Craigvinean :: Chapter 8 - Wild Life

Chapter 8 - Wild Life

The wild animals and plants found in any area are not random occurrences. Particular species survive only in the kind of habitat to which they are adapted. The wild life found in any area is thus intimately linked with the habitats available. In the upland areas generally, habitat variety is very limited and there is therefore a restricted variety of plants and animals. The wild life of the Towford area is representative of that found throughout most of the Southern Uplands.

The Flora of the Towford Area

The fact that the vegetation of the area is not natural has been stressed in an earlier chapter. There are no notable rarities and the area is not botanically exciting. Reasons for the restricted variety of plants to be found in the Towford area may be summarised as:-

  1. The soils are generally acid and poor in nutrients.
  2. Livestock has been grazing in this area for at least one thousand years.
  3. There are very few crags or other areas inaccessible to livestock.
  4. There are no limestone or base-rich out crops of rock.
  5. The hills lie below the altitudinal limits for Arctic or Alpine species, such as are found in the Cairngorms.

The most interesting area for plant-hunting is the Towford enclosure - the conservation area - where a combination of factors has led to a more interesting assemblage of plants. These factors include: -

  1. The enclosed area is no longer grazed by domestic livestock.
  2. Turf removal for tree planting has resulted in small areas being available for colonisation by herbaceous plants.
  3. The creation of the large pond, the marsh and other wetland areas has led to further sites suitable for colonisation by aquatic plants.
  4. Certain plant species have been deliberately introduced, e.g. Reed-mace, Bur-reed, etc.
  5. Various plants have been accidentally introduced in the course of other operations, e.g. Canadian Pondweed.

Within the enclosure the most interesting areas for botanical study are probably the ponds and other wetlands, followed by the very dry grassy slopes. On the hillock immediately behind the Centre there is a small gravel quarry colonised by Rosebay Willow-herb and other plants. On the same hillock there is a large heather patch, containing both Ling and Bell Heather, Blaeberry and many kinds of lichen. All of these plants are increasing rapidly now that the area is no longer grazed. The steep dry slope above the pond is notable for the profusion of Bedstraws and Wild Thyme which are flourishing there.

A list of plants in the Towford area, with some indication of their preferred habitat, is given at the end of this chapter.

The Fauna of the Towford Area

Most people will probably find the animal life of the Towford area more interesting than the relatively restricted variety of plants. Space does not permit a full description of the many bird, mammal, reptile, amphibian and invertebrate species which occur in the area and the following brief notes are intended only as a guide to help the interested visitor. Field Guides are invaluable aids to identifiction.


The most obvious mammals in the Towford area, apart from domestic livestock, are Rabbit, Brown Hare, Roe Deer, Fox and Stoat. All of these animals may be seen in or around the Centre grounds, usually in the early morning. Less obvious are the Mole, which tunnels below ground, and the Vole, which tunnels among the grass roots. Blue hares are seldom seen in the Cheviots though they are very common in various other parts of the Southern Uplands. Sightings of the Blue Hare, Otter, Hedgehog, Weasel, Field-Mouse or any other mammals would be of considerable interest for the Centre records.

All of the mammals mentioned above are or may be resident throughout the year.


There is a very marked contrast between summer and winter bird life in the Towford area. This is linked directly to the availability of food - the summer visitors being mainly insect eaters or waders which require soft mud in which to probe for invertebrates.

In winter the most obvious and common birds in the Towford area are the Carrion Crow, Heron and Dipper. There are occasional Red Grouse and Black Grouse. Blackbird, Robin, Common Wren and Reed Bunting often frequent the Centre grounds. Occasional Mallard, Teal, Snipe and Water Hen may be seen beside the Kale Water. Goosanders have been sighted, working the deeper pools for small fish and possibly seeking a harvest of salmon roe.

With the coming of Spring the hills come to life with the many calls and songs of birds moving up from the coast or from lower ground, including Curlew, Lapwing, Redshank, Skylark and Meadow Pipit. Other summer migrants include the Sandpiper (a tiny wader which nests on the river gravels) Wheater, Whinchat, Willow Warbler and Sedge Warbler. A solitary Grasshopper Warbler was recoreded in 1975 and may return as the ground cover improves. Pied, Grey and Yellow Wagtails may all be seen around the Centre grounds. The small plantations near Towford hold a considerable variety of other birds, including many of the Finches, Titmice and Goldcrests. A Kestrel frequently roosts above the front door of the Centre and a pair of these birds nest regularly in the Woden Law plantation across the valley. Raven, Buzzard and Shorteared Owl may occasionally be seen.

A complete list of birds noted in the area is appended to this chapter.


Adders are very common in the Towford area, including the Centre grounds. On one occasion four adders were found within forty metres distance of one another and on another occasion an adder was found on the front doorstep of the Centre.

Visiting parties should discuss emergency plans for action in the event of an accident occurring. All visitors should take care when out of doors in summer and the warmer days of spring. Barefoot walking and playing should be avoided. Any snake seen in the Towford area, regardless of colour, is almost certain to be an adder and should be treated with the utmost care and caution.

The Common Lizard, which is quite harmless, may be seen in the drier parts of the grounds such as the hillock behind the Centre. As with the adder there is considerable variation in colour and some visitors have confused the greenish lizards with the very rare Sand Lizard.


Frogs, toads and newts are common enough in the wetter parts of the Centre grounds. Frogs and toads are easily distinguished from one another. Frogs generally hop while toads generally crawl and frogs have a smooth skin while toads have a warty skin. At spawning time, frog spawn is laid in large masses, toad spawn in long strings while newts place their eggs individually under leaves of aquatic plants. In early summer the ground near the large pond is sometimes covered with young frogs as they mature and emerge from the pond in their thousands. Newts appear to favour the small area of water below the little wooden bridge near the marsh as a breeding area. Newt larvae may be seen there, looking somewhat like tadpoles.


In the space available it is impossible to do justice to this very large group of small animals. A minibeast hunt in summer produces a most interesting array of creatures, including mayflies, stoneflies, sawflies, bees, dungflies, slugs, spiders, water boatmen, water beetles, millipedes, worms, leeches, etc., etc. In winter there is very much less to see. Visitors are asked to exercise great restraint in collecting in the interests of are very vulnerable when taken from their natural surroundings and death may occur within minutes. Please handle such small creatures with great care and allow them to return to their preferred habitat as soon as possible.

General Note

Visitors will gain more from studying the wild plant and animal life of the Towford area in its setting than from collecting specimens or lists of records. The distribution of plant species and the reasons for this distribution of plant species and the reasons for this distribution are much more interesting than a file of dead, pressed flowers. Careful observation of the behaviour of any one species of bird is much more rewarding than making up tally-lists of all the others. The urge to collect specimens to take into the Centre should be largely resisted while the study of living creatures in their natural surroundings should be encouraged as much as possible. Visitors are requested to enter items of interest in the log-book maintained in the Centre.

  1. Birds normally classed as residents (many of which move to lower ground in the winter months.)
    Heron Curlew Grey Wagtail
    Mallard Snipe Yellow Hammer
    Teal Woodcock Reed Bunting
    Wood Pigeon Black Headed Gull House Sparrow
    Short-eared Owl Herring Gull Tree Sparrow
    Tawny Owl Rook Linnet
    Skylark Carrion Crow Redpoll
    Meadow Pipit Jackdaw Chaffinch
    Kestrel Robin Goldfinch
    Partridge Dipper Bullfinch
    Pheasant Blackbird Greenfinch
    Red Grouse Song Thrush Wren
    Moorhen Mistle Thrush Blue Tit
    Oyster Catcher Starling Coal Tit
    Lapwing Tree Creeper Great Tit
    Redshank Dunnock Goldcrest
    Pied Wagtail
    Including occasional
    Barn Owl Buzzard Merlin
    Sparrow Hawk Golden Plover Raven
    Black Grouse Great Black-backed Gull Great-spotted Woodpecker
  2. Summer Migrants - birds which are present only for the breeding season, from countries abroad.
    Swift Willow Warbler Whinchat
    Swallow Sedge Warbler Wheatear
    House Martin Grasshopper Warbler Cuckoo
    Sand Martin Whitethroat
    Including occasional
    Yellow Wagtail Ring Ousel Redstart
    Spotted Flycatcher Tree Pipit
  3. Winter Migrants - birds occasionally seen only in autumn or winter. Fieldfare
    Fieldfare Brambling Pinkfooted Goose
    Redwing Snow Bunting Greylay Goose

Plants of the Towford Area

Acid Peat
Calluna vulgaris-Heather
Erica tetralix-Cross Leaved Heath
Vaccinium myrtillus-Blaeberry
Empetrum nigrum-Crowberry
Pedicularis sylvatica-Lousewort

Juncus squarrosus-Heath Rush
Eriophorum angustifolium) Cotton Grasses
Eriophorum vaginatum ) Cotton Grasses
Molinia caerulea-Purple Moor Grass
Trichophorum caespitosum-Deerís Hair Grass

Dry Hillside
Viola lutea-Mountain Pansy
Potentilla erecta-Tormentil
Galium verum-Ladiesí Bedstraw
Galium saxatile-Heath Bedstraw
Campanula rotundifolia-Bluebell
Polygala serpyllifolia-Milkwort
Achillea millefolium-Yarrow
Linum catharticum-Purging Flax
Hypochaeris radicata-Catís Ear

Dry Hillside
Thymus serpyllum-Wild Thyme
Anthoxanthum odoratum-Sweet Vernal
Agrostis spp.-Bent Grasses
Festuca ovina-Sheepís Fescue
Cynosurus cristatus-Crested Dogís Tail
Nardus stricta-Mat-grass
Deschampsia flexuosa-Wavy Hair Grass
Pteridium aquilinum-Bracken
Lotus corniculatus-Birdsfoot-trefoil

Haughs and Roadsides
Trifolium repens-White Clover
Sagina procumbens-Procumbent Pearlwort
Polygonum avinculare-Knotgrass
Rumex acetosa-Sourocks
Stellaria media-Chickweed
Matricaria matricarioides-Rayless Mayweed
Leontodon autumnalis-Autumnal Hawkbit
Euphrasia spp. -Eyebright
Cirsium arvense-Creeping Thistle

Dry Hillside
Carex ovalis-Oval Sedge
Phleum pratense-Timothy Grass
Lolium perenne-Rye-grass
Dactylis glomerata-Cocks-foot
Holcus lanatus-Yorkshire Fog
Deschampsia caespitosa-Tufted Hair Grass
Alopecurus pratensis-Meadow Foxtail
Juncus effusus-Soft Rush
Chenopodium bonus-henricus-Good King Henry

Riversides and Ditches
Achillea ptarmica-Sneezewort
Stellaria alsine-Bogstarwor
Veronica beccabunga-Brooklime
Veronica anagallis-aquatica-Water Speedwell
Mentha aquatica-Water Mint
Geum rivale-Water Avens
Cirsium palustre-Marsh Thistle
Epilobium palustre-Marsh Willowherb
Angelica sylvestris-Angelica
Myosotis spp. -Forget-me-nots
Glyceria sp.-Flotegrass

Dry Hillside
Ranunculus flammula-Lesser Spearwort
Alchemilla vulgaris-Ladiesí Mantle
Salix spp. -Willows
Betula spp. - Birches
Alnus glutinosa-Alder
Callitriche sp.-Starwort
Juncus articulatus-Jointed Rush
Blysmus compressus-Broad Blysmus
Carex acutiformis-Lesser Pond Sedge
Carex nigra-Common Sedge

Wet Hillside Flushes
Ranunculus acris-Meadow Buttercup
Lychnis flos-cuculi-Ragged Robin
Stellaria graminea-Lesser Stitchwort
Lotus uliginosus-Marsh Birdsfoot-trefoil
Filipendula ulmaria-Meadow-sweet
Galium palustre-Marsh Bedstraw
Galium uliginosum-Bog Bedstraw
Helictotrichon pubescens-Hairy Oat-grass

Dry Hillside
Pedicularis palustris-Redrattle
Valeriana dioica-Bog Valerian
Carex disticha-Brown Sedge
Carex flacca-Carnation-grass
Carex paniculata-Panicled Sedge
Briza media-Quake-grass
Parnassia palustris-Grass of Parnasus

This list is by no means complete and is offered only as a rough guide to the plants found in the various habitats.

sp. means one species spp. means several species