On the wing column with Gary Atkins

If I had any doubt, the sharp nip in the air as I walked over the exposed plateau of ‘Gang Mine’ signalled that autumn had well and truly arrived.

Despite a clear blue sky at 8am last Sunday morning, single-digit temperatures meant I was glad of my long-sleeved T-shirt as I embarked on a monthly survey of this Derbyshire Wildlife Trust (DWT) reserve.

Its lumpy terrain owes much to grassed-over spoil heaps left by lead miners centuries earlier, and Gang Mine’s main claim to fame today is the rare lead-tolerant plants it supports, such as alpine pennycress and sandwort. While I like plants and flowers, I wouldn’t recognise a pennycress from a penny farthing, yet the reserve still holds considerable interest for me as I train my binoculars chiefly on birds, mammals and butterflies.

Just down the road on the outskirts of Cromford, Rose End Meadows is also a haven for flora enthusiasts in the summer, but where flowers thrive there are insects – and they provide food for birds and animals.

Both reserves are amazingly rich in wildlife: In just two years, I’ve recorded almost 50 bird species on each site, including Peregrine falcons, Sparrowhawks, Spotted Flycatchers, Wheatears and a range of warblers, like Lesser Whitethroats and Blackcaps. I’ve scribbled 13 butterfly species in my notebook for Rose End Meadows, and only one less for Gang Mine. Mammals are more elusive, but squirrels and rabbits are common, and I once spotted a badger soon after dawn.

Yet Gang Mine and Rose End Meadows are just two of 42 nature reserves spanning over 1,600 acres and managed by DWT. They reflect the diverse richness of Derbyshire’s flora and fauna, with habitats ranging from wetland to limestone grassland and ancient woodland.

Several DWT reserves are close to Matlock, while many more are a short drive (or energetic walk) away. Cromford Canal (Whatstandwell to Ambergate is directly managed by DWT) is a gem for walkers and home to “ratty” (aka water vole), Little Grebe, Mallard, Coot and Moorhen.

Lea Wood, with its spectacular springtime show of bluebells, nesting Pied Flycatchers and resident Buzzards, is the Trust’s latest acquisition. At Wyver Lane, overwintering waterfowl like Shoveler and Teal are arriving and Little Egret is among this wetland site’s latest sightings.

DWT does a vital job in maintaining such habitats for us to enjoy. You could help by becoming one of its 14,000+ members, or joining the happy band of 500 volunteers who devote a little spare time to helping maintain reserves, stage events, support Trust admin or – as I do – record what they see reserves. Got to http://www.derbyshirewildlifetrust.org.uk and find out more.