Natural history of the Badby area

Some bird success stories that took up to two hundred years to happen – Buzzard, Raven and Red Kite...

Most of the changes to populations of birds found around Badby during the last two hundred years seem to have occurred in more recent times.

Lord Lilford's "Notes on the birds of Northamptonshire and Neighbourhood", gives a good picture of the birds that could be seen in Northamptonshire at the end of the nineteenth century without being specific about Badby.

Of the red kite he says, “I am sorry to say that… … the species has been all but extinct in our district for nearly fifty years”. Similarly of the buzzard, he says “... (the buzzard) in this county shared the fate of the kite and is now a rare bird with us.” He goes on to say that in the early part of the 19th century, both buzzard and kite were common in Northamptonshire and buzzards bred commonly in woods.

One of the factors in these birds dying out was undoubtedly human persecution. However Lilford thinks that extreme winter weather may also have contributed in the case of the red kite.

The largest member of the crow family to be found in Britain, the raven, is recorded as meeting a similar fate “although this species was formerly common and well known in our county… …authenticated notices of its occurrence in recent years… …are very few and far between.”

Common Buzzard (photo: Barry Boswell) The Raven – virtually disappeared from this area in the 19th century but has returned in the 21st (photo: Barry Boswell) Red Kites were present 200 years ago but died out until nearby reintroduction programmes saw them spread back into the Badby area (photo: Barry Boswell)

Badby residents growing up in the village in the 1950s didn’t see these birds. Thanks to reduced persecution and possibly more favourable conditions such as the increased availability of roadkill, there was a gradual spread of the buzzard from its strongholds of the West Country and Wales during the 1980s. Up until the 1990s ravens were still very rare this far east. A raven seen in Northamptonshire in 1990 was the fourth one in twenty years. However, by the turn of the century ravens were starting to appear more regularly and in the last few years up to now there has been an explosion in numbers of both buzzard and raven here and across the whole of England. A walk around Badby today will almost certainly produce a sighting of a buzzard hanging in the sky above the village. Ravens are not so widespread but recently I counted no less than twenty ravens at once, high above, circling in the sky.

The lack of red kites noted by Lord Lilford at the end of the nineteenth century was replicated across the whole of Britain. By the 1960s there were only about twenty pairs left in their last stronghold in Wales. There was growing support for a reintroduction programme to help the recovery of the red kite population in Britain. This was first realised at the end of the 1980s when red kites were released in Buckinghamshire and Scotland over a five year period. Kites started breeding in these areas in 1992 and other release programmes followed including in 1995 in the East Midlands. As a result of all the breeding success, birds have spread out from these original areas and in the last few years kites have started to appear in the skies above Badby woods and occasionally Badby village.

It seems likely that all three species will be breeding again in the Badby area in the near future, if not already.

... and many other big changes to Badby birds in the last seventy years.

Going back to the end of the nineteenth century Lord Lilford has interesting observations about some other birds that were much more commonly seen at the time.

For example, of the lesser spotted woodpecker he says “…(it) is certainly now the most common of our three species of woodpecker in this neighbourhood, and we have observed it in every part of the county with which we have any acquaintance”. He’s probably referring particularly to the area around Lilford where he lived but it suggests that the bird might also have been common in the Badby area at this time.

He says the following about the spotted flycatcher. “This little summer visitor is so common and so well known in our county that a very few words will suffice with regard to it.”

Lesser-spotted woodpecker – possibly the commonest local woodpecker in the 19th century but now very rare (photo: Barry Boswell) Spotted flycatchers - a rare sight today (photos: Barry Boswell)

He shows no concern for the cuckoo and describes the redstart as “by no means uncommon”. Starlings are “exceedingly abundant” and of jackdaws, “this amusing but most pernicious bird is extremely common in our county, and probably only too well known to most of my readers”. So that last description at least sounds not too different from what would be said today in Badby!

Ravens, buzzards and red kites were definitely not on the scene after the Second World War. However we know a lot about the bird life in and around Badby woods thanks to the work of Eric Simms (1921 – 2009), a distinguished ornithologist and pioneer of studies of breeding bird populations. His parents lived on Church Green, Badby and in the late 1940s he spent time in the village carrying out an annual breeding bird census in Badby woods. Simms published many books about birds and his ‘Woodland Birds’ volume in the noted New Naturalist series of natural history books contains much information about Badby Woods as being a typical example of pedunculate oak woodland. He gives examples of other woodlands that had similar diversity and density of birds at that time. Included in the book are the results of his surveys in Badby Woods. They show the breeding population by year of each species over the years 1946 to 1950. It can be seen that at this time as well as the more familiar birds such as robin, blackbird and blue tit there are many and varied species to be found. These include tree pipit, nuthatch, marsh tit, spotted flycatcher, wood warbler (one year only), lesser spotted woodpecker and cuckoo.

The cuckoo – heard every spring in Badby until the last few years reflecting its decline all over the area (photo: Barry Boswell) Starling and House sparrow – common everywhere in the 1950s but less so today (photos: Barry Boswell) Female house sparrow (photo: Barry Boswell)

Badby villagers such as Keith Bull and George Hartshorn can remember spending a lot of time in Badby woods whilst growing up in the village during the 1950s. This was in the days before 24 hour multi-channel TV, personal computers, i-pads and social media provided alternative distractions! It was also in the days before bird nesting was considered unacceptable although only one egg was ever taken from a nest. Raising young birds was also popular with tawny owls, jackdaws and even jays being fed and looked after, perhaps living in a garden shed. Keith raised a young jay for about a year and was able to call it to him. He was due to have it featured in the Daventry Weekly Express but unfortunately it flew off never to return the week before he was going to be interviewed!

Keith remembers lots of small birds - house sparrows, starlings etc. being abundant everywhere and nothing like the number of jackdaws around the village. Wood pigeons were mainly seen in the woods and only bred around harvest time. They weren’t seen in gardens. The call of the cuckoo and young cuckoos were familiar around Badby. Other memories were of all three species of woodpecker being found, goldfinches nesting at the end of branches and once a snow bunting appearing in a back garden. Tawny and little owls were to be seen in the woods but not barn owls.

Moving a little nearer to the present day, part of Badby Woods became an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) in 1985. The citation for this event mentions breeding redstart, wood warbler, tree pipit and nuthatch so some of the special breeding birds from the 1940s and 1950s were certainly still present forty years ago.

Green woodpecker and Great spotted woodpecker – commonly seen in field, wood and garden today – unlike the sparrow sized lesser-spotted woodpecker that has virtually disappeared from this area (photos: Barry Boswell) Snow bunting – one turned up in a Badby back garden in the 1950s. A very rare sight! (photo: Barry Boswell) The Jay – one was raised by Keith Bull in the 1950s (photo: Barry Boswell)

Around twenty years ago when we first moved to Badby cuckoos could be heard each spring but have gradually become less frequent and for the last few years they have been absent. This reflects the national trend where cuckoos have declined by about 50% over the last twenty years.

Similarly spotted flycatchers could be found easily in late spring around the village, darting forth from a perch to catch flying insects and then returning to the same perch. Today they are a rare sight, probably only migrating birds passing through Badby. Once again this is a summer visitor to Britain which has declined by about 50% in twenty years and nearly 90% since 1970! Redstarts were still breeding in Badby woods in 1990 but now unfortunately this colourful migrant is only seen passing through in spring or autumn. Two species of woodpecker, great spotted and green are thriving around Badby and the rest of the county but lesser spotted woodpeckers are now a rare sight anywhere in Northamptonshire. I haven’t seen one for over ten years in Badby Woods.

The jackdaw – always common but even more around the village nowadays (photo: Barry Boswell) Nuthatch and Redstart – breeding in Badby woods in the 1940s and in the case of the nuthatch still there today (photos: Barry Boswell)

Two birds that certainly seem to have become much more common and certainly more visible around Badby are wood pigeon and jackdaw. Keith Bull’s recollection about wood pigeons only breeding at harvest time has changed as now they seem to breed all the year round. Jackdaws are everywhere around the village and sometimes seem to be perched on every chimney pot! Two traditionally common birds, house sparrow and starling are much less widespread than in the 1950s. Keith can remember sparrows being everywhere and starlings commonly bred in the village. While they are both around in some numbers they’re certainly less widespread than in the past. This isn’t surprising when you look at the national trend. The British population of house sparrows has gone from thirty million in the 1960s to only about ten million now although in the last few years there has been a bit of a recovery. Starling numbers, similarly have reduced by up to eighty percent in the last fifty years.

Badby Woods Breeding Birds Survey 1946-50 (Eric Simms)

Carrion Crow32223
Jay2 313
Tree Pipit11111
Great Tit2316192022
Blue Tit3525293434
Coal Tit22222
Marsh Tit64565
Willow Tit 1 2
Long-tailed Tit3 122
Spotted Flycatcher33233
Willow Warbler2021201620
Wood Warbler 2
Garden Warbler1211111312
Mistle Thrush21221
Song Thrush128101212
Green Woodpecker31113
Great Spotted woodpecker42444
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker 222
Tawny Owl53444
Wood Pigeon2521202725
Stock Dove32333
Pheasant 11
Total Species3233343334

References (birds)

Notes on the Birds of Northamptonshire and neighbourhood – Thomas Littleton Powys Lilford 1895

Woodland Birds – Eric Simms. Collins New Naturalist Series 1971

Thanks to local bird photographer Barry Boswell for the use of his pictures – mostly taken locally.


John Morton’s “The Natural History of Northamptonshire” 1712 describes notable plants found in Northamptonshire. Only two references specifically to Badby Woods are made, to golden rod and harebell.

In 1822 in “The History of the County of Northamptonshire” George Baker also mentions golden rod and harebell as being rare plants found in Badby Woods.

As well as those two, Baker lists over a dozen other rare plants that are found in Badby Woods including lesser butterfly orchid, woodruff and devil’s bit scabious.

Golden rod – recorded in Badby woods in the 18th and 19th centuries but not today (photo: Public Domain Creative Commons CC0) Harebell – also recorded in the early 19th century but not in more recent times (photo: Public Domain Creative Commons CC0) Lesser Butterfly orchid – recorded in Badby in 19th century volumes but has not been recorded recently (photo: Richard Piner)

W L Notcutt made a “Catalogue of Plants observed in the neighbourhood of Daventry” during a residence of three to four years there, completed in 1842. This appeared in the volume “The Phytologist: A Popular Botanical Miscellany, Volume 1” published in 1844. His list refers to golden rod and harebell as occurring only on Borough Hill, Daventry. However he provides a comprehensive list of plants that he found specifically in Badby Woods and Badby including familiar ones such as bluebell, wood anemone, wood sorrel and dog’s mercury.

Interestingly most of the rare plants mentioned in the George Baker book of twenty years earlier do not appear in the 1842 catalogue for the Badby area. Perhaps some of these are in fact there but under a different name although one, yellow archangel, is quoted by Baker as occurring and still grows in Badby woods today. Did Notcutt just not visit the woods at the right time?

Wood anemone – a typical spring flower of ancient woodland. Probably has been growing in Badby woods for hundreds of years (photo: Richard Piner) Yellow archangel – mentioned in the 1822 history, not in the 1842 catalogue but occurs in Badby Woods today (Seen here alongside the ubiquitous bluebell) (photo: Richard Piner) Wood sorrel – like wood anemone, a spring flower of ancient woodland – common in Badby woods now and in the past (photo: Richard Piner) Lesser celandine – grows commonly all around Badby and the woods today but not mentioned in the 1842 catalogue (photo: Richard Piner)

Moving a long way forward to 1985, the SSSI citation for Badby woods mentioned earlier in the birds section has more information about flowers found there at the time. There was a survey of the flora of Badby Woods done as part of the decision-making process before they were designated an SSSI but this seems to be no longer available. It would be very interesting to compare that with the 1842 catalogue. However several locally rare plants are specifically mentioned in the citation such as, wood horsetail, blinks, hairy woodrush and wood melick. All of these feature in either or both of the 19th century publications suggesting that Badby Woods’ plant population has been maintained fairly well over the last two hundred years.

The SSSI document also mentions some other plants that grow in the woods particularly in a marshy area on the edge of the woods - greater tussock sedge and marsh valerian, which don’t feature in the 19th century documents. There is also reference to woodland edge plants including blackcurrant and wood vetch (also recorded in 1842).

Finally, comparison with recorded instances of plants logged by the county flora recorder over recent years and up to date, shows that just about every plant quoted in the SSSI document from forty years ago has been subsequently recorded in Badby and the woods.

Blinks and Wood horsetail – both mentioned as growing in Badby Woods 200 years ago and also in the Badby Woods SSSI citation as being found there (photos: Rutger Barendse; Public Domain Creative Commons CC0) Coltsfoot – found today in early spring but not mentioned in the 19th century (photo: Richard Piner) Yellow rattle – common today in fields around Badby but not recorded in the 19th century (photo: Richard Piner)

Of the hundred and forty plus specimens recorded by W L Notcutt in 1842 at least a hundred have been recorded recently (see the table below) – along with about 200 others not reported in 1842! Of the rare plants recorded in the Baker volume, only one or two have been recorded in recent years. Maybe names have changed over time to disguise some of these. More investigation is needed!


The Notcutt catalogue does mention trees including oak, elm, beech, hazel and various willows. Until the spread of Dutch elm disease in the 1960s elms were a major feature of the roadside between Badby and Daventry.

Interestingly, the catalogue mentions sweet chestnut, which is currently widespread in Badby woods, but only as occurring somewhere in Daventry. The horse chestnut, such a recognisable emblem for Badby today is not mentioned at all.

So were there already horse chestnuts growing on and around the greens in Badby in 1842 when that catalogue was produced? Local opinion suggests that the oldest chestnuts such as the one recently felled on the corner of Chapel lane were about 200 years old. Horse chestnuts were not introduced into Britain until the early 17th century and although now there are estimated to be some two million in the country they are under serious threat from a moth that has recently spread into the UK.

Recent records and memories refer to four red blossomed horse chestnuts planted on the greens in 1911 to commemorate the coronation of George the fifth. In 1975 more horse chestnuts were planted at the instigation of the parish council. In 2005 to compensate for some of the 1970s trees that had not thrived another set of trees were planted on the greens. In this case not horse chestnuts but two oak, two walnut, one larch and one Japanese cherry.

A ring of horse chestnut trees were present at the start of the path up to the arch gate entrance to Badby woods. These gradually disappeared over the years the last one being felled in 2008. One of the last of the old horse chestnuts, on the corner of Chapel Lane was felled in 2016 due to the trunk being rotten.

Church Green - treeless before horse chestnut and other plantings during the 20th century (photo: HPoB&F, Badby PCC 2012) The trunk of the horse chestnut on the corner of Chapel Lane just about to fall - 2016 (photo: Richard Piner)

Catalogue of plants found in the Badby area around 1840 (W L Notcutt)

1842 Latin name2017 Latin name(if different) English name1842 locationrecent record?
Aegopodium podagrariaGround ElderBadbyy
Ajuga reptansBugleBadby Woodsy
Allium ursiniumRamsonsBadbyy
Alopecurus pratensisMeadow FoxtailMeadowsy
Anemone nemorosaWood AnemoneBadby Woodsy
Angelica sylvestrisWild AngelicaBadby Woodsy
Anthoxantum odoratumSweet Vernal GrassCommony
Apargia hispidaLeontodon hispidus Rough HawkbitBadby Road(y)
Arctium lappaBurdockCommony
Asperula odorataGalium odoratum WoodruffBadby Woodsy
Bellis perennisDaisyCommony
Betonica officinalisStachys officinalis BetonyBadby Woodsy
Bromus mollisBromus hordeaceus Soft BromeCommony
Calluna vulgarisHeatherBadby Woods
Carex sylvaticaWood SedgeBadby Woodsy
Cerastium viscosumMouse-earCommony
Circaea lutetianaEnchanter's NightshadeBadby Woodsy
Convulvulus arvensisField BindweedCommony
Corylus avellanaHazelBadby Woodsy
Crataegus oxyacanthaHawthornCommony
Cynosurus constatusCrested DogstailCommony
Dactylis glomerataCocksfootCommony
Dipsacus sylvestrisDipsacus fullonum Wild teaselBadby(y)
Draba vernaEropila verna Common WhitlowgrassCommony
Epilobium hirsutumGreat WillowherbBadby Woodsy
Epilobium montanumBroad-leaved WillowherbBadbyy
Epilobium tetragonumSquare-stemmed WillowherbBadby(y)
Equisetum fluviatileWater HorsetailBadby Woodsy
Equisetum sylvaticumWood HorsetailBadby Woodsy
Erythraea centauriumCommon CentauryBadby Woods
Euphorbia peplusPetty SpurgeCultivated fieldsy
Euphrasia officinalisEyebrightBadby Woods
Fagus sylvaticaBeechBadby Roady
Fragaria vescaWild StrawberryBadby Woodsy
Fumaria officinalisFumitoryCommon
Galeopsis tetrahitCommon Hemp-nettleBadby Roady
Galium aparineCleaversCommony
Galium cruciatumCruciat laevipes CrosswortBadby Roadsy
Galium mollugoHedge BedstrawBadby Woods(y)
Galium saxatileHeath BedstrawBadby Woods
Galium verumLady's BedstrawBadby Roadsy
Geranium robertianumHerb RobertBadby roadsy
Geum urbanumHerb BennetCommon/Roadsidesy
Glechoma hederaceaGround IvyCommony
Gymnadenia bifoliaPlatanathera bifolia Lesser butterfly orchidBadby Woods
Hedera helixIvyBadby Roady
Hypericum hirsutumHairy St. John's WortBadby road
Juncus acutiflorusSharp-flowered RushBadby Woods
Juncus conglomeratusCompact RushBadby Woods
Lapsana communisNipplewortBadby Roadsy
Larnium albumWhite dead-nettleCommon/Roadsidesy
Lastraea dilatataDryoperis dilatata Broad Buckler fernBadby Woods(y)
Lastraea filix-masDryoperis filix-mas Male fernBadby Woods(y)
Lathyris pratensisMeadow VetchlingBadby Woodsy
Lathyris sylvestrisNarrow-leaved Everlasting PeaBadby Woods
Leontodon taraxacumDandelionCommony
Linum catharticumFairy FlaxBadby
Listera ovataCommon twaybladeBadby Woods(y)
Lolium perennePerennial RyegrassCommony
Lonicera peryclinenumHoneysuckleBadby Woodsy
Lotus majorLotus corniculatus Bird's foot trefoilBadby roady
Luzula campestrisField WoodrushMeadowsy
Luzula congestaHeath WoodrushBadby Woods
Luzula pilosaHairy WoodrushBadby Woodsy
Lychnis diurnaSilene dioica Red campionBadby Woodsy
Lysimachia nemorumYellow pimpernelBadby Woodsy
Malva rotundifolaMalva pusilla Small-flowered MallowBadbyy
Melampyrum pratenseCommon Cow-wheatBadby Woodsy
Melica uniformaWood MelickBadbyy
Mercurialis perennisDog's MercuryBadby Woodsy
Myosotis arvensisField Forget-me-notCommony
Ononis arvensisField restharrowBadby road
Orchis masculaEarly Purple OrchidBadby Woods
Orchis maculataLactylorhiza maculata Heath spotted orchidBadby Woods
Orobus tuberosusLathyrus linifoliusBitter vetchlingBadby Woods
Oxalis acetocellaWood SorrelBadby Woodsy
Papaver rhoasCommon PoppyCommony
Pedicularis sylvaticaLousewortBadby Woods
Plantago lanceolataRibwort PlantainCommony
Plantago majorGreater Plantain Badby Roady
Plantago mediaHoary PlantainCommony
Poa annuaAnnual MeadowgrassCommony
Poa pratensisMeadow FescueBadby Woodsy
Poa trivialisRough MeadowgrassCommony
Polygala vulgarisCommon MilkwortBadby Woods
Polygonium aviculareKnotgrassCommony
Polygonum bistortaPersicaria bistorta BistortBadby
Polygonum hydropiperPersicaria hydropiper Water-pepperBadby Woods
Populus albaWhite PoplarRoadsides(y)
Potentilla anserinaSilverweedCommony
Potentilla fragiastrumPotentilla sterilis Barren StrawberryCommon
Potentilla reptansCreeping CinquefoilCommony
Primula vulgarisPrimroseBadby y
Prunella vulgarisSelf-healBadbyy
Prunus spinosaBlackthornCommony
Pteris aquilinaEagle FernBadby Woodsy
Quercus albaOaketc.y
Ranunculus acrisMeadow ButtercupCommony
Ranunculus arvensisCorn ButtercupCommon
Ranunculus bulbosusBulbous ButtercupCornfields/Commony
Ranunculus flamulaLesser SpearwortBadby Woodsy
Rosa caninaDog RoseCommony
Rubus fructiosusBrambleCommony
Salix accuminataSalix gmelinii probably incorrect IDBadby Woods
Salix capreaGoat WillowBadby Woodsy
Salix cinereaGrey WillowBadby Woodsy
Sanicula europaeaSanicleBadbyy
Saxifraga tridactylitesRue-Leaved SaxifrageCommon
Scabiosa succisaSuccisa pratensis Devil's Bit ScabiousBadby Woods
Scilla nutansEnglish BluebellBadby Woodsy
Scrophularia nodosaCommon FigwortBadby Woodsy
Sedum acreBiting StonecropCommony
Sedum reflexumSedum rupestre Large rock stonecropBadby
Senecio vulgarisGroundselCommony
Sinapsis arvensisCharlockCornfields
Sisymbrium officinaleHedge MustardRoadsidesy
Sonchus asperRough Sow-thistleBadby Road
Sonchus oleraceusSmooth Sow-thistleBadby Roadsy
Stellaria mediaCommon ChickweedCommony
Symphytum officinaleCommon ComphreyBadby (y)
Tamus communisBlack BryonyBadby Woodsy
Thlaspi bursa-pastorisShepherd's PurseCommon
Tormentilla officinalisPotentilla erecta TormentilBadby Woods(y)
Trifolium pratenseRed cloverCommony
Trifolium repensWhite cloverCommony
Triticum repensCouch GrassCommon(y)
Ulex nanusUlex minor - Dwarf Gorse or europaeus GorseBadby Woodsy
Ulmus campestrisUlmus minor Field ElmCommony
Urtica dioicaStinging NettleCommony
Valeriana officionalisCommon ValerianBadby Woodsy
Veronica beccabungaBrooklimeBadby Roady
Veronica hederifoliaIvy-leaved SpeedwellCommony
Veronica officinalisHeath SpeedwellBadby Woodsy
Vibernum opulusGuelder RoseBadby Woodsy
Vicia sepiumBush VetchBadby Woods and roady
Vicia sylvaticaWood VetchBadby Woodsy
Viola caninaHeath Dog VioletCommon(y)

(y) - no recent record submitted but very probably still found around Badby

References (flowers)

The Natural History of Northamptonshire - John Morton 1712

The History of the County of Northamptonshire - George Baker 1822

The Phytologist: A Popular Botanical Miscellany, Volume 1 published in 1844. Article CXXIII – Catalogue of Plants observed in the neighbourhood of Daventry, Northamptonshire. By Mr W L Notcutt

Badby Woods SSSI citation - Natural England 1985

Recent records of plant sightings around Badby and Badby Woods submitted to the Northamptonshire Flora county recorder

Most pictures taken locally around Badby (some from internet)

Last updated 8 February 2018