Country diary: quiet eye of the urban storm | Environment

As soon as we enter the wood, the noise of traffic seems to recede, replaced by a feeling of calm. Our focus shifts to take in birdsong, the drumming of a woodpecker, the rustle of dry leaves. Gosforth Park nature reserve is a retreat from busyness, the quiet eye of the storm. With access restricted to members of the Natural History Society of Northumbria, its wildlife is undisturbed.

This is an open wood with a high canopy of oak trees and an understorey of coppiced hazel. There’s the occasional lofty Scots pine or dense, dark holly. Fixed to tree trunks are numerous bat boxes; seven species of bats have been recorded here, including Daubenton’s, noctule, Nathusius’ pipistrelle and Brandt’s. In summer, though very hard to spot flying among the tops of the oak trees, flit purple hairstreak butterflies.

We reach an area of wetland where a boardwalk leads through Phragmites reedbeds. They swish and jostle in a light breeze. Seedheads of great reedmace are softly disintegrating and dispersing, as fluffy as thistledown. A bird hide, supported above a lake by strong oak piles, was built week by week by volunteers, all materials having to be carried to the site. From here we look out over ruffled water, pewter grey with darker ripples, but golden where the reeds reflect like patches of sunlight.

3894 - Country diary: quiet eye of the urban storm | Environment



‘A bird hide, supported above a lake by strong oak piles, was built week by week by volunteers.’ Photograph: Susie White

Everywhere there is spring urgency and pairing up. Canada geese, confident and strong, are head-shaking and calling, black-headed gulls noisily posturing, mute swans making a royal progress through a group of tufted ducks. A flurry of jousting coots brings a rival belting across the lake to join in the fray, while a long-legged female clambers over a mat of fallen reeds, ignoring the commotion.

On the far bank, closely grouped, are a pair of Canada geese next to three herons with a little egret between them. A dabchick plunges, leaving boiling water and concentric ripples. I wish for a kingfisher, so often seen here, but that flash of electric blue will have to be another day. Hearing the jaunty tune of an ice-cream van playing Greensleeves, I am reminded how close we are to the city.