• DWT Botany Group

Greatham Creek, 13th September 2021

The Botany Group visited Greatham Creek today, a Local Nature Reserve close to Teesmouth

National Nature Reserve in an area of high conservation importance adjacent to industrial Teesside.

In 2018 the Environment Agency completed Phase 2 of the Port Clarence and Greatham Creek flood

alleviation scheme here, working with industrial partners and in consultation with the RSPB and

Natural England. Much of this work has involved the construction and reshaping of embankments,

which we took advantage of to walk round the site, giving elevated views across the saltmarsh.

Greatham Creek Panorama

In the morning our aim was to look at the saltmarsh plants, and we weren’t disappointed, finding Glasswort, Sea Aster, Sea Lavender, Annual Sea-blite, Greater Sea-spurrey and Common Saltmarsh-grass. We also saw Sea Plantain, Sea Arrowgrass and Saltmarsh Rush growing here too.

In slightly drier situations at the edge of the saltmarsh we found Sea Beet, Grass-leaved Orache, Sea Couch, Thrift, and one that I was particularly pleased to come across, Sea Wormwood, a strongly aromatic plant doing well at one of its few stations on the North East coast.

Sea Wormwood

The embankments bordering the marsh are mown twice a year by the Environment Agency and this regime appears to encourage a wide range of plant species. Amongst them we saw Great Lettuce, Meadow Barley, Bristly Oxtongue and the delicate Smooth Tare, all of these having a southern distribution in Britain, growing on this site towards the northern limit of their range.

Bristly Oxtongue

In the afternoon we looked at an embankment along the north shore of Greatham Creek. This is constructed of lime-rich ballast, and you would be forgiven for thinking that you were botanising in one of the Durham Wildlife Trust nature reserves on the Magnesian Limestone. For example there was Yellow-wort, Common Centaury, Blue Fleabane, Carline Thistle, Kidney Vetch, Fairy Flax, Common Restharrow, Common Milkwort and orchids, with grasses and sedges being represented by Fern-grass and Glaucous Sedge. Other species that we found here included Wild Carrot, Lesser Hawkbit, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Hop Trefoil, Mouse-ear-hawkweed, Eyebright, Lady’s Bedstraw, Wild Mignonette and Common Toadflax. Many other plants have taken advantage of the disturbed conditions resulting from the flood alleviation scheme, a couple of noteworthy ones being Perennial Wall-rocket and Hoary Mustard. We also found more saltmarsh plants growing between the embankment and the creek including Sea Beet again and a new one for the day, Frosted Orache.

On the way to this embankment we were shown an interesting tree growing on a piece of waste ground by Keith Robson (our County Durham recorder for the Botanical Society of the British Isles). This was Blue-stem Willow, the only known specimen of this non-native species in the British Isles growing in a naturalised state (rather than having been planted in an ornamental setting). Despite being a mature tree its presence was not discovered until last year.

While walking around Greatham Creek it was easy to appreciate all the other wildlife around you. We got great views of seals, both on the mudbanks and in the creek. Many birds were prominent on the marsh, including Grey Heron, Little Egret, Lapwing, Curlew and Kestrel. There were small parties of Goldfinch feeding on seeds of saltmarsh plants, with Swallows hunting over the marsh in advance of migrating south. Ringed Plover were on the mud together with Redshank, Dunlin, Oystercatcher and a few Black-tailed Godwit. Butterflies were on the wing, including Small Tortoiseshell and Common Blue, with Common Darter and Migrant Hawker dragonflies also in evidence.

All in all a great day out for the seven of us who came along. We were lucky to experience very calm weather, illustrated by smoke rising vertically from surrounding industrial chimneys and cooling-towers, conditions which I imagine are rarely experienced by any naturalist visiting this exposed part of the Teesside marshes….

I’ve used some of Lesley Hodgson’s excellent photographs for this report – thanks Lesley.

Richard Hockin

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