Bradford Botany Group

South Gare, Teesside

21st June 2014



South Gare is a sand-dune system and extended breakwater at the south side of the mouth of the Tees, and a migration hot-spot for birds. Although it is a long way from West Yorkshire, our journey there was enriched by going through Great Ayton (the boyhood home of Captain Cook) and passing the remarkable peak of Roseberry Topping. Our party was led by Alan and assisted by Judith, who have unrivalled knowledge of the area’s plants.

Purple Milk Vetch

We were quickly into the sand dunes and seeing some specialities of the site - nodding thistle and perennial wall rocket, followed by the rare proliferous pink, a delightfully tiny plant. Close by were carpets of purple milk-vetch, which were heavily photographed. Blue fleabane and lesser meadow-rue, both in abundance, were less photogenic. The birdwatchers were also keeping alert and saw a meadow pipit carrying food to its nest, with several swallows and sandwich terns flying over. Several insects were seen mating during the day, and included both six-spot burnet moths and meadow brown butterflies.


We were swiftly on our way with several exquisite bee orchids and then maiden pink to admire. Part of our route was sand and part of it limestone slag and rocks from the 30 million tons of waste dumped here over many years from the nearby steel plant. Without this, the site would not have had its many lime-loving plants.

Maiden Pink

We were now seeing many orchids, including common spotted, northern marsh and a wide range of their hybrids. Alan from our group suddenly spotted something different - “are they fragrant orchids?” he asked. The air was filled with a wonderful fragrance - so there was little doubt. They were later identified as marsh fragrant, a robust species which favours damp habitats. Heading now towards the sea, we saw sea beet and frosted orache, named for its leaves, not its ability to keep cool in today`s hot sun! Of course, all around was marram grass, the glue which holds the sand dunes together.
  After all this activity lunch and a cool drink were calling, which we had, surrounded by sea rocket. This was a welcome break for Andrew who was recording.
  We now circled around and headed back, not without walking through the edge of a bog and vegetation as high as our heads. Different plants now revealed themselves - a few pyramidal orchids soon escalated into a few dozen. My most attractive plant of the day, viper`s bugloss, a large purple plant, was abundant.
  A change of focus revealed black spleenwort - a delightfully named small fern growing on rocks. No relation, except by name, was fern grass and the much scarcer sea fern grass. For brilliant colour, we saw coralbells and an amazing variety of huge snapdragons.