A botanical hotspot tucked away amid industrial units, Silverlink Park is a great place to visit come summer.
The Silverlink Park local nature reserve occupies 18 hectares of the busy Cobalt Business Park in North Tyneside. Perched atop the site of a former rubbish tip, this little green oasis was created as part of a new development scheme in 1996 making it one of the youngest nature reserves in the local area.
Located amid offices, shops, and industry, many surely overlook this site, but with an intriguing mix of habitats, it has much to offer the visiting naturalist. Among the most interesting are:
- Two areas of calcareous grassland,
- Patches of exposed scree/rock.
- Several ponds complete with dense riparian vegetation
- Rough grassland and scrub
Hidden among these habitats are a great many interesting plants. Many of these go unnoticed by the regular users of the site – dog walkers, local residents, and office workers out for a lunchtime stroll.
A small site, it is possible to explore the entirety of Silverlink Park in an hour or so but with plenty of reasons to stop and pause, you’ll likely find your visits lasting much longer.
Plantlife at Silverlink
The main draw of Silverlink is its diverse and interesting grassland areas. Here, a low-nutrient substrate keeps grasses at bay and enables a great many wildflowers to thrive. Among commoner odds and ends, species such as Betony (Betonica officinalis), Wild Carrot (Daucus carota subsp. carota), Lady’s-bedstraw (Galium verum), and Salad Burnet (Poterium sanguisorba subsp. sanguisorba) are present in abundance. You’ll also observe plenty of Cat’s-ear (Hypochaeris radicata) Rough Hawkbit (Leontodon hispidus) and Quaking-grass (Briza media) – the latter almost becoming dominant in places. In spring, grassland areas are awash with hundreds of Cowslips (Primula veris), a declining sight in the nearby area.
Strewn among the species listed above, it is possible to note several more elusive plants. Devil’s-bit (Succisa pratensis), Field (Knautia arvensis), and rarer still, Small Scabious (Scabiosa columbaria) are all present, as are Musk-mallow (Malva moschata) and Fairy Flax (Linum catharticum). Look closer at the knapweeds present and you can also find Chalk Knapweed (Centaurea debeauxii) while in high summer, large areas are painted blue by the blooms of Meadow Crane’s-bill (Geranium pratense).
Areas of exposed rock nestled among the grassland are perhaps the most interesting feature of the site. Here you’ll find some true surprises, including Northumberland’s only colony of Pale St. John’s-wort (Hypericum montanum) discovered on site in 2022. Perhaps surprisngly, Wood Sage (Teucrium scorodonia) and Great Wood-rush (Luzula sylvatica) are abundant here too and among the rubble, you’ll also spot Viper’s-bugloss (Echium vulgare), Yellow-wort (Blackstonia perfoliata), Blue Fleabane (Erigeron acris) and Hoary Ragwort (Jacobaea erucifolia). All plants able to cope with inhospitable environments.
There are several oddities in these areas too, including several birdsown aliens represented by Small-leaved Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster microphyllus),, Wall Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster horizontalis) and Himalayan Honeysuckle (Leycesteria formosa). For years, a large example of Orange-peel Clematis (Clematis tangutica) also grew here but this seems to have perished as of 2023. Still, it goes to show that anything can turn up on sites such as this!
Once you’ve had your fill of the grassland, it pays to visit the small ponds dotted about the site. The margins of these are particularly lush and among copious stands of Bulrush (Typha latifolia) and Yellow Iris (Iris pseudacorus) you’ll note the cheery blue flowers of Water Forget-me-not (Myosotis scorpioides), the tall stems of Greater Spearwort (Ranunculus lingua) and plenty of non-native New Zealand Pygmyweed (Crassula helmsii), a less welcome addition. Somewhat scarcer are Amphibious Bistort (Persicaria amphibia) and Lesser Water-plantain (Baldellia ranunculoides) but both are present also.
Grassland and ponds aside, one of the most interesting aspects of Silverlink are the various bridleways and walkways that pass through and by the site. The well-trodden grassy areas on the margins of these have an interesting flora of Wild Mignonette (Reseda lutea), Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa subsp. sylvestris) and both Slender (Hypericum pulchrum) and Perforate St. John’s-wort (Hypericum perforatum). Keen-eyed botanists may note plenty of Ribbed Melilot (Melilotus officinalis) and Bladder Campion (Silene vulgaris), as well as Zigzag Clover (Trifolium medium) which while scattered, is easy enough to find. Given their proximity to nearby homes, these transport links can also yield surprises from time to time. In 2021, I stumbled across a small population of Early Dog-violet (Viola reichenbachiana) here – a rare species of ancient woodlands occasionally grown in gardens.
Scrubby areas along these tracks are fairly generic but do contain a good range of bird-sown cotoneasters, including Late Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster lacteus) and Hollyberry Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster bullatus). Hop Trefoil (Trifolium campestre) and Scarlet Pimpernel (Lysimachia arvensis) are known to grow on the paths themselves so it is worth watching your feet from time to time.
Of course, visiting botanists are interested in more than just the pretty, flowering things. Grasses, rushes and sedges are not too diverse on site but you will encounter Glaucous Sedge (Carex flacca) and False Fox-sedge (Carex otrubae) at the very least. Trees are marginally more interesting thanks to some curious decisions made while restoring the site. There are some nice examples of Bay Willow (Salix pentandra), a scarce species locally, strewn across the site and elsewhere Holm Oak (Quercus ilex) and Mougeot’s Whitebeam (Sorbus mougeotii) have been added. Relics of long-forgotten municipal plantings exist too in Dwarf Mountain Pine (Pinus mugo) and White Dogwood (Cornus alba).
Site Highlight – Orchids
With a nice mix of chalky soils and damper areas, Silverlink is a marvelous site for orchids. Most numerous are the Northern Marsh Orchids (Dactylorhiza purpurella) which inhabit damper areas around the margins of pools but you’ll also find Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) and the hybrid between the two (Dactylorhiza x venusta). In the chalky grassland, Pyramidal Orchids (Anacamptis pyramidalis) have recently colonised and across the whole site, Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera) can be extremely numerous popping up in just about any grassy area in varying numbers each year. Altogether more scarce, Common Twayblade (Neottia ovata) are also present, and in hidden corners, it is possible to see Heath Fragrant Orchid (Gymnadenia borealis). How the latter ended up here I do not know…
While these blogs are intended to focus on the plantlife of my favourite haunts, many will also be keen to learn about the other wildlife one can expect to encounter when visiting.
Deviating into the world of invertebrates, Silverlink is a phenomenal site for a whole manner of butterflies. Among these, Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus), Small Skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris), Dingy Skipper (Erynnis stages), and huge numbers of Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus). Linked to this, moths can be interesting also with Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet (Zygaena lonicerae) very numerous during July and other treasures like Blackneck (Lygephila pastinum) lurking in the grass.
Many people visit Silverlink to look for dragonflies and the site has a superb track record for turning up oddities. Beyond these, however, you are more likely to notice commoner species such as Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa), Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) and Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella). Bees have noticeably been better recorded in recent years and a few key species include the Large Yellow-faced Bee (Hylaeus signatus), a specialist of Wild Mignonette, and Fork-tailed Flower Bee (Anthophora furcata).
On a final insect-related note, it is worth looking closer at the ladybirds present on site. In 2022, the tiny Epaulet Ladybird (Rhyzobius chrysomeloides) was discovered on site – the first recorded for North East England.