An image of LEAROCK Mike Collier's work

The Birdlife Of Durham’s Moor And Vale

The artwork herewas produced for the project ‘In Temperley’s Tread – the Birdlife of Durham’s Moor and Vale’ – a series of five upland bird and wildlife guided walks, staged over four weekends in July 2012 through Durham’s upland summer landscape along a historic route.  The inspiration for the project was renowned ornithologist and botanist, George Temperley

‘In Temperley’s Tread – the Birdlife of Durham’s Moor and Vale’ comprised a series of five upland bird and wildlife guided walks, staged over four weekends in July 2012 through Durham’s upland summer landscape along a historic route.  The inspiration for the project was renowned ornithologist and botanist, George Temperley, who in his introduction to A History of the Birds of Durham (Temperley 1951) suggested a 45 mile upland route to experience the true majesty of Durham’s uplands. Extolling the virtues of the natural heritage of County Durham’s landscape in the middle of the 20th century he said:

To realise the extent of these far-flung moorlands the traveller, who only knows the industrialised portions of the County in the east, should walk from Edmundbyers on the Derwent through Stanhope in Weardale to Middleton in Teesdale, returning by Langdon Beck, St. John’s Chapel, Boltsburn, Hunstanworth and Blanchland, a circuit of some 45 miles.  In the course of such a walk the only signs of cultivation which meet the eye are restricted to the narrow strips along the river banks and the only traces of industry are the relics of long disused lead mines and quarries.

The Walks

These were led by natural historian Keith Bowey (with whom I have undertaken a number of previous walks) and myself acting as guides and route interpreters.  The wildlife seen and experienced on the guided walks, along with information shared by the perceptions and knowledge of the participants, has informed the production of artwork (see below). The guided walks also inspired the staging of a series of ‘heritage evenings’ for local communities along the route in Stanhope, Middleton-in-Teesdale and St. John’s Chapel.  Each of these ‘heritage evenings’ related the story and themes of the walks and the history of the life of George Temperley. The over-arching purpose of the project was to take all of those who participated in the walks and related heritage events on a learning journey towards a deeper understanding of, and ultimately a more active involvement in, the conservation of the Durham uplands, from both a cultural landscape and biodiversity perspective. This project was supported with a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

June and early July saw unprecedented falls of rain and unseasonably chilly weather. However, on the day of our first walk, from Edmunbyers to Stanhope, the weather broke and we had sunshine and gentle, warm winds for most of an excellent day’s walking. The highlights included: Cuckoo, Oystercatcher, Common Sandpiper, Short-eared Owl, Curlew, a couple of families of Wheatear, Redshank, Lapwing, Snipe (including the extraordinary sound of four Snipe ‘drumming’ around us on top of the moors), Ring Ouzel, Golden Plover, Buzzard, Red Kite and Kestrel (and, of course, many Red Grouse and Meadow Pipits).

On walk two, from Stanhope to Middleton-on-Tees, the weather was showery with broken spells of blustery sunshine. We walked high across largely trackless, heather moors – an invigorating experience, ‘though tough walking! We saw most of the birds seen on walk one (Oystercatcher, Curlew, Redshank, Lapwing, Snipe, four Ring Ouzel, Golden Plover, Wheatear, Buzzard, and Kestrel) although in smaller numbers in the case of the waders; clearly, having bred successfully (hopefully), they have now begun to leave the high moorlands. We also saw a family of Stonechat and, the highlight of the day, two Merlin and a Hobby – at the same time. Although we have not yet seen any live Black Grouse, we did encounter a dead one!

On walk three, from Middleton-on-Tees to St John’s Chapel our route took us, initially, along the banks of Tees as far as the Wynch Bridge. This stretch of the river is internationally renowned for its wealth of flora and we saw an abundance of wildflowers in the uncut hay meadows and on the valley floor, including Wild Pansy, Hay Rattle, Globe Flower, Lady’s Mantle, Pignut and Oxeye Daisy as well as Heath Milkwort on the riverbank at Low Force. We left the Tees at Newbiggin, climbing steadily along an unclassified road until we reached the highest point on our walk, Swinhope Head (at just over 600 metres). As the afternoon progressed and we made our way over Green Fell and Pike Law, the wind grew in strength, keeping many of the birds down. We had a fleeting view of a Merlin as it flew along the flanks of Black Hill, but by the time we reached journey’s end at St. John’s Chapel, the wind had reached gale-force. However, we did manage to see a total of six different bedstraws on this walk – Heath Bedstraw; Marsh Bedstraw; Northern Bedstraw; Cleavers; Crosswort and Lady’s Bedstraw.

Walk four (a much shorter walk of around seven miles) began at St. John’s Chapel from where we traced the River Wear through Westgate catching fleeting glimpses of Dipper and Yellow Wagtail, before joining the Weardale Way just south of Warden Hill. From here, we climbed Cuthbert’s Heights where we saw a Black Grouse on Northgate Fell and caught site of a Peregrine in the distance over the North Durham FellsPerhaps the highlight of this walk was seeing juvenile Redstart and Crossbill at the edge of a small conifer plantation on Hangingwells Common. Our route then took us across Smailsburn Common and, as we made our way into Rookhope, we encountered many Common Spotted Orchids, Ragged Robin, Teasel, Wild Thyme and a range of grasses.

Walk five took us from Rookhope to Balnchland via Bolt’s Law – a terrific view point. From its summit (540m), we could see over to the Cheviots, Simonside, The Pennines as well as Newcastle and SunderlandMany of the waders had now left the uplands – there were small numbers of Golden Plover, Lapwing and Curlew, but the really exciting sighting was of a Raven. Ravens no longer breed in Co. Durham and are rare, having been persecuted to near extinction. The Walk ended at the White Monk’s Tea Room at Blanchland where we all enjoyed tea, coffee and cake!