Why you should visit Hilton Wild Wood Nature Reserve

Black cap Photo: Amy Lewis

Black cap Photo: Amy Lewis - Credit: Amy Lewis

Derbyshire Wildlife Trust is working across six Living Landscapes with 47 nature reserves in Derbyshire. Reserve officer George Bird tells us about a hidden year-round gem of a nature reserve in the south of the county.

Mistletoe Photo: Zsuzsanna Bird

Mistletoe Photo: Zsuzsanna Bird - Credit: Zsuzsanna Bird

Hilton Wild Woods is one of Derbyshire Wildlife Trust’s relatively unknown gems nestled next to the busy A50 south of Derby. These former gravel pits at Hilton are a haven for wildlife and now provide a range of habitat features from lakes and pools to incredible wild woodlands and sheltered sunny meadows.

The ponds and lakes attract many species of waterfowl. You can see coot, great crested grebe and tufted duck, while in spring the water is an amphibian nursery – frogs, toads, great crested and common newts all breed here.

Walking through the orchid glades between May and July common twayblade and southern marsh orchid are a regular sight. Venturing around the reserve, looking along the pools, ditches and hedgerows on the reserve boundary you can find black poplar, a tree species that is declining in Britain. In previous years efforts have been made at Hilton to increase its prevalence.

A streak of blue flashing across the water will alert you to the presence of a kingfisher. Stroll through the woodland in autumn and you find a wealth of fungi growing near the path – among the many species that flourish here are fly agaric and shaggy inkcap.

Fly Agaric Photo: Guy Edwardes 2020VISION

Fly Agaric Photo: Guy Edwardes 2020VISION - Credit: Guy Edwardes/2020VISION

Winter at Hilton boasts the presence of widely-recognised mistletoe. Floating in lifeless trees, seeming to grow out of thin air, without requiring soil, it’s easy to see how people in past times thought it was magical. In fact, mistletoe is a parasite and gets most of its food from its host tree – it especially likes apple, lime and hawthorn trees. It is an evergreen, but is best seen during the winter months (November to February) when great balls of it hang from the bare branches of host trees. Look for the familiar, white, sticky berries (poisonous to humans) and the branching stems with small, oval leaves.

One of our most practised Christmas traditions, kissing under the mistletoe, comes from Victorian times when a boy won a kiss from a girl for each mistletoe berry he picked from his bunch. This game possibly originated from a Norse legend in which the goddess Frigga declared mistletoe a symbol of love.

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Mistletoe is more common further south, Derbyshire is close to its northern limits. Its white berries are favoured by only two birds – the mistle thrush and the wintering blackcap. Eating just the pith of the berry, the birds spread the seeds to new host trees. Following the soon-to-be-opened circular walk at Hilton, mistletoe can be seen, in the right conditions, growing on the eastern border of the reserve.

If you would like to visit Hilton Wild Wood Nature Reserve you can park on Willow Pit Lane, Hilton DE65 5FW. The grid reference is SK 2536 3134. Derbyshire Wildlife Trust runs regular volunteer reserve work parties to carry out essential habitat and general maintenance work. If you would like to volunteer with the Trust call 01773 881188 and if you are not already a member, be sure to sign up.

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