Where the magnesian limestone meets the sea, there are superb dene woodlands. The best sites for visitors are Castle Eden Dene NNR (NZ4239) and the Durham Wildlife Trust’s Hawthorn Dene (NZ4245).
Most of the Durham coast can be accessed from a scenic coastal footpath. In the Hartlepool area, Hart Warren Dunes (NZ4936) and Seaton Dunes NNR (NZ5328) are important coastal grasslands.
Salt marsh has almost entirely gone from the River Tyne and River Wear, but there are still large areas at Teesmouth, mainly at Greatham, and a good Salicornia marsh at the southern end of the Seaton Dunes NNR. None of these are very accessible.
Tiny areas of salt marsh are accessible on the tidal stretches of River Tyne tributaries, the River Team (NZ2362) and the River Don (NZ3365). About two hectares remains on the Wear, at two adjacent, accessible sites, Barons Quay (NZ3557) and Timber Beach (NZ3658).
In the north of the county, the Derwent Valley has extensive ancient woodlands, with visitor facilities at Gateshead Council’s Thornley Woodlands Centre (NZ1760) and the National Trust’s Gibside Estate (NZ1758). Chopwell Wood (FC) (NZ1358), Milkwellburn Wood (DWT) (NZ1057) and the Woodland Trust’s Pontburn Wood (NZ1455) are large woodlands also worth a visit. The Derwent Gorge NNR is similarly rich, but has little public access.
The Derwent Walk Country Park links these woodlands with a number of smaller Forestry Commission, DWT and Woodland Trust properties, extending to over 1000 hectares of species-rich woodlands in the scenic Derwent Valley.
In the Wear valley, there are several interesting woodlands. The “Wear Gorge”, where the river winds under steep banks between Durham City and Chester-le-Street, has good, but unconnected, walks at Finchale Abbey (NZ2947) Raintonpark Wood (NZ3046) and Kepier Wood (NZ2944). Further up the valley in Weardale, there is little ancient semi-natural woodland, but there are some small wooded tributary valleys with upland, ash/hazel ASN on the north side of the dale.
Teesdale has some excellent woodlands, the most accessible of which are easy walks from Barnard Castle. Going upstream from the town, Flatts Wood and Teesbank Wood (NZ0417) have a number of scarce species. Going downstream, Teesbank Wood and Abbey Bridge Woods (NZ0614) are worth a visit, and lead on further afield to Rokeby, Whorlton, Winston and Brignall Banks SSSI. Across the Tees from Barnard Castle, Deepdale and Ray Gill Wood (NZ0316) is one of Teesdale’s largest ASN woods.
The coalfield area has now few signs of its industrial past, but does have an interesting range of wetlands, some of them resulting from mining subsidence. The best examples are the DWT reserve at Shibdon Pond (NZ1962), which is near the Metrocentre, and Ryton Willows, (NZ1564). Billingham Beck Country Park (NZ4522) is also worth a visit.
The best riparian wetlands are the DWT reserve at Low Barns, Witton-le-Wear (NZ1631), and the Butterby Oxbow SSSI (NZ2738).
There are site floras with details of the sites, or site checklists with more basic information, for most of the important botanical sites, downloadable from this web page. Guides to the DWT reserves can be downloaded from their web site. Some of the woodlands are on the Woodland Trust’s “Visit Woods” website. If you visit a site, please put your findings on record with us by e mail or through the North East Flora web site.