Sunday, August 1, 2010

Islands in the Stream


Now, I have to concede that this site of industrial dereliction might not look like a good place to spend a morning communing with nature, but it has its charms. This is the Ouseburn, a tributory of the Tyne that flows into the river about a kilometer downstream from the Tyne Bridge in Newcastle. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries this was the location of some of the most polluting industries imaginable: lead smelting works, potteries, iron foundries, flax spinning mills, holding pens for imported cattle, surrounded by slum housing and all discharging effluent into the tidal Ouseburn. Part of the Ouseburn Valley was filled in with noxious industrial waste and the tip sometimes spontaneously combusted during hot summers. Slum clearance and industrial decline left it as a site of dereliction until serious regeneration of the lower Ouseburn valley began in the late twentieth century. Old warehouses have become artists' studios, the Cluny pub is now one of Newcastle's best small music venues, there's a city farm, a riding school, music rehersal studios and the National Centre for Children's Books is nearby. The building on the right in the picture above is the posh Hotel du Vin (rooms start at £160 per night), formerly the Tyne Tees Steam Shipping Company headquarters.The derelict building with the chimney is an old Maynard's toffee works, now scheduled for redevelopment as a business centre for high-tech design studios. Nature, of course, has been creeping back here ever since the old industries closed. 


The latest development is a lock at the junction with the Tyne, which has converted the Ouseburn from a linear muddy puddle at low tide into a permanently filled canal ... with a small marina for pleasure boats (mostly converted ship's lifeboats). Just around the bend in the river in the picture above are all the new developments mentioned above.


There are some surprising wild flowers here. This is ramping fumitory, a sparsely distributed species in Northumberland that's usually associated with hedgebanks around arable fields in rural areas.


How come it's here, in the heart of the city? It probably arrived in hay for horses and has clung on - literally, it grows in cracks in walls - ever since.


Brambles (some ripening already) would have been early arrivals, in bird droppings. This is probably one of the best sites for brambling in the Toon, within a  mile of Newcastle city centre.


When nature comes back, people want to come back too. What I find fascinating about the Ouseburn is that, whenever I visit, nature has reconquered a little bit more of what was once an industrial hell-hole.... often with some inspired help from imaginative people. When the lock was built it created a canal with bare concrete walls, so to introduce wild flowers along the water's edge floating islands like this one were constructed, filled with waterside wild flowers and anchored to the wall.


Here's another one, under a mass of flowering brambles dangling over the wall. Purple loosestrife and winter mint are currently blooming in profusion on these islands......


... and the purple loosestrift was at its best this morning. Without these man-made islands there would be nowhere for it to take root.


At a time when almost all wildlife news in the media seems to be bad news, it's uplifting to visit a place like this where a century and a half of destruction is being rapidly reversed. This shoal of fish, cruising the surface waters of the revived Ouseburn this morning, seemed to be enjoying the revival and thriving .........  anybody know what species they are?(double-click for a larger image)

12 comments:

  1. It was so heartening to read about the regeneration of the old industrial site.

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  2. Love the idea of the floating islands.
    And great to see nature taking the land back.

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  3. It doesn't take long for nature to regain a foothold does it. Nice to see the floating islands to give her a helping hand.

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  4. I think your fish look like Dace because of their streamlined body and concaved anal tail.

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  5. Hi lotusleaf, I've seen kingfishers along this stretch of the Ouseburn on a couple of occasions..

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  6. Hi Keith, it's interesting to see plants that were brought in with hay - maybe many decades ago - still hanging on here..

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  7. Thanks for the ID David, the salinity of the water here must have changed since they put the lock in. Before that it was tidal and must have been brackish; now water only flows out, when the lock is open, so the fish fauna must be changing quite rapidly.

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  8. Hi John, the floating islands seem to be very successful. Earlier in the season there were marsh marigolds flowering in them.

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  9. A year or so back my daughter was at a recording event in the studio next to Seven Stories so I had a wander along the burn. Apart from two dodgy looking lads tapping me up for a fag, I was amazed to see a kingfisher shoot past swiftly followed by a grey wagtail. Maybe all is not yet lost. Allan

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  10. Hi Nyctalus, I photographed kingfishers there a couple of years ago but I'm wondering whether they still frequent the spot now that it's not tidal ... they used to catch small fish in the pools left at low tide. I've seen quite a few butterfly species there too, and there's a very large, berry-laden cotoneaster on the side of a derelict warehouse that looks like prime waxwing bait...

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  11. Hi Phil. Your fish are Bleak, often common in slow-moving water. A small fish (usually less than 6") that likes to shoal near the surface.

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  12. Thanks Gavin, freshwater fish are not my strong suit. They seemed to be enjoying themselves, cruising near the surface in the sunlight. all the best, Phil

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