CASTLE EDEN DENE
Lat: 54°45′N 1°19′35W (National Grid) NZ430390, 221ha2 Ancient woodland on magnesium limestone
Protected/registered status: National Nature Reserve
Best Time for visit; spring (my visits 23.04.16, .05.16 and 24.05.16)
Birding Site Guide
By car: Castle Eden Dene is signposted from the A19 and from Peterlee town centre.
By bus: Walk from Peterlee bus station and cross at the pelican crossing. Follow the tarmac footpath through the pine trees to the right of the Peterlee Lodge Hotel. Follow the footpath for approximately 1.5 miles (2.4km) keeping the Dene on your left. Take care crossing the road into Stanhope Chase to the lodge.
By bike: There are bike racks at Oakerside Dene Lodge. No bikes are allowed in the Dene, where the steep paths are dangerous for cycling.
The Reserve is near Route 1 (Peterlee Link) of the Sustrans National Cycle Network.
Castle Eden Dene is an outstanding ancient woodland set in a deep 5.6km (3.5 mile) long coastal gorge, interspersed with planted conifers in parts. It is a coastal river valley that leads to the sea via a very steep and rugged valley. However this stream can sometimes run dry. This terrain is probably what has saved it from further development. The wood has however been worked in the past, mainly through harvesting of coppice managed areas.
Being largely undisturbed by man, it is most noted for its huge plant list, many indicative of its ancient status.
It is possible to continue walking under the road and railway viaduct right onto the coastal shore. The main to loop paths are here though.
Yew Tree Trail Distance: 3.5 km (2 miles)
After a path joins from the left, carry on the path crosses a bridge and a bit further on. Further on you will meet another path but turn right at the following junction and cross Castle Bridge. Near the end now and turn left up path back to Oakerside Dene Lodge.
The Squirrel Trail Distance: 3 km (1.8 miles)
This goes from the lodge car park and down the hill heading left then slightly right going a bit uphill and where there is the next fork just head left and about 1 km further there is an immediate left dropping sharply to Gunner’s Pool Bridge. From the bridge go left until you reach two small bridges where the path then turns left, and the castle is on the right. Just go on downhill and back over Castle Bridge then back up to the lodge.
Geology Trail details are here: www.naturalengland.org.uk
Common Swift, Greylag Goose, Common Pheasant, Wood Pigeon, Northern Fulmar, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Sandwich Tern, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Eurasian Magpie, Eurasian Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Dunnock, Meadow Pipit, Grey Wagtail, Common Chaffinch, Eurasian Bullfinch, Common Linnet, European Goldfinch, Yellowhammer, Eurasian Reed Bunting, Coal Tit, Marsh Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Eurasian Sky Lark, Grasshopper Warbler, Northern House Martin, Barn Swallow, Sand Martin, Willow Warbler, Common Chiffchaff, Long-tailed Tit, Eurasian Blackcap, Common Whitethroat, Goldcrest, Eurasian Treecreeper, Eurasian Nuthatch, Eurasian Wren, European Robin, Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush, Eurasian Blackbird.
Red Squirrel used to occur into this millennium but has now been ousted by introduced Grey Squirrel. Roe Deer, Badger and Fox occur as does Pigmy Shrew and other common small mammals.
Species first found here include Blomer’s Rivulet Perizoma bifaciata, Barred Carpet Perizoma taeniata and Acrolepiopsis betulella which are rare moths, and there is a sub-species of Northern Brown Argus Aricia artaxerxes salmacis butterfly.
Over 450 species have been recorded. The predominant tree species are Ash Fraxinus excelsior and Oak Quercus rober/petraea with quite a lot of Yew Taxus baccata often growing right on top of boulders and Sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus, with also some Beech Fagus sylvatica and large examples of all these species can be found, Alder Alnus glutinosa in wetter areas. There is a good understory of Hazel Corylus avellana. Many other native tree species occur scattered in smaller numbers such as Holly Ilex aquifolium, Hornbeam Carpinus betulus, Rowan Sorbus aucuparia, Wych Elm Ulmus glabra, Blackthorn Prunus spinosa, Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna, Elder Sambucus nigra and Bird and Wild Cherry Prunus padus/avium.
On my visits Wild Garlic Allium ursinum was much in evidence with its strong smell and Dog's Mercury Mercurialis perennis was common and Wood Anemone Anemone nemorosa was widespread. Bluebells Hyacinthoides non-scripta were also plentiful as was Primrose Primula vulgaris, Lesser Celandine Ranunculus ficaria. Other species noted included Great Horsetail Equisetum telmateia, Lily-of-the-Valley Convallaria majalis, Marsh Marigold Caltha palustris, Wood Avens Geum urbanum, Marsh Stitchwort Stellaria palustris and Northern Marsh Orchid Dactylorhiza purpurella, Hedge Woundwort Stachys sylvatica, Bird's-foot-trefoil Lotus corniculatus, Red Campion Silene dioica. Ferns seen included Hartstongue Asplenium scolopendrium, Male Dryopteris filix-mas.
Other plants recorded by others include Sanicle Sanicula europaea, are also common, while locally-rare species include Herb Paris, Paris quadrifolia, Bird's-nest Orchid Neottia nidus-avis, Musk Thistle Carduus nutans, Round-leaved Wintergreen Pyrola rotundifolia, Heather Calluna vulgaris, Wild Thyme Thymus serpyllum, Marjoram Origanum majorana, Heath Milkwort Polygala serpyllifolia, Carline Thistle Carlina acaulis, Sweet Violets Viola odorata, Herb Robert Geranium robertianum, Wood, Meadow and Bloody Crane’s-bill Geranium sylvaticum/ pratense/sanguineum the latter rare. Enchanter’s Nightshade Circaea lutetiana, Restharrow Ononis repens, Woodruff Galium odoratum, Columbine Aquilegia vulgaris, Dame’s Violet Hesperis matronalis, Giant Bellflower Campanula latifolia, Sea Plantain Plantago maritima, Sea Rocket Cakile maritima, Opposite-leaved Golden-Saxifrage Chrysoplenium oppositifolium, Marsh Arrowgrass Triglochin palustris, Hard Fern Blechnum spicant, ,
Rarer species include several species of orchid such as: Fly Ophrys insectifera and Bird’s nest Neottia nidus-avis. I also saw Common Rock Rose Helianthemum nummularium on the coastal cliffs. Blue Moor Grass Sesleria caerulea is nationally scarce.
Other introduced species scattered throughout such as rhododendron ponticum Rhododendron ponticum, Horse Chestnut Aesculus hippocastanum and Sweet Chestnut Castanea sativa. There is also a Larch plantation.
Castle Eden Dene National Nature Reserve Natural England Oakerside Dene Lodge, 2 Stanhope Chase Peterlee SR8 1NJ
Find out more at www.naturalengland.org.uk or by calling 0191 5860004.