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Starlings, Elliott NeepStarlings, Elliott Neep

It always surprises us how beautiful our county looks in winter! So get out and explore... here are the top Derbyshire wildlife experiences for winter...



Rock ’n’ roll with geology



Connect the wildlife you love with the rocks and geology beneath your feet: tropical coral seas, explosive volcanoes and ancient forests have all played their part in shaping our islands and their rich wildlife.

The rocks beneath our feet have an fascinating story to tell, a story that has lasted almost 3,000 million years. The rocks that now make up Scotland started out on the continent of Gondwana, down near the Antarctic Circle, while England and Wales were submerged beneath a shallow sea studded with volcanic islands.

Between then and now the land beneath us has travelled halfway around the world, through periods of busy volcanic activity which piled up great depths of ash and lava, sunk beneath warm tropical seas rich in coral reefs, been colonised by swamps and rain forests and drifted further north to be swamped by river sediments and mud flats.

Glaciers have come and gone, returned and then retreated again, covering the land in one kilometre thick ice and then carving out much of the landscape we recognise today.

Throughout our countryside you can now see evidence of our dramatic history, in rocky cliffs, boulder-strewn hillsides, caverns and gorges and a whole gamut of quarries. One consequence of quarrying is the opportunity to peek into the Earth’s ancient history. Exposure of rocks million years old can reveal fossilised species like brachipods, gastropods and ammonites as well as fossilised shark teeth, shells and wood. Left to regenerate naturally (sometimes with some conservation management) nature is steadily reclaiming these places back from their industrial past. Many Wildlife Trusts have taken on management of disused quarries to care for these special and unusual places and their wildlife.


You’ll find all sorts of things in our disused wild quarries and rocky places - creative sculpture trails, fossils, colonies of bats that roost in shadowy caves, reptiles, wildflowers, insects and birds. Amid the rocks you can look for traces of bygone industry – the remains of a quarrymen’s hut, ‘dressed’ stone and old tramways once used for transporting hundreds of tonnes of rocks. Winter is a good time – you’ll see more geology with less vegetation!

If you can’t get to the special places listed below…

Have fun exploring the wild places around you. You can share your photos with us by tweeting @wildlifetrusts or using the hashtag #wildgeology, or share them with our Wildlife Trusts group on Flickr.

For a good introduction to the rocks beneath our feet, read “The Lie of the Land: an under-the-field guide to Great Britain” by Ian Vince.


Miller’s Dale Quarry 

Duckmanton Railway Cutting SSSI 




WINTER – January/February

‘Ooh’ and ‘aah’ at murmurations

Starlings gather in large roosts for safety and put on one of the most awe-inspiring displays of the natural world in the process.

In the depths of winter, as dusk falls, you could be forgiven for thinking there is no better place to be than tucked up warm at home, with your feet up and the fire on. But trust us…

During the winter months, large numbers of starlings visit Britain from the continent, seeking out the relative warmth of our island climate. As the afternoon wears on, the feeding flocks out in the fields gather together and then set off for their communal roosts. Usually found in reedbeds or sometimes in a dense patch of evergreen trees, these roost sites can be the overnight home for tens, even hundreds of thousands of birds. And their arrival at the roost is one of the most staggering things you will see all year.

Flock after flock after flock of starlings arrives, coming in from all directions to gather together in the skies above their roost site. As the numbers build, with some of the finest ‘murmurations’ (the name for a flying flock of starlings) reaching into the tens and hundreds of thousands of individuals, the flocks take on a life of their own, swirling back and forth overhead. No one wants to be the first to land, as there may be predators about. And indeed there will be: these large flocks attract hunting sparrowhawks and even peregrines, eager to pick a meal from the flock. 

The ever growing numbers, together with the occasion pass by a hunting raptor, leads to the flocks making amazing shapes in the sky, packing close together and then expanding out, one flock merges into another, zooming back and forth in ever more complex and beautiful patterns. It’s like that game of finding pictures in the clouds, only faster.
And then, just as the numbers reach their peak and as the last of the light fades, as if by a secret signal, the birds suddenly decide the time is right and funnel down into the reeds. One last whoosh of wings, an electric chatter, and that’s your lot. Show’s over, the birds settle down to sleep and it’s time for you to head home.


Wrap up warm. Really warm. It can get surprisingly chilly standing waiting by a wintery reedbed. But it will be worth it, we promise. 

Arrive at least half an hour before the sun goes does, probably a bit earlier, and find a good vantage point from which you can see the roost site but most especially, from where you can see the sky above: that is where the action will take place. And then, after you’ve had your fill of oohs and aahs and the last bird has dropped in to go to sleep, you can go back to that warm fire and cosy home. You may feel the cold, but we challenge you not to feel warm inside after an amazing murmuration.

If you can’t get to the special places listed below…

You don’t need to be in the countryside to experience a murmuration: one of the most spectacular roosts takes place over the Brighton seafront, where the starlings roost under the pier. 

Or just google ‘starling murmuration’ and you will find that you’re not alone in being entranced by the polymorphous swirl of roosting starlings: YouTube is alive with murmuration videos. Try this one for starters!


Stoney Middleton, Derbyshire


Starlings, Elliott Neep, Duckmanton Railway Cutting, Sam Willis