At Ouseburn Farm, we look after a range of wonderful creatures, both great and small. If you’ve visited us before, you may have come across the likes of Willow the cow, Suzie the pig and Beavis the parrot. They’ve become part of Ouseburn life and the highlight of many a trip to the Farm. But something you might not be aware of is that living alongside our domesticated animals is some of Newcastle’s most precious wildlife.
Since 2006, Mike Jeffries, Professor of Geography and Environmental Sciences at Northumbria University, has surveyed the Ouseburn Valley, recording 19 different species of butterfly and 8 species of dragonfly and damselfly. Here are a few examples of what he’s found.
A Comma - with its ragged wing edges acting as camouflage, it can often be mistaken for a dead leaf.
A Ringlet - its name comes from the small ring spots found on its wings. Adults ‘can be seen flying with a characteristic bobbing movement.’
A Green-veined White - usually found in damp areas such as the pond meadow in our orchard.
A Small Tortoiseshell - One of the more territorial species of butterfly. Males will chase anything that comes onto their patch.
A cast skin (exuviae) left behind by a Southern Hawker dragonfly when it hatched from the pond.
Beyond the butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies recorded in Mike’s survey, the Valley also attracts birds such as the Kingfisher and the Chiffchaff, as well as occasionally hosting the most unlikely of visitors - otters. Described by Mike as “shy”, “funny creatures”, he says that otters are “quite happy in cities”, “as long as they think you can't see them”. He sees the Valley as a “funny mix” of city wildlife, a unique and unorthodox space, occupied by species that might not ordinarily live together. “There's something a bit special about it as a result”.
In recent years however, the Valley’s wildlife has been in decline. This is particularly true of the dragonfly and damselfly populations, only 1 species of each recorded in Mike’s latest 2020 survey. Decline in numbers, albeit to a lesser extent, is also occurring in the butterfly fauna. In 2014, Mike counted 20 Ringlet butterflies during a single visit through the Valley. Last year (2020), there were only 2. One of the main causes of this decline is extreme weather, particularly rainfall. 2012 is still fresh in Mike’s memory as a “record breaking wet year” for the UK, something “that really hammers butterflies”. The issue of wildlife decline in the Valley is also man-made. Much of the meadow grassland (see below) in the orchard has become overgrown, encouraging anti-social behaviour and further habitat destruction.
It is this second factor that the Farm, in collaboration with the Ouseburn Trust, will address through the ‘Green Spaces Project’, funded by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership. The £50,000 in funding will be used to regenerate the orchard, strengthening the area’s boundaries and making it more accessible for public use. The project, due to begin over the summer, will also focus on the pond (see below). This is another area that has seen wildlife decline in recent years and so work will be done to re-line it, make it deeper and clear out the reeds and sedges.
For more information and to keep up to date with the project as it develops, visit https://www.ouseburntrust.org.uk/green-spaces-project or follow the Farm’s social media channels.
The Wildlife Trusts. Comma. [Online]. [Accessed 15th April 2021]. Available from: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/invertebrates/butterflies/comma
The Wildlife Trusts. Ringlet. [Online]. [Accessed 15th April 2021]. Available from: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/invertebrates/butterflies/ringlet
The Wildlife Trusts. Small tortoiseshell. [Online]. [Accessed 15th April 2021]. Available from: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/invertebrates/butterflies/small-tortoiseshell
Jeffries, M.J. 2020. OUSEBURN FARM BUTTERFLY & DRAGONFLY SURVEY, 2020. [Online]. Department of Geography, Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne. [Accessed 7th April 2021]. Available from:https://www.ouseburntrust.org.uk/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=0ed5cdcc-77e5-4a92-9a56-f680f2f6d646