The Natural History of Rolleston

When Sir Oswald Mosley, with the assistance of his friend Edwin Brown, published his "Natural History of Tutbury" in 1863 he included a number of observations on the local environment eg. "The heron was once a common bird with us; I have seen as many as 50 marshalled in a line at regular intervals and looking like so many grey posts in one of our large Dove meadows; but the persecution that they have been subject to from game keepers and fish-preservers has very much diminished their numbers".

Sir Oswald was an eminent ornithologist but, in the nature of those times, if the bird was rare it was shot - "A friend of mine, while passing through our church- yard.........fired at a merlin while in the act of striking a swallow; the former was killed but the poor swallow escaped."

Sir Oswaldís collection of stuffed birds was reputed to be one of the finest in England. Following the closure of the Burton Museum, one or two examples from his collection may be seen in the Meadowside Centre and some larger cases are held in storage by Derby Museum.

Today, the osier beds and watermeadows of the Dove have largely been drained, although early rising residents may still see a solitary heron cruising overhead for well stocked garden ponds, or standing, statuesque, at the edge of Brookhollows lake. The old railway line has been abandoned for nearly 40 years and is fast becoming a new haven for wild-life. The following notes, by two local residents illustrate our approach to wildlife conservation today.

Coppice 2000

The Jinny Trail based on the old Burton -Tutbury railway line is a green corridor connecting Rolleston on Dove with the neighbouring parish of Stretton.

If you have used it recently for exercise or as a short cut, or just to enjoy it for itself, then you will have noticed some of the work carried out mainly by volunteers to maintain and improve the trail.

Working to the Management Plan first surveyed by the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust in August 1995 on behalf of the Joint Jinny Trail Committee of Rolleston and Stretton Parish Councils, the series of five coppice bays planned for the Trail has started to take shape. By cutting back and thinning the scrub and over-hanging trees in selected areas along the Trail (one each year on a rotational basis), it is hoped that the resultant opening up of the canopy to the sunlight will encourage the colonisation of the area by a greater variety of wild flowers, and in turn, bring with them the whole food chain of insects, butterflies, birds etc. to follow.

Coppicing is an ancient method of woodland management where broad-leaved trees are cut close to the ground. this can look a bit drastic at first, but they will sprout again from the stump or "coppice stool" the following year. If carried out properly this will considerably increase the vigour and life span of the tree.

Lawrence Oates (Burton Conservation Volunteers)


Itís more than a decade since we moved to the Rolleston borders and during those years the garden has changed from the textbook version of "curved edges" with "all year round colour" - to an area almost wholly adapted for use by local wildlife. And, of that, thankfully, we still have a fair amount in Rolleston as we go into the year 2000.

This very morning a pair of goldfinches were gorging on the seedheads of the lavender bush (even making me feel virtuous about my laziness in not collecting them for lavender bags, which I threaten to do every year and never do!) Two days ago a female kestrel perched on the hedgerow skirting the field and only days before that three herons rested up in a local pasture before continuing their low, measured flight. Starlings swarm in exhuberant noisy groups, filling the air with their "murmurations" and calling to mind regular treks to Birmingham, in the dark, over thirty years ago, when the only cheer was provided by the sound of thousands of starlings clustered high up on the city buildings. Have they today been driven off by spiked ledges in our requirement for "clean" buildings? Probably.

Here in Rolleston, though, we still have our starlings and the blackbirds that squabble at dusk. We are still visited by finches, fighting off all-comers to the nut feeders and by collared doves, who have so many goes at getting on the bird table (which they can do perfectly well) that it makes you wonder how they are so successful as a species. We still have robins and wrens, the occasional song thrush, the haunting call of an owl and the cuckoo in spring. We even have local woodpeckers, so if you see me rubbing fat into the bark of trees, youíll know who Iím trying to attract (apart from the attention of the local constabulary!)

We still have bats (listened for one night with a bat detector) inhabiting the darkness of the Spinney and other small mammals - eking out a living in our undeveloped areas of woodland and coarse grass - still visit our gardens and share our space.

Letís hope that, as we move into the next century and into a new millennium, we humans can live in peace with the creatures which share our planet (and our neighbourhood) and do what we can to maintain their "quality of life" as well as our own.

Janet Hobson (Staffordshire Wildlife Trust)

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© This site was created by Richard Bush

Last updated: 5 April 2000