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Important Habitats

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Farne Islands - Seabird Colonies Photo: Iain Robson

The quality and diversity of the wildlife habitats found on the Northumberland coast are one of the reasons it has been designated as an 'Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty'. This page summarises the most important habitats and the wildlife they support.

Seabird colonies

From early spring seabirds begin to recolonise the offshore islands, whinstone cliffs and some secluded beaches and estuaries.

During the summer months, the Farne Islands are home to over 140,000 breeding pairs of seabirds including 40,000 pairs of puffin. Other species include eider, sandwich, common and arctic tern, kittiwake, guillemot and shag.

On the mainland, kittiwakes as well as some guillemots and razorbills nest on the whinstone cliffs at places like Dunstanburgh and Cullernose Point.

The rare little tern and up to 5,000 pairs of arctic terns nest on the beach at the Long Nanny where they are protected by National Trust Rangers.

Visiting seabird colonies

Sand Dunes

Sand dunes are dynamic features of the coastal landscape - a landscape which is constantly being reformed by the power of the wind, sea and tides. Sand dune systems are fragile ecosystems, low in nutrients and moisture and high in salt but supporting a diverse plant community.

The majority of Northumbrian sand dunes are relatively young - only 300 to 400 years old - but there are older sand dunes based on glacial sands and clays such as at Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve and Bamburgh.

Salt marsh

Salt marsh occurs when salt tolerant plants colonise sediments deposited where rivers and streams meet the incoming sea in sheltered areas. The variation in the frequency and length of time of tidal inundation creates a zoning of salt marsh species adapted to different conditions. Salt marshes support a special range of flora and fauna and provide an important feeding area for wildfowl and waders.

Sandy and muddy shores and estuaries

Extensive sand and mud flats at Lindisfarne, Budle Bay and the area north of Holy Island form the greatest expanse of intertidal flats in North East England. Other areas are found at Alnmouth, Embleton, Beadnell, Bamburgh and the River Tweed. These areas support a rich mixture of specially adapted animals and plants and are vital staging posts and winter quarters for migratory wildfowl and waders.

Whin Grasslands

Whinstone is a hard dolerite, igneous rock, rich in minerals. Here on the Northumberland Coast, the rocky outcrop is known as the Whin Sill.

The Whin Sill and its associated soils is one of the most distinctive habitats in the region. The east facing, dipping slopes combined with the hardness of the rock produce shallow, lime rich and drought prone soils. Then factor in the harsh maritime influences and it is easy to see why the vegetation and floral communities are very specialised.

Visiting whin grasslands

Maritime or Coastal Cliff and Slope

Formed by slippage or erosion, maritime or coastal cliff and slope support a wide range of plant species. The vegetation varies according to the degree of slope, geology, sea spray and level of exposure. These slope habitats are associated with both hard and soft substrates.

Coastal Heath

Lowland heath only occurs below 150m above sea level. On the Northumberland Coast, heath is suffering from fragmentation, encroachment by scrub and agricultural improvement. As a result this habitat is now restricted to a number of small areas.

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