SO JUNE is here and, while we’re all hopefully staying relatively local and as safe as possible, there’s always a bit of wonderful wildlife nearby. Indeed in these difficult times a little bit of nature is something we all need. With that in mind, let’s have a think about plants and animals close to home.

House martins belong to a family of birds called the hirundines, which includes swallows and sand martins (but not swifts, despite superficial similarities). As their name suggests, they live amongst us, building nests under the eaves of houses and in corners around windows. Some will even nest under the canopies outside well-known supermarkets – residents of North Berwick will be familiar with his. Before us humans came along with our fancy buildings, house martins would nest on cliffs. Some still do this, indeed up until relatively recently there were cliff-nesting martins at Dunbar. The nests themselves are constructed from mud, and are said to be made up of over a thousand individual beak-sized lumps.

House martins in flight can be difficult to tell apart from their relatives, especially swallows. Both have the same predominantly blue-black colouration, but martins lack the swallow’s red throat and long tail streamers. Another distinguishing feature is the house martin’s white rump, which is very obvious in flight.

House martins and swallows share more than a similar appearance – they also have similar lifestyles. Both species, along with sand martins and swifts, are almost entirely dependent on flying insects for their food. However, they avoid direct competition by feeding at different heights – swallows will generally feed closer to the ground than martins. There is also some evidence of swallows tending to feed on larger insects. Having said that, house martins and swallows can often be seen feeding together, which just goes to show that birds don’t read scientific papers.

Wood avens is a plant which, despite its name, is not restricted to woodlands. Equally at home in hedgerows and shady waysides, it’s a relatively common wildflower around the county and can be found in gardens where it may be considered a weed. It’s a member of the rose family and has the five-petalled flower common to many wild roses - in this case the petals are bright yellow.

In mediaeval times wood avens was considered to be a valuable herbal treatment for a number of ailments and also a ward against evil spirits and rabid dogs. It was closely associated with Christianity due to its leaves growing in threes and its petals in fives, representing the Trinity and Christ’s five wounds. One of its alternative names, herb bennet, is derived from the Latin herba benedicta – translated as either “blessed herb” or “St. Benedict’s herb”. Either way sounds pretty impressive, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Wood avens has a close relative, the water avens. As you can probably guess, this species prefers damper places and can be found in ditches and along the banks of burns. It differs from wood avens in that its flowers are droopy and an orange-pink colour. The two species readily hybridise to give a plant with bright yellow flowers similar to wood avens, but with the droopiness of water avens. These hybrids can be seen around the county, including on the Pencaitland Railway Walk.