Tony’s Patch is a small nature reserve near Haydon Bridge. It was once made up of oak, elm and ash but the elm has been killed off by Dutch elm disease leaving the site more open. It is a Northumberland Wildlife Trust site and one of the smallest reserves but it is a pleasant spot, particularly now that the bluebells are beginning to flower.
While the bluebells are the most striking feature, or will be in a week or two, there are other interesting plants to be seen there too. The most interesting is probably the toothwort (Lathraea squamaria) which is a parasitic plant that grows mostly on Hazel and Elm. As it is a parasite it has no leaves or chlorophyll, tapping instead into its host tree for its nutrients. Other plants out in flower included moschatel, wood anemone and primrose and the flowers on the large bird cherry were just beginning to come out.
Following the visit to Tony’s Patch it was a short stop at Beltingham where the early plants on the open patch of calaminarian grassland (grassland contaminated with heavy metals from the North Pennine orefield) were in full flower. The grass on this area is stunted by the contaminated ground conditions allowing small specialist plants to thrive. Most obvious today were the alpine penny cress and the mountain pansy.
Tiny plants of Himalayan balsam are just starting to emerge across the rest of the site which will be a job for the summer in removing them to stop the plant taking over. There were a number of birds spotted including dippers on the river and a pied flycatcher in the woodland.