Local people making their corner of rural Britain unique
Saturday 9 June 2007
This week Helen Mark is in Upper Teesdale in the North Pennines for the first of two programmes looking at the area’s many outstanding features
About thirty miles south west of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the majestic moorlands of Upper Teesdale may appear windswept and bleak, but their unique geology, climate and lead mining heritage have made them home for plants like the Spring Gentian, found nowhere else in England and the Teesdale Violet found nowhere else in the world. Mediterranean species grow next to plants typically found in the Arctic and this so called ‘Teesdale Assemblage’ draws visitors from all over the world. Durham University botanist, Phil Gates explains why such rare plants are found here and describes the essential ingredients that have made this such a special place.
Upper Teesdale has its own marble called sugar limestone. Elizabeth Pickett of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Partnership, explains how it was formed along with the other characteristic rocks of the area, the Great Whin Sill and the limestone-sandstone benches that give the dale a step-like formation along its whole length. The area also boasts rich mineral veins and a thriving lead mining industry dominated the region in the 18th & 19th centuries.
Ian Findlay former warden of the National Nature Reserve has lived in the dale now for over thirty years. He takes Helen to one of the spoil heaps where the mineral barytes was mined and nothing grows except the tiny spring sandwort. It was the occurrence of flowers like these that led several miners to be curious about the flora they saw and it was thanks to men like John Binks and botanists such as James Backhouse Senior and Junior that this area became recognised for its huge variety of plants, many of them being so rare.
The mining is finished now but farming in these upland areas continues in the traditional way. Ian Findlay is in no doubt that the work of farmers like Michael Bell is vital, if the extraordinary biodiversity of Upper Teesdale’s plants and birds is to continue to thrive.
But Upper Teesdale also holds a secret which may well provide a natural weapon against climate change. High on the north western edge at the Moor House Nature Reserve lie huge stretches of blanket bog and here scientists are looking at how peat acts as a sink for carbon. Bob Baxter and Fred Worrall of Durham University are convinced that the restoration of damaged peat lands would be a means of mitigating against the effects of global warming. It is estimated that there is more carbon locked up in the peat bogs of he U.K. than in all the forests of Britain, France and perhaps even Germany combined.
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