For a small and compact place the Washburn has a surprisingly wide range of habitats within its boundaries. Within 10 or so miles you can walk from the high moorland around Thruscross to the flat valley bottom around Leathley.
The habitats include:
poorly drained moorland edges (in-bye land)
reservoirs and streams
grassland - improved and unimproved
woodland - conifer and deciduous
damp valley bottoms
The range of habitats exists because intensive agricultural techniques have not largely affected the valley and an active partnership between Yorkshire Water and specialist naturalists' groups has developed habitats which encourage a diversity of species.
The Valley is host to some scarce bird species such as the pied flycatcher, common redstart, common crossbill, cuckoo and, of course, red grouse which is a heather moorland specialist.
Some species in national decline retain a stronghold in the Washburn Valley, such as lapwing, curlew and skylark. In addition the Valley is populated by a wide range of resident birds, breeding visitors and winter visitors, making it one of the foremost ornithological strongholds in this part of Yorkshire.
More unusual wildlife
The Valley is particularly good for amphibians, reptiles and some insects. Many species of dragonfly breed in the valley, often at ponds created through the careful land management practices of Yorkshire Water, including black darter, emerald damselfly, golden ringed emperor and broad bodied chaser dragonflies. Part of the valley’s moorland supports populations of adders which are not common in adjoining valleys. There are also colonies of common lizard, slow worm and palmate newt in appropriate habitats.
The flora of the valley feature over 450 species, including bog asphodel, the insectivorous sun dew, marsh cinquefoil, the very rare thread rush, and nine species of orchids. One of these is described by an expert as most unusual, having been noted in some Southern counties and once on the Isle of Skye.