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Coatham Stob by Richard Taylor

In this feature, Richard Taylor describes a little known site at Coatham Stob, a steadily changing habitat in the western part of Cleveland.

Background

Coatham Stob, or Coatham Community Forest, is part of the Tees Community Forest, which itself is part of a nationwide scheme aimed at improving the quality of life for urban residents by providing a network of publicly accessible woodland around the fringes of our largest cities. Coatham Stob forms a small part of what will eventually become a huge network of green space around Teesside. This short review highlights the area to the south of Longnewton village and to the north of Urlay Nook.

Most of the area is recently planted native woodland, predominantly coniferous, and, consequently, there is little in the way of mature tree cover. A couple of areas of deciduous woodland are encompassed by the site, such as Burn Wood, to the west of the minor road about half a mile from Longnewton village. To the south of this area lies the private Admiralty Ecology Site, owned by Elementis. It is surrounded by farmland (it was all farmland very recently!) and many of the hedges remain amongst the newly planted trees.

 

Location, Access and Strategy

Access is via the minor road, which runs between Longnewton village (just off the A66 west of Stockton) and Urlay Nook. There is a car park to the east of this road, roughly 1 mile south of Longnewton village (approximate grid reference NZ 390160) and a short distance after the track to Eastgate Farm. The car park is on the right hand side of the road (when travelling south) and gives access to a series of well-marked paths, which more than adequately criss-cross the area. This obviously makes it popular with dog walkers (where isn’t) but it is such a large area that this is not a problem. There are no particular areas better than others, so a walk around any part of the site could pay dividends. The car park has, at times, been popular for other nocturnal activities but, fortunately, the police pay regular visits during the night and these seem to have ceased.

Birds

 Due to the unique mix of habitats, it is currently attractive to a wide range of species. Owls are, perhaps, the main group for which the site is known and winter or early spring visits have produced all 5 British breeding species. Walking around the site it becomes apparent that these birds have been targeted, as there are many owl boxes scattered around, and the success of this scheme can be gauged by the fact that all, bar Short-eared Owl, now breed. Although in spring owls are usually more conspicuous, I prefer a visit in late summer, when adults forgo their nocturnal habits and hunt in the early evening sunshine (well perhaps not this year!) and young birds become very obvious as they attempt their first flights. That other enigmatic, nocturnal creature, the Nightjar, has also been recorded at the site on at least 2 occasions. Although it has not yet been repeated, the Coatham Stob looks superb for them and there is no reason why they will not become a regular breeder.

Among the diurnal raptors Common Buzzard, Red Kite, Peregrine and Merlin have all been reported during the winter months but my personal ‘hot tip’ for the site is Hobby. There are several ponds and the resultant dragonfly prey, coupled with ideal habitat, makes this a ‘dead cert’ in my mind.

During the winter months the grain store and Pheasant feeders immediately south of Longnewton village can be attractive to finches and buntings, with up to 100 Yellowhammers often present and occasional Corn Buntings and both Common and Lesser Redpolls have been recorded in the rough, weedy fields nearby. It can certainly be an entertaining way to spend a winter’s afternoon searching through these flocks.

As conditions are constantly changing, then so are the birds. Many of the farmland species will soon disappear; for example, Skylark is still common but as the trees grow they will have to move on. Hopefully, other species will move in to take their place and, although woodland species are not particularly well represented, as the area develops then certain species are set to benefit. Crossbill, Siskin and Lesser Redpoll are all fairly regularly seen in the surrounding woodland and the provision of spruce and pine trees on site will virtually guarantee an increase in this situation, with a good chance of all 3 eventually breeding.

Information on Coatham Stob is limited, as there has been hardly any regular recording but one thing is for certain, the little time I have spent there shows that it has great potential. Based on habitat, my personal predictions for the site are: breeding Tree Pipits, a wintering Great Grey Shrike and Hawk Owl. Maybe the latter is pie-in–the-sky but a bit of rampant optimism is often needed to keep you going on a cold winter’s day!

 

 


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