree has been  repeatedly  harvested by cutting pack branches above ground level). The produce

from this practice was used for fire wood or charcoal, the bark may have been used for tannin and leaves and twigs for animal fodder. This traditional form of woodland  management  has declined as other materials have become widespread.

A number of Holm Oaks (also known as Evergreen Oaks or Holly Oaks) can seen on the trail. These trees probably originated from Spain and were planted in parklands. A novel use of the acorns from this tree was in the packing  industry where they were once used a filler much as we use polystyrene today.

Elm: Scientists nave recently concluded that all Elm trees in Britain may be descended from a single tree brought by the Romans some 2000 years ago. In the 1970s Dutch Elm Disease almost wiped out mature specimens. The disease is caused by a wilt fungus that is carried by elm bark beetles that feed on young twigs. The fungus spreads down the vascular growth, blocking the sap and progressively killing twigs, branches and whole


Elm trees are now predominately seen as a hedgerow tree although a few mature specimens still hang on in isolated areas. Landowners are now encouraged to coppice elm hedges on a regular basis to maintain vigorous growth in the hope that one day there will be an effective cure for the disease. A number of programmes promoting disease free cuttings have been established although the validity of these claims are yet to be fully evaluated.

Before the disease spread across Britain,. Elm was recognised as an timber tree. Two impressive qualities, durability under water and its inability to split, made it an important timber. Structures built under water (locks, man made lake plugs and water pipes) and those that required the wood not to split such as chair seats, clinker built boats and wheel hubs.

Hedgerows: Hedgerows can contain a wide variety of plant and animal diversity. Many were in existence before the Enclosure Acts passed between 1720 and 1840. Today a legal definition indicates an important hedge - it should have at least 5 woody species in a 30m length, although there are many other caveats. Hedgerows provide a home, food source and link to other wildlife habitats for many species of birds, mammals and insects.

The huge loss of hedgerow seen in the mid twentieth century has been largely halted by a slowdown in hedgerow removal and an increase in hedgerow planting. Much of this change has come about from changes to government subsidies and increasing understanding of hedgerows in terms of habitat and landscape importance

Cricket Bat Willows: Cricket Bat Willows can form an important source of revenue for landowners as well as providing wildlife habitat and a landscape feature. This commercial crop is grown for the manufacture of cricket bats. It cropped approximately every 20 years and felling conditions usually dictate a replanting on a one-for-one basis on the same site.

Long cuttings, or sets, are pushed into the ground. Sets need to be straight and free from side shoots. Annual maintenance is required to remove shoots, usually by sliding a rubber blade up the tree, this ensures that no knots can develop in the main trunk of the tree.

Once felled the trunks are cut into 70cm sections before they are split, using wooden wedges, into clefts that will make the cricket bat blade. The clefts are then dried and shaped before being pressed to increase the density of the wood so that it can withstand the impact of a cricket ball. Once this process is completed the blade is finally shaped using drawknives, spokeshaves and planes by a skilled craftsman.

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