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Wildlife watching

Arctic Terns in Flight

Arctic terns in flight © Gail Johnson/

Northumberland and The Scottish Borders are home to a rich array of wildlife, and large parts of this area are recognised in the UK and Europe for their biodiversity.

One of the striking facts about the area is that the wildlife calendar truly is year-long, so regardless of when you visit you will be sure to see some kind of wildlife, be it birds, insects, plants, fungi or sea creatures.

Spring-summer: The North Sea islands offer some of the best wildlife watching experiences in Britain. One of the area’s most famous birds, the puffin, makes its return from the Atlantic seas to the the Farne Islands in April. Puffin numbers grow and peak in early July. Adult puffins fill their beaks with sandeel for the young. Also in July eider duck chicks start to hatch, while June sees the hatching of kittiwake and guillemot.

The resident gannets can give an amazing display close to shore when searching for fish. This is the largest sea bird in the North Atlantic, and one of the best places to gannets is at Berwick. Hundreds of the birds will feed at the mouth of the River Tweet, and it’s an amazing site.  You’ll be able to spot manx shearwaters and skuas, too.

Kittiwakes on the Farne Islands

Kittiwakes on the Farne Islands © Gail Johnson/

“Look for skylarks and meadow pipits as well as mountain bumblebees on moorland and fields, where they are seeking pollen. You will be able to see bats in many locations.  Be up early, or take a walk in dusk to spot these thrilling creatures”

Out at sea the late spring and summer months can provide sightings of bottle-nosed dolphins, harbour porpoise, minke whale and possibly basking sharks. Boulmer, Bamburgh and Emmanuel Head on Lindisfarne are recommended places to watch.

The special flowers of the region are beginning to bloom in summer and include the grass of parnassus, found on the coast near Howick Hall, and bloody cranesbill. Bog rosemary, yellow asphodel and sundew bloom in the summer.

Autumn-winter: Far from being a time of death and decay, the autumn season brings a whole new world to observe.

Heather blooms on the moors turning the landscape a vibrant shade of purple. In Northumberland National Park there are three types of heather: calluna or ling heather creates vast coverings of colour; bell heather is a pinker shade, growing in rocky, dry areas; cross-leaved heather has pink/purple flowers and grows in bogs and other wet areas.

Leaves across Northumberland and The Borders are changing colour and by the time October arrives the woods and forests are alive with reds, oranges and the bright yellow of aspen leaves. Ash keys hang from trees and go from yellow to brown. Oak, rowan, hazel and elm leaves display a variety of yellows, reds and oranges.

Colourful Autumn trees at Cragside House

Colourful autumn trees at the National Trust's Cragside estate at Rothbury © David Johnstone -

Blackthorn berries are in the hedges and acorns and hazel nuts are ripening quickly. Forest areas are alive with fungi, too.In the North Sea Atlantic Grey Seals are beginning to breed. Inland, red squirrels are busy collecting and storing food for the cold months ahead. The deer are in the woodland, while in the skies birds are migrating. You should see skeins of geese at this time of year.

As winter arrives we may think it is cold in the UK, but for the migrating birds from Scandinavia, Iceland, Greenland and Russia, that’s not the case. Redwings and fieldfares arrive for the winter and feast on berries such as the rowan.

Many swans, ducks and geese travel hundreds of miles to feed at many locations including Grindon and Greenlee Lough near Hadrian’s Wall. The loughs (‘luffs’) are small freshwater lakes and the areas also contain plants and mosses. Use the boardwalk and bird watching huts to enjoy the spectable.

Northumberland and the Borders usually has snow in the winter. This makes it easy to spot animal tracks, including otter footprints.

As winter moves towards spring ravens will begin mating. A trip to Simonside above Rothbury is well worth the effort and you can see the raven sky dance – part of the raven mating ritual.

A red squirrel

A red squirrel © Gail Johnson/

Where to go: The North Pennines AONB offers so much nature, wildlife and earth heritage – 22,000 pairs of wading birds nest in the area, red squirrels are relatively easy to spot. You’ll find: 40% of the UK’s upland hay meadows; 30% of England’s upland heathlandand 27% of its blanket bog; 80% of England’s black grouse; red squirrels, otters and rare arctic alpine plants.

Northumberland National Park provides a beautiful and tranquil setting in which to observe wildlife, while the Coast AONBincorporates the Northumberland and Berwickshire coast. Within this area there are different kinds of shores, such as beaches, rock pools, cliffs and muddy inlets. Each provides a different kind of habitat to creatures and an array of shells.

The Northumberland Wildlife Trust cares for 60 reserves in the county, while over the Border the Scottish Wildlife Trust has just under 10 reserves.

Kielder Water and Forest Park is famous for ospreys in the summer. In winter observe red squirrels; in fact there is a Leaplish and your best chance of seeing the is dawn.