Yes we all like to be beside the seaside! And I hit it right on a recent visit to our Cross Gill site at Blackhall Rocks, just north of Hartlepool – spending a wonderful couple of hours reviewing the management of the site and working out future plans for grazing the site with our conservation partners from Durham County Council.
While looking up the Durham coast what really struck me was the large expanse of grassland stretching northwards to Seaham, and then onwards to the River Tyne. This stretch of the Durham coast includes some nationally important wildflower-rich grassland sites, many of which are designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (including Cross Gill) and some managed as National Nature Reserves. In some places the grassland is restricted to narrow strips along the cliff tops, while in other areas the grasslands and other semi-natural habitat, expands several hundreds of metres inland. Of course arable land, roads, business parks, houses and caravan sites break up the landscape, but an amazing grassland resource still exists. Just north of Cross Gill the ‘Turning the Tide’ project has done some great work reverting arable land to grassland and work is now underway to increase the diversity and numbers of native flowers in these areas by adding seed form sites such as Cross Gill. The ‘Limestone Landscapes’ HLF project is carrying on from where previous projects left off, and is aiming to restore further areas of grassland over the coming three years.
But how wonderful it would be to see a wide strip of grassland stretching around our coastline. The creation of a networks of habitat across the British Countryside is currently a hot topic in nature conservation circles, but how much is actually being done is another matter. So what about a little ambition! And where better to start than around the coast? A lot of valuable grassland and heathland habitats still occur around the British coastline, including the dunes of Northumberland, the heathlands of the Lizard and chalk grasslands inKent. So how about developing a really valuable habitat network enlarging and connecting these areas together? And what a resource for a wide range of wildlife, including the many migrants that hit our coast throughout the year. Many species have already made use of the coastal ‘strip’ to move northwards, probably helped by the less extreme fluctuations in temperatures as the sea keeps winter temperatures higher. And many more species will need to move as the climate continues to change. So how about this for a plan? As is being promoted by the National Trust inNorth Yorkshire, let’s work towards developing a one-field width natural habitat buffer around our coast! I would have thought this would be a win win solution for us all – wildlife and humans.
Paul Evans, Conservation Officer – North East England