Nature in Northumberland
Published: Monday 22nd Sep 2014
Written by: Alice de Courcy-Wheeler
The Northumberland and Scottish Borders is an area of the UK that is perfect for spotting wildlife. It’s an extremely rural area, with large swathes covered by the Northumberland National Park. Even outside this area, the land is mostly countryside, full of heather-clad moor, pine forest and bogs. This diverse range of habitat, coupled with relatively little human intrusion (Northumberland is the most sparsely populated county in England with just 62 people per square kilometre), makes this part of the world a nature lover’s dream.
So if you come on a spotting trip, what can you expect? Well, amongst the heather on the moors flit the rare mountain bumblebee and the heather moth, while in the woods badgers bustle and roe deer scamper between the trees. Northumberland is also one of the last bastions of the red squirrel, and it’s a real treat to see these little red tree dwellers in the wild again. The rare black grouse can be seen on the park in the spring (if you get up early enough), while the ring ouzel – a mountain blackbird – makes its way from North Africa to Northumberland every year to spend its summer feasting on the berries and insects of the National Park.
The Northumberland Wildlife Trust runs 62 nature reserves across the area and these range from large woodland locations to aquatic sanctuaries. There is bound to be several close to where you’re staying, and you can check their website to find out the nearby sites.
One of the most exciting places in the region is Coquet Island, an RSPB reserve off Amble on the east coast. It’s a haven for thousand of terns and in the summer flocks of puffins set up home there. Such is the sensitive nature of the habitat the public isn’t allowed to set foot on Coquet, but it is possible to take a boat trip around the island for some close-up viewing.
Other visitors to the Northumberland coastline are less feathery, but just as exciting to see. You can often see grey seals bobbing about a short way out to sea all the way along the coast, and on the Farne Islands, just south of Berwick, is a breeding colony. Around 1,000 pups are born there every year, accounting for 3% of the total UK population. The islands are a National Trust site, and the NT runs Seal Tours every October to see these large (and small) sea mammals. As well as seeing the seals, you can explore some of the other islands in the chain; see puffins, pipits, warblers and over twenty other species that call the Farne Islands home.
On the mainland you should also make time for a trip to Chillingham Castle where you can find the Chillingham Cattle, a species rarer than the Giant Panda. These 100 wild beasts roam an enclosed park, and are believed to be the only remaining descendants of the herds that once ran through Britain’s great forests. No human has ever touched one of these animals, but you can go on an escorted tour with a warden who will take you to see them, from a safe distance.