5 family-friendly places to see wildlife this spring in the Land of Oak & Iron (AD)

Spring finally seems to have arrived. How much better does it feel to see blue skies and sunshine? I know it improves my mood, and it’s great to be able to get out and about in the great outdoors on family days out and excursions again. In this post we are collaborating with the Land of Oak & Iron and today we are looking at the top 5 family-friendly wildlife spots to visit this spring in the Derwent Valley.
5 family-friendly places to see wildlife this spring in the Land of Oak & Iron

5 family-friendly places to see wildlife this spring in the Land of Oak & Iron

Spring is a time when everything is growing and bursting into life. Days get longer, birds are singing, the spring sunshine bringing growth and greenery everywhere, flowers appear, animals wake from their winter sleep and insects start to buzz and flutter around our countryside. And it’s no different in the Land of Oak & Iron. 

Covering an area surrounding the River Derwent including Consett, Rowlands Gill, Prudhoe and Whickham, the Land of Oak & Iron aims to work with local communities and partners to celebrate, conserve and enhance its natural, industrial and cultural heritage. It is an area which has a fascinating industrial past of iron and steel making, an abundance of natural woodland, and intriguing stories of people who helped shape history.

5 family-friendly places to see wildlife this spring in the Land of Oak & Iron

So this spring here is our top 5 things to look out for in the wild in family-friendly places across the Land of Oak & Iron.

1. Red kites in the Derwent Valley

Red Kites are the most iconic wildlife to be found in the Land of Oak & Iron. Between 2004 and 2006 ninety-four red kites were released into the lower Derwent Valley as part of the Northern Kites Project. Kites began to breed in the northeast in 2006 after an absence of 170 years.

The red kite has a wingspan of five and a half feet. It has a reddish-brown body and wings with black tips, a grey head and distinctive rufous forked tail. Their natural habitat is wooded hills and open country, where they nest in woodland trees, 8 - 20 metres from the ground. They usually live for 4 to 5 years, but some can live for 25-30 years. If you hear one, its call is high and often repetitive. 
One of the best places in the area to see them is at Derwenthaugh Park a reclaimed industrial site that was once a coke works. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Crowley’s ironworks dominated the site and they were the largest ironworks in Europe at the time. As well as a country park Derwenthaugh Park will also be the location for the new Land of Oak & Iron Heritage Centre that will open this summer. 

At Derwenthaugh Park you will also find the aptly named ‘Kite Hill’ which is a great viewpoint or the Nine Arches viaduct, one of the major engineering feats of the railway. It is five hundred feet long and was built because the Earl of Strathmore would not allow the railway to pass through the Gibside Estate, is again a great vantage point. 

The Red Kite Trail is an 18 kilometre (11 miles) circular walking route through the scenic countryside of the lower Derwent Valley in Gateshead and County Durham.  

5 family-friendly places to see wildlife this spring in the Land of Oak & Iron
5 family-friendly places to see wildlife this spring in the Land of Oak & Iron
Nine Arches viaduct

2. Bees and Butterflies in Spetchells

Spetchells is part of the Tyne Riverside Country Park that follows the River Tyne for four miles through 200 acres of meadows, chalk grassland, woodland and river bank. The Spetchells are chalk waste heaps from a chemical factory that operated on a nearby site until the mid-1960s. The name comes from old maps that refer to this area of land as the ‘spetchells’. Although the heaps are not natural, they now provide Northumberland's largest area of chalk grassland habitat. The wide range of flowers attracts many species of common and, occasionally, rare butterflies.

In April and early May, you’ll see Mining Bees flying around the ground. Mining bees are extremely beneficial insects. They pollinate many different types of plants and their burrowing does not harm vegetation and may be beneficial in aerating the soil. Also referred to as digger bees, these flying insects are solitary bees which nest in burrows in the ground. 

The Dingy Skipper Butterfly is also seen at Spetchells. This small brown and grey butterfly is found in Britain and Ireland and is becoming increasingly rare. It is moth-like in appearance and extremely well camouflaged on the bare ground on which it likes to bask. The Dingy Skipper is a small (average wingspan is 29mm), inconspicuous, brown and grey butterfly, and easily mistaken for day-flying moths.
5 family-friendly places to see wildlife this spring in the Land of Oak & Iron
Solitary bee nest holes, Spetchells CREDIT CHRISTOPHER WREN
5 family-friendly places to see wildlife this spring in the Land of Oak & Iron

3. Bats at Allensford in May

Allensford is a small country park in County Durham. It is situated a short distance from Consett on the River Derwent. Here is a good place to see bats on an evening as the weather improves into May. 

There is plenty more to explore too while waiting for bats to appear; with ancient woodland, plus the 15,000 + trees that have been planted, creating a new native oak woodland, or venture into the woods opposite to discover a hidden relic of the industrial past. The Allensford blast furnace was used around 1700 and is the earliest surviving ore roasting furnace in Britain. 

Did you know we have 18 species of bat currently in the UK? They are nocturnal creatures, only seen very occasionally during the day. They are small, thumb-sized, with teeth just millimetres long designed for grabbing and chewing insects. Hard to hear they use ultrasound - way above the range of the human ear - to find out what's around them. The echoes are picked up by those big bat ears enabling them to navigate. Bats can see perfectly well, but their echo-locating ability enables them to fly and hunt insects in the dark. 

All British bats eat insects - each bat can eat several thousand midges in a single night. They are though at risk with fewer wooded areas, ponds and open grass spaces for them to feed and roost.

5 family-friendly places to see wildlife this spring in the Land of Oak & Iron
Allensford Blast Furnace

4. Wildfowl and otters at Shibdon Pond

Shibdon Pond is one of the few large open water bodies left in the southern part of Tyne and Wear and is one of the best wetlands in the region for wintering wildfowl. The pond, probably formed as a result of mining subsidence, is spring fed and fringed with rich aquatic flora, willow and hawthorn scrub and damp grassland. Large numbers of wetland birds are recorded here including lapwing, golden plover, redshank, snipe, teal as well as water rail, sandpiper and kingfisher. Birdlife varies throughout the year. From the observation hide you will be able to spot common birds such as tufted duck, mallard, coot and moorhen, and if you're lucky may glimpse an otter. 

Only a few years ago otters were very rare in this country because rivers were often polluted or their bankside habitat had been destroyed. Otters are now making a comeback because rivers are better looked after so there is more food and more tree cover. Otters are very secretive and often their presence is only detected by footprints, droppings or mudslides.

To access the hide you’ll need to obtain a key which is £5 and available from Gateshead Civic Centre and Thornley Woodlands Centre. Keys give access to six observation hides 

5 family-friendly places to see wildlife this spring in the Land of Oak & Iron
Shibdon Pond Observation Hide
5 family-friendly places to see wildlife this spring in the Land of Oak & Iron

5. Dragonflies at Path Head Water Mill

From late spring at Path Head Water Mill in Gateshead, you’ll see Common Darters. They are often seen here, but rarer dragonflies you might also see include Hawkers and Emperors. 

Path Head Water Mill is a hidden gem which includes a restored working water wheel, set in beautiful surroundings adjacent to the Blaydon Burn Nature Reserve. Open all year round for visitors, The Mill is located just 10 minutes from the Metrocentre, in a tranquil dell, adjacent to meadows and wooded walks with picnic facilities and a safe garden area. The Water Mill itself has a great example of a working wheel and you can take a walk along the old waggonway and explore the abundant wildlife. 

Dragonflies are one of the oldest inhabitants of this planet and can be seen at Path Head from late spring. To give yourself the best chance of seeing them pick a warm sunny day with not too much wind.
  • The common darter is a small, narrow-bodied dragonfly which darts forward suddenly from a hovering position to catch their insect prey
  • Hawkers are the largest and fastest flying dragonflies; they catch their insect-prey mid-air and can hover or fly backwards.
  • The emperor dragonfly is a very large, impressive dragonfly which flies high up looking for insect-prey such as butterflies and chaser dragonflies. 
5 family-friendly places to see wildlife this spring in the Land of Oak & Iron
5 family-friendly places to see wildlife this spring in the Land of Oak & Iron

Land of Oak & Iron

The Land of Oak & Iron; Iron Landscape Partnership is a four-year programme of events and activities, supported by National Lottery players through the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and hosted by environmental regeneration charity Groundwork NE & Cumbria. Comprised of 14 inter-connected projects with partners including Durham Wildlife Trust, Tyne Rivers Trust and the local authorities of Durham, Gateshead and Northumberland, the Land of Oak & Iron offers superb parking, cafés, facilities, access and events too.

5 family-friendly places to see wildlife this spring in the Land of Oak & Iron

You may also be interested in our other blog posts about the area:


So if you are wondering where you can see wildlife this spring in the North East then do check out the Land of Oak & Iron.

What wildlife are you looking forward to seeing this spring?

Deb x

This is a sponsored post by the Land of Oak & Iron and we have been compensated for our time in writing it, but all content is original and written by My Boys Club. Photography has been supplied by the Land of Oak & Iron.

To be kept up to date with events, new openings, recipes, things to do and child-friendly places to take the kids, plus giveaways then follow My Boys Club on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter too.

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5 family-friendly places to see wildlife this spring in the Land of Oak & Iron


  1. Looks like some great places to visit if ever in the area this time of year. I love getting out and about especially when the Sun is out.

  2. Sounds like there is so much to explore around the Land of Oak and Iron. And it's also refreshing to hear that certain animals are making a comeback such as the otters and kites. Shame the butterfly numbers are declining.

  3. These all look like amazing places to visit and the wildlife looks incredible! What a shame they aren't closer to me!

  4. I'd never heard of the Land of Oak & Iron before. These all sound like great destinations. We love getting out in to nature.

  5. Despite living in the North East my whole life I had never heard of the land of Oak and Iron before x

  6. There are some lovely places to visit. That watermill looks stunning. We went to a red kite feeding centre in Wales once and it was amazing, so educational and the birds were incredible.

  7. Oh this is lovely, I would like to tick all of those off. The red kites are stunning

  8. Now the suns out I want to get out with my girls as much as possible! You listed some really lovely places to visit.