From heather to house martins

by | 6 August 2021 | Retford, Wildlife

The house martin is one of the last summer migrants to arrive and this may be why they are so reluctant to leave at the end of summer. It’s not unheard of for these amazing and mysterious birds to rear three clutches of chicks in a summer and still have chicks in the nest in September and even into October, if the weather holds and there are enough insects on the wing to sustain them.
I, for one, am always hopeful of an ‘Indian Summer’ and reluctant to pack my shorts and sandals and picnic rug away until the very last possible minute so I can very much empathise with the house martin’s keenness to hang on to the last vestiges of summer. It can take a pair up to two weeks to build a nest from scratch, so it’s perhaps no wonder that they seek to eke out the maximum use from it before the season draws to a close and they have to set off on their journey back to Africa.

House Martin © Margaret Holland

What draws these birds to our shores for the summer is the availability of insect food, and more specifically flying insects – so the mounting evidence that insect numbers are crashing across the UK and the wider continent should be a real concern. Whilst there’s been much talk of concern over declining populations of honey bees due to their importance in pollinating food crops that we all rely upon, the debate about the importance of abundant insect populations sustaining other wildlife we love, especially birds, is less evident.
Sadly, too many people either fear or loathe insects, facts made clear by the panic that ensues in many quarters each summer when ‘flying ant day’ arrives. As people reach for the ant powder and boiling kettles in determination to destroy ants nests, I wish more would spare a thought for the birds circling overhead that rely upon ants and other insects as food for their hungry chicks.
Another seasonal delight worth making the effort to see is the bright pinky purples of heather on our lowland heathlands. More commonly thought of as a habitat of upland moors, the importance of lowland heaths, such as those found in the New Forest and in our very own Sherwood Forest, is often overlooked. As it stands, the UK is actually home to 20% of all the lowland heathland on the planet so, whilst we have lost up to 90% of this habitat in Notts in the last 100 years, those fragments that remain are extremely valuable – and Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust is at the forefront of efforts to recreate and reconnect areas of heath in the heart of Sherwood Forest.
So, before the summer is out, why not pay a visit to our Rainworth Heath Nature Reserve in the forest landscape and see the wonderful heathland hues for yourself before they fade.
Further details of the Trust’s work in Sherwood Forest, visit

Main image: Heather at NWT Rainworth © Electric Egg