Meadows beside one of the busiest urban centres on Tyneside will today be the focus of a deal which sees a range of nature sites handed over to Durham Wildlife Trust.
Cross Lane Meadows is a large area of wildflower land between Swalwell and Dunston in Gateshead next to the A1 and directly opposite the MetroCentre.
Formerly arable farming fields, Cross Lane Meadows is protected for its wildlife and landscape value.
The switch is to ease the land management burden on the council but it will also strengthen links with what the local authority calls a “valued partner”.
The council reasons that in return for foregoing a rental income for the land, it ensures the long-term maintenance of ecologically sensitive sites.
The total land area of the sites adds up to around 180 acres and will increase the trust’s presence in Gateshead.
In spring Cross Lane Meadows has one of the North East’s most spectacular display of cowslips. In summer flowers like ox-eye daisy take over and the meadow is alive with insects, butterflies and skylarks.
To the west of the Meadows is Station Wood – so called because it was next to the now demolished old Swalwell Fire Station. Work has been carried out to create a new entrance point to Cross Lane Meadows across the site of the old Fire Station. Access is off Market Lane, Swalwell.
The trust sites across Gateshead for which the trust has taken on management duties are Lamesley Pastures, Cross Lane Meadows, Chopwell Meadows, Westfield Pastures, Addison Village and Hedgefield Quarry, Shibdon Meadow and land west of Shibdon pond nature reserve.
The trust will also take over the management of Barlow Pond, which is owned by the SITA Trust but which was managed by Gateshead Council.
In addition, the trust is taking on sole management and, through the two nearby sites in the land deal, is extending the size of its Shibdon Pond reserve at Blaydon, which was previously managed jointly with Gateshead Council and has recently seen record numbers of bird sightings.
In the 19th Century Shibdon was wetland pastures, but this changed when mining and railway activities altered the water level and formed the pond.
Between 1837 and 1951 Blaydon Main Colliery dominated the site. The capped shaft can still be seen behind Blaydon Swimming Pool.
From the site’s observation hide, observers can spot tufted duck, mallard, coot and moorhen. In summer, masses of insects swarm above the pond and these attract swifts, swallows, house martins and sand martins in large numbers.
There are also sightings of grey herons, water rail, kingfisher, greenshank and common sandpiper. During cold winters, numbers on the pond are boosted by visiting wildfowl from Northern Europe.
The trust has been active in Gateshead since the early 1970s and in 2010 purchased Milkwellburn Wood near Chopwell in the Derwent Valley.
Environmental Stewardship agreements at most of the sites will provide funding that the trust will use to support employment of a member of staff to oversee management and encourage community involvement.
Trust director Jim Cokill said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for Durham Wildlife Trust. The council has done a great job developing these areas and we hope to build on that.
“We’re particularly keen to encourage community involvement, increasing opportunities for volunteers and educational use by local schools.
“Volunteering is a central part of what the trust does and the same will be true for the new sites in Gateshead. There will be opportunities to learn new skills by helping to monitor and manage the reserves, making sure they are accessible to the public and valuable habitats for wildlife.’’
Mark Richardson, trust reserves manager, said: “These sites will be a valuable addition to our 27 reserves and will allow trust members and local people alike to experience and enjoy wildlife in Gateshead.”
Gateshead Council cabinet member for environment John McElroy said: “Durham Wildlife Trust is an organisation with valuable expertise and experience in managing important wildlife sites like these.
“This is a fantastic opportunity to strengthen Gateshead’s links with the trust and help to safeguard the future of these significant areas.
“I look forward to seeing the trust add to the council’s work on these sites and to those playing an ever increasing role, both in their communities and in wildlife conservation.”