The mixed woodland, ponds, streams and meadows at Hardcastle Crags provide a great home for a variety of wildlife.
Early spring is when some of the woodland plants start showing their faces again, with Ramsons and Wild Garlic springing up amongst the trees. The woodland is also home to over 500 species of mosses and lichens that thrive in this area. There are also numerous fungi to discover, with over 400 species found in the area.
Bats and birds
During the early morning, the whole valley around Hardcastle Crags comes alive with the sound of bird song. March is a particularly good time to hear this, when the birds are at their loudest.
With fewer leaves on the trees and no summer migrant visitors, it’s a great time of year to see the native birds in the woodland. Try and see if you can match the birds to their song as you look for life amongst the branches. Great tits, blue tits, goldcrests, robins, blackbirds and thrushes are typical woodland species that call the woods home. If you’re lucky, you might even hear the greater spotted woodpeckers drumming away on the trees.
In the evenings, as the sun goes down, the skies are taken over by the bats that emerge from the buildings and the trees. Outside Gibson Mill is a great spot to look for these nocturnal creatures as they begin their night in the woodland.
Northern Hairy Wood Ant
Did you know that Hardcastle Crags is well known as the home of the Northern Hairy Wood Ant? These creatures live in huge anthills in the woodland, with some nests as large as six feet tall.
The nests extend a couple of feet below the ground with an extensive labyrinth of tunnels, tended to by the female residents of the colony. See if you can spot them making their forays out into the trees, to hunt for food and materials to repair the outside of their nests.
The former industrial mill ponds now provide ideal habitats for a range of invertebrates, fish, amphibians and birds, as do the fast-flowing streams that jig-jag through the woodland.
Grab a net and try your hand at pond dipping in the mill pond to see what life you can uncover from the water, and look for herons and wagtails along the riverside. As spring approaches, look out for frogspawn in the ponds and streams too.