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Flatts Lane and Eston Moor by Geoff Myers

Background

The area generally referred to as Flatts Lane, Normanby, extends along the northern slope of the Eston Hills from Ormesby in the west, through Flatts Lane to Eston in the east, and on to the higher land of Eston Moor.



Deciduous woodland spreads from Ormesby to just beyond the road at Flatts Lane. This woodland is interspersed with many areas of scrub and re-generating agricultural land and is great asset for birds. Beyond this area to the east, the steeply sloping hill is bracken-covered, with some birch and gorse. Eston Moor is a wonderful piece of heathland, forming the northern extremity of the North York Moors. Much of the land belongs to Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council, with the remainder being privately owned. A network of public footpaths and bridleways affords good access to all areas. The Council have a Visitor Centre in Flatts Lane on the site of the old Normanby Brickworks. With the help of volunteers, staff here carry out conservation work to most of the woodland and scrub to the west of Flatts Lane. They entertain school parties and other groups, thereby introducing children to the countryside. The Council employ a full-time warden on Eston Moor. The moorland has not been grazed for several decades and is now suffering from encroachment by birch, gorse and, of course, bracken. Great efforts are being made to prevent the spread of these species and retain the original valued and rare heathland habitat, something to be applauded but not always popular with all who walk up there.

Throughout the site are signs of the industrial past: ironstone mining on the hills and brickworks at both Normanby and Ormesby. Some of the paths follow the old railway lines, which served these industries. Being close to urban areas, there is some vandalism in the area, mainly the starting of fires. Sadly for the birds, this is predominantly during the nesting season but a spin-off is that it helps to keep an open aspect to some of the more scrubby areas.

Access

The best point of access is the Visitor Centre at Flatts Lane, where there is a car park. The Centre is well signposted as ‘Flatts Lane Woodland Country Park’. Reach it when travelling from the south by leaving the A171 Guisborough dual carriageway between the ‘Cross Keys’ pub and Swans Corner. The entrance is on the left as you go down the hill towards Normanby. Approaching from the north, leave the A66 at the Normanby Road roundabout (Asda roundabout) and travel south, crossing the A1085 Trunk Road at Eston Baths and then onto the B1360 at Normanby shops. Follow this over the A174 Parkway near the ‘Norman Conquest’ pub and the Visitor Centre entrance is several hundred metres further up on the right as you climb the hill. There is no access to Flatts Lane off the A174 Parkway.



Birds

Throughout the winter, the feeding station at the Visitor Centre attracts good numbers of birds, including Nuthatch, Jay, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Marsh Tit, probably Willow Tit and flocks of Goldfinch, Siskin and Yellowhammer. Surprisingly, there are no Tree Sparrows. For the disabled, parking is available overlooking the feeders.

Many local people put down food as they walk around the site. Follow their route and you will be rewarded with close views common birds, as they approach you expecting to be fed. The best route to follow for this is to join the footpath which heads west from Flatts Lane, some 150 metres from the bridge over the A174 Parkway. If you do walk this way, look on your left about 50 metres short of the sharp turn to the left and you may see the white splash and black pellets of a Barn Owl below its resting perch in the hedgerow. It has used this perch over the last two winters. Watch for Bullfinches, which are common throughout the winter months.

At the first sign of spring in early March, Long-tailed Tits can be seen nest-building. The song of the Chiffchaff marks the arrival of the first warblers and it is for these birds that Flatts Lane excels. All the common warblers of woodland and scrub can be seen and heard; good numbers of Chiffchaff, seemingly diminishing numbers of Willow Warbler, many Whitethroats and Blackcaps, and occasional Garden Warblers. The sight of a Lesser Whitethroat singing amongst Blackthorn blossom in the spring sunshine is a pleasure to see.

One of the site specialities is Grasshopper Warbler and this is always present, although in small numbers now. The best areas for these are the overgrown fields between the A174 Parkway and the Flatts Lane to Ormesby Brickworks path. This year, birds were also singing near the site of the old ski slope car park to the east of Flatts Lane, past the Health Authority office building

A typical sound of the spring is the Jay, numerous now and easily seen in small parties, calling excitedly. Drumming Great Spotted Woodpeckers are another accompaniment to any springtime visit and the yaffle of Green Woodpecker can usually be heard. To be sure of seeing the latter bird, you need to take the path which leads up to Eston Moor, where they are almost always to be seen. Roding Woodcock can be seen during dusk in the spring and I usually watch them along the path from the Flatts Lane road towards Ormesby Brickworks. During any springtime visit, watch for nesting Marsh Tits and Willow Tits. The latter can often be seen excavating its nest hole in a rotted birch or elderberry stump.



It is quite a climb to Eston Moor but well worth the effort. One word of warning here, Flatts Lane is a narrow and winding road with lots of traffic and care is required when crossing, particularly from the top left of the Visitor Centre field, where you need to walk along the road for some 150 metres before crossing. As you climb towards the moor there are panoramic views over the conurbation and the Tees Estuary. Watch and listen for Tree Pipit, which, although no longer common, can sometimes be seen displaying.

On reaching the escarpment, as the view behind you disappears so does the noise of the traffic and you could be anywhere in the North Yorkshire Moors. Curlew and Lapwing are present in spring and probably breed. Similarly with Common Snipe, which are generally present around the marshy area to the west of Carr Pond and often come up from under your feet in the boggy areas of the moor. Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Willow Warbler, Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting also breed. In recent years, there have been increased numbers of Stonechats and pairs can be seen dotted about the moor. Although not a regular visitor now, Cuckoos can often be seen and heard. Spring, as autumn, can see good numbers of Meadow Pipits passing through on migration.

In addition to birds, there are dragonflies around the wet areas of the hills and two rare moths are present, the Forester Moth, around Moordale Bog, and the Large Red-belted Clearwing Moth, around the areas where the birch trees have been removed. The birch stumps are left quite tall to accommodate this moth.

Autumn brings in the winter thrushes. The wooded areas of Flatts Lane have large hawthorn thickets providing rich feeding for these birds, which, in those years when they put down immediately on reaching land, can be seen in large flocks. As winter approaches there is another reason to visit - a Magpie roost. This may not sound attractive to many people but to watch these birds fly in from all directions at dusk and see in excess of 100 sitting in the tops of hawthorn and blackthorn bushes is quite a spectacle. The roost moves around but over the last two winters it has been visible from Godfalter Hill, looking north northeast.

Eston Moor is generally quiet during the winter but I have seen Hen Harrier, an adult male, quartering the moorland. Not many rarities are reported: I saw a Red-backed Shrike a few years ago and Golden Oriole was well watched a few years earlier. The area is under-watched, however, and if more people visited, more exciting species may be seen. Birds coming in off the sea are likely to follow the line of the hills inland.

Flatts Lane is a bird-rich area and well worth of a visit in any season

Geoff Myers




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