Burbage Common & Woods by Adey Baker
A pleasant half-day's birdwatching can be enjoyed at this site throughout the year. With hardly a mention in the 1970s book 'Birds in Leicestershire & Rutland' and the closer proximity to Leicester of places such as Swithland Wood and Bradgate Park, it has, perhaps, been somewhat neglected in the past by many county birdwatchers. Sheepy Wood and Burbage Wood are both broad-leaved woodland, mainly re-growth after heavy felling during the war and the open grassland of Burbage Common has areas of scrub encroachment with more mature trees developing within them. The Smenell Field and the Common Extension are more recent additions to the site, both being in the parish of Elmesthorpe and thus within the Blaby District area, though the site is managed by Hinckley and District Borough Council.
are also a number of footpaths in the area, which link the site with the
surrounding land, adding to the variety of habitats - farmland, horse
paddocks, golf course and school playing fields. The Birmingham to Leicester
railway line cuts the site in two but the overgrown embankments are good
for birds, too. There are two bridges under the line to link each side
of the area. The whole site can get very muddy in wet weather apart from
the main paths in the woods.
of the numbers of visitors to the area the wildlife has to tolerate a
certain amount of disturbance and some shy species such as Jays are as
easy to see here as anywhere. Nuthatches are common in both Burbage and
Sheepy Woods as are Great Spotted Woodpeckers. Green Woodpeckers do tend
to move around more and are best detected, firstly, by call. Lesser Spotted
is much the rarest of the three Woodpecker species and is only reported
occasionally - where do they go to for the rest of the time? Treecreepers
occur in all of the woods.
species of tit have occurred throughout the year including a few breeding
Coal Tits, though Willow Tits, once so typical of the site, have followed
the national decline and are probably extinct, locally. Alarmingly, Marsh
Tits seem to be following suit as well. One or two of the over-wintering
Goldcrests also occasionally stay into the summer. Woodcock occur in most
winters - often reported by dog-walkers whose pet has put them up from
the undergrowth in either wood. The numbers of winter visitors are, of
course, controlled by food supply - Redwings and Fieldfares, typically
alternate between woodland, hedgerow and farmland habitat. Lesser Redpolls
and Siskins turn up in most winters - there are several stands of Silver
Birch to check and Alders have been planted on the Common Extension. Tree
Sparrows, once quite common in a few areas seem to be following Marsh
and Willow Tits into local extinction. Linnets are usually seen from spring
to autumn but Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting and Skylark can be found, in
small numbers, somewhere in the area at any time.
There is usually a pair of Tawny Owls in one of the woods in most years and Little Owls occur either near to the Common Extension or just away from the site at Burbage Outwoods. This interesting area is seen from a public footpath running along the south side of the railway - this is the route that I take to walk to the Woods but there is no vehicular access here. The shelter from winds from a northerly quarter provided by the trees and the embankment of the railway along this track is quite noticeable. There is often more insect activity here providing food for the Swallows, for instance,
breed in the buildings on the adjacent horse paddocks. Several sightings
of migrant Spotted Flycatchers and single records of Pied Flycatcher and
Common Redstart have been along here. Wheatear is more likely in the paddocks
or the school fields on the north side of the railway, than on the Common.
Farmland on the Elmesthorpe side of the site also seems to attract this
species quite regularly.
be seen on the farmland adjacent to the Common Extension and both Yellow
Wagtails and Lapwings may attempt to breed in the same general area close
to Burbage Common Road. There is a small stream with a couple of little
pools on the Extension but there are no large areas of water to attract
water-side birds so waders and such birds as Sedge or Reed Warblers are
For those interested in other forms of wildlife there is a good range on offer. There is a wide range of fungi - the Visitor Centre is the best place for advice on this particular subject. Wild flowers include a number of old woodland and grassland species including: Bluebell (many are hybrids with Spanish Bluebell), Wood Anemone, Yellow Archangel, Dog's Mercury, Water Avens (which hybridizes with Herb Bennet), Moschatel, Enchanter's Nightshade, Sanicle, Rest Harrow, Sneezewort, Devilsbit Scabious, Ladies' Bedstraw, Yellow Rattle, Pepper Saxifrage, Agrimony and
Tongue Fern. As for orchids, Broad-leaved Helleborine
occurs in both woods but for Early Purple, Greater Butterfly, Common Spotted
and Common Twayblade the best place to search is Elmesthorpe Plantation.
This is at the northern end of Aston Firs, accessed by a public footpath.
Butterfly Orchids may also be found in Burbage Wood. Any visitors interested
in trees will have noted that the woods are mainly Oak and Ash standards
with Hazel coppice. However, there are several other species including
Holly, Maple, Rowan, Elm, Wych Elm, Cherry and in Elmesthorpe Plantation,
Black Poplar, Horse Chestnut and Beech. Presumably, these were introduced
and I assume the same applies to the Black Poplars on the edge of Sheepy
Wood. All of the trees and many of the flowers around the pools and stream
on the Common Extension were, of course, planted as this area was agricultural
land until a few years ago.