POOLE HOSPITAL WOODLANDS AND LAKE by Eric James
Eric James describes this wooded site, which is one of the last true remaining
pieces of countryside in Middlesbrough District It lies at the extreme southern
edge of the Borough and is an excellent place for birds. It was one of only
three known sites for breeding Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in the late 1970s and
Poole Hospital Woods are at the southern edge of Middlesbrough in the Nunthorpe
and Poole Conservation area. They are classed as a Local Wildlife Site on the
basis of the woodland and woodland flora. The original plantings were mostly in
the 1860s as part of the development associated with the building of the
adjacent Grey Towers House. By the early years of the twentieth century, further
planting had extended the woods to their present size, including a belt of trees
along the track past Grey Towers Farmhouse. Within the woods, there is a small
lake with a thickly vegetated island.
The trees are mostly deciduous, typically beech, sycamore, horse chestnut and
oak, with alders and willows in the wet areas round the lake. There are also
conifers, including mature Scots pines and yews. An interesting feature visible
in the aerial view is a circular planting of yews. The shrub and field layers
vary from fairly dense to almost non-existent under the mature beeches and there
are the inevitable patches of rhododendron. In May, purple toothwort makes a
fine display round the lake. This plant, parasitic on the roots of willows,
poplars and alders, is long-established here having been first noted about 1916.
The lake was beginning to be choked by emergent vegetation but this was partly
removed recently to give more open water. Angling clubs have used the lake in
the past and there is still some fishing but only on the western edge where the
bank-side vegetation is more sparse. The lake area has been used by less welcome
elements of society, as could be seen from burnt patches on the ground and
discarded lager tins. This seems less of a problem now.
The land to the east of the woods, formerly the grounds of Poole Hospital, is
now a new housing estate. This was built without encroaching on the woodland,
except for the trees along the Grey Towers Farmhouse track, which are now
incorporated into gardens.
ACCESS AND VISITING
Although there is free access to the woods, they are privately owned. A few
years ago there was a small sign saying ’No right of entry’, which implied entry
was not forbidden but was not a legal right. Just recently, a ‘Private Woodland’
sign has been erected by Grey Towers Park Limited. If my Google search located
the correct organisation, then this is classed as Residents’ Property
Management, the residents presumably being those in the adjacent estate.
The usual way of reaching the woods is from the Poole Hospital roundabout, which
is at the junction of the A1043 Nunthorpe by-pass and the A172 Middlesbrough to
Stokesley Road. A track leads off at the right of the Stokesley exit and this
passes Grey Towers Farmhouse to reach the woods. There are two entrances to the
woods, the first just after the last house and another near the lake. Some of
the paths in the woods are muddy, especially by the lake, and suitable footwear
is needed. There is an especially muddy section approaching the lake, though
this can be avoided by a detour through the trees.
It has been the usual practice for car drivers to park on the left of the track
just off the roundabout. This still continues despite the erection of a parking
restriction sign, with some people parking on a patch of open ground next to
Grey Towers Farmhouse. Any visitors uneasy about this could park in the new
estate and walk through the cut between the houses to reach the track by the
It does not take too long to look round the woods so a brief visit is always
worthwhile. As in all such locations, an early morning visit is best and you
will probably have the place to yourself, apart perhaps from the odd angler.
Even later in the day it is usually fairly quiet, though I can’t vouch for
The resident waterbirds on the lake are the expected Mallard, Moorhen and Coot.
Both Greylag and Canada Geese have bred. Other species include Little Grebe and
Water Rail, and a Grey Heron is a frequent visitor. Because of the low number of
human visitors, the waterbirds are not accustomed to disturbance and remain
wild. Appearing suddenly by the lake edge causes panic among the Moorhens which
race for cover. Even the Mallards will flush or at least quickly swim to safety.
Just in case there is some less usual species, it is worth approaching the lake
Spotted Flycatchers have bred by Grey Towers Farmhouse, but the decline of the
species means this is unlikely to be repeated. In muddy puddles on the track by
the farmhouse House Martins can be watched collecting mud for their nests. The
woods have typical woodland species, such as Sparrowhawk, Great Spotted
Woodpecker, Nuthatch, Treecreeper and Jay, though the Nuthatches are more often
heard than seen. As well as the abundant tit species, Marsh Tits are resident
and often wander along the trees by the access track. The coniferous component
is sufficient to attract Coal Tits and Goldcrests.
Summer brings woodland warblers, with Chiffchaffs particularly favouring the
area. The otherwise unloved rhododendrons appeal to Blackcaps. In winter, the
lakeside alders can have Lesser Redpolls and Siskins and the beech trees
occasionally lure in Bramblings.
This area was locally famous for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in the early to
mid-1980s and they bred successfully on at least one occasion and possibly
twice. Perhaps for this reason alone the woods are worth keeping an eye
on.....just in case!