Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Flash Down the Pan

Later this year one of Northumberland's birding sites will disappear from view, Longhirst Flash has fallen foul of Old King Coal and is smack bang centre of a huge opencast development that has planning permission and is known as Potland Burn. The company responsible for the opencast will in time re-landscape the site after they have had the obligatory extension, so perhaps in 20 years or so the land may have returned to its current state. The wetland is excluded from the excavation as is the adjacent woodland but the plans show the boundary running very close.
Views of the flash will be lost during excavation as the company plans to put a 5.5m-6.5m baffle bank between the road and pond
Looking at the picture above anyone not knowing the area might think that it is a fairly plain, small pond but for many local birders it has a good heritage. It is I think a mining subsidence pond, one of many in the area, it has only been in the last 15 years that it has deepened and started attracting a decent selection of birds. It first got attention in the early nineties with wintering Whooper Swan in the surrounding fields. The first decent bird I can find was a Spoonbill in 1996 although it was at least three years earlier it acquired the name 'Longhirst Flash' as one ancient local has a notebook entry for 13th March 1993 of one Tufted Duck and two Mallard. It was attractive to passage waders such as Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper and Greenshank, it's reedy north end often pulled in Garganey. In 1999 it had the first of a run of three Great White Egret in four years, with others in 2000 and 2003. The 2000 bird being particularly close to my heart as I found it that morning at my then patch of Castle Island before it moved inland to Bothal then Longhirst. Common Crane is another species that have been recorded here at least once with two birds on passage.
Maybe its last hurrah was 26th September last year when the twenty year county blocker Glossy Ibis was first re-found at the Flash and later briefly touched down again as a significant proportion of the county's birders attempted to catch up with it.
The disruption around the area will move out Long-eared Owl, Tawny Owl, Common Buzzard, Jay all breeding birds. We will be the poorer for not having this insignificant little pond.
It irks me that it we seem to be seen as an easy touch for coal, perhaps because of our mining heritage we're thought of as still having coal dust under the fingernails which to some extent is true. It irks me more that a fantastic little site like this is afforded little protection, I can't help thinking somewhere along the way we got our values seriously muddled.

thanks to Andy Mclevy for some of the historical records.

14 comments:

Brian Robson said...

Another one bites the dust Alan, fond memories of Common Crane, Great white and Little egret, and Marsh Harrier from this site as well as a good supporting cast of waders over the years. Flash sites are great places always worth a bit of time to stop and search.

abbey meadows said...

I haven't seen the plans but for it to disappear within the opencast boundary the nearby road must be disappearing too...they normally leave features close to a public road. I hope they reconsider this. I have seen the birds you mention plus white winged gulls and my furthest inland Little Gull.

Stewart said...

Alan, The flash was a winter only feature when I was leaving school in 1980. The days of poaching the Abyssinian and nesting for Long eared Owls in those two plantations takes me back. I'll have a check to see when my earliest note on it was....

alan tilmouth said...

Nigel- as I understand it the site straddles both sides of the road and covers The Abyssinian east and goes to the railway line west.

Brian - I thought there would be more than me saddened by this.

Stewart - Hoped you would chip in as I knew you would have as much history as anyone.

Steve Lowe said...

After a long discussion a large chunk of land was removed from this scheme, close to Hawthorn Cottage, where the largest bit of neutral grassland left in Northumberland was found. This is an area of pit fallen land, with ditches, flashes and hedges so its good that it is being retained, especially as the best coal is underneath it! Lots of the plantation woodland is also being retained.

The restoration scheme looks pretty good, with lots of features being put back in (in due course) and there is a local Ashington lad who is site manager, who likes his birds!

As I recall, the ecological assessment did not contain alot of old bird data, which again highlights the need for close co-operation when these proposals come up and the opportunity to get local patch knowledge fed into the system.

I would suggest it would be great to get feedback from local experts on the restoration plans before they get finally approved (which will be some time off).

There will be new schemes on the horizon too...............

Mark said...

Not always the end of the world Alan. Most of my local patches are on former opencast sites (all opencasted since the early 80's) I often remind myself that it's all I have to thank that wizened old whore Thatcher for!
Incidentally Orgreave had two flashes prior to opencasting, it now has two larger pools which so farhave proved far better for passage birds and breeding birds.

alan tilmouth said...

I agree Mark that restoration will no doubt creat some additional habitat, but can't help mourning that when you factor in extensions which always seem to happen I might be too old to enjoy the brave new world they create!

Alan Gilbertson said...

Opencast eh?

Knock the easy targets?

If not for opencast mining in the Druridge Bay area there would be no (from north to south) Hauxley Nature reserve, Druridge Bay Country Park and Ladyburn Lake, East Chevington Nature Reserve or Druridge Pools. And they didn't come cheap.

Nor would there be the reserve at Linton Lane.

Nor in Durham would there be Rainton Meadows (only Joe's Pond) or Herrington pond, amongst others that I can't recall.

Birders in Northumberland have a lot to be grateful for. Count the plusses as well as the minuses.:(

alan tilmouth said...

Not knocking it as such Alan, just think its had its day and we should have moved on to cleaner sources of power generation by now. Of course you're correct about all the sites mentioned and as I said the area around the Flash will be reinstated but we will see little gain from that due to timescales. To be fair to UK Coal they have 'ringfenced' the flash but as things stand it will be invisible for six years minimum, more if an extension is granted.I just didnt want it to disappear without making mention of it and its history.

The Liverbirder said...

THe future of West Hartford doesn't look too clever either. Apart from the sh*te left bt less considerate dog walkers, and the litter from the allegedly enviro-conscious building site staff, the drainage system being put is is going well beyond the new fire station/HQ. I saw some plans a few years ago to turn my second home into a science park (a man-made, pseudo-haven for fur and feather that looks more like a typical urban park - new, evenly-spaced trees and straight concrete paths etc).

Stewart said...

Hi Alan, after living next door to Stobswood opencast for over ten years, the biggest man made crater in Europe, I feel I can add a bit more. I used to be well into the 'anti's' when duscussing opencast sites. Now though my mind has changed. The farmland they dig up is usually so intensive and herbicide riddled, hedge flailed etc that they can do no more damage than your average farmer and tractor. What they do provide, even when in use, is masses of undisturbed, unpesticided, unherbicided, unflailed and unmowed, bafflebanks and scrub. Barn Owls and Short eared Owls flourish as I'm sure will Long eareds if their nest sites are left alone. You left out one major resident in the area though. It is lifting with Great crested Newts. Anywhere between Pegswood Burn ( Bothal Park farm) an New Moor ( Ellington Rd) Tip has them. The best areas though are opposite the old area workshop site on Ellington Rd. The field is full of small flooded indents, not beig enough for birds and in amongst hawthorn scrub, but amphibian heaven. Water is not visible from the road. Also the ditch running east to west adjacent to the actual tip entrance, south side, has both GC Newts and Smooth Newts. I might even have a look this spring. They are usually a month later than frogs or toads... I hope they aren't all ploughed up in the site!

alan tilmouth said...

Stewart, I think that is the area that Steve Lowe was referring to so hopefully there'll be noot effecting the newts.

Steve Lowe said...

Great Crested Newts have turned up in the nearby housing development so UK Coal had to revise plans to account for that - not 100% sure of the details there to be honest. Water vole was also found.

Dont get me started on West Hartford.......

ST said...

I was told, by a man in the know that the 'water features' were being 'left'. The conversation i had, included the abasinian ( forgive spelling) pond.
Also, i looked into buying a house on the old workshop site. , which would have looked over on to the opencast and was told it would be at least one field away from the developement. Hopefully leaving some of stewarts 'newt land' untouched.