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Wild Tyne Tales

Whittle Dene. Image by Duncan Hutt.

It’s a while since I’ve written for Tyne Valley Express about the Tyne Valley, so before putting words to pc, I went to seek guidance from NWT’s long serving Vice President and former RSPB Northern Director, Ian Armstrong, who is a long term Tyne Valley resident and has observed the landscape and wildlife here for decades. I was seeking oversight and insight of where to start in this great connecting natural corridor of landscape and all things wild, which links the coast at Tynemouth to the upper reaches of the Tyne and beyond.

It’s hard to know just where to start, so here I want to give a brief overview of all the natural aspects of the valley as I, and Ian, see them.

First, the river itself in all its reaches, urban to rural. The Tyne is an exciting river by any comparison. Tynemouth and its urban sections including the Ouseburn and other tributaries are as estuarine as they are freshwater. So the kittiwake colonies along their length for example, are very much part of its ecology, as are common and grey seals, harbour porpoise and bottle nosed dolphins, and a massive variety of sea and water birds and other marine and even saltmarsh life. There is enough there for several articles alone.

My favourite section in many ways is the upper reaches towards Watersmeet where the Tyne tumbles through riverine woods and semi natural habitats, with its hidden ‘heavy metal’ beaches with patches of rare flowers and its bluebell banks and where otter and more still thrive. The area around Stocksfield, I have several times watched otters playing in the waters and at Hexham of course the salmon and sea trout leap. All in easy reach of people.

Next on our list is woods and trees and forest edges, which eventually feed into the edges of Kielder and the Borders. This is a connected network of trees where red squirrels are hanging on and where pine martens are recolonising and where one day, beavers, as at Wallington, may be part of the scene. These woods are being actively extended through the Great Northumberland Forest vision and trees are the basis of important industry and employment of course.

Then there’s the bits in between, the open spaces, grasslands, marshes and farmed land, odd rough corners and strips of less managed land, scrub and ponds . It’s quite a mixed mosaic the Tyne Valley, with many elements that add to the habitat options, though, like most everywhere, it could do with more and richer connecting bits.  Hedgerows though are quite extensive in the rural areas and around the edges of towns and smaller watercourses. Here you might come across hares and partridge, deer and farmland birds, raptors and much more.

I want also to mention the NWT reserves and local sites, gems of their own but springboards also into the wider landscape. We have the Williamson reserve, at Slaggyford, a lovely woodland site with its unusual ‘calaminarian grasslands’, with rare orchids, the series of reservoirs and woods along Whittle Dene at Horsley and Close House Riverside at Wylam.

There is Priestclose Wood at Prudhoe and further afield Butterburn Flow and the other Border Mires around the edges of the Tyne watershed and into Kielder. Whilst in the urban area, Weetslade and other sites we manage are closely linked to the Tyne. If you want to squeeze in Briarwood Banks up towards Allendale, then we have on the doorstep the furthest northern colony of dormice in the UK.  There is truly immense variety of wildlife sites to take into account, all with special things to offer the naturalist.

There are two other important factors to consider. First, the natural big connecting geography of the Tyne Valley, which for millennia has been a major route way for many species, human and animal, to access the east west sides of the country and beyond into Scotland, following ancient routes. Then there is the cultural historic aspects of the place, the importance say of Thomas Bewick of Cherryburn, who, with his engravings, put nature on the map here in the 18th Century and also the linear wildlife corridor, one mile either side of the unique habitat of Hadrian’s Wall and the Whin Sill.

It’s not all natural, wild or rosy of course, the valley and its people and wildlife, have their challenges and improvements from an ecological perspective can and should be made and are being advanced. These we will also look at. How can the Tyne Valley be a little more biodiverse and be part of the bigger emerging network of wilder places that will help speed nature’s and climate recovery?

So, yes that’s a lot to go at, and with Ian and other’s help, I intend to set out and explore more of this great valley and find out some of its lesser known about natural aspects. I’m on a Tyne Valley tour of the natural throughout 2024! I should have a few wild tales to tell.

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