Teesmouth Bird Club
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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 early 1980s.

BACKGROUND

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 farmhouse

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 weekends.

BIRDS

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 discretely.

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!


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