Northumberland, Bird Club

View of Cheviot from Doddington
Picture by Jane Coltman
View of Cheviot from Doddington Picture by Jane Coltman

Jewel of the Cheviots

A packed meeting of the North Northumberland Bird Club was delighted to welcome environmental consultant George Dodds for his illustrated talk on the College Valley – The Jewel of the Cheviots.

The College Valley Estate, an area of 6,500 hectares from Hethpool to the summit of Cheviot, was bought in 1953 with money from the Sir James Knott Trust, which was set up after the death of the wealthy Tyneside Shipping Magnate.

The spine of the valley is the College Burn and the estate is made up of three main areas, the North, mainly a farming area, the middle, which has fields and large blocks of forestry, and the South, the wild Cheviot massif with extensive moorland where most of the radical management changes, such as the removal of conifer plantations, have taken place.

In the 1970s there were 10,000 sheep, but in the last five years all have been removed. The effect on wildlife, vegetation and habitat is being monitored by recording 276 plots of 10m x10m. Galloway cattle have been introduced to graze the vegetation.

In the southern area of the Cheviot, which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a few pairs of golden plovers favour the short vegetation during the breeding season, whilst dunlin occasionally use the shallow pools of the peat hags. Birders look out for dotterel on the plateau, migrating in mid-May. There is also evidence of black water voles.

Heather management is carried out by burning carefully marked out areas on a 10-year rotation. Young heather is good for rearing chicks of the red grouse, as well as favouring meadow pipits and skylarks. Longer heather and bilberries are suitable for merlins.

The dry heath/wet heath/ blanket bog with cotton grass is good for black grouse, but they have not been seen since the harsh winter of 2010. This area is also important for ring ouzel, which migrate from wintering grounds in Morocco – 20 were seen in April.

On Bizzle Crags peregrine and raven compete for nesting sites. There are also wet flushes where wild flowers and grasses, such as ragged robin, common orchid, quaking grass and grass of Parnassus, can be found, which attract the green-veined butterfly.

Harrowbog was fenced about 12 years ago, which has led to the loss of delicate grasses and an encroachment of bracken. The woodland supports redstarts, lesser redpoll and breeding woodcock, and in the bigger plantations crossbills and red squirrels can be found.

To create a more natural place and to restrict coniferous woodland to the more economically viable parts of the estate, the decision was made to remove coniferous plantations from remote upland areas and to plant native woodland. These are good areas for tree pipits and cuckoos.

An area of 40 hectares has been created as a wilderness, with native planting, and barn owls breed here, although this would usually be too high.

George was warmly thanked for his interesting and informative talk.

The last indoor meeting at Bamburgh Pavilion before the summer will take place at 7.30pm on June 10, when Mark Holling will give a talk on Twenty Years on the South East Scotland Bird Atlas.