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The Probus Club of Stokesley and District  Tuesday17th March 2015

Speaker – Steve Ashton – The Work of Tees Valley Wildlife Trust

Steve Ashton was a teacher in Whitby before joining the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust. He has been with the charity for 20 years and is responsible for Protection, Conservation and Education. He gave a very interesting talk with some beautiful photographs and video clips.

The Trust, one of 47 in England, was set up in 1979 to protect wildlife and demonstrate the value of nature in enhancing quality of life for local people. It employs 20 people at Margrove Heritage Centre and looks after 17 nature reserves. Steve talked about three of these:

Coatham Marsh is the largest wetland on the south bank of the Tees. It is unusual in that the site has never been cultivated, fertilised or treated with pesticide. A wide variety of birds can be seen including bittern, redshank, lapwing and skylark. There are mounds remaining from mediaeval salt works. Damsel flies can also be found and different types of orchid.

Harvest mice have been bred in captivity and released. They are difficult to find in the wild, but droppings suggest that this has been successful. The site is carefully managed to maintain a mosaic of different types of habitat.

Bowesfield Nature Reserve was established in 1994 as part of the development in the area when the car showrooms were built. An area of 15 hectares of grazing marsh, open water and reed beds was created with many paths open to the public. The number of species of irds has increased dramatically from 250 originally to more than 2000. Otter has only been seen once, but its droppings have been found regularly. The area was designed to alleviate flooding – if the Tees floods, the nature reserve fills instead of damaging local property.

The land for Hummersea Nature Reserve was left to the Trust by Angela Cooper MBE, a founder member of the Trust. It is a sloping site by the sea and has beautiful orchids and kittiwakes nesting in the cliffs. It also has some industrial archaeology in an old alum house. The Loftus Alum Works produced alum on the site from 1655 to 1863.

A national survey of water voles in 2014 showed that the population of these mammals is in steep decline. The reasons for this are uncertain, but the bank sides in which they live have been damaged and mink are predators. Mink do not live in Middlesbrough becks and this means that they are good places to see them. Voles are very successful near Southfields.

They use latrines where they leave droppings the shape and size of tic-tac. They feed on plants near the edge of the beck and build nests which are occasionally outside their burrows. Steve showed a video clip of a water vole – they are not very good swimmers!

A recent development is Nature based interventions for Mental Health. The benefits to Mental Health from Volunteering have been confirmed by a nationwide survey led by the Trust. This has led to the project ‘From Blue to Green’, funded by the Department of Health’s Health and Social Care Volunteering Fund until 2016, which will develop the Trust’s engagement through GP referrals enabling them to work with more people in need.

Steve recommended the websites Wildlife Watch and Wild about Gardens for children. He also invited entries for the Photographic Competition. Details are on the Trust’s website.

In reply to questions, he said that pond life is a specialist area, of interest to many young people. The problems of flooding were complex and not easily resolved. The needs of man might be covered by dredging to the detriment of nature. Sustainable Drainage Systems (SUDS) were often a much better solution.