FROM Bamburgh Beach to the River Tyne, Kielder Forest to High Force, the North East is full of stunning landscapes.
Millions of tourists come to the region every year to experience our unspoiled countryside, a stone’s throw away from our lively cities.
And those who live here know that the North East’s environment is among the UK’s best kept secrets, home to rare plants and animals, breathtaking views and one of the most tranquil spots in England at Kielder.
At the coast, rolling sandy beaches provide the perfect location for watching stunning sunsets, while a few miles off the coast islands such as the Farnes play host to colonies of seabirds and grey seals.
Inland Northumberland is a stronghold for the endangered red squirrel, while the elusive pine marten is known to be present in the Cheviot Hills.
Once a polluted stretch of water, the River Tyne has cleaned up its act in recent years to become one of the country’s best salmon rivers, also home to brown trout and otters, which are known to pop up on Newcastle’s bustling Quayside as well as in more rural areas.
It is this link between city and rural landscapes which is one of the region’s great strengths.
Visitors to the urban centres of Tyneside or Wearside do not need to venture far to get back in touch with nature and even within cities there are green spaces which bring the natural environment into the heart of the urban landscape.
Newcastle’s Town Moor and parks such as Jesmond Dene, Leazes Park and Exhibition Park are well known city open spaces.
Although you might not think it, more than half of Gateshead is countryside and the borough boasts a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) at Shibdon Pond, Blaydon, which plays host to birds like the common tern and coot, along with otters, on a site sandwiched between the A1, Blaydon, and Swalwell.
Just up the road in the Derwent Valley is a population of red kites reintroduced into the area after a 170-year absence.
While up at Kielder, ospreys nested last year and their chicks have now fledged – the first in England to return naturally after a 160-year absence.
Across the North East a total of 38 of parks in the region are holders of Green Flags awarded by the Keep Britain Tidy group.
Four Green Pennant Awards were also handed out this year to stretches of parkland managed by voluntary groups and local charities. S
Saltwell Park in Gateshead was voted Britain’s Best Park in 2005, while the 18th Century Hardwick Park in Durham was recently re-opened after a £4m scheme to restore it to its former glory, which uncovered a hidden display of daffodils dating from 80 to 100 years ago. Along the coast, eight North East beaches have Blue Flags, meaning they have achieved the highest quality in water, facilities, safety, beach cleanliness and information.
Whitley Bay (south), Tynemouth Longsands (south), King Edward’s Bay and Cullercoats Bay in North Tyneside, Sandhaven in South Shields, Roker and Seaburn in Sunderland and Seaton Carew in Hartlepool are top of the league as far as bathing goes.
Meanwhile, all 34 beaches along the North East coast which were tested by the Marine Conservation Society this year passed muster, with 27 making it on to the MCS’s recommended list in its annual Good Beach Guide. Our region is also blessed with a host of amazing nature reserves. Northumberland Wildlife Trust manages or owns nearly 60 reserves throughout Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland, while partner charity Durham Wildlife Trust takes care of 24 in County Durham and the boroughs of South Tyneside, Gateshead, Darlington and the City of Sunderland. Natural England manages 15 national nature reserves including those at Lindisfarne, Castle Eden Dene and Moor House, Upper Teesdale, which boasts rare Arctic-Alpine flowers.
Owned by the National Trust, the Farne Islands attract more than 43,000 people between April and September every year on boat trips from Seahouses.
The islands provide breeding grounds for more than 80,000 pairs of seabirds, including puffins.
Internationally important species found on the Islands include Arctic terns, sandwich terns, roseate terns and shags. The Farne Islands are also the largest breeding ground for England’s grey seals.
Among other wildlife thriving in the North East is the red squirrel. Regional and national organisations are involved in a range of conservation programmes to protect the mammals against competition and infection from grey squirrels. There is an important stronghold for the black grouse in the North Pennines, where more than 80% of the English population can be found.
And freshwater pearl mussels are surviving in the North Tyne, one of only two only two rivers in England where they are found.