Local people making their corner of rural Britain unique
Saturday 16 June 2007
This week Helen Mark returns to Upper Teesdale in the North Pennines to witness a wildlife spectacular.
Having heard last week how the geology of the upland moorland area of Upper Teesdale has given rise to some very special rare plants called the Teesdale Assemblage, Helen turns her attention to how the landscape has been shaped by the hand of man.
During the 18th and 19th centuries thousands were drawn to work in the lead mines. Lead was a difficult mineral to find and so just as in the Californian Gold Rush, which was happening at the same time, earnings from the ‘lead rush’ were unpredictable. Ian Forbes of The North of England Lead Mining Museum at Kilhope explains how this created in the miners an entrepreneurial spirit which together with their Methodism and the associated drive for self-improvement meant that despite their poverty and harsh living conditions they took an active interest in the outside world. They set up libraries, stocking books such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica and constantly kept up with world events through newspapers. Some of the old lead mines are still accessible and Helen visits one in Garrigill finding out from geologist Brian Young how the mineral veins were formed.
Wages for the miners were meagre and so many supplemented their incomes by having their own smallholdings. Furthermore, this is an upland area with many of the farms at an altitude of 1800 feet or more and so it has never been farmed intensively. The has created excellent habitats for many of the UK’s rarest moorland birds which Helen enjoys in the company of ornithologist Nick Mason, Lindsay Waddell of the Raby Estate and Phil Warren of The Game Conservancy Trust. As dawn is breaking Helen and her guests witness a very special wildlife spectacular - the ritual display of the black grouse. This is when the male birds ‘strut their stuff’ attracting the females on to the display ground or lek. A little later Helen and her guests venture onto a farmed area where they are fortunate enough to hear a snipe drumming, the noise being made when the wind whips through the birds’ tail feathers as they fly in rapid descent, as part of their ritual display. Helen then changes location to a higher moorland site for an extraordinary occurrence as one of her guests echoes the calls of one of the rarest moorland birds, the golden plover, in an astonishing duet.
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