In a new series of articles, we’ll be taking a look at the best places to watch wildlife in North East England.
By no means comprehensive but hopefully informative, these posts are intended to provide inspiration on where to visit in the North East to observe and enjoy nature, as well as detailing some of the wildlife you can expect to enjoy at these sites.
Based on the reports and sightings of North East naturalists and personal experience, I hope these posts might provide inspiration when choosing the destination of your next wild walk in the region.
Silverlink Biodiversity Park
A hidden gem in the heart of urban Tyneside, Silverlink Biodiversity Park is a fantastic spot at which to enjoy nature in the North East. Created in 1996 on the site of a former rubbish tip, the site was declared a local nature reserve in 2006.
Boasting a diverse array of habitats condensed into a small area of only 18 hectares, Silverlink supports woodland, hedgerow, wetland and grassland habitats. The latter of which being particularly worthy of a visit during the summer months due to an excess of invertebrates and vibrant plant life.
One of the defining features of this urban oasis is its invertebrate community. The grassland areas here are particularly diverse and, in summer, hold a notable population of Dingy Skipper butterflies. Other butterflies to be seen here include good numbers of Common Blue, Ringlet, Meadow Brown and Large Skipper; while Comma, Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and the three more abundant ‘whites’ are all represented.
On warmer days in June and July, day-flying moths can be very abundant including a thriving colony of Six-spot and Narrow-bordered Five Spot Burnets – the larval casings of which can often be spotted perched atop grass stems throughout the meadow area. Other species seen include Latticed Heath, Mother Shipton and Silver Y.
Silverlink Biodiversity Park is notable locally for Odonata and dragonflies and damselflies on-site include Common Darter, Southern Hawker, Broad-bodied Chaser, Large Red, Common Blue and Azure Damselfly. A Lesser Emperor, marking only the second-ever county record, was found at the site in 2019.
The lesser recorded insect groups at Silverlink Biodiversity are equally worthy of attention. Of these, hoverflies are conspicuous and recent trips have revealed species such as Cheilosia illustrata, Scaeva pyrastri and plenty of the eye-catching and abundant Heliophilus pendulus.
Botany at Silverlink Biodiversity Park is a real pleasure. For many, it is the sites Bee Orchids that hold the greatest appeal and in good years, many of these beautiful flowers can be seen throughout the sites grassland areas. In damp spots, Northern Marsh Orchid can also be found; while Common Spotted Orchid may appear anywhere across the site.
The grasslands of Silverlink are particularly interesting during high summer when species such as Viper’s Bugloss, Common Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Kidney Vetch and Common Knapweed are in full bloom. There is also a nice area of Quaking Grass, Zigzag Clover and pockets of the quirky-looking Bladder Campion.
Damper, more verdant areas of the site hold small areas of Ragged Robin, Bittersweet, Marsh Thistle and Water Mint, with species such as Water Figwort popping up occasionally and an expansive area of prehistoric-looking Butterbur also present.
Given its urban location, it is also not unusual to find adventive, non-native species at Silverlink and this year alone, I have encountered Oriental Poppy, Globe Thistle and two unusual forms of ornamental Crane’s-bill.
Silverlink is not particularly notable for birdlife but the site still does hold a good range of species. Typical woodland species such as Great Spotted Woodpecker, Bullfinch, Nuthatch, Treecreeper and Jay can be seen; while Sparrowhawk, Buzzard and Kestrel can be observed on site. Lucky visitors may also spot Long-eared Owl.
The small pools present on-site hold breeding Coot, Moorhen and Mallard and occasionally host Tufted Duck, Grey Heron and Gadwall. Only once have I heard Water Rail on-site; though with some relatively large sections of riparian vegetation, it is likely they can be seen year-round.
A nice array of mammals can be seen at Silverlink, including Roe Deer, Hedgehog and Red Fox. The small pockets of woodland hold Grey Squirrel; while small mammals seen here include Common Shrew, Wood Mouse and Bank Vole. Rabbits are less plentiful than they once were but remain, and visitors may encounter Weasel and Stoat across the site.