Living Uplands

Natural History of Upper Weardale


By Terry Coult, Stuart Priestley, David Raw: the Editor's synopsis

Wolf, Wild Boar, and Aurochs (wild cattle) once roamed the Dale. Over a long time Fallow, Red and Roe Deer have all been hunted, but only Roe Deer remains a common wild animal. There have been periods of particularly heavy hunting of other carnivores such as Otter and Polecat (foumart, fulmart), Pine Marten and Wildcat.

Recent conservation measures have seen a return of Otter and possible sightings of Polecat and Pine Martin. Rabbit (coney) and Brown Hare are common. While systematic surveys for Water Vole, squirrels and bats have taken place, the abundance and distribution of small mammals is poorly understood. Water Vole, once widespread, has become restricted to a few of the smaller western streams and tributaries and is threatened by Mink. Red squirrel is scarce, Grey is common.

Image: Water Vole (c) Stuart Priestley

Nine bat species have been recorded, Common Pipistrelle being the commonest. Daubenton’s, Natterer’s, Brown Long-eared, Whiskered and Brandt’s Bats have all been found hibernating in the caves and disused mines.

There is a general distribution of common species and decline in numbers also seen elsewhere, apart from ground-nesting waders such as Grouse (Red, Black), Curlew, Lapwing which thrive on the uplands. Five species of owl can be seen; Common Buzzard and Kestrel are the most frequent raptors.

Brambling, Fieldfare and Redwing visit each  winter , while summer migrants include Redstart, Garden Warbler, Pied Flycatcher, Spotted Flycatcher, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Blackcap and Wood Warbler. The ‘churr’ call and silhouetted sight of Nightjar in Hamsterley Forest is a highlight of May and June. Many more habitats and birds are described in detail.

Of the remaining vertebrates, Common Lizard, Slowworm and Adder can be found along with five amphibian species (Great Crested, Smooth and Palmate Newt, Common Frog and Toad). Fish are covered in chapter 7.

Image: Palmate Newt (c) Stuart Priestley

Invertebrates are represented by a wide variety of dragonflies and damselflies, bumblebees, solitary bees and wasps, hoverflies, butterflies, moths, longhorn beetles and molluscs. Considerable detail is given of each group and areas where species have been recorded. Common Hawker, Southern Hawker and Migrant Hawker, Skimmer and Chaser Dragonfly, with Large Red Damselfly and Blue-Tailed Damselfly  are mentioned.

Image: Golden-ringed dragonfly (c) Stuart Priestley

Bumblebees are becoming relatively well recorded including regionally scarce species such as Barbut’s Cuckoo Bee and others that have undergone national declines such as Moss Carder Bee. Most records of solitary bees and wasps are from the east of the area especially around Bishop Auckland and Witton le Wear. Many are common species, but others, such as Nomada lathburiana and Nysson spinosus, are more notable finds. Hoverfly recording stretches from Bishop Auckland in the east all the way to Wearhead in the west; Episyrphus balteatus is common. Sericomyia silentis a large hoverfly found in the uplands. Sericomyia superbiens is a convincing mimic of two bumblebees,  Bombus pascuorum and B. muscorum.

Thirty-four butterfly species have been recorded post-2000 including Clouded Yellow, an uncommon migrant. Green Hairstreak, first recorded 1927 is thinly spread within the county where Bilberry (its larval food plant) grows and is present at a few locations in the upper Dale. The Rothamsted trap at Rookhope ran from 1989 to the mid-1990s and recorded over 160 species of moth. Some threatened species occur such as Red Carpet, Grey Mountain Carpet and Haworth’s Minor – all associated with moorland. Low Barns Nature Reserve has recorded well over 300 species of moth and the site boasts a good number of microlepidoptera records.

Image: Adult Magpie Moth emerging from pupa (c) Enid Hoseason

Weardale is largely deforested and so longhorn beetle records are few and far between but Saperda scalaris and Alosterna tabacicolor are notable finds. There is a reasonably diverse mix of mostly widespread species molluscs and a few rarities, Malacolimax tenellus being one.


Preparing for the online Chapters on Flora, Fauna and Freshwater Life we created a PDF reference list for the hundreds of species name-checked in the book. For this Chapter, FAUNA are listed by both Vernacular and Scientific names, with hand links to what an internet search might add to wider information on each. Entries for Freshwater Life, Chapter 7, are included in the FAUNA list.

Download Chapter in PDF