Coleshill Common (Coleshill's best kept secret)

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Strangers to the village often ask where they can find the Common, it being well hidden from most sides.

The present Common covers an area of nearly eleven acres (5.3 h). Historically it was used by villagers to graze their animals, and to dig for clay and gravel. The evidence of these diggings is still visible in many places. Despite considerable research, the ownership of the Common remains unknown. The financial responsibility now rests with Chiltern District Council, who delegate its care to Coleshill Parish Council. They in turn have set up a Management Committee whose membership is drawn from the village. This Committee carries out work to maintain amenities, and encourage a diverse wildlife.

The Common consists of a central area of grassland surrounded by a belt of woodland and scrub. There are two small ponds, one of which is only seasonal, drained by a streamlet that flows a short way until it disappears into a sink hole.

Rough scrub, more than fifty years ago Mature woods and grassland today

Work Parties

In 1992 a Management plan was drawn up by Ann Trotman, with the results of historical research added by the late John Chenevix-Trench. The objective of the Plan was set out as:

“To protect and conserve the unenclosed character and naturalness of the site for the benefit of the flora, fauna and other wildlife and for its quiet enjoyment by the public on foot.”

Work is carried out during the winter months, on a fortnightly basis, to keep paths clear and cut annual growth in places where particular flora is to be encouraged. The grassland is mowed once a year.

A project is undertaken each year to improve diversity, and prevent the grassland disappearing under trees. The coppicing of small trees, and the planting of new native saplings is often involved.

Everyone is welcome —even encouraged!—to join the winter working parties on the common, which are friendly and not all hard work. Dates can be found in the website's Diary Dates but they sometimes have to be changed at the last minute depending on the weather. All start at 10 am; tools provided but do come with protective gloves. Contact Graham Thorne (722540) for more information.

Common Management Plan 2014

The Common Management Plan was revised in 2014 and a copy can be viewed at this link

Coleshill Common Byelaws

Click on this link to read the byelaws that govern the use of the common.

Click here to contact the Common Management Committee

The work on the Common this Winter and early Spring focused on felling willows overhanging paths and reopening the view below Windmill Hill. We coppiced four big hazels, several collapsing blackthorns and two big willows. All these trees will grow back up from their coppiced stumps again, not as the trees that they were but as sprays of shoots.

We opened the view at the request of some villagers who think it is wise to be able to view the Common from the road for the sense of security to people walking on the Common. To some this openness spoils the sense of the Common being a tranquil and secluded place. Of course the trees and shrubs will grow again so the view over the Common will ebb and flow between seclusion and openness.

Contractors removed the electricity cable which ran across the main Common pond through a pipe, the flanges of which had opened up revealing the cable! A tunnel was driven through the soil under the pond, so as to not disturb its base, and a new pipe and cable threaded through it and reconnected at the other side. The pond is a breeding site for Great Crested Newts so an ecologist from the Environment Agency was on site to monitor the work and protect any newts disturbed by the work. The old pipe has been removed. We are pleased that it has gone at last. (But we’ll have to stop calling it the Electricity Pond!)

We did not have any response to our request in the last issue for new volunteers so we thought that we would ask if there are villagers with any particular wildlife interests. For instance, we have an ornithologist, a mycologist and now I hear of a lepidopterist living in the village. I would describe myself as a ‘generalist’. I am interested in all of it but particularly how it all fits together - ecology. I wish we had an ecologist here.

The Wren

This Winter I read a book entitled The Wren: A Biography, by Stephen Moss. His first observation was that this little bird though so actively industrious is easily overlooked but is our commonest bird as it can be encountered almost everywhere “from the heart of London to the remotest off shore island”. It is reckoned that there are about 8 million breeding pairs in our islands.

This Winter I read a book entitled The Wren: A Biography, by Stephen Moss. His first observation was that this little bird though so actively industrious is easily overlooked but is our commonest bird as it can be encountered almost everywhere “from the heart of London to the remotest off shore island”. It is reckoned that there are about 8 million breeding pairs in our islands.Its story, much précised here, began many millions of years ago in what is now the “heart of North America”. Over the millennia it spread north and west across the land bridge (Beringia) and on across Eurasia until eventually they were stopped at the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, but they did get to Iceland. Therefore, as someone observed, they had colonised seven-eighths of the way around the world. It is unique amongst our birds in that it is the only species with its origins in the Old World. They seem to have managed this due to their ability to thrive in a very wide range of habitats, wherever there is leaf litter to forage for insects.

What arrests me most about the Wren is its song - if it is a song. In reality it is a territorial call to deter rival males and attract females. It is the second loudest of all our songbirds, in fact if it was scaled up to the size of a cockerel it would be ten times as loud. I have watched a Wren through my binoculars singing with such intensity its body vibrated with the effort.

Reading the book, it was satisfying to have some of the apparent myths about this wonderful little bird clarified. The one I have picked out is the one I was always curious about; the story of the ‘cock’s nests’. The cock Wren has been known to build the frame of up to a dozen nests whilst continuing his tasks of keeping himself fed and defending the territory. His energy output is phenomenal but then that is just what they do. When his building is done, he does, as the author describes, “a kind of estate agent’s tour” with a hen in tow. She indicates her acceptance of his nest by spending a day or two turning it into a home by ‘furnishing’ it with tiny feathers to make a soft bed for the eggs.
Graham Thorne


The time has come to ask if any villagers would be interested in helping us to manage the Common and the Village Pond?

The Common has had a management team since 1992, whose objective is: “To protect and conserve the unenclosed character and naturalness of the site for the benefit of the flora, fauna and other wildlife and for its quiet enjoyment by the public on foot and for the enhancement of its natural beauty through positive and sensitive management.”

The key words are: its naturalness, benefit (to) wildlife and quiet enjoyment by the public on foot. The management team endeavours to achieve and maintain a balance between conserving the wildlife and maintaining access for the public on foot. Villagers who come to the Common tell us that they enjoy its naturalness and the wildlife, though some have said the pathways could be more accommodating to the public on foot. One thing that we’ve always wished is that villagers might come to the Common, walk the paths and enjoy the naturalness. It is a pleasant tranquil Common.

We hope that others interested in nature and its conservation might like to join us. It would be an opportunity to learn about the flora and fauna living in the different habitats and help to maintain the Common in a way that will attract more visitors. Local conservation groups provide training courses so volunteers can gain understanding and skills to increase their enjoyment of volunteering.

The study of wildlife is interesting and its conservation is a worthwhile and satisfying pastime. We should care as much for our wild environment as we do for our gardens.


Volunteers enjoying a tea break during a common clearing session in 2001.Volunteers enjoying a tea break during a common clearing session in 2001.Who can you recognize?  CClearingTeam2 

Response to concerns about the common and pond management

Terence Prideaux, Chris Wege and I have been discussing criticisms that have recently been raised about the management and condition of the Common and the Village Pond.

Ducks: Ducks are an emotive issue so it may not be possible to satisfy the concerns of those who worry about their living conditions in our drying pond. I should just point out that they are wild and beyond our control.

Pond water level: This Summer the pond has dried out considerably, an event that may become more frequent with the projected warmer Summers. Some suggest it should be topped up from the mains water supply. This would be costly and a waste of a treated and valuable water supply. It would also deliver unwanted chemicals into the pond, which themselves can cause problems.

Fish: We have always had a sincere ambition to re-introduce (the right species of) fish into the pond but we want to do this only once a good population of pond plants, both marginal and open water, are established. Fish predate on the embryonic and development stages of the amphibians that used to breed in high numbers. Do you recall the large migrations of frogs and toads that we used to have? They can find shelter and security amongst good vegetation. Newts lay their eggs wrapped in the leaves of open water plants and there are many invertebrates that thrive amidst a good variety of plants. This year, both the open water plants and the fish would have struggled to survive. We are seeking advice as to how this can best be managed.

A pond that is good for wildlife will also be good for the village to enjoy. A healthy pond would also benefit the school as pupils can enjoy pond dipping.

The Common: Some people feel that if the view across the Common from Windmill Hill is obscured by vegetation, people walking on the Common will feel less secure.

Over the years we have tried to address this concern. Initially, the Heritage Lottery funded work to do some significant clearing along Windmill Hill and since then we have continued to cut trees or shrubs seeming to present a problem and will be doing some more coppicing in the coming months.

Ticks: This concern may also be about how we manage the grassland but ticks live everywhere, particularly in woodland. I have found two official and informative links:

Storm damaged trees: The condition of some of the potentially dangerous trees close to paths was checked, though judging safety in the woods to visitors from falling timber is difficult, not unlike judging when a volcano might erupt. We look for signs of roots moving, cracks appearing in trunks or branches and increased lean of the tree and fungal disease. Sometimes we ask for professional advice. I think in the past we have been too cautious and had trees felled or topped when they may well have been safe for some years to come but our sense of responsibility makes us cautious.

One piece of advice we are given is to advise walkers not to walk around in the woods in high winds.

A report on this Autumn’s work on the Village Pond

As I am sure many have noted, the water level in the pond dropped very low during the hot part of the summer. We have taken advantage of this situation to redistribute some of the silt, in particular moving some out of the depths and around the banks where we can plant waterside plants to add colour and interest.

Now, I know the pond looks raw and that there is more work to do but in Spring we shall begin to develop it into a well vegetated and diverse habitat.
Graham Thorne

Does Summer have its own seasons? Well maybe, certainly on the Common there is one Summer season that I like which is the Honeysuckle season. On
our Common there is a lot of honeysuckle climbing trees and scrambling over scrub and in the evenings, when the coolness of the air persuades the flowers to pulse out their scent, you can walk on the Common and smell the waves of that rich fragrance.

General Work

Over the Winter and Spring we performed a variety of small tasks. I looked at our list of potential 22 jobs and we did 14 of them. That very unwelcome cold,
wet weather kept us indoors.

We began trying to improve that lowest corner of the Common at the junction of Chalk Hill and Windmill Hill by planting some trees: one Common Alder
and three Silver Birches. It needs more work. Fortunately, a villager who has been a critic of the drainage there had arranged for Mark Averill, Head of
Highways, to come and examine the problem at that junction. He agreed that drainage improvements are needed which I think will help us, since the work
will include landscaping the corner - work far too heavy for us - so would make it much easier to add our improvements. It will be a good job to do.

In the Village Pond a silted bund has been built around the inflow from the road to try to filter out some of the polluted road run off. Some plants have
been added. Some attempts to continue to populate the pond with plants, particularly open water species have not gone so well. I planted a good sized
native White Water-Lily (Nymphaea alba) which disappeared within a few days! I will try again as such a plant might be enjoyable to have in the pond -
unless it gets too big, always a worry. I had some success planting Brooklime.

The heat and drought is making the pond look unpleasant again but so are other ponds in the area that I have seen. The only good thing about it is making it
possible to remove some of the silt and maybe have a look at the bed of the pond.

Our Informal Orchard on the Common

For a few years now we have been planting apple trees on the Common. I think that we have now planted 11 different varieties. Choosing apple varieties is
complicated. There are several considerations if you want variety that might provide a range of apples through the season. Presented with the Bernwode
Nursery catalogue describing about 500 different varieties you are both impressed and can be bewildered and grateful for the people, ’pomologists’,
who have made a dedicated study, cultivation and preservation of so many fruit varieties.

Firstly, there is the vigour in which the size of the tree is controlled by choosing a rootstock appropriate to its situation. Then, the use you want from the apple: dessert, culinary or cider, or sometimes all three. Crop season is interesting: fruits from early cropping trees don’t keep well and should be eaten fresh,
within a week or two, but “some are delicious, with unusual fresh flavours which do not appear in later fruit”; mid-season apples, picked in September and
October, will keep for one or two months; late varieties often need to be stored for the full flavour to develop and can be stored over Winter. I should add that
all these categories are dependent on the variety. Next are the Flowering Groups 1-7 which relate to flowering and therefore pollination times. The idea is to
choose varieties in which flowering times overlap for pollination. There does seem to be a nice way around this complication, which is to plant a crab apple.

(This information is gleaned by referencing the excellent Bernwode Nursery Catalogue)

As you can see, with knowledge or good advice it would be possible to have apple varieties available to eat for 9 months of the year. In fact the whole
subject of apple tree cultivation would be fascinating if it wasn’t so bewilderingly complex. One of the many fascinating little worlds within our World.

Possibly a more interesting planting we have done is of 3 locally cultivated cherry varieties. We chose Prestwood Black and Prestwood White plus Mum’s
Tree and have planted them in a triangle close to the pond.

Otherwise small maintenance tasks go on where and when required during the Summer.
Graham Thorne

Our work on the Common continues gently. Not so much cutting down these days but we plan more planting up this Spring which I have mentioned before. We regularly look out for spaces where a tree or two might be planted to keep the rotation of new trees and shrubs planted for the future. There are two categories at the moment: some new fruit trees and some new forest trees.

We continue the ambition to hopefully improve the condition of the Village Pond by adding new hazel hurdles behind which to plant up more plants in dredged pond silt. I expect this year we will be putting in a couple of species of open water plants such as water crowfoot which used to grow well in the pond. There are photographs in which it can be identified. If they thrive, dependent upon the ducks’ appetites, maybe then the pond will begin to look more natural and accommodate more amphibians once more.
As you may have heard, there are some plans to improve the surroundings of the pond. And, as will have been noticed, the big cherry tree at the south end of the pond has been felled as it was dying off.
We look forward to watching and enjoying the arrival of Spring on the Common.
Graham Thorne


Carol Hallchurch and Graham transplanting an apple tree by the raspberry patch

This Summer has been quiet and uneventful. I suppose it was the weather but to make up for that the weather seems to have favoured fruit production: plenty of blackberries, apples and varieties of damsons. We plan to plant more fruit trees this Autumn, choosing sites favourable to the trees but weighing up how much of the grassland area we think that we should use.

As usual our major effort was the Summer cut of the Common grassland carried out once again by the Chiltern Rangers. Our regime was dominated by cutting back the dense patches of invasive bramble and keeping the eastern end of the grassland trimmed to play on. This time Tony, the machine operator, was accompanied by four of their volunteers who strimmed the verges down Windmill Hill and around the Umbrella Tree area.

So, the major subject of this Summer’s report is about the planting which we are planning in the Autumn and Winter. It is satisfying to be doing some ‘planting up’ as the main management tasks usually involve ‘cutting down’.

We have several areas earmarked for planting. We need to add some evergreen shrubs to the hedging plants down Windmill Hill and along Chalk Hill to shelter the woodland area but planting it back from the road and leaving a wide verge which could be managed with a couple of cuts of a strimmer.

Then on the corner of Windmill Hill and Chalk Hill where we cleared the willows last Winter we will be planting a tree or two, certainly a Common Alder. Also to the right coming down Wheatsheaf Path there are two areas that we will prepare for planting a few trees. Suitable trees in these damp areas would be Birches and Alders. The planting of susurrating Aspens would be lovely if they could be relied upon not to sucker in all directions.

Also, when the shrubs around the electricity relay station were planted, we were advised to plant a conventional hedge plant mixture. Now, when we consider the reality of this advice, we notice that many of these plants are tree species and deciduous, so that in the Winter they do not screen the relay station. We will add the evergreen shrub privet into the hedging, which will do that job for us in time. We could allow some of the tree species to grow to maturity.

After the grass cutting was finished we began to clear back two big areas of Rosebay Willow Herb where we would like to extend the ‘informal’ orchard. We plan to tend the trees better next year.

marigoldThe Village Pond has been left to itself after the planting of a few species which have thrived in the silt behind the low hazel hurdles. This Winter more hurdles will be made and set up in the pond in order to increase the area for a greater variety of pond marginals. That may then be sufficient. Establishing some open-water species would be next. I planted the excellent open-water plant Broad-Leaved Pondweed, which didn’t thrive, but thankfully I have a few spares in my pond. A good fringe of water plants is developing. We think that we will make sure a few stretches of bank are kept open.

A plant that regenerates annually on the bank is the curious Trifud Burr Marigold (Bidens Tripartita), also known as Beggarticks (see illustration to left). It is a shy annual which is not invasive in our pond so far, so it is good to see it back each Summer.
Graham Thorne

I have always wondered about the geology of Coleshill, our village being surrounded by springs and seeps. Some of them are a problem, New Road on a freezing morning, and some a boon, our fine big pond in the centre. Can a resident geologist enlighten us? Also there is the little seasonal stream which runs from the Common Pond down the Common and into sink holes.

The Common Management Team has the Village Pond and the Common Pond to consider and they are quite different. The Village Pond is large, open, quite deep in the centre, only vegetated along the bank close to the shore, the water becomes murky as the year advances and only rarely dries out. We are trying to manage it to be better for local wildlife - as it once was. The Common Pond is smaller, only open to the south, muddy, almost completely vegetated, the water is quite clear until it dries out.

This Spring in the Common Pond I trapped a rare species of newt, a female Great Crested Newt, the developers’ friend. I also trapped a few Palmate Newts. I suspect that breeding colonies might struggle to thrive this Spring as it has been so dry as the water level of the Common Pond dropped rapidly and the Heron I saw there one evening was treated to the Heron’s equivalent of ‘shooting fish in a barrel’. I doubt that many survived the hungry predator nor have any offspring been able to develop in time. We’ll have to develop the pond to hold water longer and maybe provide some places under which the newts could hide, apart from the pipe carrying the electricity cable…….

But, the Great Crested Newt’s presence, though just a vulnerable single female, does mean that they are living somewhere in the village. Older villagers remember them being in the Village Pond when it was more healthy and well vegetated. So maybe they have always been around somewhere. I wonder where? I would like to find out where there are any significant ponds, natural and artificial in the village.

So of the 7 species of native amphibians in Britain we have found 4 so far; Common Toad, Common Frog, Great Crested Newt, and Palmate Newt. There are more than 7 non-native introductions though! We are only likely to add one more to that list, the Smooth Newt. It would be good to be able to help the ones we have to breed successfully.

Also seen on the Common this Spring were some Grass Snakes, not seen by me, unless I disturb them where they shelter, but by some children taken down to the Common by their parents. They were very excited when they told me.

For the Village Pond I have bought and planted a few specimens of a few species of wetland plants: marginals - Hemp Agrimony, which is very attractive to butterflies and other flying insects, also Marsh Marigold, Purple Loosestrife, and indulgently a Wild Angelica. Then, the open water plant, Broad-Leaved Pond Weed (Potamogeton Natans) which is also an oxygenator. I have also transplanted an open water plant, Water Starwort from the Common Pond (not illustrated).

picture1     picture2       picture3 

The seasons of Work Parties are over but we will be keeping the paths free from nettles and brambles and we will try regular ‘pre-emptive strikes’ on the invasive plants with our strimmers to weaken them.

picture4        picture5 

And, last but not least is the good news that our Village School will be using the Common for their Forest School activities this Summer.

After New Year we began again and first our ambitions were to rejuvenate the corner of the Common where Windmill Hill meets Chalk Hill. Here the drainage has been upgraded and there had been quite a bit of disruption to that low swampy corner. The willows there had grown up and fallen over in a tangle of big trunks and branches. Also, the trees bordering the Chalk Hill side of the Common had been growing out over the road and had been flailed to a ragged unsightliness by a contractor. So, we have felled and cleared an area on the corner, leaving some screening and also cut back the flailed branches along Chalk Hill beyond the reach of the machine. We will now wait and see what happens but think of some suitable planting to make that corner more attractive and interesting.

Now, this time of year, with the foliage fallen it is possible to go around and see much more clearly the true state of the wooded parts of the Common. The increasing dominance of the bigger species; the oaks, sycamores and ashes begin to shade out the patches of shrubs such as hawthorns and elderberries which die and decay. These patches if large enough to receive sufficient light can suit some saplings of species such as cherries and maybe some ash, I think we will try both. There are a couple of patches of naturally regenerating ash in the woodland. So, though it may not be exactly ‘natural’, as we can choose preferential species we may be able to keep the woodland regenerating.

Similarly, in the damp, seep soaked areas below Wheatsheaf Cottage the willows have overgrown themselves and toppled leaving an open area. Here we have also done some clearing and will plant a small variety of damp tolerant species such as Silver Birch and Common Alder of which we already have some specimens by the path coming down to the grassland. They have lovely big purple catkins now. Then next Autumn we will create more space and plant more of the same.
Graham Thorne


We have completed our improvements on the verge opposite Windmill House and the grass seed which we have sown has germinated, though it looks like green bum fluff so far. Let’s hope it matures with the Spring sunshine. We’ve opened up the paths for Winter walking and now we are continuing our work to improve the view over the Common from Windmill Hill. We hope to continue down the hill and round the corner but hope that Transport for Bucks will tackle some of the heavily leaning Blackthorns for us.


These habitats are closely related, interesting and valuable. They mimic natural influences such as fires and windblown trees and most excitingly, the way these woods were inhabited by the big beasts like the Auroch (see left, familiar to viewers of Game of Thrones). Humans have now have taken over from the big beasts in the way that woodlands are managed for our purposes, such as coppicing – where coppicing is still common.

They are complex transition zones between sunlit, high energy habitat and the cooler, shadier and much more secluded interior of the woodlands. They support a wide range of wildlife, much of which differs from the woodland interior inhabitants. They comprise a diverse range of sun-loving plants and insects which are predated upon up the food chain, making these habitats very fertile.

Woodland edge provides the same kind of value as the glades and rides but has an extra value in that if maintained or allowed to develop naturally it protects the woodland interior conditions. ‘Edge Effect’ is a notable ecological consideration. A natural woodland would have had a graduated edge, not like the woodland edges that we normally see bordering our fields which are open sided for more efficient land use but don’t protect the interior. So a natural woodland edge would be a buffer zone to the particular conditions within, suitable to the flora and fauna that have evolved to thrive there.

We have plenty of woodland edge (which is also quite natural) all around the grassland, so, being circular includes all compass aspects; the greater the variability of habitat that you have, the more possibilities for a variety of wildlife. We have a couple of rides which aren’t really wide enough and we are a bit short on glades. So if we were looking to improve our wildlife conservation potential there are some possibilities.

From the point of view of finding a species taking advantage of these habitats to raise a family it is the Spotted Flycatcher that we should hope to see which would indicate that we had been successful – rather as I hope one day we might see a Dabchick on the pond once more. We will put up some nest boxes.

With reference to the Village Pond, I am building a bund (I don’t like that clumsy word) behind which to trap a bed of silt in which to plant some local species of pond plants. Silt is a recalcitrant material, worse than chasing peas around your plate with a wooden spoon. So, I don’t really want to inflict onto my fellow volunteers that kind of frustrating labour required to move it if I can find an easier method. I have been wondering about ‘silt pumps’ or ‘trash pumps’. My pond ecology contact mentioned slurry pumps. Has anyone any experience of these beasts?
Graham Thorne

During the Summer we just keep an eye on the amenity conditions on the Common and control some of the invasive plants which might come to dominate mainly the grassland areas. We had the grassland cut by the Chiltern Rangers who helped us decide which areas to cut and which to keep. This is all about our continued search for a routine in which all the grassland would be cut but not every year. We want to maintain a variety of grassland conditions for a variety of wildlife. But we do always keep the flat and dry area on the eastern side in a condition so that children can run and play on it. But to be honest, I think the rabbits do most of that for us.


The bird boxes were modestly successful: we had three nests and one containing glis-glis. Curious creatures. If discovered they don’t run, they play dead but don’t be fooled and try to pick one up, they have a savage bite!

This autumn and winter, members of the Common Management Committee will be doing the usual maintenance tasks - the footpaths and some perimeter margins - but extending one of these tasks to improve the condition of the roadside verge down Windmill Hill.

So firstly, before weather conducive to the germination of grass seed is past, we will be improving the verge opposite the entrance to Windmill House where rubble and compacted soil from contractors has left the verge in an unsightly condition. We will have to do some soil preparation and improvement to help the grass seed generate.

We will also be doing more to improve the view onto the Common through the elms by selectively cutting ‘windows’, having seen that last winter’s work was inadequate once the trees had come into full leaf. The elms which we left are still looking healthy.

Then later we will be clearing the heavily leaning and contorted blackthorns which are growing out over the road, though some of the trees will need professional attention. When we have seen what the authorities have achieved with the drainage at the corner of Magpie Lane and Chalk Hill we will add our improvements and continue on round Chalk Hill cutting back the oak and willow which is growing out over the road. We would appreciate a few extra hands to help us as these tasks will be heavy. The dates will be posted on the village website (and provisional dates can be seen on page 9).

We have also been considering planting some hedging plants. There are two reasons for this. The elms that have been felled will regenerate. If you can’t beat them use them, keep them trimmed to develop a low hedge to provide some valuable wildlife habitat. I suspect that elms have become disregarded as hedging due to the infection of Dutch elm disease but maybe people have forgotten what a fine neat hedge it makes and if kept low will not become infected and die. There are several hedges of elm around the village. It is the food plant of the white-letter hairstreak butterfly. Also the blackthorn will regenerate. They are the larval food plant of the brown hairstreak butterfly. Again instead of treating this as a problem we will tend them into a hedge which will shelter the woodland interior. Small woods benefit from a shelter belt of vegetation as it keeps the interior conditions favourable to the species of flora and fauna that have evolved to inhabit them.

We have left the Village Pond alone for the summer when it is not good to stir up the silt. But now that the water level has dropped considerably we can continue the work of last autumn to utilize the silt within the pond to build up mud flats on which vegetation can be planted which will enhance the pond for its general appearance as well as benefit wildlife.

Graham Thorne

Left: Brown hairstreak butterfly on blackthorn leaves; Right: White hairstreak butterfly on elm leaf

brown hairstreak White letter Hairstreak j1

Well, I don’t know about you but I have been enthralled by Springwatch. The knowledge, skill and technology are, literally, marvellous. I wish we could set up a modest project on our Common but the money and expertise is probably inadequate. The show reveals just how much goes on beyond even patient observation revealing there is much still to know and learn. Two apparently opposing aspects reinforced for me were the tender dedication of parents to their offspring and the necessary opposite dedication to kill for those offspring. Plus, the fascinating prospect of a return of pine martens to the Chilterns one day to control the grey squirrels, making it possible for our reds to return.

In the spring, I borrowed a camera trap from the Mammal Society. On the first night it recorded a short film of a badger in the woodland but that encouraging start did not continue and, though I saw muntjac and foxes mostly, I saw that we had more rabbits than you can shake a stick at, so we and the foxes need not go hungry. Some of the footage can be viewed on the village website. I would like to do more of this monitoring and plan to attend a Mammal Society course on their use. Also we have put up 12 bird boxes of various types and have been watching to see if they are being used. Three grass snakes have been seen this spring, none having been seen for some time previously.

FOREST SCHOOL 2A long hoped for development has come to us at last as the Common is now being used for education. We have a Forest School from our school visiting the Common. Nina Arbuckle, the qualified Level 3 Forest School Leader, reports that: “A class have been out in the Common making fairy houses, mud painting and hunting for minibeasts over the past few weeks. The children have greatly enjoyed the Common with its open spaces, old oaks and areas of special interest. There is still a lot more for them to explore." (

The winter work finished a few months ago and we have just been casually monitoring and enjoying the Common, although we still have our summer tasks to control some invasive vegetation. All that rain may be a trial to us but it has made the Common beautifully lush at the moment.
Graham Thorne

FOX 1 2With the encouragement of the Mammal Societies initiative to lend camera traps to members so that they can discover more about their local wildlife I borrowed one and set it on the Common for several nights, and some days.

On the first night the camera filmed a badger digging about around some rabbit warrens so I thought, "what a good start". Well, it was the highlight but nevertheless I caught foxes and muntjac on the camera. I was surprised to find how many rabbits were caught on the camera and how they seemed to wander about apparently heedless of foxes at night.

Some short films from the camera trap are displayed below. The Munjac film consists of several clips from several days joined together.

I hope to be able to do more of this and find out more about the variety of wildlife on our Common.
Graham Thorne

Badger (20sec)

Muntjac (2 min 20sec)

Fox (10sec)

Rabbit (10sec)

Pheasant (10sec)


We have alien species of wildlife on our Common, a designation dependent upon their history; it is complicated. An alien species covers several subcategories: introduced, exotic, non-indigenous, non-native species, and a species living outside its range which has arrived there by human activity, either deliberate or accidental. Of course we have native species which are deemed such if they have reached Britain before the land bridge divided us from the continent. Species can also be designated as native when they have flown to Britain, as is the case with many bird species. We also have ‘naturalised’ species: some we accept as they are long established like rabbits and pheasants, some we can be wary of like grey squirrels and Himalayan balsam, some are downright pests like the edible dormouse, and some we would be quite surprised to discover were alien since we are so enamoured of them, like snowdrops.

I have chosen 4 plant species which indicate some problems:

SNOWDROPS: Although formally considered "native", snowdrops are actually introduced and now considered naturalised. Their first known cultivation was in 1597 and first recorded in the wild in 1778. They are native to a large area of Europe, from the Pyrenees to as far away as European Turkey.

BLUEBELLS:Hyacinthoides non-scripta Don’t get alarmed, they are native but one problem is the purity of the bluebells on our Common. I don’t want to disappoint anyone but I don’t think that they are all true bluebells as many are of a range of colours which means that they have probably been hybridizing with the Spanish hyacinth. I wish that we could recover our population of true bluebells somehow but in the meantime we’d better not worry too much.

So, according to Plantlife (, which monitors our flora, there are 3 forms of the bluebell:

  • Our native bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), also known as the wild hyacinth, which prefers woods, but is also found on hedge-banks and sea cliffs. The native bluebell’s deep violet-blue flowers have a strong, sweet scent and the flower stems droop or nod distinctly to one side. They flower the length and breadth of the UK. Britain is home to a significant proportion of the world’s total population and we have an international responsibility to protect this charismatic plant, which has been voted the nation’s favourite wild flower.

  • The Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica), native to Portugal and western Spain, was first introduced into British gardens as an ornamental plant around 1680. The Spanish bluebell was first recorded in the wild in 1909.

  • The Hybrid bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica x non-scripta) - also known as the garden bluebell, this species was first recorded in the wild in 1963. It is mainly found in woodlands, but also grows in hedgerows, churchyards, shady roadsides, rough ground and waste places, and is, of course, common in gardens. It is thought to be most frequent in the lowlands, especially in the entrances to public woodland.

The Spanish Invasion: Spanish bluebell and hybrid bluebells are commonly grown in our gardens. Both are more vigorous than our native species and, once out in the wild, can crossbreed with native bluebells. Crossbreeding dilutes the unique characteristics of our native bluebell. In a study conducted by Plantlife volunteers across the UK, one in six broadleaved woodlands surveyed were found to contain the hybrid or Spanish bluebell.

WILD DAFFODIL: I have discovered that the wild daffodil is native to the Chilterns but now very scarce. I have bought some and have begun to plant them in the damper wooded areas of the Common and I hope that they will thrive and we can enjoy the sight, though in a modest profusion unlike the vast swathes that I have seen in a woodland in Worcestershire.

HIMALAYAN BALSAM (Impatiens glandulifera) is a non-native invasive plant and was introduced as a garden plant in 1839. We have had problems with this (and with a small incursion of the dreaded Japanese knotweed, which we managed to destroy by persistent cutting down). There were 3 main sites on the Common which would have become huge if we hadn’t regularly cut it down before it formed its seeds, as it spreads quickly due to the explosive nature of its seed dispersal, projecting its seeds up to four metres. It produces a lot of pollen over a prolonged season and is attractive to pollinating insects. There is concern that its presence may therefore result in decreased pollination for other native plants.

Graham Thorne

Yesterday we had some tree surgery done on the Common to 2 trees which had the potential to fall across paths over which they stood.

A big double trunk Oak had one long heavy branch which was leaning a long way out over the path and had been progressively splitting away from the upright trunk. This could come down so had a potential to be dangerous though it would have to be very unfortunate timing but also such a violent split it would tear the side out of the tree and leave it open to decay. So it was removed to save the tree which will now be able to grow as an upright specimen.

The other is a dying Cherry. It looked strong but was dying back as the cambium was decaying and in a high wind could eventually fall across the path. If it had been in a less public area we would have left it as dead standing timber which is good for wildlife.

So, in particular with the Oak there is some firewood for anyone with an axe, a bit of spare energy and a wheel barrow.

Graham Thorne


The deadwood (dead wood) stage in the demise of a tree can be seen in a positive light. It is the beginning of the cycle of death and rebirth. At this end you have the deadwood which, combining with the soil and then the seeds, produces the sapling and the tree and so on…...

In a natural unmanaged wood up to a third of the biomass would be dead. In the stem of a living tree as little as 5% of its volume is living for the tree. But not only this - 40% of a dead stem may be composed of the living cells of fungi and nitrogen fixing bacteria which are working to turn that stem back into soil with the help of many other creatures on the way, from the woodpeckers to the bacteria.

So, the wood may be dead but it is nourishing life.

Deadwood is home to a large and complex food chain. This makes it an essential element for any sustainably managed woodland. The conditions of humidity and shelter in deadwood habitat provide niches for plants, fungi and invertebrates which decay and decompose the wood back into woodland soil. Deadwood - standing dead trees (snags), dead branches or deadwood lying - decays to provide the many habitats in the web of life for other creatures, just living their lives whilst turning it back into soil: nest sites, shelter and security and food supply; from owls, woodpeckers and bats to invertebrates, mosses, fungi and bryophytes. In fact, the more I think about it the more bewilderingly amazing and fundamental it all becomes.

Wildlife has no aesthetic sense and can either thrive or it goes elsewhere so it is a salient point that modern forestry and arboriculture has changed its judgement of dead wood, finding in it a range of values instead of dangerous obstacles or a source of disease. Although on a Common frequented by visitors some management is sensible to reduce hazards, keeping the pathways open and safe to walk, the unsightliness that some see in deadwood is in fact an enhancement for people who see Nature first and foremost.
Graham Thorne

This summer we have continued to manage the common, controlling the vigorous seasonal growth of brambles tangling the paths, and plants such as the bracken and rosebay willow herb invading grassland where we would prefer other plants to thrive.

We have also continued to try to develop the area below Village Road where we hope to restore a useful area of gorse behind a potential picnic area around the oak trees. We are pleased that some people have used the area to relax on the common.

The Grassland

After writing about the benefit we hoped to enjoy from having the Dexter cattle grazing, we haven’t been offered them. So we will be employing Pete Whipp using a mechanical scythe who is understanding of our ambition to have the grass cut to our prescription, which means that we will set up a regime to cut some areas and leave others, allowing creatures which depend upon grassland habitats to survive and propagate their next generation.

The fruit on the common is looking plentiful this autumn, especially the apples. There are four well developed trees bearing good quantities of apples and there are more maturing. We hope to cultivate more fruit in our informal orchard.
Graham Thorne


Control of the management of the grassland on the Common to achieve outcomes conducive to the objectives in the management plan has probably been our most persistent problem.

Why: The Common Management Plan states: “The grassland community is typical of wet, acid, "unimproved" grassland. Conservation policy should aim to keep it so. Also the grassland area is a low nutrient habitat, i.e. “unimproved” and it is managed to be kept so by cutting and removing the material.

The Management Plan prioritizes some locally valuable and rare plant species such as the Common Spotted orchid (Dactylochiza fuchsii) and the Devils-bit scabious (Succisa pratensis). However, over the years we have also come to appreciate the conservation of the butterfly species. We have recorded 18 species of which 6 rely on grasses for some part of their lifecycle and 6 more on other plant species found in the grassland. Butterflies are only the most familiar and appealing of the myriad species of insects which would also be valuably conserved in the grassland if appropriately managed. Grassland ant heaps are beneficial - especially to Green woodpeckers for whom they provide much of their diet. Having the cattle meant that their heaps were not scalped off by machinery. Later in the year some plants e.g. thistles provide nectar for butterflies and other insects and seeds for birds such as Goldfinches.

You might ask why cut at all then? To keep down the invasive non grassland plants such as brambles and tree seedlings and to mimic, albeit unsubtly, the grazing which has been the driver for the diversity of grassland plants. So we have more than one objective in the management of the grassland.

How: deciding how to manage the grassland for the full range of biodiversity involves two options: a cutting regime considerate of the lifecycles of the biodiversity or a cutting regime which rotates the cutting of different areas.

Our best time was when we had the Dexter cattle. Meadow biodiversity evolved by grazing by different species of animals (rabbits too), so having a small herd of cattle on the Common seems ideal.

Here is a resume of the benefits of grazing animals sent to me by Rachel Sanderson of the Chilterns Conservation Board:

  • The way cattle eat results in shorter grass of different heights;
  • Grazing animals select some patches in preference to others, varying the sward height. They eat slowly so invertebrates can move out of the way. A machine slaughters anything in its path;
  • Heavier grazing animals trample vegetation leaving a greater diversity in structure and heat traps etc for invertebrates and poach the soil creating bare ground which diversifies the sward by allowing seeds space to germinate and habitat for invertebrates that require bare ground for nesting.

When: when matters if you have rare flora or fauna that need to complete reproduction before the habitat changes.

I began to wonder if the Dexter cattle would allow us to ignore the problems of the How and the When and I am advised that it does. So we must hope that we get them back again or we will have to go back to using machinery which is less considerate of wildlife conservation.

Larger 'compartments' for grazing are easier for the grazier. At Coleshill Common, the 'where' should therefore be as much of the Common as possible. Cattle were originally woodland animals, they need shade and woody material in their diet so on the Common we can include the woodland areas which would also benefit from natural grazing.

Then there is the mysterious ecological value of the cowpats…….!
Graham Thorne

Work parties on the Common will end soon for the season, to allow the wildlife to manage itself during the summer. Please contact the Commons Management Committee if you are considering any work adjacent to your property, since it needs to fit in with the plan approved by the Parish Council. We may do some occasional work later in the summer to manage any specific problem that might occur or, for instance, to discourage some of the invasive plants and therefore encourage diversity of others.

(But please don’t use the Common as a place to discard garden waste. We have occasionally noticed this happening and it can cause us problems with potentially invasive garden plants.)

Gorse—A plant for all seasons

For some time now we have been trying, against the grazing of rabbits and browsing of deer, to encourage the spread of gorse on the Common. It is a good plant as it has a lot of value for wildlife, as well as flowering in all months so providing a little bright colour all through the year. It shouldn’t be difficult to do so as it germinates easily but it does need protection from the browsers and grazers.

The Common is not a large area where we can have dominance of one or two species but we’d like one good sized area of gorse as it is excellent for the shelter and protection of several species of small birds.

IMG 1588 IMG 1586

We have replaced three bridges with wire netting surfaces as well as netting another as it had become very slimy slippery.

When the bridge over the ditch on Barracks Hill (opposite Littlelands) was prized out of the bank to be replaced by a new one, a 4 inch long crayfish (pictured above) was found under its end.

On Tuesday 10/02/15 Chris Wege and myself took advantage of tree surgeon Jamie Dyer's availability to fell two willows which were leaning over Wheatsheaf Path.

The smaller one was rotten almost right through at the base and the other, much larger was leaning heavily and pulling out of the ground. It was also beginning to propagate a split from it's base up the trunk. It was healthy at the base but rotting further up. Maybe it could have stayed a couple more years but, you never know. They allow more view into the Common.

We have some photos.
Graham Thorne


Here are the latest dates for Common work parties. All sessions start at 10am.


1. Saturday January 10th
2. Tuesday January 20th
3. Saturday January 31st
4. Tuesday February 17th
5. Tuesday March 3rd
6. Saturday March 21st
7. Tuesday April 7th
8. Saturday April 18th


1. Bridges -done
2. Re-stack woodpiles on wheatsheaf path
3. Fell leaning willow and lop over hanging branches of others.
4. Patsy’s tree -done
5. Tranplant hedge bushes by electricity station
6. Session in gorse area: strimm more brambles and willow shoots, fell bigger willows to incease view.
7. Session pruning mushroom tree and adjacent hawthorn and willow.
Also remove hawthorn by limes and strim to clear area between trees.

Starting at the end of the Joni Mitchell song, what illusions do I have about brambles? I suppose my illusion is that they are on our side somehow. On the good side: “blackberrying”, an Autumn harvest tradition for pies and jams with added nostalgia. But what do we have on the bad side? The bristling, barbed and boldly invasive bramble.

We have plenty of invasive plants on the Common: willowherb, bracken, nettles - not to mention the ones that have arrived unwanted, cast upon us by careless gardeners. We have just, after many years, finally got rid of the Himalayan balsam but the one I’m never concerned about is the dear old bramble.

However, it depends upon what you want from brambles: foresters, land managers and biologists of many disciplines have their particular attitudes to them. For foresters there is a lot of for and against. They protect regenerating seedlings from browsing deer, or shelter mice and rabbits which eat the seeds. They readily colonise disturbed ground and respond with frustrating vigour to the opening of the canopy; there is ever a reaction to any action. Biologists recognise the cover they provide for many species, especially small bird species while the larvae of holly blue, green hairstreak, grizzled skipper butterflies feed on bramble.

So, what should we do to manage them? They send their tendrils to creep out over paths and we know that when we open up rides or remove the willows which grow out over paths we will be giving them the opportunity to tangle the openings. Clearly we cut them back from the paths but we don’t worry if they fill the gaps left by clearing. In this we may have found an ally in that our main concern these days has become the rosebay willowherb. A very pretty plant and one that shelters much small wildlife in its closely packed stems, particularly the larvae of the elephant hawk moth. But it is very invasive and hard to control, readily colonizing bare ground where we would prefer grassland to develop.

Controlling brambles is like much else: the sweaty way, chop it down and dig it up; the noisy way, strim it; the chemical way, spray with herbicide. A salutary photo series in a Royal Forestry Society article shows bramble sprayed, dying and then being replaced a few months later in the bare soil by rosebay willowherb. None of these methods are permanent. Which leaves the ecological method - the use of light levels – and I think you can guess which one we prefer.

In conclusion, it depends upon where the bramble grows. It makes a good sheltering barrier to the wooded edges but where it encroaches on the paths and spreads out onto the pasture we strim it and stack it away in the undergrowth. Where it’s associated with the woodland clearings we let it grow, to be slowly and naturally limited by the development of the canopy.

JoyColeshill2014sIf you were around Coleshill Common on weekdays during July and August, you may have wondered what a strange woman wearing a sunhat and clutching a clip board was doing. Well, I have recently been volunteering to monitor and record butterflies and dragonflies seen on and around the common and pond. I have been walking the same route each week, keeping record of the weather conditions and making notes to increase understanding and to help with future management of the common.

It has been a fascinating way of identifying the species present and how numbers and types vary across the weeks. 13 species of butterflies have been positively identified, as well as at least 4 species of dragonflies/damselflies.

Early to Mid July– if you entered the common from near the Windmill, you would have seen many dark brown, small Ringlet butterflies. As the month progressed, they continued but were soon joined by fluttering clouds of brown and orange Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers on the boundary of the wood and common. It is quite hard to distinguish between these two types. You have to track one down to a perching position to be absolutely sure of what is being seen. But it is worth it. Looking close up at any of these beautiful creatures is a delight that makes time stop and the world seem a better place. In the centre of the common at this time – there were many Marbled White butterflies actually on the common. At first glance –'just' another White butterfly (of which both the Small and Large variety are present) but a closer look shows a beautiful, almost 'stained glass window' of black and white wings. In similar areas, a buzzing carnelian red flash showed themselves to be 6 Spotted Burnet moths.

Late July As the month progressed, small flashes of blue around the edge of the common grassland showed that the Common Blue Butterfly had arrived. At a similar time, orange shapes, triangular when perched, meant that there is a small population of both Large and Small Skippers.

SpeckledWoodAug2014sAugust when the blackberries were ripening early, we were able to enjoy the patterned beauty of cream on dark brown of the Speckled Wood butterfly (photo right). Occasionally a lone Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell were seen, as well as some dragonflies, probably Southern Hawkers.

Meanwhile, over at the pond – dragonfly dramas were being enacted. One dominant male Emperor dragonfly patrolled about 10-12 feet above the pond and was observed seeing off opposition from the Broad Backed Chasers who preferred the margins of the pond. It was there over several weeks, but unfortunately no female Emperor was seen. Many tiny flashes of blue showed that the pond has a population of Common Blue damselfly.

I wish I could pretend that all this was hard work, but in fact with the wonderful weather, the company of friends who assisted me as 'Spotters', followed by lunch at the Red Lion, it was a good way of learning more about the common and enjoying the summer!
Joy Johns

We are about to begin the autumn season on the Common but without Chris Wege as Chairman of the Commons Management Committee. I have been asked to succeed Chris which will be a challenge as he was excellent/exemplary. I am very relieved to say that he is staying on the committee as Secretary.

I’ve really appreciated working with Chris. As well as his gentlemanliness I’ve admired his dedication and his willingness to take his lifelong interest in wildlife and build on it to make the best of his contribution to the Common.

During his period of office he was involved with the Chilterns Commons Network which has been instrumental in spreading information and giving help to many of the Chilterns commons. This also led to the Heritage Lottery Fund grant which paid for much of the opening up of the view at the top of our common. There is still more to be done there. He was also involved with farmer Robin Harman who brought his Dexters to graze the grass which we appreciated, as they did a good job. Sadly this has not continued, but we live in hopes of a repeat and continue to search for a good grass-cutting solution.

Over the winter, the Work Party’s work will as usual fall into two categories: light work, clearing paths and borders, and then a bit of the heavier work dealing with trees leaning over paths. We also always have a few spare ideas. We’ll see how we go and keep you posted.
Graham Thorne

New members are always welcome to join the Work Parties. The tasks are various and can be tailored to your ability. Bring gardening gloves. Fresh air and company - and not too serious! Autumn dates as follows:

September  Sunday 28th  2.15 pm 
October Saturday 11th 10 am
  Tuesday 21st 10 am
November Saturday 1st 10 am
  Wednesday 12th 10 am
  Saturday 22nd 10 am
December Friday 5th (spare date).

Click here to contact the Common Management Committee

Chilterns Conservation Board project for Chiltern Commons

As part of this project, work is planned for various parts of the common over the next couple of years. It started recently with the replacement of the sloping access ladder, by steps and a bridge – with the welcome help of the Chiltern Society.

The next phase of work will involve the widening out of the main path down onto the common by felling a number of trees. The aim is give a better view of the grassy area as people approach down the path.

Work will be done in the area of elm trees on Windmill Hill, with the removal of some of the dead elms and the creation of space for the oak tree at the bottom of the area. Further down Windmill Hill a blackthorn tree will be removed to widen the viewpoint.

There are two oak trees that will have some lower branches lopped and one where neighbouring trees will be removed to give it more light. The same is planned for an apple tree and field maple trees in the woodland part of the common.

The work listed above is due to be started this winter of 2011/2012. If anyone is interested in the details, Chris Wege (Tel. 724152) would be happy to walk round the common with them.

Next winter the electricity substation on Windmill Hill is due to have the Leylandii trees removed and eventually replaced with native shrubs. Hazel hurdles will be fitted as a temporary shield.
Chris Wege December 2011

The Management Committee had an interesting walk round the Common recently in the company of Rod d’Ayala, who has been advising the Parish Council about the Village Pond. His particular interest is in ponds, and he suggested that the present ones on the Common could be improved and extended to the benefit of wildlife.

A new home for the elusive Starfruit, that ‘hides’ in the Village Pond, could be created. As many will know, this small plant is one of Coleshill’s claims to fame – being found at only a handful of sites in England. The Committee will be looking at possible plans, but may need extra man-power from the village to undertake such work.

Picture by Graham Thorne  


Picture by Chris Wege
Stump of oak tree felled by Jamie Dyer and expertly converted into a seat with his chain-saw

Mushroom Tree

Albert BatesMichael Connelly at work

August 2002 saw the Mushroom Tree restored to its former glory. Thanks to the expertise of Michael Connolley and his colleague, the lack of trimming over several years has been put right.

The Tree was first shaped by Albert Bates, who lived opposite in Thornbury Cottage. He used to cut the area of grass in front of the tree to form his own lawn, despite the hillocks and dips. This area was the best part of the Common for harebells in the late summer.
Albert and his wife Ada would take their chairs out on the grass on a summer’s day and watch the world go by. Mrs Bates also used the grass as a convenient place for spreading her sheets to dry. Originally two cottages, the property was owned by Sidney Ware’s father at one time. He can remember the old lady who lived in one of them, sitting at her door, and working with her lace pillow and bobbins. The cottages were sold for £75 each, and later Albert knocked them into one.

Mushroom Tree - Before Mushroom Tree - After

If you would like to know more about special trees in the Chilterns you can click the link below and visit the special trees in the Chilterns web site organised by the Chilterns AONB on