Berwick Wildlife Group

Promoting wildlife within the Berwick area.
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Berwick Save our Squirrels

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The contents on this page are:-


Newsletter Aug 2011
Newsletter July 2011
Newsletter June 2011
Newsletter May 2011
Newsletter April 2011
Newsletter March 2011
Newsletter Feb 2011
Newsletter Jan 2011
Newsletter Dec 2010
Newsletter Nov 2010
Newsletter Oct 2010
Newsletter Sept 2010
Newsletter Aug 2010
Newsletter July 2010
Newsletter June 2010
Newssheet May 2010
Newsletter Apr 2010
Newsletter Mar 2010
Newssheet Feb 2010
Newsletter Jan 2010

Newsletter Dec 2009
Newsletter Nov 2009
Newssheet Oct 2009
Newsletter Sept 2009
Newsletter Aug 2009
Newsletter July 2009
Newsletter June 2009
Newssheet May 2009
Newsletter Apr 2009
Newsletter Mar 2009
Newssheet Feb 2009
Newssheet Jan 2009

Newsletter Dec 2008
Newssheet Nov 2008
Newssheet Oct 2008
Newsletter Jul-Aug-Sept 2008
Newssheet August 2008
Newssheet July 2008
Newsletter June 2008
Newssheet May 2008
Newssheet April 2008
Newsletter Jan/Feb/Mar 2008
Newssheet February 2008
Newssheet January 2008

Committee Reports
No meeting in December.
Meeting - Nov 11
Meeting - Oct 11
Meeting - Sept 11
Meeting - Aug 11
Meeting - July 11
Meeting - June 11
Meeting - May 11
AGM - 2011
Meeting - Apr 11
Meeting - Mar 11
Minutes - Feb 11
Minutes - Jan 11
No meeting in December.
Meeting - Nov 10
Meeting - Oct 10
Meeting - Sept 10
No meeting in August.
Meeting - July 10
No meeting in June.
Meeting - May 10
AGM - 2010
Meeting - Apr 10
Meeting - Mar 10
Minutes - Feb 10
Minutes - Jan 10
No meeting in December.
No meeting in November.
Minutes - Oct 09
Minutes - Sep 09
Minutes - Aug 09
Minutes - July 09
Minutes - June 09
Minutes - May 09
AGM - 2009
Minutes - Apr 09
Minutes - Mar 09
Minutes - Feb 09
Minutes - Jan 09
Minutes - Nov 08
Letter to Berwick Borough Council re. The Future of Berwick
Minutes - Oct 08
Minutes - Sept 08
Minutes - Aug 08
Minutes - July 08
Minutes - June 08
Minutes - May 08
Minutes - Apr 08
Minutes - Mar 08
Minutes - Feb 08
Minutes - Jan 08
No meeting in December
Meeting - Nov 07

Indoor Meeting Reports
November 2010 - Adventures of a Butterfly Spotter by Jaci Beavan
January 2010 - St Abbs Marine Reserve by Liza Cole

13th May 09 - St Abbs in Summer by Kevin Rideout
11th March 09 - Western Cape of South Africa by Gill Young
14th Jan 09 - BWG's Brilliant Wildlife event.

10th Dec 08 - Larger than the average moggy by Richard Wales.
12th Nov 08 - Plants and their Habitats by Dr. Fiona Aungier.
8th Oct 08 - Birds of the Farnes by John Walton.
13th Feb 08 - The Music of Birds by Geoff Sample.

12th Dec 07 - Berwick is Brilliant for Wildlife.
9th May 07 - AGM and talk on Alpine Plants by Ron McBeath
14th March 07 - Squirrel Talk

Walk Reports
July 2011 - A walk to see the Lindisfarne Helleborine led by Andrew Craggs

14th June 09 - A visit to the Goody Patchy with Maurice McNeeley
Red Squirrels in Detchant Woods, a visit with Berwick Save our Squirrels.
Mosses and Lichens, a visit to Cocklawburn Dunes.
Squirrels in the Forest, a visit to Kyloe Woods.
Butterfly Walk at Cocklawburn.
A Bumblebee identification walk with bee expert Shaun Hackett.
The small Common Blue at Cocklawburn – a local mystery.
5th June 08 - Secrets of Cocklawburn, from low tide mark to the dunes .
Fungi Foray
Butterfly Walk at Cocklawburn
National Butterfly Week 07
Farne Islands Trip
Needles Eye Walk
Squirrel Walk, Paxton
In Search of Dippers, Wooler

Members Articles
Two Small Mammal Surveys in September.
Surveying for Small Mammals.
The importance of Little Beach.
Whales at St Abbs.
A new solitary bee is found at Ford Moss.
Report on Red Squirrel Conference.
Balloons and Beach Litter.

Any Other Business
If you have any news of interest to members of our Group please send it in to Fiona


Indoor Talks

Life – but not as we know it - St Abbs Marine reserve.

This proved to be an apt title for Berwick Wildlife Group's first indoor event of the year, a talk with wonderful photographs by Liza Cole, who until recently was the Ranger for the St Abb's Voluntary Marine Reserve. The Marine Reserve stretches from the shoreline of the National Nature Reserve down to the 50m contour – because this was about the depth limit for amateur divers when the Reserve was set up. Although there are areas of sand and boulders, the hard volcanic rock that has produced St Abb's Head continues out to sea, and provides a firm substrate for a host of weird, wonderful and brightly coloured marine creatures, including corals.

Liza began by leading us on an imaginary dive into the cool but outstanding clear waters of the Reserve. As we sank down through the water column we passed by the plankton, minute plants and grazing animals which are the base of the marine food chain. Some larger animals are also planktonic in that they float in the water column – like the comb jellies (with transparent cases covered in shimmering cilia) and lion's-mane jelly-fish, which look much better afloat than when stranded on shore, although their tentacles can still give a nasty sting. Turtles come to the British Isles in summer especially to feed on our abundant jelly-fish, returning to the tropics to breed. Also in the water column are fishing sea-birds, the occasional guillemot "flying" past giving a somewhat surreal effect on a dive.

Where the rocky reefs are within 10m. or so of the surface there is enough light for big seaweeds to grow, the kelp forest being the marine equivalent of a rain forest with animals inhabiting all levels. On the fronds are bright-coloured sea slugs, the warning colouring advertising their poisonous nature, in turn derived from the poisons of the tiny "sea mat" animals which they eat. Sea slugs often gather in small groups to lay and fertilise eggs – all engaging in both activities as they are hermaphrodite. Tiny limpets with glowing blue bands eat the kelp directly, and the sea bed is grazed by edible urchins with hundreds of hydraulic tube-feet. These are preyed on by lobsters and ballan wrasse, spotted fish with horny lips and extra teeth in their gullets so they can eat shellfish easily. Ballan wrasse all start out as female, but as they grow some turn in to males, although we don't know how to they tell each other apart!

In deeper water it is too dark for kelp, but there are lots of animals, often sedentary filter-feeders who look more like exotic flowers. Anemones include the plumose anemone, a white, orange or pink column up to 9ins. long with a fluffy top; and the even brighter dahlia anemone with multicoloured waving tentacles. More unusual are the deeplet anemone, a cold-water species from Arctic waters; and the Devonshire cup coral, a solitary coral more at home in the south and west. Both find a congenial home at St Abbs. Dead men's fingers is another species of coral, this time colonial. Fluffy-looking when the polyps emerge to feed, they are clusters of smooth, white tubes like…. dead men's fingers, when the polyps are retracted into the body of the coral for safety. On flatter areas are dense beds of brittle stars, holding on to each other with some legs and trawling the water for plankton with others. Among these are larger echinoderms like sun-stars and sea-urchins.

The bottom-dwelling animals are food for more active creatures – lobsters, crabs (such as hermit crabs or the velvet swimming crab) and fish. Some predatory fish look particularly fierce, for instance the wolf fish with large teeth or the angler fish with its huge mouth surrounding by tentacles to attract small creatures. In their turn the lobsters and crabs are eaten, mostly by us, and the less fierce-looking back half of angler fish is sold by fishmongers as monk fish. Creel fishing for lobsters and crabs is allowed in the Marine Reserve, but trawling is not, and the 25,000 people who dive from St Abbs are asked not to take home a lobster or crab "for the pot". The balance of plants, grazers and predators needs careful protection, something the Voluntary Reserve has achieved in the last 25 years purely through agreement among those involved.

Liza's audience were amazed to hear of this world of colourful animals, rivalling a coral reef, in the North Sea. Although naturalists have been listing and studying birds, plants and butterflies on land for centuries, very little is known about the ecology of even shallow coastal waters. Even less is known about the behaviour and physiology of the animals. Why, for example, are so many brightly coloured in white light, whereas in the natural dim blue light of their homes they appear dark, to our eyes at least? A great many surprising discoveries are still to be made in this other world beneath the sea.

Fiona, Jan 2010 p>

St Abbs in the Summer

On Wednesday 13th May, Kevin Rideout, the National Trust for Scotland's Ranger at St Abb's Head Reserve, gave a very interesting talk to the group about what they might see there in the summer. The talk was illustrated with Kevin's excellent slides.

He is himself a sea-bird enthusiast and finds that the bird colony here is the most accessible one on mainland Britain. In 2008 there were 33 000 guillemots and about one twentieth of that number of razorbills. Both species, along with other sea-birds, are suffering from a drop in the number of the sandeels on which they feed their young. Kittiwake numbers have also fallen and puffins are suffering too, although there are not many of these at St Abbs.

The underlying rocks at St Abbs are igneous, containing heavy metals, and the grasslands on the headland grow on a thin, calcareous soil, giving a variety of different wild flowers, including spring sandwort, rose root and meadow saxifrage. These provide nectar for butterflies such as small copper and grayling. Dark green fritillaries are sometimes seen and rock roses support a population of the northern brown argus, whose caterpillars feed only on the leaves of this plant.

The reserve is perhaps less well known for its cetacean sightings. In 2008 bottle-nosed, white-sided and Risso’s dolphins were all seen, as was a minke whale. In February 2009, a hump-backed whale was sighed off St Abb’s harbour.

All in all, it was a talk to inspire the members to visit the reserve, sure of plenty to see

Molly, May 2009

Scenery and Flora of the Western Cape of South Africa

On Wednesday March 11th, Gill Young took the members and guests of Berwick Wildlife Group thousands of miles away from Northumberland’s cold weather. For several years now she has been travelling with her husband to the Western Cape area of South Africa to study the flora. The climate is Mediterranean in nature with hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. Here, of course, is where the colder Atlantic Ocean meets the warmer Indian and this has a bearing on the climate. The major rock groups date from the Cambrian period with shales, granites and sandstones predominating. These influence the plants that grow there and hence the animals which are found.

The Cape Floral Kingdom is the smallest of the 6 in the world, covering 6% of South Africa from the Cederberg mountains north of Cape Town eastwards towards Port Elizabeth. There are over 8 700 plant species, 68% of which are endemic here. The diversity of plant species is greater than any other in the world. The largest of the vegetation types is the Fynbos, with more than 7 000 species, 90% found nowhere else. The plants here have adapted to heavily leached soils, low in phosphates and nitrogen, and to the long summer drought. There is open shrubland with scattered, taller bushes, heathers and proteas with an understorey of reeds and bulbs. The leaves of some of the proteas and ericoids contain aromatic oils which, because of their use in herbal medicines, are economically important.

There are few butterflies in this region and pollination takes other channels: the cape sugar bird pollinates the leucosperma; the sunbirds ericas, bulbs and proteas; rodents pollinate proteas and insects the brightly coloured flowers. Many seeds lie dormant in the soil for years and their germination is triggered by smoke from bush fires.

Gill then showed a stunning collection of the flowers and the scenery. Many of the flowers that grow wild there were familiar, having been brought to Britain as garden plants. Particularly lovely were the scenes from Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens. She concluded with photos of the animals found, such as the rock hyrax, ostriches, baboons and of course African penguins.

Molly, March 2009

Berwick's Brilliant Wildlife 2..

Berwick Wildlife Group held their second celebration of the wildlife of Berwick and its immediate hinterland in The Aidan's Room of Berwick United Reformed Church, Spittal on Wednesday 14th January. Berwick Wildlife Group aims to foster appreciation, understanding and protection for local plants and animals. The Chairperson thanked all the people who had contributed to this work, especially the Group's members who have made the year's surveys and events so successful. Many others have helped the Group (and the wildlife) by sending in records, lending survey equipment, allowing surveyors on their land, giving inspiring talks, leading outings, providing photographs, offering meeting rooms, printing articles, displaying posters and giving grants to help with the costs of organisation and the purchase of survey equipment.

The backbone of the Group's work is collection of data on local wildlife. It was very gratifying to see so much interest from friends old and new in the displays illustrating the outcomes of the surveys in 2008. Many questions and discussions arose from the exhibits, and will help the Group plan work in 2009.

A new feature this year was a contribution from the EYE (Exploring Your Environment) Project, a collaboration by the Tyne and Wear Museums, the University of Newcastle and Northumberland Wildlife Trust, among others. This aims to establish a data-base of the wildlife present in the North East of England, and Berwick Wildlife Group sends them the results of its surveys. In this way local observations on wildlife are fed into national information banks and help to fill out the larger picture. Although North Northumberland has a wealth of flora and fauna, it has not been as well studied as some other areas, perhaps because of the scattered population. Results show that climate change is already affecting the distribution of wildlife, with several butterflies and birds being seen here for the first time as they extend their range northward.

Fiona, Feb 2009

Larger than the average moggy. Talk by Richard Wales.

On Wednesday 10th December, Berwick Wildlife Group were treated to a fascinating glimpse into the world of big cats, through a talk by Richard Wales. Richard is currently Red Squirrel Project Officer for South Scotland, but until recently worked with large cats, mostly in South Africa.

Richard began by outlining the variety of cats on our planet. The true big cats are all able to roar, but unable to purr on the inhale like domestic cats, and include lions, leopards, tigers and jaguars. Of these, lions are the only sociable species, living in prides of up to 30 animals and co-operating in hunting, which enables them to tackle really large prey. Although capable of speeds of up to 45 mph., their main hunting tactic is ambush. Only about three hunts in ten is successful, but the provision of a calorie-dense meal does not normally take too long so lions sleep a lot, averaging about 21 hours snoozing a day. Although lions were once a very widespread and abundant species, few now remain outside Africa.

Leopards are solitary animals, good climbers, extremely strong and very adaptable. Again Africa is their stronghold, although small populations of different sub-species occur in Siberia, Borneo, S. China and Sri Lanka, and there are Snow Leopards (a different species) in the mountains of Asia. Tigers occur in small numbers in Russia (Siberian Tigers) and in Asia, especially India. Their numbers are being decimated by use of tiger bones in Chinese medicine, and habitat loss. Jaguars are the only New World big cat, found from Arizona to Argentina. Although jaguars have been hunted almost to extinction in many parts of this range, they are making a slow come-back in a few protected places. Jaguars have the most powerful bite of any cat species, giving them the ability to crush skulls but also dental problems as they sometimes break their teeth. Black panthers are black jaguars, carrying a double dose of the recessive melanistic gene.

In addition to the big cats, there are medium-sized cats – such as the caracal (African lynx), puma, serval, ocelot and lynx. Most of these are also endangered. Indeed the trade in ocelot pelts is still legal, not because the animals are so plentiful but because no-one knows how many remain so no protection laws can be drafted. Small cats include the European wild cat, the black-footed cat, the jungle cat, the domestic cat and Palas' cat which is unique among cats in having round pupils.

Cheetahs are also cats, but in a separate sub-family of their own. They are speed specialists, and have many dog-like characteristics. The fastest of any land mammal, they are able to go from a standstill to 70 mph. in only 2 seconds. Cheetahs purr on both the inhale and exhale, and sleep with their heads up (unlike most other cats), probably because vigilance and speed is their only defence. They run down their prey, but as they are able to keep up their phenomenal speed for only about 600m they are exhausted and vulnerable when they have finally caught their meal. There are only about 12,400 cheetahs left in the wild.

Richard's wonderful slides showed all these animals, but the most amazing shot was of him sitting on a sofa beside a fully-grown cheetah (an orphaned cub which he had reared). He also discussed ways of estimating the populations of all these animals: camera traps, foot-print identification, photographing faces (to record unique whisker spot patterns), playing recordings of challenge calls, radio telemetry and so on. As people encroach more and more onto the cats' territories it is vital to accurately monitor the remaining populations. Most are endangered. There are more big cats in captivity in America (where the laws on keeping dangerous wild animals are lax) than in the wild. Without accurate counts, effective conservation laws and the means of enforcing them, many groups of these magnificent animals will soon be extinct.

Richard will be talking to the Duns Group of the Scottish Wildlife Trust on his current work with red squirrels, at Duns Parish Church Hall on Thursday 8th January 2009 at 7.30 pm.

Fiona, Dec 2008

Plants and their Habitats. Talk by Dr. Fiona Aungier.

On 12th November Berwick Wildlife Group were indeed fortunate to have Dr Fiona Aungier as their chairman. The scheduled speaker was unable to be present, since his car had broken down in Stirling, and Fiona bravely filled the gap with slides of mountain flowers she had compiled over many years. As the slides followed on, she described the habitat each plant required and its adaptations to its situation.

The sequence progressed upwards, from this year’s survey of (double) creeping buttercups in Tommy the Miller’s field to the tops of the Cairngorms and beyond.

Low hills in most of Britain, although once forested, are now (because of burning and grazing) dominated by moorland plants like common heather (ling). This is, incidentally, the food plant not only of grouse but of other creatures including a solitary bee, Colletes succinctus, which was recently discovered at Holburn Moss. These bees spend most of their lives as larvae in underground burrows, the adults emerging in August to feed on and collect pollen and nectar from the heather. This is stored in the burrows and fuels the next generation until the following year.

Some moorland plants, like sundew, grow in areas so lacking in nutrients that their sticky leaves catch insects to provide the chemicals necessary for life. Higher in the hills the plants must cope with more extreme weather conditions, and are often short and cushiony with an extensive root system, although the summer flowering shoots can be amazingly delicate. Examples from the Cheviots are fir club-moss, roseroot and starry saxifrage.

However, it is not only the height above sea level that determines the nature of the vegetation: on the island of Rum (and many parts of north-west Scotland) the sea-level flora shows montane features as the climate is so extreme. There is anyway considerable overlap between coastal and montane weather conditions and the plants that can survive them, as demonstrated by a slide of thrift, familiar to us as a seaside plant, growing at about 1,800m (6,000ft) in the Pyrenees.

Fiona then showed slides of the Canadian Rockies, with alpine poppies, bright blue skunkweed and miniature sweet-flowered androsace. Finally a slide of the Mt Edith Cavell glacier, taken in 1979, appeared. There was a striking contrast between this and the view of the same, much shrunken, glacier taken by a BWG member in 2008. As the climate warms, it is not only glaciers which disappear. Populations of plants which prefer cooler, mountainous conditions are forced to colonise new ground uphill. If there is a barrier to this upward progress, or if they reach the summit without finding the right climatic conditions for a stable population, they will inevitably become extinct.

Molly, Nov 2008

Birds of the Farnes. Talk by John Walton Assistant Warden for National Trust.

Our indoor programme got off to a splendid start with a talk by John Walton, Manager of the the Farne Islands for the National Trust.

Mr Walton explained that at high tide there are15 islands and at low tide there are 28. Many of us visit the islands thinking of them primarily as a place to see seabirds, unaware that although this is undoubtedly so, they are also a major pupping area for grey seals. In addition to the seabirds, there are regular “visits” from rarities such as a red-spotted bluethroat, probably blown off course on migration. Some of our more common “little” birds are also found: 5 or 6 pairs of pied wagtails have nested; 28 pairs of rock pipit; in 2007 red-breasted mergansers bred for the first time and this year wrens bred, also for the first time.

Wardens live on the islands from March till September, a somewhat Spartan existence since there is no fresh water and calor gas provides all the energy. They have many and varied tasks: painting stones (to mark nests), guiding visitors, but above all counting. Groups of birds are monitored in various ways; the number of eggs, the number of hatchlings and the number of fledglings are all carefully noted and compared with previous years’ records. All cliff nesting birds are counted at dawn on 10 mornings in June, when they hope for calm weather.

Figures for 2008 are interesting, if depressing. 42,000 guillemots nested, shag numbers were down by 1300 pairs since 1970, there were 2,500 pairs of arctic terns and 600 or 700 pairs of common terns. The roseate tern has been extinct as a breeding bird on the islands since 2002, but 75 pairs did nest on Coquet Island, approximately 98% of the UK population. Puffin numbers are well down, mirroring the decrease on the Isle of May. This coincides with a reduction in the numbers of sand-eels, which provide good nutrition for the “pufflings” and an increase in the numbers of pipe-fish, which do not.

Yet another example of how painstaking fieldwork is demonstrating the urgent need for conservation.

Molly, Oct 2008

The Music of Birds – talk with recordings by Geoff Sample.

Traditionally on 14th February the birds begin their courting (and several species, like blackbirds, have just started to sing in Berwick now) - so what could have been more appropriate for Berwick Wildlife Group's meeting on 13th February than to learn about "The Music of Birds" from Geoff Sample of Wooler. In his talk with recordings Geoff demonstrated the sounds of a wide range of bird species, both those whose song is often more of a croak or a cry and the song birds, who have a special adaptation in the throat muscles to enable them to make a huge range of sounds. Many bird sounds are extraordinarily complex and often they are like our music, so to us they are beautiful.

Geoff explained that song is especially important to male birds, who use it to impress other males and to attract females. It is better to see off your rival with an elaborate song than actually have to fight him, and often a great deal of effort is expended in song. An unmated male Pied Flycatcher, for instance, will sing between 2,500 and 3,000 times a day, but only about 1,000 times a day once he has found a mate. It has been shown that, among Sedge Warblers, the birds with the richest songs get most matings, so virtuosity is selected for, especially where the population is dense. Among garden birds, songs are often most complex in the suburbs, where good habitat means high populations. As song may attract predators, hidden birds also sing more often, perhaps almost continuously, but in the open birds will stop singing to look around for predators. Many birds also produce "sub-song", a quiet warble without the full range of notes of the real song.

Geoff began his demonstration with a dawn chorus from Holystone Woods, and then played the song of a single skylark at normal speed, and then slowed it down again and again, so the amazing complexity of each short phrase was apparent. Some birds have even more sophisticated songs, usually based on a number of set elements recombined in different improvised ways, and often including mimicry of other bird species or even human sounds. Nightingales sing at night when there is less competition for sounds from other species. Tits have a huge range of sounds, and the crow family is also included in the song birds. In addition to the territorial croaks they make a wide range of fluting sounds. Non-song birds make less elaborate sounds, but often with a haunting and sonorous effect. They may be territorial signals, such as made by bitterns in a reed bed, or calls to co-ordinate breeding in colonial breeders like fulmars, or to form part of the breeding ritual as with black-cocks at a leck.

Example of all these calls and more were demonstrated with Geoff's beautiful recordings, and his knowledge, expertise and enthusiasm made for a wonderful evening.

Fiona. February 2008


On 12th December we held a celebration and display of our surveys and sightings in 2007. It was a lovely convivial evening. We were delighted to welcome old friends who have supported the Group in so many ways throughout the year and also to see many new faces.

Most of our surveys are designed not only to provide information on local wildlife but also to contribute to national surveys run by the British Trust for Ornithology, Butterfly Conservation, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Forest Enterprise, Marine Conservation Society and so on. The displays showed off the wealth of scientific information collected and collated by Group members, and John had put together a very impressive slideshow of members' photos. Thank you to all the contributors.

It is really worthwhile collecting information on the distribution of local wildlife to help with future conservation – particularly as North Northumberland is not as well studied as more populous regions or holiday hotspots. We could do even better if more people helped with the surveys; beginners and experts are equally welcome. Times are sometimes planned in advance and advertised in the Reviews (see events list, below), but often can only be arranged when we know the likely size of the survey team and the weather forecast – so let us know if you are interested. Details are available at our indoor meetings, or just ask one of the Committee.

Fiona. 2007

Berwick Wildlife Group held it's third Annual General Meeting on the 9th of May.

The Group are particularly grateful to the many people, professional and amateur, who helped them to promote, record and protect local wildlife last year. The monthly events (talks, walks and visits) have been most enjoyable, educational and well attended, and the Chairperson thanked the people who have organised and led them.

Thanks were also made to those who have promoted the group through this website , the Green Festival and the many articles published by the Berwick Advertiser. Recording of local wildlife continues thanks to an intrepid band of volunteers, with work on Estuary and other birds, bats, butterflies, squirrels, bumblebees, beach litter and town trees planned for this season. A monthly wildlife review, growing database, more detailed reports and co-operation with local and national conservation bodies makes the results of the work available to others.

The Group have also commented on Berwick's Vision and Core Strategy documents, and have assisted the St Boisils and St Bartholemews Residents Association with formulating plans for the Goody Patchy. Interpretive panels are to be installed at Little Beach, thanks to a grant from the Northumberland Coast AONB.

The Committee and membership have put in a huge amount of work to achieve so much, helped by the Castle Hotel who have kindly hosted the inevitable Committee meetings. Membership of the Group at the end of 2006/2007 showed a slight increase over the 2005/06 figures, and (thanks to a more stringent charging policy, nobly borne by the membership) the financial situation is similar to last year's. All the present office-holders and committee have agreed to serve another year and have been re-elected.

Following the business part of the meeting, the Group were given a wonderful talk on Alpine Plants by Ron McBeath of Lamberton Alpine Nurseries. Ron showed examples of a number of plant groups ( including primulas, rhododendrons and irises), but also described the difficulties of collecting live plants, seeds and herbarium specimens in the summer monsoon in inaccessible valleys in the Himalayan foothills. All expeditions are undertaken in co-operation with local botanists, and many new species are still being found. Ron pointed out that although plant-hunting of this sort is sometimes rather frowned upon, the number of specimens collected is miniscule in comparison with whole habitats now being destroyed by road building, agricultural intensification and pollution. The plants and seeds collected are sent to botanical gardens all over the world, and sadly in some cases my soon be the only representatives of their species. The talk wasn't all doom and gloom though – Ron is able to treat this serious subject with lightness and humour, and his beautiful pictures enlivened the story. Thank you so much, Ron.

Fiona. 2007

14th March - Save our Squirrels!

In mid-March, we were treated to a wonderful talk about the habits and conservation of Red Squirrels in northern England by Philippa Mitchell and Mark Wilkinson of Save our Squirrels.

Red Squirrels are Britain's native squirrel, thoroughly at home in the tree-tops thanks to their double-jointed ankles for skilful climbing and bushy tails for balance. Although it is usually possible to distinguish them by colour from the introduced American Grey Squirrel, this is not totally reliable. If in doubt the Reds are smaller and rounder, with ear-tufts but without a halo of white around the tail. Red squirrels of course eat nuts, but also cones, berries, flower-buds, insects, birds' eggs, fungi and so on. Female Red Squirrels are only fertile for a single day in early spring, producing litters of 3 to 6 kittens a month or so later. In a good year there may be a second litter.

In the past loss of their deciduous woodland habitat was the major threat to Britain's Red Squirrels, but since Grey Squirrels were introduced in 1876 the interlopers now number 2.5 million and there are only 150 thousand Reds remaining. The larger Grey Squirrels can out compete Reds in deciduous woodland but, unlike Greys, Reds are able to survive in dense conifer plantations (even though this is not a such a good habitat). Unfortunately, where the two species come into contact Grey Squirrels tend to pass on squirrel pox to the Reds, a disease of little consequence for the Greys but (without veterinary assistance) always fatal to the Reds. Northumberland was until recently a stronghold of the Red Squirrel, but now Greys are moving in from the south and from the Edinburgh area. Worse, squirrel pox is endemic in the population of Greys to the south.

Save our Squirrels is therefore working to keep the Greys and Reds apart, concentrating conservation efforts on large conifer woods and taking particular care to prevent Greys gaining access to these areas by monitoring a buffer zone round the forests. Our Group is helping Save our Squirrels with a study in Kyloe Woods (if you would like to join in, please phone 01289 330591). Casual sightings of squirrels, Red or Grey, healthy or otherwise, are also of great help to the SoS team – please telephone the sightings hotline, 0845 347 9375 or e-mail

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Outdoor Walks

Berwick Wildlife Group's Visit to the Goody Patchy.

Once occupied by railway tracks and yards, the Goody Patchy is now an area of mixed woodland and grassland between Dock Road and the railway embankment. It forms part of an important wildlife corridor up the Tweed Estuary, and also contains part of the Pilgrims’ Way from St. Boisil’s and St Bartholemew's church to Holy Island.

On 14th June, Maurice McNeeley, accompanied by local residents, showed the site to a party from BWG and explained the maintenance carried out here by the St. Boisil’s and St. Bartholomews Residents’ Association. The Northumberland Wildlife Trust carry out some further woodland management. Much has happened since the Group’s first visit in 2006.

Careful thinning of the trees is encouraging understorey and woodland plants, such as ferns. War has been declared on a few small patches of Japanese knotweed on the margin. Plentiful nest boxes have been installed and are regularly used by blue-tits, and there are also bat boxes. Although the warblers mainly pass through on migration, a pair of blackcaps are now nesting here.

Thanks to a careful cutting regime, part of the grassland area is a very spectacular plant-rich sward, with abundant Northern Marsh Orchids, clovers and plenty of insects. A single Common Spotted Orchid was found, together with a Northern Marsh/Common Spotted hybrid. The invasion of sea buckthorn and sycamore is being kept in check by mowing late in the season. Opportunity was taken to examine the flower-rich patch in more detail, and 29 plant species were recorded, including Oval Sedge which has not been found there before. The total plant species count is now 36 in the grassy patch and 70 elsewhere on the site, a total of 93 (there being some plants found both on the grassy patch and in the woodland).

Berwick Wildlife Group are most grateful to Maurice McNeely for showing them round the Goody Patch, the St Boisil's and St Bartholemew's Residents Association for all their hard work in protecting and improving the site, and the Council's grasscutting team who's careful cutting regime allows the plants in the grassland to flourish.

Elizabeth Martin Fisher, June 2009

Searching for Signs of Squirrels in Detchant Woods.

It was a gloriously sunny afternoon on 19th April when Mark Wilkinson of Save our Squirrels and Elizabeth Bamford of the SoS Berwick Group led members of the Berwick Wildlife Group on a walk in Detchant Wood, looking for signs of squirrels.

Detchant, together with Kyloe and Shiellow Woods, is one of the last strongholds in England for our native red squirrel and is very important in its continued survival. Squirrels weren’t to be seen in mid-afternoon, but there were plenty of signs to show their presence. Both red and grey squirrels strip the scales from cones to feed on the seeds, leaving the cones with a characteristic appearance. When mice chew the cones the remnants are much neater, so “squirrelled” cones are a good indication of squirrel presence. When mice eat hazelnuts they gnaw a hole at one end, but squirrels use their teeth to cut the shell in half.

To distinguish between red and grey squirrels, feeders filled with nuts and provided with sticky pads on the underside of the lid catch hairs from the squirrels’ shoulders. Since grey squirrels do have red hairs (leading to the mistaken idea that the two species interbreed), the hairs need to be examined under a microscope. The reds’ hairs show a groove while those of the grey are round.

It is even possible to estimate squirrel numbers. Elizabeth had set out a model cone transect, a tenth of the size of a real one, as a demonstration. A strip under the trees 5m (as opposed to 50m for the real thing) by 1m was marked out and cleared of cones. After a few days the total number of cones in the given area is counted along with the number of squirreled cones. These figures are used to give a fairly accurate estimate of the squirrel population.

Elizabeth Bamford gave the group a brief history of the wood. It dates back to the 12th century and has been handed down through the same families. Around 1650 Charles I camped here on his way to Berwick. In the 1860’s the wood was hit by a severe storm and over 3000 trees were blown over, mostly oaks. At one time part of the wood was mined for coal and the remnants of bell pits can still be seen.

Although there were no squirrels visible, there were roe deer and a hare in the neighbouring fields, a common lizard was at the edge of the path and the air was full of birdsong. Violets, primroses, sweet woodruff, golden saxifrage, wood anemones, wood sorrel and dog’s mercury were in flower and peacock, comma, orange-tip and white butterflies were on the wing.

Molly Hardie. April 2009

Mosses and lichens at Cocklawburn Dunes.

On Saturday 21st March Berwick Wildlife Group took part in their first summer walk or 2009 – and a summer-like day it was with blue skies and calm conditions. Unfortunately, as our leader Janet Simkin told us, the dry weather of the last few weeks has shrivelled the mosses and lichens and made them much harder to identify. What's more, because these organisms need plenty of water, sand dunes are not the ideal place to find lots of different species. In many ways this was a good thing. Janet eventually discovered 25 moss species and 22 lichen species at Cocklawburn (she kindly provided a list), more than enough for beginners to get their heads round.

Janet began by explaining the differences between mosses, liverworts and lichens. Bryophytes (mosses and liverworts) are primitive plants, without internal "plumbing" or proper roots, which is why they are small and sensitive to drought. They reproduce by means of tiny spores which blow about in the wind. Moss leaves are arranged all around the stems, whereas leaves of leafy liverworts appear to be arranged in two ranks, or the whole plant is a flat leathery plate.

Lichens, on the other hand, are not plants at all, but are stable and identifiable combinations between algae and a fungi, an arrangement which benefits both (symbiosis). The algae are protected within the tough fungal outside layer, and the fungi gain nutrient from the algae which are green(ish) and use sunlight to manufacture food from simple chemicals.

Berwick Wildlife Group were then introduced to a number of mosses. There was plenty of Common Feather-moss (Eurhynchium praelongum), which forms loose masses of delicate feathery growth; Whitish Feather-moss (Brachytecium albicans), which has longer, much "stringier" stems; Big Shaggy-moss (Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus) which is upright and forms large clumps; and its smaller relative Lawn Moss (Rhytidiadelphus squarrosus) which is characteristic of shaded lawns and grasslands. Sandhill Screw-moss (Syntrichia ruralis ruraliformis) is an important plant stabilising dunes and forms big moisture-retaining mounds in the dry environment.

Lichens were abundant on the walls of the lime kiln. Lichens are extremely fussy about their substrate – each species is found only on rocks of the correct chemical composition, so the rock type gives a great clue to the species of lichen. (Or, you could say that the lichens, in a churchyard for example, give good clues as to the type of stone used for the memorial).

Even so, many lichens in the same habitat look very similar. Luckily some change colour in the presence of certain chemicals (such as potassium hydroxide or bleach), so lichenologists carry round a small battery of chemicals for testing the lichens. Janet showed the Group how potassium hydroxide brought out a bright red colour in the orange lichen Caloplaca citrina, whereas the very similar Candellaria species don't have this reaction.

As limestone is comparatively soft and easily dissolved, many lichens on limestone live within the outer layers of the rock, only a coloured stain and the spore-producing bodies emerging at the surface. On harder acid rocks like sandstone and granite the lichens are mostly outside, in frilly round patches. Lichens also grow on soil and on trees. They depend entirely on rainwater, so they are very vulnerable to pollution which slows their growth. However the growth rate of some lichen species in a particular locality is remarkably constant, so lichens can be used for dating in archaeology or for events like floods on river banks.

After examining lichens at the lime kiln and spoil heaps, the Group discovered different species on a sandstone wall. The whole top of the wall was covered by two lichens which almost always grow together, Lecanora sulphurea (greenish) and Tephromela atra (grey). Further on, in a dune slack where there have been recent fires, a "Pixie-cup" lichen, Cladonia chlorophaea was found. Nearby were lots of Dog Lichens, flattish leathery discs of grey and white. The name "Dog Lichen" comes from its likeness (not very obvious these days) to the froth produced by rabid dogs. This led to its use as a cure for rabies – for which it was totally ineffective. Most of the Dog Lichens at Cocklawburn were Peltigera membranacea, but a related species Peltigera canina was also present. Janet explained that this is only the fifth record for this species in Northumberland, and the first from this site.

Both mosses and lichens are usually known by their Latin rather than English names, mostly because the English names are not precise enough or there are several English names for one species. Conventionally species are known by the name first allocated to them, and as many older collections of mosses and lichens still survive in dusty museum drawers, discoveries of earlier names are sometimes made. This means the Latin name is changed, experts need to learn the new name and identification books become out of date. Geneticists are also delving into the family tree of lichens and mosses – two may look like closely related species but their genes say otherwise. This can cause more confusion.

Only don't let this academic wrangling put you off. The study of lichens and bryophytes is fascinating. It may be difficult at first, but the Group were assured it is no harder than birders getting to grips with little brown jobs, or botanists learning to identify grasses. These days there are websites to help, the British Lichen Society , or the British Bryological Society which has an excellent on-line field guide. The list of the mosses and lichens found at Cocklawburn will be on the BWG website , together with further information about the Group.

Fiona. March 2009

Squirrels in the Forest, a visit to Kyloe Woods organised for BWG by Berwick Save our Squirrels Group.

On 14th September, we visited Kyloe Woods, with the Head Forester Ian Robinson and Save our Squirrels Officer Mark Wilkinson. 25 people found their way to the starting-point at the edge of the wood. The sun wasn't shining, but it was neither rainy nor windy, in fact excellent weather for this "summer".

Kyloe woods once belonged to Captain Leyland who lived at Haggerston, a sea captain who sent seeds home from all over the world and grew a huge variety of trees, including of course the infamous "Leyland Cypress". The 1000 acres (400 ha.) of Kyloe Woods was planted between 1890 and 1910, with a variety of mostly coniferous trees. About 20 conifer species make up the bulk of the wood, which is unusual among British conifer forests in that about half of the trees are about 100 years old – and very good they look, too.

The variety of coniferous trees make an ideal habitat for red squirrels. Red squirrels' native habitat is deciduous woods, but these are now occupied by grey squirrels which spread squirrel pox, fatal to the reds. The larger grey squirrels cannot live in conifer woods, but the smaller reds can, making sizable conifer plantations a useful refuge even if the habitat is not as "good" as broadleaved woodland. There are thought to be between 40 and 60 red squirrels in Kyloe Woods, and although a commercial forest, Kyloe is managed with the needs of the squirrels in mind. Felling takes place in small areas in autumn and winter so there is always somewhere for the squirrels (and other animals) to retreat to. Replanting aims to continue the variety characteristic of Kyloe, including Sitka spruce, Douglas fir, Corsican pine and a small number of more exotic conifers.

In many cases the trees seed themselves and where possible these seedlings are incorporated into the structure of the woodland, thinned to about 1000 per acre to start with, ending with a density of about 200 per acre as the trees grow. And grow they do – we saw some very impressive trees. Among the largest are the Giant Redwoods (although they haven't quite reached the age and size of American specimens), and there are graceful Western Hemlocks, magnificent blue Firs (Grand, Noble and Spanish), a thriving population of Monkey Puzzles, and rarities like the Bishops Pine from North America and the Oriental Spruce from Turkey (whose seeds are particularly popular with the squirrels).

We saw a couple of squirrels' dreys, large bundles of sticks which (unlike birds' nests) are by the trunk of the tree rather than the ends of the branches. A family of squirrels usually maintain several dreys, moving between them when parasites build up or danger threatens. A squirrel pair can have up to four "kittens" twice a year, and although the population can crash in poor seed years it can build up again quickly. They are seldom seen, but Berwick Save our Squirrels Group has put special squirrel feeding boxes around the wood, with sticky patches to remove a few hairs from each visiting squirrel. When examined under a microscope, hair from grey squirrels is round in section but red squirrel hair has a distinct groove down one side, so they know the squirrels in Kyloe are native reds. Signs like cones with all the scales pulled off so the animals can get to the seeds reveal their presence. Squirrels always start at the blunt end of a cone, pulling off the scales as each layer is revealed. (Mice also eat cones, but are not strong enough to pull off the scales, they bite them off more neatly).

Squirrels are not the only animals to take advantage of these quiet woodlands. Roe deer are plentiful (with occasional escaped red or fallow deer), pipistrelle bats have a summer roost in an old hut, and adders bask in sunny spots at the edge of roads in spring. Birds feed in the treetops (the "seep seep" of goldcrests gave them away), birds of prey nest on crags in the forest, and in summer nightjars breed on a small area of heath kept clear of trees especially for them.

Thanks to Ian's and Mark's expert guidance, our visit gave us a real insight into the woods at Kyloe. Also, thanks to the generosity of members, £66.86 was collected for Save our Squirrels. It is wonderful that Captain Leyland's exotic plantation is now home to so many native creatures, and that skilled and sympathetic management is allowing them to thrive. Long may this continue.

Fiona. September 2008

Butterfly Walk at Cocklawburn.

On July 13th, Malcolm Hutcheson led members of Berwick Wildlife Group and their guests on a butterfly walk at Cocklawburn. We were particularly pleased to be joined by Jaci Beaven of Butterfly Conservation and Roger Norman, the Butterfly Recorder for Northumberland. BWG members have been conducting weekly butterfly surveys at Cocklawburn and the numbers seen have been fairly low. This was, however, to change.

Saturday was a glorious day, with a light wind, very favourable to butterflies. The ground was a riot of colour, principally pinks and yellows of geraniums and vetches, although harebells and spikes of viper's bugloss gave touches of blue. The flowers provide the nectar on which the butterflies feed, and different species of butterfly need a range of flowers for nectar and individual food plants at the leaf-eating caterpillar stage. The different plants in their turn grow on different soils, so the variety of soil types at Cocklawburn supports a good variety of butterflies and, indeed, moths.

There were many species flying. We saw male and female Common Blues. The sexes in this case are very different ( the males an iridescent sky blue and females dark brown shot with blue) so it is possible to tell them apart easily. There were good numbers of Meadow Browns (milk-chocolate brown with orange on the forewing) and Ringlet (plain-chocolate with several small "eye-spots"), and some Small Heaths (orange with grey). Silver-Y moths were about, and a large number of black and scarlet Burnet moths, most of them the usual 6-Spot Burnet but some the rarer Narrow-bordered 5-spot. Disappointingly, there were no Grayling or Small Copper butterflies, which both occur at Cocklawburn. They may yet appear. Wood Sage was in flower and, since this is a nectar source for the Hummingbird Hawkmoth, it would be worth looking for it here.

As a footnote, the Speckled Wood butterfly has been sighted near Detchant Wood at what must be, at present, the northernmost limit of its range. It seems to be moving north like several other species, so it is worth looking out for this along hedgerows and woodland edges. Please let us know if you see any of them.

Molly. July 2008

A Bumblebee identification walk, Stanton Hall Gardens with bee expert Shaun Hackett.

On Sunday 22nd June 6 members of the Group travelled down to Stanton Hall Gardens, 5 miles NW of Morpeth, for a walk and talk about bumblebees.

There we met Shaun Hackett, a Northumberland National Park Ranger, who explained that although he was not a bee expert his job surveying and managing meadows had sparked an interest in bumblebees and had led to his becoming the foremost expert in the Park's organisation.

Photo of the Group at Stanton Hall by John

Shaun started by giving us a brief description of the 6 most common bees to be seen in gardens in our area. They are the :-

  • Buff-tailed bumblebee -- Bombus terrestris

  • Common carder bumblebee -- Bombus pascuorum

  • Early bumblebee -- Bombus pratorum

  • Garden bumblebee -- Bombus hortorum

  • Red-tailed bumblebee -- Bombus lapidarius

  • White-tailed bumblebee -- Bombus lucorum

To see a guide by Fiona go to BumbleBeeCrib.html

He then gave us an overview of the typical lifecycle of these bees. The large Queen emerges from hibernation between March and May depending upon species. Her first task is to feed up on pollen and nectar before finding a suitable nest site for her new colony. Often she uses an old mouse or vole nest.

Over the next two or three weeks she makes a large pollen lump and on this lays her first eggs. These hatch out into worker bees which are all females but much smaller than the Queen. Their role is to look after the Queen, the nest and to forage for food for the colony. You can always tell workers by the pollen basket on their back legs. Subsequent broods of workers are larger due to the greater supply of food.

Later in the year, around July, the Queen produces more queens and male bumblebees. These males do no work and are not allowed to return to the nest. They spend the nights out on plants and flowers and can be easily spotted, and photographed, early in the morning when their bodies are still too cool to fly. After mating with the new queens all males die in late summer or early autumn. Essentially at this time the old Queen and all her workers die too.

The new queens, after feeding up on pollen and nectar, search out sheltered places to hibernate through the coming winter, before emerging again to start new colonies.

Shaun then led us on a walk around the beautiful gardens at Stanton Hall where he managed to find all 6 species for us to see.

A few other fact that he told us:

All bumblebees have stings but very rarely use them. They do not die if they sting us, unlike honey bees who are unable to extract their barbed stings from the elastic skin of a mammal.

The workers take between ½ and ¾ of an hour to fill their pollen baskets.

There are 22 species of bumblebee in Britain, and 6 species of cuckoo bumblebee. Cuckoo Queens search out a colony after the resident queen has laid her worker eggs, then attack and kill the queen and take over the colony. The Cuckoo Queen is then looked after by the existing workers. Cuckoo bumblebees never produce workers, just females and males.

Poppies do not shed their pollen easily, and to get the pollen the bee lies on its back vibrating violently to release the pollen.

And, finally, how not to become stressed trying to identify bumblebees, just go away, sit down quietly and have a cup of tea!

John, July 08

The small Common Blue at Cocklawburn – a local mystery.

During one of our Butterfly walks at Cocklawburn in 2007, we came across a smaller and brighter specimen of the Common Blue (Polyommalus icarus) than the norm. This small form has come to light again this year, so I have managed to photograph it and with much delving into past Butterfly writings and modern references, have come up with a good discussion………

The best reference I have come across was George Thomson's "The Butterflies of Scotland, a Natural History", published in 1980. In this book he describes the Common Blue in detail and mentions two overlapping subspecies. One is P. icarus subsp. mariscolor, an Irish form which is basically larger and brighter and is double-brooded. It has been found mainly in western and northern Scotland as well as Ireland. The second subspecies is P. icarus subsp. septentrionalis, a Scandanavian form which is single brooded and covers the rest of Scotland and Northern England.

These forms are shown on Plate 18 in his book. I have note the similarity to the specimens collected in western Borders in 1979 to the small specimens at Cocklawburn. However, Thomson describes them in detail in his book and comes to the conclusion that "subspecies differentiation without a careful analysis of all the factors and characters involved is not considered justified". To the casual observer, what seems to be a clear difference in subspecies could be the difference in variation between Spring and Summer broods, or an incursion and overlap of the Irish subspecies at Cocklawburn.

Unfortunately no studies have been done into the variations of the Common Blue across Britain and surprisingly there is no mention of subspecies differences in the Millennium Atlas.

So we have an unsolved mystery. Is the small Common Blue at Cocklawburn an incursion of the Irish subspecies, or is it a genetical variation between Spring and Summer broods?

Malcolm Hutcheson. July 2008.

Secrets of Cocklawburn, from low tide mark to the dunes
with Aisling Lanning, Marine Conservation Officer
Saturday 5th June 2008.
Organiser - Elizabeth.

On 5th June, in a fair degree of sea haar, Aisling Lanning, Marine Site Officer for the Berwickshire and North Northumberland Coast European Marine Site, led about 20 members of Berwick Wildlife Group and guests in an investigation of the shore at Cocklawburn. Ian Kille, a member of BWG, gave a brief introduction to the geology of the area, emphasising the connection between the underlying rocks, the plants which the resultant soil supports and the animals which find their food growing on that soil. This part of the coast dates back to the Carboniferous, some 345-280 million years ago. There are many fossils in the rocks dating from this time. Ian collected fragments of crinoid from the loose shale and showed how they fitted together to form a “sea lily”. Despite its name, this is an animal, not a plant.

Photo of the Group at Cocklawburn by John

Down at the shore, Aisling showed us several types of seaweed. These are classified as “red”, “brown” and “green”, although the names are not necessarily descriptive: a “red” seaweed may be purple, green or yellow. The other “colours” also vary. This is extremely confusing to the novice! Among the “brown” weeds are the Fucaceae. The different species within this group may interbreed, making identification even more difficult. One very attractive species found around the edge of rock pools is Corallina, named because of its resemblance to coral. Bushy, it is pink underwater with white tips.

We were fortunate to find starfish, shore crabs, a spider crab, red, green and pink anemones, a small purple jellyfish and keelworms, together with some of their discarded cases. Chitons, which despite looking like woodlice are really molluscs (like snails and octopods) , were clinging to the underside of rocks. True relatives of woodlice, (isopods, flattened front-to-back like woodlice; and amphipods, flattened side to side) whizzed around in the pools . A dab, a small flatfish, buried itself in the sand at the foot of a rock pool.

Perhaps the heading should have been “Some of the Secrets of Cocklawburn”. There are many more to see.

Molly June 08

Some further sources of information

This first courtesy of Bristol University shows a nice schematic of a crinoid, and also gives a bit of information about the creatures. The class crinoidea belongs to the phylum Echinodermata, which includes things like echinoids (sea urchins) and star fish as well as the wonderfully named blastoids.

Also courtesy of Bristol university gives a schematic (which is a fantastic work of art !) and information about brachiopods.

…and finally some nice pictures of some rather more complete examples of Gigantoproductus, that we saw in the limestones, courtesy of a site about the Geology of Missouri (interestingly at this time – early Carboninferous circa 300MY before present – Missouri would have been about the width of the Atlantic nearer to Cocklawburn, than it is now).

Berwick Wildlife Group's Fungi Foray.
Saturday 8th September 2007.
Organiser - Elizabeth.

The Mysterious World of Fungi

Panthercap, The Sickener, Chicken of the Woods, Stinkhorn and Dead Man's Fingers – welcome to the mysterious world of fungi. Mushrooms and toadstools, blue veins in cheese, mildew on strawberries, Penicillin mould, brewers yeast, even athlete's foot – all are all fungi. Beneath your feet, between subsoil and leaf litter, under your lawn, in the park, on beach dunes and in woodland, fungal food tunnels lie hidden, absorbing and recycling nutrients. Then the reproduction platform emerges, the toadstool or mushroom to you and me, releasing spores to found new colonies.

Berwick Wildlife Group and Dr Philip Mason, international mycologist, thoroughly enjoyed a Fungus Foray in a wood near Coldingham on 8th September.

Surprisingly, fungi and trees have a special relationship. Miles of fungal feeding strands are protected by the tree's roots and in turn help to nourish the tree – a partnership. In Britain and temperate lands each tree species has developed a special relationship with particular fungi. Beech trees have Beech fungi, Scots Pine have Scots Pine fungi and so on – very disciplined. Tropical trees, growing in forests containing dozens of tree species, have a more free and easy arrangement, each tree accommodating a wide range of fungi and the fungi nourishing a plethora of trees.

In mature temperate woodlands, undisturbed for years, the fungi underneath their appropriate trees put up few fruiting bodies (toadstools). There is no need to produce many spores, the fungi are well established and safe living among their particular tree-roots. In more open or disturbed areas there are different species of fungi, each with more fruiting-bodies, as spores must take their chance of finding the right conditions and growing to maturity. In tropical forests there is a different type of fungus with no large toadstools producing spores as in our woods; think rather of the surface spores of bread-mould.

Berwick Wildlife Group found toadstools in a full range of colours – blue, green, pink, yellow, orange and the very poisonous red Fly Agarics (with or without white spots). Some were edible, like the succulent yellow Chanterelle, but unfortunately this was easily confused with the not-so-edible False Chanterelle also present in the wood. Much better to take Dr Masons advice – by all means admire them, but if you want to eat them buy fungi from your local supermarket rather than picking them in the woods.


Berwick Wildlife Group's Butterfly Walk at Cocklawburn.
Saturday 1st September 2007.
Organiser - Malcolm Hutcheson.

A dozen Berwick Wildlife Group members joined Malcolm Hutcheson for a butterfly walk at Cocklawburn Dunes on September first, a bright day but with a strong cool breeze which might have kept all the butterflies down in the grass. However butterflies and bees were still on show in the sheltered hollows, which was where the group concentrated their search.

First to show were two Meadow Browns, a male and a female (the male is a dark brown butterfly only faintly marked with orange, the female is usually brighter). Both specimens were faded and battered, it is unusual to see this species which is normally on the wing in July so late in the year. They survive the winter as a larva (caterpillar), feeding at night on grass on warmer days before pupating in spring. An empty pupal case from last spring was seen suspended from a piece of dead grass by the path.

Photo of a meadow brown butterfly by Fiona

Next to appear were two Peacock butterflies, often around late in the year as they hibernate in Britain as adults. If you find one in the garden shed or behind the curtains in the spare room leave it undisturbed and cold until the spring flowers appear, then let it out to feed. Two Painted Lady butterflies were spotted in sheltered areas, individuals hatched on British thistle leaves and now flying south, maybe to reach the Mediterranean where they can overwinter before their descendents make the journey north again to our shores. A single Red Admiral flew past, probably also making its way south, as they can hibernate in southern England. As the climate changes they may soon be able to survive a Berwick winter – look out for them early in the year (March or April) when you just might see an unusual local survivor. Small Whites and Large Whites were also present in the dunes, where the caterpillars have been feeding on wild plants of the cabbage family. These butterflies have several generation in one year and this is the last generation of the summer, laying eggs which will hatch to caterpillars which pupate in late autumn and emerge in spring as adults.

Although this was a butterfly walk, there were other creatures to see. Bumblebees were busy among the dune flowers, although not so many as earlier in the year. Several workers of Red-tailed Bumblebees were still assiduously collecting pollen and nectar for their colony, but a queen Red-tailed was also spotted – hatched this year and destined to hibernate and found a new colony by herself in the spring. A drone Buff-tailed Bumblebee was slowly crawling over a ragwort flower-head, behaving quite differently from the busy workers of summer, sipping nectar to gain energy to fly in search of a queen.

Birds were flying and diving beyond the beach - Gannets fishing close in shore together with a group of Sandwich Terns, a Shag, Oystercatchers, Goosanders, 3 Scoters, and Eider Ducks on the rocks. A Stonechat scolded from the top of a dune, and House Martins and Swallows were still hawking for insects above, although the last swifts left Berwick in the middle of August.

Bees and butterflies may not be easy to find in the months to come, but as the bird sightings showed overwintering residents and new migrants will soon be appearing here.


National Butterfly Week - Berwick Wildlife Group's Butterfly Walk.
Cocklawburn, 21st July 2007.
Leader - Malcolm Hutcheson.

The threat of heavy rain over Northumberland, following the heavy rainfall and widespread flooding in the Midlands, Lincolnshire and the upper Severn Valley the previous day, did not deter nine Group members turning out hoping the dull, dry morning would produce something of interest to see. We decided that the walk should be shortened as the chance of seeing any butterflies on the wing was negligible. The eventual outcome of the walk in the damp, grey conditions proved never-the-less to be interesting.

The wet June/early July has made all plant growth lush and vigorous and a surprising amount of colour was still showing in the Cocklawburn fixed dunes. The yellow of the vetches with Kidney Vetch, Hop Trefoil and Yellow Vetchling contrasted with large patches of blood-purple Bloody Cranesbill mixed with patches of pink Restharrow. A group of white "garden escape" Shasta daisies were noted and further along a patch of Meadowsweet giving off a light fragrance in the cool, damp air.

The sea looked grey, cold and choppy, more like a March or November day than mid July. However a constant stream of Gannets were seen, along with good numbers of Terns, mainly Sandwich Terns, all moving southwards. The first sluggish butterfly was disturbed, a near-black Ringlet and then another, a Meadow Brown, which dived into the grass and closed its wings tight – as if to keep out the cold.

We then moved on to the pond where in an adjacent small clear pool were lots of tadpoles, both frog and toad, in various stages of maturity. Several young Common Newts were also noted here. Attention was diverted skywards to a passing Whimbrel calling overhead, bringing to mind the Shetland name of "Seven Whistler" for this bird. Some noteworthy waterside plants were seen including the bright blue Water Forget-me-not, Lesser Spearwort, and the floating white flowers of Water Crowfoot among the leaves of Pondweed on the water.

We decided to proceed back through the dunes to a large hollow out of the cold wind, where a mat flowers covers a large dry gravely area. Here clumps of pink Thyme were in various stages of flowering and fruiting, with yellow Hawksbit, more vetches, Storksbills, and Doves-foot Cranesbill. Dotted through all this were small Long-headed Poppies and yellow Biting Stonecrop, making a wonderful natural picture. Also noted here were the blue spikes of Vipers Bugloss and the small straw-coloured Carline Thistle which is an indicator of calcareous soils. In this hollow were several red and black Six-spot Burnet moths on Thistle buds and the black and yellow striped caterpillars of the Cinnabar Moth, vigorously feeding and stripping the leaves off several Ragwort plants – natures answer to the control of an agricultural weed!

As it got colder and wetter we agreed to "call it a day" and head back home still full of enthusiasm. The Group will be returning to Cocklawburn again on September 1st for the final Butterfly Walk of the year, hoping for a sunny day in an 'Indian Summer' with lots of butterflies on the wing. See you there, perhaps?

Malcolm Hutcheson.

Berwick Wildlife Group's Trip to the Farne Islands.
Saturday 14th July 2007.
Organiser - Elizabeth Bamford.

Fabulous Farnes.

A force 5 off shore wind battled against a huge onshore high tide, resulting in an exhilarating boat trip from Seahouses to Inner Farne on July 14th for our visit. A huge swell was created with large peaks and troughs. We got wet on the way out and would get wet again on the return journey - but it was more than worth it.

A mile and a half out of Seahouses we saw Puffins, Kittiwakes, Gannets, Herring Gulls, Guillemots and Shags all feeding. The birds were bringing sand eels particularly to their young on Inner Farne. A large colony of Atlantic Grey Seals performed well, the high tide leaving only a small area exposed where young seals born last autumn were lounging. About 40 other seals were in the water.

The strong tide made viewing nesting birds on the outer islands impossible, so extra time on Inner Farne was now guaranteed to everyone's delight. Entering the relative calm of the landing stage bay of Inner Farne a cacophony of sound greeted the Group – the Tern colony. Equipped with padded hats, helmets and every other type of head protection we took the short walk from the landing stage to the information centre. We enjoyed a short talk from an assistant warden on the birds of Inner Farne, and then out into the wind and sunshine again.

The nesting season this year was early but a good year generally for all the birds in spite of the losses caused by wild weather last month. But it is the Kittiwakes that are struggling this year. Their young are being fed a large number of pipe fish, these often too big and very poor nutritionally. One nest reportedly had over 20 pipe fish surrounding the dead chick.

The reputation of the Terns on Inner Farne is well documented. The Arctic Tern with its scarlet beak and the Common Tern with a black tip to its red beak were easily spotted. Terns lay eggs with two or so days between. Tern parents are very careful not to allow the older chick to dominate and take all the food. They take turns! Tern chicks were on the paths, in the windswept vegetation and behind seats. Adult terns were feeding Sand Eels to their young, as were Puffins. How fabulous to be within touching distance of a Puffin. Occasionally gulls would swoop and peck the Puffin in an attempt to make it drop its food parcel. They could also be seen lurking at the entrance to the Puffin burrows in the hope of a free meal. Shag posed shamelessly on the cliff edges and ledges, their downy chicks rump to the wind, as were their parents.

Photo opportunities were endless but a pair of lead-filled boots would have cut down the camera shake in the gusting wind. A wonderful afternoon and our thanks to the Billy Shiel company and the wardens of Inner Farne.

Elizabeth Bamford.

Berwick Wildlife Group's walk to Needles Eye.
Saturday 9th June 2007.
Leaders - Malcolm Hutcheson and Fiona Aungier.

A cloudy grey day with a cool north-east wind greeted the hardier members of the Berwick Wildlife Group on the morning of Saturday 9th June for their walk to Needles Eye.

The small group began by walking round Sharpers head, noting some common flowers including both Creeping Buttercups with their sepals cupping the petals and Bulbous Buttercups with their sepals turned back towards the stem. Two years ago a rare creamy-white form of the Bulbous Buttercup was observed here but there are none now, perhaps because the genetic changes which cause the difference in petal-colour also affect the viability of the seed. In one of the buttercups two worker bumblebees (a Red-tailed and an Early Bumblebee) had succumbed to he cold wet weather. Bumblebees can only fly when their wing-muscles reach a temperature of 30oC (86oF), and as haar drifts inland may be cooled so suddenly they cannot keep their temperature high enough to make it back to the nest.

In Dodd's Well were 6 Eiders and a group of 10 Goosanders, with the resident pairs of House Martins which breed on the cliffs here. Also of note were two Painted Lady butterflies (more of which later). Two more members jointed the group here, adding to our observations for the day.

A walk up the gully to cross to the cliff path again was interrupted by some members picking up the strange fishing-reel sound of a Grasshopper Warbler, seen singing from the centre of a small willow-bush.

Once again on the cliff path flowers abounded, including Red Campion and maritime plants like Scurvey Grass, Thrift, Sea Plantain, the glaucous-blue version of Creeping Fescue and a tuft of compact Crested Hair-grass. Passing around the last cornfield before Needles Eye we saw a female Yellow Wagtail feeding in a wet patch, which flew off into the centre of the growing crop – perhaps feeding young? A Dunlin flew overhead and across the railway, to spiral down to feed at the edge of the large flooded area at the bottom of the new Ramparts Industrial Estate. Perhaps this is a natural indicator for what should happen here, as conservation is beneficial to all of us?

The cries of Kittiwakes on the cliffs at Needles Eye brought us to the sight we came to see. Around 1,000 Kittiwakes were on the breeding ledges along with 40+ Guillemots, 25+ Razorbills and a nesting pair of Cormorants. Also on the ledges were 7 Puffins, perhaps resting victims of the violent rainstorm on the Farne Islands two days earlier.

Before we headed back to Berwick the final highlight was the dark red spikes of the Northern Marsh Orchid with the lavender-flowered Wood Vetch, and bright yellow Bird's-foot Trefoil and Kidney Vetch. By now the number of Painted Lady butterflies we had seen reached around 20, most of them on the footpath with outstretched wings trying to gather energy from the briefest glimpse of sun. It is amazing how nature perseveres, as each of these insects had been stopped in their tracks by the cold day, having already travelled great distances from southern England and Europe. Some bumblebees, too, had warmed up to flying temperature, with a number of Red-tailed Bumbles and a Common Carder Bee on the Red Campion, and a dozen or so Garden Bumblebees on the Vetches, their long tongues enabling them to reach the nectar at the base of these flowers.


Berwick Wildlife Group's visit to Paxton.
Saturday 5th May 2007.
Leaders - Richard Wales of the Red Squirrels in South Scotland project and assistant estate manager Andrew Binns.

On a sunny spring afternoon, Berwick Wildlife Group were guided on a walk through Paxton woodlands by Richard Wales of the Red Squirrels in South Scotland project and assistant estate manager Andrew Binns. The walk took the group through mixed woodland, green beech, Douglas fir, Scots pine, birch and sycamore. Years ago, below the road bridge, beneath which is the Victorian beehive ice-house, the stream was dammed to make a pool for curling. This is no longer there.

Last autumn Paxton woodland was subject to management, clearing and brashing to increase light on the woodland floor. Beneath the trees, blossoming and in leaf, were banks of red campion, stitchwort, primroses and bluebells. The pungent scent of ramsons filled the air at one point. Green leaves and white flowers will make an excellent pesto when cooked quickly in a little olive oil.

On the path beneath conifers were squirreled cones. Red squirrels strip the cones and leave little ragged bracts along the length. Mice on the other hand nibble the cone neatly in a spiral. Woodpeckers leave cones looking as if they had been hit with a hammer. Red campions, a catkin and a sycamore flower make the perfect red squirrel lunch. Flowers, berries, young buds, meat and of course ripe nut kernels are on a squirrels menu. Greys seek out young birds to eat, reds are more opportunistic but will eat meat when they find it. High above the pathway in moss-lined dreys young squirrels are being raised. You can see dreys in February before they are hidden by leaves. Young squirrels, kittens as they are called, leave the drey soon and are independent in 10 to 14 weeks.

Two days before the Group visited Paxton a grey squirrel had been seen at the squirrel hide. Richard explained the dangerous relationships between greys and reds. Greys compete for the same resources as reds, and they may occupy the same dreys at different times. However the greys carry squirrel pox virus, and if a red squirrel contracts this it will die within 15 days.

As the group walked downhill mixed woodland gave way to the briary banks of the Tweed. A watchtower for salmon was discovered. Andrew has helped net the salmon off the nearby shingle beach for the past five years. The tell-tale sign of a v-shaped ripple in the water means salmon are there. Pausing by the children's nature pond the party sighted tadpoles and young newts. The sun was hot now and all kinds of Ephemeroptera buzzed about the pond. Andrew said that Great Crested Newts could be seen in the formal garden pond, but in the heat of the afternoon they lingered cool, under the pondweed.

By the hide the group stood silent, searching the canopy, the branches and the feeding posts hoping to see red squirrels, but to no avail. It was mid- afternoon, too early for the evening foraging. Squirrels at Paxton are fed at 10.00am and the hide is open all year, the best times to see squirrels being early morning or evening.

Berwick Wildlife Group enjoyed a splendid walk with Richard and Andrew, learning a lot about the woodlands and the squirrels.


In Search of Dippers, Wooler.
Saturday 14th April.
Leader Sue Maddox.

A perfect Spring Day in mid April. Willow trees were turning a fresh green and down by the bridge near the Glendale Garden Centre a grey wagtail elegantly flitted over the water. A group of twelve Berwick Wildlife Group members and guests gathered to go searching for dippers.

Wooler Water is the small river which runs along the bottom of the hill below Wooler and takes clean water collected from the hills by Harthope and Carey burns to the River Till which feeds into the Tweed. It was alive with small fish and many of the rocks had telltale white splashes that gave away the presence of dippers. As the group walked along beside the fast moving shallow water they were able to see several of these handsome birds, some flying low and direct up or downstream, one standing on a rock preening and occasionally bobbing up and down and another plunging into the water and walking along the river bed, head down, searching for small invertebrates.

Further along a pair of bullfinches were spotted but quietly withdrew behind a tree and over a bank before many of the group had caught up and focused their binoculars. There was plenty to see so they had to be content with grey wagtails, reed buntings, a yellowhammer, a heron flying over and then, later, three herons in a circle in the middle of a field. It was very uplifting to see the returning Summer migrants. Many willow warblers were singing from the tops of the willows and alders. Swallows came flying over and were later seen on telegraph wires, and just as the group were deciding they really should turn back a colony of sand martins were glimpsed through a huge willow tree, swooping in and out of holes in a sandbank further downstream.

What a wonderful introduction to the delights of summer! With many thanks to the leaders, Sue and Bob Maddox, who knew exactly where to find all the birds.

Birds seen and heard: heron, mallard, black headed gull, wood pigeon, kingfisher, sand martin, swallow, grey wagtail, pied wagtail, dipper, wren, dunnock, robin, blackbird, song thrush, willow warbler, jackdaw, rook, carrion crow, starling, chaffinch, greenfinch, goldfinch, bullfinch, yellowhammer, reed bunting.

Sue Maddox, 20th April 2007


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Two Small Mammal Surveys in September.

When John took some of Berwick Wildlife Group’s records down to the EYE Project in Newcastle he discovered that there were few records of small mammals in North Northumberland. Being the dedicated naturalist he is, John set out to remedy this and organised some surveys at Cocklawburn Dunes and Tommy the Miller’s Field. Since my acquaintance with Britain’s small mammals was limited to 4 mice who had invaded houses and a rat that I decided against dissecting way back in the 60’s, I thought this would be an interesting, if slightly nerve-racking, activity.

A bank vole ready for inspection and weighing.

We started at Cocklawburn where I was introduced to the intricacies of putting together a Longworth trap. Sliding one metal box inside another sounds relatively easy. That was my first mistake. There are flaps to engage and places to position. If at first you don’t succeed … At this stage we were not trying to capture the animals, just accustom them to the traps, and we encouraged them to investigate by putting in some food. Since blow-fly larvae are expensive and difficult to source, we substituted meal worms which didn’t smell nearly so bad. Sultanas, maize and chopped nuts were added along with some bedding. It is important not to use anything which might grow, introducing alien species. The doors to the traps were fixed so that they would not close. Ten traps were set in this way, all marked so that we could find them again, GPS readings were taken and a sketch map of the site was made. We then repeated the exercise at Tommy the Miller’s. By this time even I was getting the hang of fitting the traps together. On Tuesday and Wednesday mornings the traps were checked to see if any food had gone (in every case it had) and more food was placed.

The group weighing a capture.

Thursday was the big day when the traps were to be set live so that we could find out what was taking the food. This time pieces of apple were added to provide any captured animal with some moisture. I didn’t make the 6am and 7am settings, but did take part in the 10am, 2pm and 6pm checks and missed the 10pm one. When, at 10am, we lifted the traps whose doors had closed, we tried, fairly unsuccessfully, to guess what was inside. We opened the traps inside a large plastic box to avoid any premature escapes. Our “guests” didn’t really like this and made jumps of Olympic standard in an effort to get out. Each was identified as to species, and then put into a clear plastic bag so that we could weigh it and check for sex, amazingly difficult, and parasites. Each was set free in the area of the trap. The traps were then reset. This was repeated at the later checks, although the traps were not reset at the last check.

The week gave me my first encounters with bank and field voles, common and pygmy shrews and wood mice. I found them fascinating, attractive little creatures and not at all the scary creatures I had imagined. I look forward to the next survey, some time in the Spring.

Molly, Sept 29th 2009

Small Mammal Surveys.

On Thursday 2nd July 4 members of Berwick Wildlife Group met at Cocklawburn Dunes for a training day with Veronica Carnell of the Northumbria Mammals Society.

We started of in the car park learning about voles, shrews and mice and the intricacies of the Longworth live trap, how to take it apart and put it back together, harder than you might think. Veronica also gave us ideas of the best places to place traps, how to bait them and what happens when you make the traps live and how to handle the little critters. Above all she stressed that their welfare always comes first and although they will be stressed for the short time we handle them they must always be returned alive and well to where they were found.

Photo of a bank vole by John

We then set out ten traps along the slope beside the gun emplacement, setting the doors so they would not close, putting in local vegetation for bedding, baiting them with food that contains no invasive species that could generate and contaminate the study area and positioning the traps in deep undergrowth that sheltered the traps and gave cover to any small mammals living there.

Over the next five days we returned and checked the traps. All of the traps apart from one had their bait removed so were re-baited and replaced.

Finally Veronica returned and we set the doors of the traps live, returning three hours later to check them and see if we had caught anything. With the very first trap our hearts raced as the door was closed, but when we checked it we found it empty.

Photo of Veronica and Jenny by John

However the very next trap again had been tripped. Carefully, under Veronica’s watchful eye, we placed it in a large polythene bag and opened the trap. A tiny bundle of energy tumbled out and after a little fumbling it was trapped in one corner of the bag. A common shrew. The next stage was to hold it by the back of the neck and transfer it to a small polythene bag for detailed examination. My job and I had never realised how hard it is to get hold of such a tiny bundle of dynamite. A total failure so Veronica stepped in and showed us how easy it was. A very healthy juvenile female. After weighing we released her into a large box to admire her before releasing her back at the spot where she had been trapped.

Out of the ten traps there were 4 common shrews and 2 bank voles and we all mastered handling, examining and weighing them before they were all released unharmed back to the wild.

Veronica was very pleased with the results as there has been very little survey work undertaken on small mammals in north Northumberland. Andrew Craggs of Natural England on Holy Island is also very keen for us to do some further survey work to compare the species found on the island and the mainland. We can’t wait.

John, July 9th 2009

The Importance of Little Beach.

Photo of new panel by Fiona

Our Group has campaigned for and organised the placing of two information panels at the access points to Little Beach at Berwick-upon-Tweed. They have been put there to inform beach users about the importance of this beach to wintering waders and to try to reduce disturbance to these birds.

For thousands of years, ever since the last ice age, the east coast of Britain has been a winter feeding ground for a great variety of species of wading birds, and Little Beach is proving to be one of Northumberland's best.

Sanderlings, Godwits and Purple Sandpipers all fly hundreds of miles from their breeding grounds high up in the Arctic circle to spend their winter here whilst others such as Dunlin, Curlews and Redshanks all nest inland high on the moors and spend the winter on the coast.

With the Pier and the cliffs providing a wind break, the rocky reef providing a sheltered environment for marine life in the mud and sand and the tidal systems bring in food twice a day it is no wonder that Little Beach is proving absolutely vital for the birds and so popular with bird-watchers.

It is recognised that Little Beach is also popular with holiday makers, dog owners and walkers and with fishermen digging live-bait, but from September to May give some consideration to our migrant birds. Many of them have flown great distances to share our beaches, and they cannot go home to a warm house and food.

They brave the elements for 24 hours a day and get their food where they can find it. These birds must feed whenever they can to survive the cold and build up fat for migration in spring. When disturbed they burn vital energy and reserves by flying and having to stop feeding, reserves that may make the difference between them living or dying.

Please try to disturb the birds as little as possible during the winter months when they must feed whenever they can to survive the cold and build up fat for migration in spring. If they are repeatedly disturbed in cold weather they weaken and die.

Photo of new panel & John Inglis by Fiona

John Inglis, January 2008

Whales at St Abbs Head.

Whales are large, magnificent, intelligent, aquatic mammals. They breathe air through blowhole(s) into lungs (unlike fish who breathe using gills). Whales have sleek, streamlined bodies that move easily through the water. They are the only mammals, other than manatees (seacows), that live their entire lives in the water, and the only mammals that have adapted to life in the open oceans.

In recent years whales have become more common in the seas around Berwick, with many sightings reported each year.

Some of the species sighted during 2007 were:-
Bottle-nosed dolphins
Risso’s dolphins
Harbour porpoise
And Minke whales
(See the log for 2007 below.)

One of the best places to look for whales is at St Abbs Head and although they can be seen at any time of the year they are more numerous during August and September.

Cetaceans are not easy to see, especially when there is a swell on the sea. Often the only view one has is of a small fin (particularly if it is a porpoise), and if the sea is rippled in any way that can be easily hidden.

The best way to conduct a watch is to continually scan the sea surface with the naked eye, interspersed at intervals with binocular scans.

During the scans, either with the naked eye or with binoculars or telescope, look for any disturbance of the sea surface. More often than not this will be the result of a wave breaking the surface, but it is generally the first sign of a cetacean as it surfaces. Watches are best conducted on calm days when there is little surface turbulence for this very reason. If waves are continually breaking it becomes very difficult to pick out instances when the surface has been broken by a whale or dolphin. If seabirds are seen circling or diving in an area, it is worth checking these out with binoculars since dolphins or whales may well be associated.

Local sightings should be reported to Liza Cole, St Abbs and Eyemouth Volunteer Marine Reserve Ranger,
email –
website –

All cetaceans observed should be logged with the Sea Watch Foundation on either the simple sightings recording form (for repeat records that do not need a description or details of behaviour) or a more detailed cetacean sighting recording form.

Recording forms

Identification sheets

Cetacean sightings in the St Abbs area during 2007
Excel Spreadsheet
Adobe pdf file

John, January 2008

Protecting Northumberland's Red Squirrels
A Conference to Promote Working Together.

This conference, under the auspices of Castle Morpeth Borough Council, was held in Stannington Village Hall on 5th October. His Worship the Mayor, Councillor Milburn Douglas welcomed the delegates.

Lord Redesdale, from the RSPP, told us that the grey squirrel, Sciurus carolensis, is listed by the UN as one of the 100 most invasive species on the planet. Native to North America, they have been introduced into Britain and are rapidly displacing our native reds (Sciurus vulgaris). Because greys have evolved to feed on the large seeds of broad-leaved trees they can out-compete the reds which eat smaller, and therefore less energy-rich, foods. In addition, the greys carry the squirrelpox virus which is harmless to them but fatal to the reds. The RSPP has cleared Newcastle and Jesmond Dene of greys and hopes to eradicate them completely from Northumberland.

Richard Pow, from Red Alert North England and the Forestry Commission, then spoke. RANE started by trying to understand the ecology, behaviour and habitat preferences of the two species of squirrel, and the interspecies competition. After this research, it was decided to establish 16 reserves for reds, surrounded by buffer zones 5 km in depth. There is some discussion as to whether this depth is sufficient. Northumberland is of great importance to the red squirrel: of 14 000 in England, 9 000 are in Kielder.

Carri Nicolson of Save our Squirrels spoke about the complementary roles of RSPP and SoS, Nick Brodin talked abot the implications of red squirrel conservation for the Regional Biodiversity Action Plan and Elaine Jaggs followed with its reference to the Northumberland BAP.

In the second section of the conference, Councillor Andrew Tebutt explained the importance of tree-planting policies to favour food sources for the reds and the provision of rope bridges over roads, to avoid road-kill. Richard Wales, of Red Squirrels in South Scotland, reminded us that 75% of the UK's red squirrels actually live in Scotland. In the UK as a whole there are 160 000 reds and 3 000 000 greys. Squirrelpox has only recently spread to Scotland by "English" greys travelling North carrying the virus. Nothumberland, as a border county, is therefore extremely important in the fight against the virus. There is a programme of blood sampling to determine whether any grey squirrels found are carrying the virus.

Sally Hardy and Penny Hewitt described how they had set up Ponteland Red Squirrels, conducting local surveys and raising funds to promote urban red squirrel conservation in Ponteland and Darras Hall. Philippa Mitchell informed the conference that SoS can give advice on obtaining and setting up rope bridges and on matters such as public liability insurance.

The afternoon programme consisted of 3 workshops: Philippa Mitchell and Carri Nicolson spoke of getting the public involved in reporting sightings and educating people to help reds. The telephone number to report sightings of reds or greys is 0845 347 9375.

Richard Wales and Gordon Robinson, the latter from the Squirrel Protection Partnership, gave instruction on trapping greys, sending blood samples off for pox analysis and running a trap loan scheme.

Save our Squirrels Conservation Officer Mark Wilkinson desribed land management for reds including tree-planting and felling schemes and the maintenence of amenity grounds to encourage reds a nd protect grey invasion.

Considerable thanks are due to the sponsors of the conference, including Lord Ridley, Groundwork Northumberland, Morpeth Town Council, NPIL Pharmaceuticals and Wansbeck District Council.

Further information about red squirrels can be found at

Molly, October 2007

Balloons and beach litter.

Thursday 19th of July 2007 saw the 'Ugly' group (Beach Litter Surveyors for Berwick Wildlife Group) back in action for the second survey for the Marine Conservation Society in the 'Adopt a Beach Scheme'. Little Beach and the Pier Road Beach were again examined along a 100m stretch. It was a typical summer's day - overcast with an easterly wind blowing. It was freezing!

Interestingly a member of the group had reported a clump of balloons washed up on Little Beach a few days earlier. What happens to balloons after they are released? They float up into the air and out of our minds. During the litter survey the group found several balloon valves. These never biodegrade. There are two kinds of balloons, latex or rubber and foil or mylar. Eventually latex balloons will biodegrade over a period of years, but foil balloons may never fully degrade. Balloons filled with air and accidentally released are much easier to recover than those filled with helium. The latter float off into the wide blue yonder and may well come down into the sea. Living close to the sea as people in Berwick do balloon races pose a major threat to the wildlife. The balloons are often mistaken for jellyfish by all sorts of marine life, and as such are swallowed. They block the digestive tract of the animal which then starves to death. Of course you can still enjoy balloons without harming wildlife. How? Just don't let go of them! Lobby our council not to support mass balloon releases. Knot the balloon necks or hand tie with string and not plastic ribbon or valves. Fill balloons with air and not helium. For more ideas on how to use balloons in a wildlife friendly way visit

And remember 'Don't let Go' of balloons and you will be protecting our seas, shores and wildlife now and for future generations.

Elizabeth.Summer 2007

A new solitary bee is found at Ford Moss.

When Duncan Hutt took Berwick Wildlife Group on a tour of Ford Moss Reserve, an exciting find was an "aggregation" of mining bees, busy outside their nest holes in a sunny bank. These were almost certainly Colletes succinctus (there is no English name). They have distinctive bands of pale dense hairs on the abdomen, and feed mainly on heather flowers.

Photo of a Colletes succinctus

They don't form colonies like honey and bumble bees and have no workers. After mating the females dig holes with several cells, each of which is provisioned with a semi-liquid store of pollen and nectar. An egg is stuck to the roof of each cell. The eggs hatch, the larvae consume the stored food and overwinter, the pupae then develop and finally the adults emerge in late summer and the cycle begins again.

Although recorded widely as far north as Cumbria, and in the last few years in the Scottish Highlands, there are apparently no records of this bee in Northumberland. It is not clear whether there has been a recent increase in numbers of bees or, perhaps more likely, just in keen observers. Either way it is splendid to find this species thriving in one of the Trust's reserves.

Fiona, September 2007.

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Female Goldeneye by John R For problems with this site please contact - John

©Berwick Wildlife Group. This page was last updated on Dec 9th 2011.