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24 September 2014

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You are in: Wear > Coast > Point 4 - Local wildlife, flora and fauna

Sea-birds nesting in rock stack off Whitburn

Many sea-birds use these nesting sites

Point 4 - Local wildlife, flora and fauna

As well as being famous for its sea-bird population, this stretch of coast offers a chance to enjoy a variety of wildlife and wild flowers.

Believe it or not, 250 million years ago, this area looked a bit like the Bahamas do today; clear water lagoons with pale sands and gentle waves lapping the edge of a massive shallow sea. The rocks beneath your feet are full of tiny fossils of ancient marine creatures and make up a rare area of magnesian limestone.


A chance to see some rare wildflowers.

Today, the cliffs and rock stacks are home to one of the largest sea bird colonies in the North East, with thousands of pairs of kittiwakes, hundreds of fulmars, cormorants and herring gulls, as well as shags, razor bills and lesser black-backed gulls.


This is also part of the biggest semi natural area of grassland in South Tyneside and home to numerous butterflies and other insects. The grasslands opposite Marsden Limekilns, known as Rocket Green are a good place to see rare wildflowers.

People with binoculars

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This is an important area for maritime plants like thrift, scurvy grass and sea plantain. Marsden is also one of the northernmost places where yellow wort and the bee orchid will grow.

Large areas of the grassland are left uncut during the summer months to provide ground nesting for birds. As well as all year round residents, the cliffs and bays provide welcome shelter during the winter months for migrating birds including purple sandpiper and turnstone from Scandinavia.

Arctic terns are the ultimate long distance visitors, arriving in the Spring and leaving in the Autumn on migration to the Antarctic.

Below the cliffs, the shoreline provides essential food for many wading birds and the rock pools shelter mussels, limpets, whelks and winkles. Occasionally dolphins, porpoises and minke whales have been seen off the coast. As part of the Durham Coast Site of Special Interest, this area has been recognised for the importance and variety of its geology, wildflowers and sea-birds.

Whitburn Bird Observatory

Bird watchers get a good view from here


Kittiwakes were first recorded nesting on Marsden Rock in the 1930s. They grew in numbers, particularly during the war when the beaches were closed off with barbed wire and concrete barriers.

They nest on ledges and usually have two or three young. The young birds are known locally as tarrocks and have a distinctive black mantle across their backs.


Cormorants, which build larger nests, can normally be found perched atop Marsden Rock and other outcrops. The colony here is particularly important as it makes up around 10% of the English coastal breeding population.

It’s well worth taking a pair of binoculars out to view the birds. If you spot the cormorants, take a closer look at what they have used to build their nests with. They will scavenge all sorts of material, including discarded trainers and even underwear!


You can also see fulmars sharing nesting space with the kittiwakes and cormorants, although they tend to take advantage of the small niches and caves in the rocks to rear their young. Their distinctive shape in flight has earned them the nickname of “flying milkbottle.”

You may see birdwatchers with binoculars and telescopes all along the coast. There is also a popular hide at Whitburn Bird Observatory which you can see as you walk along the coastal path. Contact Durham Bird Club for details 01429 867550.

When you've had enough of bird watching, continue on your walk and take a step back in time to events of World War Two.

last updated: 19/02/2008 at 12:16
created: 05/07/2005

You are in: Wear > Coast > Point 4 - Local wildlife, flora and fauna

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