Susie White writes on behalf of one of her favourite local groups:
Curlews and lapwings, hay meadows, barn owls and red squirrels. Here in the beautiful landscape of the Allen Valley we are surrounded by abundant wildlife and it’s easy to forget that these are rarities outside this area. The Allen Valleys Wildlife Group was set up to celebrate this, holding regular meetings and events for all. It was originally supported by Wildwatch North Pennines (alongside two others groups in Weardale and Alston Moor) but is now self-funding and thriving.
We’re lucky to have members of the group with specialist knowledge in botany, lichens, birds, insects and art. So we have been able to record species and to survey habitats such as Bell’s Grooves at Allenheads, as well as bringing in speakers from outside. Since the group was set up in 2013 there have been talks on topics as wide ranging as spiders, foraging, moths, trees, birds of prey and making a wildlife garden. Two local wildlife photographers – Mark Charlton and Will Dawes – gave inspiring slide shows of their work and fungi expert Gordon Beakes gave a talk entitled Death(Cap) Valley!
Although the group is often based in the High Forest Centre at Sinderhope, talks are circulated round other venues such as Allendale and Whitfield. Walks out have been to see wading birds on upland fields, barn owls on summer evenings and a memorable study of lichens led by Allendale’s Geoffrey Chaytor showing the huge number of species just between the Marketplace and the Village Hall! One of the group’s aims is to encourage children to learn about and enjoy the natural world so there’s been a bio- blitz and a moth evening including kite making.
Planned talks for this year include the flora of Upper Teesdale, the birds of Geltsdale, red squirrels and dragonflies. For events there will be an Explore Nature day, a biohunt and a storytelling walk with Malcolm Green. Posters are put up in the post office, Co-op and the Forge, there are notices in the Allen Valley Notes in the Courant and the group has its own Facebook page. There’s tea and coffee and talks are usually free; instead there’s a popular raffle which helps to fund speakers and events.
Coming to the Sinderhope centre on a spring evening the air is filled with the sound of lapwings calling as they dip and dive over the fields and curlews bubbling as they skim over the valley. They breed on Robert Philipson’s farm and on Tuesday Feb 12th at 7 pm Robert will give a talk about his life as a farmer. Robert won the North Pennines AONB’s Pendlebury Award for his contribution to protecting nature and the environment and he walks his fields in spring to mark the nests of the wading birds so that they are not damaged. Anyone who knows Robert will know it will be an entertaining evening, not only about his care for the wildlife on his farm but also for his sense of humour.