by John Regan
John Regan reviews this formerly under-watched site located within the urban edge of Middlesbrough and outlines its breeding and passage birds. Surrounded by housing, it is an important green space and one of the few large water bodies in the south of Cleveland.
Hemlington Lake is situated about 5 miles south-east of Middlesbrough. It was built in 1972 and was designed as a balancing pond to control the surface water entering Bluebell Beck from the new housing development at Hemlington. It was formed by constructing an earthen dam across the open valley and allowing the water to build up behind it. The lake covers an area of 8.3 acres and has a maximum depth of 7 feet. It is a designated SNCI (Site of Nature Conservation Interest) and over recent years, work has been carried out by Groundwork South Tees to try and improve the site for both wildlife and public recreation.
View from west side of lake looking north
The site is surrounded by housing, which skirts around a green belt. Several small plantations of trees are dotted around the lake and there is a wooded island and a reed-filled ditch at the western end, which provides some cover for nesting birds; otherwise lakeside vegetation is non-existent. The lake is managed by Middlesbrough Borough Council for recreation purposes and is mainly used for fishing and occasional canoeing; consequently, it suffers from a great deal of human disturbance and, sadly, anti-social activities.
The official car park to access the lake can be reached by turning off Stainton Way onto Hemlington Hall Road, and then a third right onto Nuneaton Drive, which leads you into the car park. A footpath allows an easy walk around the whole lake.
View from west side looking south
The lake doesnï¿½t hold a great variety of breeding birds, though a pair of Mute Swans nest each year with varying degrees of success. Otherwise itï¿½s limited to Mallard, Coot, Moorhen and Little Grebe. Sedge Warbler and Reed Bunting breed occasionally in the reed-filled ditch at the west end, while Blackcap breed in nearby scrub.
In winter small numbers of duck occur, mainly Tufted Duck and Pochard, with peak counts of 39 and 36 respectively, these pulling in a drake Ring-necked Duck in the winter of 2006-2007, probably the lakeï¿½s rarest visitor. Goosander used to occur in healthy numbers in the 1990s, with up to 40 birds, but this species seldom visits now. Kingfisher can be found regularly in winter along the reedy ditch, with occasional Water Rail and Jack Snipe. Also, a regular Mediterranean Gull has been present for the last seven winters
Other scarce birds seen here over the years have included Slavonian, Black-necked and Red-necked Grebes, Bewickï¿½s Swan, Garganey, Osprey, Iceland and Yellow-legged Gulls, Black Tern and, recently, Greenland White-fronted Goose. It is always worth a look at this site, particularly during spring and autumn passage and in winter, as ï¿½goodï¿½ birds are still to be found here, and much still remains to be learned about its wider ornithological value