Author: Sue Antrobus

A new year of activity for families with the Darlington Wildlife Explorers

Building on the success of the 2018 Darlington Wildlife Explorers last year, we have a new exciting programme of family activities  planned for 2019.

The Darlington Wildlife Explorers initiative is using expertise from the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust combined with enthusiasm and sponsorship from Darlington & Teesdale Naturalists’ Field Club. These action-packed outdoor events will encourage whole families to take part in a year of wildlife exploring, discovering and fun challenges.

The series of three events begins with Springing into Nature! on Saturday 27th April at Drinkfield Marsh with a  bat walk and pond dipping planned later in the year. Full details are on our events page. 


In between the events, families will be able to carry out other challenges at their own pace from details contained in an activity booklet with thirty fun and adventurous activities. As families complete the varied challenges they collect award stickers for becoming Wildlife Explorer, Wildlife Recorder and Wildlife Hero.

All for £5 per family.This covers a 32 page activity booklet, stickers and completion prize. The events are free and no booking is needed.

You can download a form or simply complete at one of the events.

Tees Valley Wildlife Recorders Conference


Wildlife enthusiasts, conservation volunteers and naturalists from across the Tees Valley participated in the forth Tees Valley Wildlife Recording Conference on Sunday 21st October at Preston Park Museum. Thank you to all the speakers and participants for a really informative and enjoyable day.

Conference Programme 2018

Copies of the presentations can be viewed here

Jacky Watson Wiggle around the Waders Presentation

Kate Bartram Coughing up the data Presentation

Jeremy Garside Local sites Presentation

Nicky Milburn Slow worm Presentation

Sue Antrobus Passing on the baton Presentation

Geoff Myers and Colin Gibson Nest recording Presentation

Jane Pottas CoCoast Presentation

Zoe Frazer Elver Monitoring Programme Presentation

A wonderful sunny summer with Sammy the Rainbow Snail

What a successful summer for the Sammy the Rainbow Snail family wildlife roadshow!

Over the Summer 2018 summer holidays Sammy the Snail visited 11 green sites across the Tees Valley, engaging 1,743 people, thanks to the help of nine  “Friends of“ groups and the input of 46 volunteers and three apprentices.

These events provided opportunities for families to visit and enjoy their local green space, take part in fun activities learning about snails and other mini-beasts as well meeting the volunteers of “Friends of” groups who care for these green gems.

Children were fascinated by getting into close contact with our friendly snails and learning about how snails move, see, taste and smell their surroundings. Our two pet African land snails (Bill and Ben) were especially popular.  All the children were extremely gentle and caring when handling our slimy friends.

The highlight of each day was a visit from Sammy the Rainbow Snail. Lots of families took selfies of themselves and their children with this exceedingly rare gastropod!

Our 3D model snail was a great hit, we were all amazed by how complex their internal anatomy was, and how their stomach was coiled inside their shell. But where is the brain?

The snail quiz proved to be a challenge for all ages, and a great way to learn. Popular facts were that snails had a rough tongue (called a radula) which had something like a file with rows of thousands of tiny teeth called dendicles.

Try the quiz here  How well do you know snails? 

Our visiting families enjoyed getting creative, making colourful snails from loo rolls and modelling clay. The snail finger puppets, badges and book marks were also popular.

The hunt the snail game was great fun. Younger children pretended to be song thrushes and were given a beak (plastic tweezers) to which to hunt for laminated paper snails. They found the colourful rainbow snails much easier to find than green and brown ones. The children quickly worked out that if you were a snail, being camouflaged would help you escape the beady eyes of predators.

Older children and adults puzzled over our “Is it a Mollusc challenge?”. It’s amazing that as well as slugs and snails, that cuttlefish, squid and octopus are also molluscs.

Mini-beast hinting was as popular as ever!

All the activity left everything thirsty and peckish. We had to reassure some children that our snail biscuits were made of gingerbread and did not contain any snails!

Our humorous leaflet “How to protect your prize plants from chomping snails and slugs, whilst still being a nice person” was appreciated by gardeners and formed part of our take home pack. If you didn’t attend an event you can down load this here as well as the children’s activity sheets.


One Planet Pioneer Apprentices, the lovely Zana, Jess and Emily, worked very hard throughout, welcoming people and helping deliver all aspects of the events. Their work at the events will contribute to their portfolio for a level 2 qualification that they are undertaking with the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust.  We are very proud of them. Find out more about this scheme on their facebook page

 Highlights from each event

Coatham Green (Redcar)

We had a bright breezy day at Coatham Green with the Coatham Heritage Group. Thank you to Mags Hayden for the photographs and Margaret for bringing snails from her garden. The mini-beast hunting was very successful with lots of ladybirds, spiders and beetles. To find out more about the work of the Coatham Heritage Group in helping to care and improve Coatham Green  here.

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Fairy Dell (Middlesbrough)

We joined the Fairy Dell family summer fun day.   What a fab event the Friends of Fairy Dell put on. Dodge Ball, Tai Chi and Boxacise were just some of the fantastic healthy sporty activities on offer. Our Sammy the Snail stall received over 800 visitors and by the end  all of us and the snail were quite exhausted. We made over 200 snail badges and used 8 kg of modelling clay during the morning. Many people we met, had not visited Fairy Dell before, and were pleased to pick up a site map and footpath leaflet from the Friends of Fairy Dell. Find out more about the group by following the link.

Photographs by David Everitt (Chair- Friends of Fairy Dell)

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Rockwell Local Nature Reserve, Darlington

This was the first event of the roadshow, so we were not anticipating a huge turnout. We were overwhelmed when 147 people came due to all the promotion work by the Friends of Rockwell  It was such a lovely morning with lovely children – all eager to learn and take part in all the activities.   Pat Meredith from the Friends if Rockwell  acted as photographer as well as key helper. Local Cllr Dawn Storr, who popped along cheerfully gave us much needed assistance serving refreshments.

Follow this link to find out more about the Friends of Rockwell

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Maelor’s Wood, Stainton

There was an extra buzz of excitement at our event in Maelor’s Wood as the Friends of Stainton & Thornton Green Spaces had hidden some golden snail rocks over the weekend and were offering prizes for their return.  After the event many families stayed and had a picnic in the sunny meadow and explored the carved animal trail in the wood.

Discover more about  Maelor’s Wood and the other community wildlife sites that the friends of Stainton & Thornton Green Spaces care for here

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Roseworth, Stockton

Sammy the Rainbow Snail visited Roseworth Twice! We were especially excited to be at Roseworth Library as we were able to make good use of the new wildlife garden!  We were all really surprised to find lots of ladybirds, shield bugs and spiders in flower beds in front of the library too. Thank you to the wonderful library staff for allowed so much noise in the library!

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Drinkfield Marsh Local Nature Reserve, Darlington

A super morning with the Friends of Drinkfield Marsh. The friends group were delighted that for over half the participants it was their visit to the marsh, who were amazed that this beautiful nature reserve was nestled between housing and industry in North Darlington.   Dedicated Friends group member, Hardy Jones, surprised us all by being Sammy Snail for the morning. Here is our great team  of volunteers from Drinkfield Marsh.More about this wild oasis and the volunteers who care for it can be found here 

More about this wild oasis and the volunteers who care for it here .

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Ward Jackson Park

This beautiful Victorian park was an excellent location for Sammy Snail. Assisted by the Friends of Ward Jackson Park we attracted lots of attention from families who were visiting the park. The Friends group are on the lookout for more volunteers . Find out more here

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Bluebell Beck, Acklam

A majestic weeping willow tree created an enchanting natural canopy for Sammy Snail activities at Blue Bell Beck. The Friends of Bluebell Beck were on top form; welcoming families, helping with crafts, badge making and refreshments with their infectious enthusiasm (pictured below)  Find out more about the Friends of Bluebell Beck on their facebook page.

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Linthorpe Cemetery

The nature reserve in Linthorpe Cemetery is a peaceful place to get close to nature in  Middlesbrough. The Friends of Linthorpe Cemetery & Nature Reserve were kept busy making badges and crafts for visiting families. It was just as everyone was enjoying refreshments that the heavens opening with a dramatic thunder storm….it’s amazing how many people can fit under a gazebo!  Find out more about the work of the Friends of Linthorpe Cemetery here

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 Errington Woods, New Marske

This was our final event and a smasher. We always love working with the Friends of Errington wood, they are such a jolly bunch of volunteers. They can be usually seen on Friday morning’s felling trees or building steps and footpaths, so this was a something a bit different for them. We found some pretty interesting mini beasts too.  A real treat for all the staff and volunteers was the fruit cake and flapjack made by the super Liz. Follow the link to find out more about their valuable work tasks ….and cake eating. Thank you to David Sanderson of  the Friends of Errington woods for the super photographs

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A team photo from Errington Wood – fab volunteers and apprentices! Follow the link to find out about Errington Woods and the work of the Friends group.

Behind the scenes

Behind every roadshow are unsung heros, doing stacks of preparation. A big thank you to Barrie Metcalfe,who spend many a morning pre-cutting badges, photocopying  activity sheets, laminating posters and filling take home packs, along with Zana, Emily and  Jess.  Barrie has been especially pleased to receive new extra sharp scissors.

All of the baking was done by Nigel Dobbyn and he designed our snail logo and all the  artwork, cartoons and poems  for the  activities. He says he never wants to ice another snail face on a cookie ever again.


Bright future for our snail super stars

Our garden snails were returned to the garden of Jacky Watson (Wildlife Trust staff member), she was quite surprised to receive 30 as she had given us 7.

Jacky says “So 7 snails from my garden went on tour with the Tees Valley Wild Green Places crew and 30 have been “returned” to live out their retirement in my garden. It’s going to seem quiet after life on the road. No more strawberries and cucumber in the dressing room. No more adoring crowds. Anyway, #snailscience and #snailshowbiz have not done with them yet. They have been numbered S1 to S30 and will now feature in a long-running, if intermittent, study-come-social-media reality show. When encountered round the garden, they will be photographed, logged, plotted and posted. Watch this slimy space.”

However one snail did escape and was found when Sue cleaned her car last week. It was hiding under the spare wheel and is now found freedom in the Wildlife Trust garden.

Our two African land snails however can’t be realised into the wilds of Teesside, as they are not native species and would not survive anyway. They live for several years, which is quite a commitment. At the end of September they will be adapted by Wildlife Trust apprentice, Zana, who became extremely found of them. Zana’s favourite food is also cucumber so  they should be very happy.

Magical wildlife reading garden opens at Roseworth Library in Stockton

The Mayor of Stockton, Cllr Eileen Johnson, cut the green ribbon to open the new Wildlife Garden at Roseworth Library on Friday 3rd August.  The garden is a partnership project of the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust and Stockton Libraries.

The Wildlife Trust helped the Roseworth Residents Association apply for funding for the garden to the Tesco Bags of Help Fund. It was shortlisted and Tesco customers were able to vote for their favourite local initiative. Roseworth residents demonstrated their support by making special trips to Tesco to vote and, as a result, the garden project was awarded the second prize of £2,000. Additional funds were received from the Roseworth Big Local and Heritage Lottery Fund. Stockton Libraries contributed by increasing the security of the garden and purchasing planters.

With the funding an attractive outdoor reading space has been created where library users can read and enjoy when visiting the library that is also beneficial to wildlife.

Before photos…….

Creating the garden

Wildlife mosaics were designed and created by members of the Roseworth Library Friends group under the direction of community Artist Bub Bacon. The four mosaic panels took several Friday afternoons for the group members to make and depict butterflies and dragonflies, flowers and a hedgehog.

Revamped benches and fencing – Young people from the Big Local  Youth club, run by Iron Guidance, contributed their creative skills by pa transforming a picnic table and bench  with their own designs. Ladies from the Friday Friends joined the Wildlife Trust and Library staff to give the remaining benches and the fencing a facelift, choosing very vibrant colours!

“Bugingham Palace”- is the five star insect hotel that was designed and built by Teesside woodsman Keith Ferry. The hotel will provide a habitat for mini-beasts and is a demonstration that wildlife gardening can be attractive and artistic too.

Wildlife friendly planters – these have been planted by Catherine Howell of Barefoot Bellis, with plants that are rich in nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies and other insects. Climbing plants have also been planted to create height and food for insects and birds

Caring for birds – in the autumn we will be adding more bird nesting boxes and bird feeders that will enable visitors to the library to watch garden birds, especially during winter.

At the event, Wildlife Trust Chairman, John Dear, expressed how important wildlife gardens like this and green spaces in towns were for people as well as wildlife; as places to relax and connect with nature.

The Tees Valley Willdlife Trust would like to thank all the great groups and people who helped transform the Roseworth Library  Garden.

  •  Stockton Library staff, especially Librarians Debbie and Nicola
  • The Friday Friends (mosaics and painting)
  • Roseworth Residents Association (grant application)
  • Tesco (funding and the afternoon tea at opening)
  • Roseworth Big Local (funding)
  • Iron Guidance Roseworth Big Local Youth Club (bench and picnic table designs and painting)
  • Keith Ferry of Woodland Connections (woodsman)
  • Bub Bacon (community artist)
  • Nigel Dobbyn (painted the animal foot prints)
  • Catherine Howell- Barefoot Bellis (plants)

And finally a big thank you to Ward Councillors Jim Beall and Barbara Inman, for their enthusiastic support of the work of the Wildlife Trust in their ward.

Photographs by kind permission of Stockton Borough Council

Managing urban meadows- sharing best practice

On Sunday 1st July volunteer leaders from green space groups across the Tees Valley attended our workshop “Caring for urban meadows – in the long term.”

With the loss of traditional meadows in the countryside, creating and caring for urban meadows has become popular.  However people are often disappointed by the long term results and there is much confusion on what a meadow is, and how they differ from the colourful sown “meadows” of annual flowers.Perennial wild flower/grass meadows are complex habitats to create and manage. Every meadow is different, both in space and time. For them to make a long term contribution to biodiversity, sensitive sustainable monitoring and management is needed.

The workshop was divided into an indoor morning session, followed by local site visits. Martin Allen gave a background to the day and covered: What is a rural “meadow”, why and how did they form and were traditionally managed? Characteristics of Tees Valley meadows.

You can download a copy of the Power Point here Middlesbrough meadows day 2018 history Martin Allen

This was followed by Sue Antrobus covering Urban meadows – reality verses expectations, some common pitfalls and enhancement vs creation.

You can download a copy of the Power Point here meadows workshop 2018

In the afternoon we visited three different meadows in Middlesbrough which have very different histories and characteristics and discuss how general principles can be adapted and applied to different urban sites.

Bluebell Beck – We looked at a relic of a rural meadow that has become encapsulated by suburban Middlesbrough.  Part of the meadow is designated as a Local Wildlife Site on the basis of its grassland flora. We explored the meadow community, and how it varies across the site. We discussed the challenges in maintaining it.

Fairy Dell Park    We visited an area of the formal park where the Friends of Fairy Dell have been working to enhance an area of what was once mown amenity grassland. We looked at the results and discuss how this was achieved.

Berwick Hills –   We looked at a meadow that was created from stretch over a decade ago on an abandoned allotment site through the Middlesbrough Wildspace project.   We used old photographs to look at how the wildflower communities has developed over the years and what the future holds for the site.

Information on the three sites can be downloaded  here  The three meadows

Here are some  reference sites  for information on meadows


Magnificant Meadows 

Caring for Gods acre

Flora Locale

 Sources of seed

 Boston Seeds 

 Emorsgate seeds

Coatham Green basking in glory of common lizards

Our new reptile project with the Coatham Heritage Group had a HOT start!
At our very first site planning meeting, we not only talked through our plans to help out these elusive and rare creatures, we got one on film!!
We have lots planned, starting with placing surveying tiles around the site that they can use to hide under and warm up. This will provide really strong information on how the population is doing.
We’re also going to be creating a hibernaculum with the girl guides and some planting and clearing basking spots with the primary school.
Check out the groups facebook page for updates @coathamheritagegroup

Darlington Wildlife Explorers launched

To enable young people and families to become more engaged in their natural environment the Wild Green Places Project from the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust has joined with the Darlington & Teesdale Naturalists’ Field Club to launch the Darlington Wildlife Explorers. This is a fantastic series of family wildlife events and wildlife challenges throughout 2018.

The Darlington Wildlife Explorers initiative is using expertise from  the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust combined with enthusiasm and sponsorship from Darlington & Teesdale Naturalists’ Field Club. Organised events will encourage whole families to take part in a year of wildlife exploring, discovering and fun challenges.

The series of three major events begins with Natures Calendar on Sunday 15 April at South Park in Darlington to explore the seasons. Sunday 5 August moves the location to Maidendale Nature Reserve to discover mini-monsters, followed by fungi and foraging in Geneva Wood on Sunday 7 October.

In between the main events, families will be able to carry out other challenges at their own pace from details contained in an activity booklet with thirty fun and adventurous activities. As families complete the varied challenges they collect award stickers for becoming Wildlife Explorers, Wildlife Recorders and Wildlife Heroes.

All for £5 per family. This covers a 32 page activity booklet, stickers and completion prize.

Download the brochure (pdf) here

Find out about the first event here


Volunteers delighted at bagging top Tesco awards for Tinkers Yard and Linthorpe Cemetery

There were whoops of delight this week, when Tesco announced the results of its last round of public voting for its Tescos Bags of help Award. We put in two entries, one for a woodland wildlife garden with the Friends of Linthorpe Cemetery and the other for a “Transforming Tinkers Yard project with the Station Road and Crooksbarn Residents’ Associations’.

Voting ran in stores throughout July and August with customers choosing which local project they would like to get the top award using a token given to them at the check-out. This week it was announced that both projects had received the top number of votes in their area, bagging £4,000 each.

Linthorpe Cemetery’s Woodland Garden

Work is already underway with the Friends of Linthorpe Cemetery in the Cemetery which is also a Local Nature Reserve. The ground has been prepared to create a demonstration woodland wildlife garden to provide a home for bees, butterflies, hedgehogs and songbirds that can be enjoyed by visitors to Linthorpe Cemetery. The grant compliments funding from the Newcastle Building Society which was awarded earlier in the year.

Malcolm Cummins of the Friends of Linthorpe Cemetery is delighted by the news “Our aim is to bring colour, birds, bees, butterflies back to our space so that future generations of children have the chance to study them”

We welcome help to create our wildlife garden. If you are interested please get in touch with the Friends group by contacting their secretary Dorothy via email

Transforming Tinkers Yard

The funding will enable the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust to  work with in partnership with the Crooksbarn and Station Road Residents’ Associations’ and Stockton Borough Council to transform this public space in Norton to create an attractive habitat for wildlife, where local people of all ages can enjoy seeing wildflowers, birds and butterflies. Local people have already been actively involved in planting a mini orchard, litter picking and planting woodland bulbs. Each activity has attracted over 70 people, with many families and children of all ages. The funding will enable the creation of a wildflower meadow and the installation of an attractive information panel showing the history of Tinkers Yard.

Both Station Road and Crooksbarn Residents’ Associations’ are key partners in the project. Local resident and member of Crooksbarn Residents Association said “We’re delighted to have received the support from shoppers of Tesco and extremely grateful to Tesco for their generous donation. This will allow us to continue the development of Tinker’s Yard and make the area an even more enjoyable space for everyone in the local community.”

To find out more about Tinkers Yard and how to get involved contact Sue Antrobus at the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust

New footpath opening celebrated at King George V Playing Field

The Friends of King George V Playing Field celebrated the opening of the new footpath in their Jubilee Nature Area on Saturday 14th October.

The new footpath will enable local people and visitors to enjoy the nature area throughout the year and be accessible to people with buggies or using mobility scoters or wheelchairs.   The Tees Valley Wildlife Trust’s, Wild Green Places Project have been working with the Friends group to help them deliver this project. With funding from the Tesco’s Bags of Help grant scheme and the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Friends group were able to add this to funding already accessed from Guisborough Town Council and Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council enabling them to achieve their long held aim to make the nature more accessible.

The footpath snakes through the woodland and meadow area, which in autumn are ablaze of seasonal colour. The route is used by residents to access the play equipment in the park and the swimming baths. Nearby Chaloner Primary School frequently visit the nature area to learn about wildlife and have helped to plant trees, bulbs and wild flowers.  Earlier in the year a brass rubbings nature trail was launched. Copies of the trail are available free of charge from the swimming baths. The Friends group is keen for more members to help them in their work.  For more details contact the Tees Valley wildlife Trust on 01287 636382.

Pictures by Brain Gleeson