Natural Ness

The ten miles of shingle that forms Orford Ness is much more than just a long ridge of pebbles with a jeopardised lighthouse at one end. Nature has a way of claiming any environment given half a chance, and has a myriad of methods.APW_4772_3_4-Edit

Can you spot the plover?
Can you spot the plover?

The gaps between the pebbles provide opportunities windblown sand and dirt to find a home, helping to stabilise the stones, retain moisture and provide nutrients to any plant or seed that should put down roots here. The salty air and lack of shelter require some specialisms of those plants but they exist. Naturally such plants are rarities for the conditions that support them are uncommon and fragile. Orford Ness is the second largest area of vegetated shingle in the UK, and the largest such shingle spit in Europe, so whilst it is owned by the National Trust, they must manage the impact of visitors very carefully.

Specialist plants bring specialist insects bring specialist birds… (I’m starting to sound like a Burl Ives song) but here the flora and fauna have an added bonus. A lack of people.

Here's that plover by the way
Here’s that plover by the way

If you want to visit the site, you must do so on a designated National Trust ferry. These small boats carry about a dozen people and operate the outward journey at roughly twenty-minute intervals for about four hours each day. (You can do the maths). They then count back every return journey to ensure that no one overstays their welcome. The only permanent residents are the wardens of the nature reserve._MG_2588

Spread those numbers across 570 hectares and they have very limited impact. That impact is restricted further by closing off parts of the Ness to visitors when the birds are breeding, and beyond this the Ness has its own unique way of persuading the curious photographer not to stray too far…

But that’s a story for tomorrow.APW_5075

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Not for agoraphobics

The South Tyneside coastline is a rugged place of crumbling stacks, caves and blowholes, and historically has been so for some time.  The rocky coastline was perfect for breaking ships, and the numerous coves and caves perfect for wreckers and smugglers to hide themselves and their booty.These days much of the coastline is given over to leisure.  The former pit village of Marsden is long since removed from both map and landscape and is now a nature reserve.  North of here is the National Trust property Souter Lighthouse and between that point and South Shields stretches Marsden Leas, also owned by the trust.

This is a broad swathe of cliff top grassland that attracts folk from the area to enjoy all manner of recreation.  As a cyclist I have long been familiar with every twist and turn, every rise and fall of the main coastal path, though it is presents far less interest now that it has been tarmacked for much of it’s course. 

There are dog walkers and kite flyers aplenty, and the occasional equestrian too.  It’s a great spot for running, and has the added attraction that there are numerous sea bird colonies along it’s cliffs, notably Marsden Rock, which for most of my life  was a sea arch until rockfalls prompted its part demolition.

Much of the shoreline is difficult or impossible to access due to the effects of erosion which constantly force back the cliff top pathways, and whilst you may be able to see it from the water, the dangerous rocks keep vessels a good distance away.

There are plenty of places to sit and take in the views,  many provided in memorial to those who have enjoyed these two miles of open space, and others to those who have lost their lives on the same cliffs.

For all the flow of human traffic, the Leas are so spacious that they accommodate it all, with barely noticeable impact, which probably suits the wildlife.

Once a year however, all of that changes.  Preparations are already underway for next weekends Great North Run, which will bring tens of thousands to the Leas as both spectator and participant for this is where the race finishes.

Still, in the meantime it’s quiet enough for some baring of flesh; which is what Paul was doing when I met him and his dog today.