Derbyshire Wildlife: 80 years & 8 of the best

Paul Hobson selects some of Derbyshire's most precious and distinctive wildlife

In celebration of our 80th year I thought it would be appropriate to select one animal or plant for each ten years, in a sense eight of Derbyshire’s best. The idea seemed a simple one but when I came to think about it I realised that there are so many excellent candidates from which to choose. My selection is a personal one but I hope it’s also one that readers will broadly agree with, though there will always be personal favourites that are not included. I open my account with one of my favourite birds, the red grouse.

RED GROUSE

The Pennines, the spine of England, bisects the northern half of the Peak District and produces some of the country’s best grouse moors. This year has been a bumper year for red grouse and numbers are the highest that I can recall for a decade or two with many moors having exceptional bags. During August the moors are a visual feast of purple, the air redolent with the ‘goback- go-back’ calls as males challenge each other and set up territories early for next spring. Red grouse are inextricably linked to, and inadvertent creators of, the landscape and rural economies and are a stunning and fascinating bird to start our eight.

OSPREY

Eighty years ago the idea of seeing an osprey, let alone thinking that one might breed in the county, was far fetched indeed. Not so today! Osprey numbers are rising in the UK and they regularly wander across the county as they stretch their wings away from our nearest hot spot, Rutland Water. We have also been blessed with the creation of a number of large bodies of water in the last 80 years as well as a huge river, namely Carsington and the Trent. These offer an abundant supply of fish. It is possible to watch an osprey fishing in Derbyshire in spring now.

I would be very surprised if they are not breeding in our county within the next eight let alone 80 years.

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What a prospect!

EARLY PURPLE ORCHIDS

Cressbrook Dale in late May offers one of Derbyshire’s – if not Britain’s – best floral displays. Each flower is a purple delight but carpeting the dale’s sides in their thousands with Peter’s Stone set as an anchor in the background, they form an amazing display.

JACOB’S LADDER

Deservedly in the eight because it’s Derbyshire’s county plant, this tall blue spring flower is spectacular. Never common, it occurs in a select few of the White Peak’s dales. However, in the last few years our changing climate seems to suit them and they have spread from their localised spots. Lathkill Dale’s colony has certainly spread and is commonly found in sizeable clumps nudging the path’s side in the upper, drier part of the dale.

DARK-GREEN FRITILLARY

Of the fritillary family of butterflies the dark-green has had a bumper year during the summer of 2010. I always think that this fast flying and active butterfly is emblematic of a summer’s day spent in the White Peak’s dales. We are not blessed with large numbers of butterflies in Derbyshire but the dark-green fritillary is one that is fairly common, stunning to look at and is doing well.

OTTER

Otter numbers are definitely on the up and up all around Derbyshire. Otter sightings in the county are increasing and it’s only a matter of time before they become regular inhabitants of our larger rivers. Our otter population 80 years ago was under huge pressure, hunting was still allowed and the use of deadly pesticides during the 1960s and 1970s finished off most of the UK’s populations. Today, 50 years on, we have seen a new and vigorous love of wildlife develop and otters are one of the major beneficiaries. This iconic river-fisher can only go from strength to strength in Derbyshire in the next 80 years.

WATER VOLE

Eighty years ago, ratty was an abundant and, from a human point of view, probably fairly ignored small river mammal. Immortalised in Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows, the water vole’s popularity has exploded in the last two decades. With luck it’s just in time to ensure that our small yet vital population is able to increase during the next 80 years. Water pollution and the release of mink had a devastating effect on populations in the past. However, help is certainly at hand and we can still walk the banks of many of our canals and rivers and if not catch a glimpse of the russet-furred rodent, at least hear that distinctive plop as he dives for safety.

BROAD-BODIED CHASER

Dragonflies are the insect world’s equivalent of flying tigers. They are amazing predators and woe-betide any innocent fly that catches the attention of their huge compound eyes! I have chosen the broad-bodied chaser as one of the magnificent eight because of its body shape and colour. Both sexes have short stubby bodies, hence their name, and the males are a delightful powder blue in colour. I love to watch the aerial skirmishes as rival males fight to defend their few metres of waterside frontage. What a great way to spend a lazy spring hour beside one of our many dew ponds.

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