Teesside has loads of great places to see some of the amazing riches of British wildlife. Many of these are former industrial sites which are now home to rare plants, birds and insects. Here are five of my favourite ones.
South Gare – more than just a beach
This man-made peninsular at the mouth of the Tees is home to many species of rare and interesting plants, such as Purple Milk Vetch, Heath Dog-violet, and the delicate blue (but prickly if you’re wearing flip-flops and shorts) Sea Holly. You can also see several scarce butterflies, deer, seals, many waders and seabirds and, occasionally, hundreds of bird-watchers looking at the latest rare bird to make land-fall there.
Saltholme RSPB – birds with funny beaks and lots more
Have you ever seen a Spoonbill or an Avocet (the emblem of the RSPB, with its upturned beak)? On a trip to Saltholme you might see both if you’re lucky. In my view, this is the best birdwatching spot on Teesside, with lots to see at every time of year.
Thousands of ducks (many different species) in the winter, breeding gulls, terns and waders (including the aforementioned Avocets) in the summer, lots of migrants in spring and autumn, and the chance of seeing exotic-looking birds such as owls, Kingfishers and egrets at any time of year.
Greatham Creek – a seal success story
If you’ve ever driven along A178 Seaton Carew Road from Port Clarence to Hartlepool, you have driven past the only place in Europe where Harbour Seals have re-colonised after having been lost due to pollution. Until the early 1800s, thousands of these seals (the smaller of our two species) bred in the marshes at the mouth of the Tees. With industrialisation numbers gradually decreased and by the 1930s seals had disappeared from Teesmouth.
After decades of remediation, in the mid 1980s they started breeding again and now can be seen year round in good numbers. The much larger Grey Seal is also found here in the summer months.
Maze Park & Portrack Marsh
These two Tees Valley Wildlife Trust reserves are connected by the River Tees but they are quite different in character. Maze Park, in Middlesbrough, is dominated by two grassy man-made hills and is home to many insect species – including the scarce Grayling butterfly (find out more here), while Portrack Marsh, across the Tees in Stockton, is a large area of reedbed surrounding two deep pools.
Many different birds are found at Portrack – Kingfishers, various species of duck and on a warm summer day clouds of Swallows, Swifts and Sand Martins can be seen feeding on insects high in the air over the ponds.
Marton West Beck – rural woods
Flowing through the heart of Middlesbrough, for just under 10km from Nunthorpe to North Ormesby, Marton West Beck runs through many different habitats. Many of the lower stretches run in deep concrete channels, surrounded by housing or industry. In places like Bonny Grove and Fairy Dell, however, you could be forgiven for thinking that you had been transported to some remote woodland in the countryside.
One of my favourite walks in the spring is from Slip Inn Bank (on Ladgate Lane) to the old stone bridge known as Devil’s Bridge. Ambling along, listening to birds sing and seeing primroses, violets and many other wildflowers, it feels like being in heaven.
Photographs by Colin Conroy and Sue Conroy.