700 volunteers scour the North Pennines in WildWatch project

WildWatch project run by North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural amasses 20,000 sightings but has now reached end of its three years

Samantha Tranter, who led the WildWatch scheme
Samantha Tranter, who led the WildWatch scheme

More than 700 volunteers have rallied behind a scheme to put wildlife on the map in one of the region’s most open landscapes.

The WildWatch project, run by the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Partnership, has now reached the end of its three-year life.

The aim was to recruit volunteers to spot and record wildlife to improve knowledge of the status and distribution of species across the AONB and identify trends.

The result has been a resounding 20,000-plus sightings, including those of 10,000 birds.

These include 71 sightings of ring ouzel, an upland bird specialist, which will inform a North Pennines bird Atlas.

A total of 144 sightings of reptiles, such as adder and slow worm, were also made, contributing to a North Pennines reptile atlas.

All of the sightings have been shared with the Environmental Records Information Centre at the Great North Museum in Newcastle and the Cumbria Biodiversity Data Centre.

Three wildlife groups have also been established in Weardale, the Allen Valleys and Alston Moor, which are now running their own activities.

The Alston Moor red squirrel group has also been revived.

More than 2,000 moth and butterfly records were recorded online and around 100 water vole sightings.

David Gibbon More than 100 water voles were recorded under the WildWatch project
More than 100 water voles were recorded under the WildWatch project

The scheme offered 127 workshop events where volunteers could learn more about various species and improve their identification skills.

Volunteer Mary Briggs said: “Many people have benefited from the training the North Pennines AONB has provided. It has enabled us to be more effective in identifying and recording what we see.

“Getting out and about in the area and learning with and from others has been a joy and it is very satisfying to be able to contribute records that will build the database.”

Project co-ordinator Samantha Tranter said: “ The main aim was to encourage people to help us improve our knowledge of wildlife in the North Pennines.

“It is a huge area of more than 2,000 square kilometres. That’s a lot of space and not many people.

“We know there is exciting wildlife in the North Pennines, such as our wading birds, but it was more detail that we wanted.

“We also wanted to involve people from all backgrounds and ages to join in and to be our eyes and ears.”

The volunteers could sign up for training days, and go on special outings such as botany walks and moth nights.

“But people could also record what they saw while out walking, travelling to work or in their garden,” said Samantha.

“It meant that people could expand their knowledge of wildlife. They really embraced it and the project was as much about people as wildlife.

“While there have been worrying figures about declining biodiversity, the response of people to WildWatch has been massively encouraging .

“It says that they are passionate about wildlife and they wanted to contribute.

“It has been a three-year wildlife snapshot but it also contributes to the study of longer term trends.”

Records logged by volunteers include the earliest cuckoo call in the North Pennines on April 22, 2012 and the last swallow on November 14, 2013.

Reptiles also seem to be hibernating later and certain moth and butterfly species are moving northwards as the climate warms.

People can still contribute sightings on www.northpennines.org.uk/wildwatch .

The scheme was backed by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Northumbrian Water.

TV wildlife presenter Nick Baker visited the North Pennines to celebrate the end of the project at a gathering at St John’s Chapel in Weardale.

Nick, who is the vice president of Butterfly Conservation, said: “The North Pennines is an amazing place, with an abundance of wildlife – as this project has proved.

“Galvanising people into getting out and about to record what’s going on their patch is no mean feat. You have to both enthuse people and educate them – something that WildWatch has done admirably.

“Without these volunteers, we wouldn’t have the understanding of the natural world that we now do. ”

Samantha said: “The success of the project has surpassed any of our expectations, and that’s largely down to the enthusiasm and dedication of our volunteers who have taken what they have learned on our training courses and used those skills in the field.

“The legacy of WildWatch will continue through the independent wildlife groups established after meeting through WildWatch.

“This is exactly what we wanted. We always knew this was just a three-year project but we hoped that by setting the ball rolling, people living in the North Pennines would take up the mantle and form their own groups that will hopefully continue looking after our landscape for years.”

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