Berwick Wildlife Group
Promoting wildlife within the Berwick area.
Inland the geology is dominated by the Cheviot hills. They are formed by igneous rock, the remains of volcanic activity around 400 mya caused by the collision of England and Scotland.
The Northumberland coast is made up of a variety of spectacular landscapes ranging from sandy beaches, high cliffs, rocky reefs and isolated offshore islands reflecting the complex geology of this area. Along the coast much of this geology is laid bare by the action of the sea, allowing easy access to explore, study and understand it.
This geology forms the base that all the subsequent ecology is built upon, from the first colonising plants to the most complex ecosystems.
Most of the coastline is based on a series of Carboniferous limestones laid down 300 mya, alternating with layers of sandstone and shales. Together they create jagged wave-cut platforms that extend horizontally from the base of low cliffs and beaches and form reefs and headlands along the shore and create the base for the rich intertidal ecology.
The spectacular Farne Islands and the crags upon which the castles of Bamburgh, Lindisfarne and Dunstanburgh are built were created around 250 mya by volcanic intrusions forming the Whin sill.
Northumberland has one of the longest stretches of semi-continuous dune coast to be found in Britain. These dunes formed between 3,000 and 400 years ago are still evolving, being eroded and re-deposited by coastal erosion and the westerly and north easterly winds, producing varied habitats for wildlife.
We are lucky in this area to still have a wide variety of mammal species still residing with us.
So what mammals are “special” to our area?
Bats Our area is not over-endowed with deciduous woodland, and with much of the land intensively farmed for cereals, the insect prey for our bat species is limited. Nevertheless, by surveying sites with old buildings or fresh water, as well as the remaining pockets of woodland, our team's evening studies through the summer months have revealed Common and Soprano pipistrelles, Daubenton's and isolated records of Noctule and Nathusius' pipistrelle. The last species was particularly noteworthy, its identity confirmed by means of sonogram software (used alongside bat detectors).
Sites studied recently include a number within Berwick itself, Spittal, Ford, Etal, Gainslaw, Chain Bridge, and Longridge Towers.
Red squirrel – Our native squirrel has been residing here for 10,000 years since the last ice age. Although under threat from the introduced Grey squirrel (which displace the reds by the transmission of the squirrelpox virus, to which greys are immune but which is fatal to reds and through competition for food and habitat) there are still good numbers of red squirrels in the woods in this area. The area of Kyloe woods is the most northern Red Squirrel Reserve designated by the Forestry commission.
The Berwick area has a rich and varied avifauna that reflects its variety of habitats. The Tweed Estuary is internationally important for its herds of non-breeding Mute Swan and nationally important for its Goldeneye and Goosander. In the winter big numbers of waders like Redshank, Curlew and Lapwing can be seen, often accompanied by Whooper Swan and Pink-footed Goose, the latter often forming large overnight roosts at Foulden, while other geese like Barnacle, Greylag and Canada can often be seen flying from roosts to feeding sites.
Coastal sites like those along the cliffs to the north of the town are nesting sites for large numbers of Kittiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill and increasing numbers of Fulmar, while offshore, terns are abundant and coastal movements of Gannet regularly occur. Eider Duck is ever-present throughout the year and in winter, especially from Spittal down to Goswick, large rafts of Common Scoter can be seen along with impressive numbers of Red-throated Diver.
The lower Tweed is essentially a farming area, supporting good numbers of Yellowhammer, Skylark, Song Thrush, Goldfinch with locally healthy numbers of Tree Sparrow. Along the water courses Yellow Wagtail is a colourful summer visitor, Kingfisher is a regular and Sedge Warbler is common. In adjacent woods, tits, warblers and flycatchers can be found. One notable is the Marsh Tit which is found at its northern limit. Slightly further afield, in the Cheviot Hills, Ring Ouzel, occasional harriers and Peregrine can be spotted, while St Abb’s Head to the north is a nationally important site for breeding sea birds.
These are just a few of the species that can be seen in the area. At times of migration just about anything might turn up.
Our area has two out of three of the native lizard species, one of the two widespread snakes, and all but one of the native amphibians. (As egg-layers, the grass snake and sand lizard require longer, warmer summers than ours to incubate their eggs, whilst the nearest natterjack toads are on the Solway coast.)
The best habitat for common lizards and slow-worms tends to be along the coastal strip, especially where the topography gives some southerly aspect. Moorland can be good, particularly where there are some drier areas. Cocklawburn, Ford Moss, Kyloe woods, the Cheviots and Lammermuir hills are all good areas, and slow-worms are known from the coastal land immediately to the north of Burnmouth. Adders are not found along the coastal strip, but otherwise their habitat preference is much the same. Areas of moorland regularly burnt for grouse management are unlikely to be productive.
As always with finding reptiles, timing is important. Early on a warm Spring day is the ideal, though even then slow-worms are unlikely to be too visible, unless found under some sort of "refuge" (artificial or natural)
Amphibian-wise, common frog and common toad are pretty widespread, and live up to their name. Any body of freshwater may be used by frogs for breeding, whilst toads prefer larger, more permanent ponds. Common newt (formerly smooth newt) and palmate newt – the two smaller species – are the ones most likely to turn up in small ponds, including garden ponds. However, great crested newts are always a possibility where there is a reasonably sized, well-vegetated pond, not stocked with fish.
All our reptiles and amphibians are at risk from habitat loss, or fragmentation, and as a group, are under-recorded, so all sightings and observations are most welcome.
Insects This is too large a topic to go into comprehensively here, even were your writer suitably qualified, so to take two of the more charismatic groups:
Dragonflies and damselflies
We have two main areas of floral interest. Firstly, the Tweed estuary with its mixture of riverbank flora, marshland & saltmarsh plants. The other main site is the coastal areas around us, with sandstone cliff and grassland flora to the north and to the south of the Estuary, the sand dune flora, with its acidic and alkaline specialities.
There are two habitats missing from around Berwick. We have no lakes, with their aquatic flora, nor mature woodland (trees over 100 years old) with the associated woodland species. However, we do have mature planted trees in our churchyards and the grounds of the larger Edwardian/Victorian properties. Although horticultural species may not be regarded as ‘native’ flora, it is probably just as important to have records of our mature plant & tree species within our recording area.
So what are the specialities around Berwick? We know that plants like the Early Purple Orchid, Frog Orchid and the fern Sea Spleenwort once grew in our locality, but do they survive today?
The Northumberland coast has an abundance of suitable habitat for shore-dwelling plants and animals. In addition to the expanses of sandy beach, there are sandstone and basalt cliffs, and also plenty of rocky shores - these being the most productive in terms of numbers of species.
Berwick itself has two good rocky beaches, and there are further good examples to the north, at Burnmouth through to Eyemouth, and also at St Abbs Head. Further south is Cocklawburn, though the North shore of Holy Island is probably the best site. There the areas of the Back Skerrs rocks, Snipe Point and Sandham Bay have produced good records, with numbers of different crab and starfish species, as well as interesting animals such as the Bootlace worm, Sea hare, and – especially at a very low tide – colonial sea-squirts, and sponges, including Dead man's fingers.
A little further south, two rarities have been found at Beadnel: a species of Stalked jellyfish, and Painted top shell.
Throughout the year, but especially in the summer months, a number of shore activities and surveys are organised.
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©Berwick Wildlife Group. This page was last updated on December 1st 2015.