Downs Diary


The robin is the UK’s favourite bird – officially adopted as Britain’s National Bird in 1960. The robin first appeared on Christmas cards in the middle of the 19th century. Until 1861 postmen wore bright red coats, earning the nick-name of ‘robin redbreasts’. In the winter, male and female birds set up separate territories and are therefore found in a wider range of habitats. Many Scandinavian, Russian and German robins migrate to over-winter in the UK.

Although the mistle thrush is named after its liking for the mistletoe, a plant traditionally used for Christmas decorations, single birds can often be found dominating and defending holly trees for its berries.

Holly was traditionally brought into the house so faeries could shelter in the branches and join in the festivities, in return protecting the inhabitants against the wiles of house goblins. The version of the Holly and the ivy carol we are familiar with today was first published by Cecil Sharp. It is thought to have Pagan origins and could therefore date back over 1000 years.­ It is most unusual for a carol like that to have survived over the years, especially during the stern Protestant period of the 17th century. The colours of holly and ivy, green and red, are traditionally associated with Christmas. Holly or Holm in Old English, is one of Britain’s few native evergreen trees and it’s great for wildlife, especially due to its nutritious red berries in winter. Look out for the rare hollies with yellow berries in the triangle of scrub between the top of Bridge Valley Road and Fountain Road.

It won’t be difficult to notice the noisy rooks on the Downs at this time of year. On the ground they’re generally quiet but they make a deafening cawing sound when airborne, especially early in the morning. Look out for them feeding on worms on the football pitches at Sea Walls. They are unusual in that they forage far into twilight


Photographs © Denice Stout