Wildlife and nature
Special Species and Habitats
This incredible, man-made landscape is constantly being cared for and improved by volunteers and the organisations in Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust. Since its creation during the 20th century. it has matured and developed. and careful management is helping species that were once absent to return, including osprey and water voles. Thousands of fascinating plants and animals continue to live and thrive alongside the people who live, work and play here..
What might you see while you’re here? The green boxes below indicate the month you are most likely to see each species.
The sheer variety of habitats in Kielder Water & Forest Park, from woodland to marshy grasslands and bogs, create homes for a whole host of wildlife and is impressive and unique in the UK. Explorers can expect to encounter badgers, roe deer, otters, red squirrels, shrews, seven species of bat, many woodland birds and, especially in spring, birds of prey including ospreys.
Family fun - There are four family activity sheets available in printed form at the visitor centres as well as being downloadable at the bottom of this page. The colourful sheets use fun and educational activities to help younger families experience the wildlife on the wild walks starting from Kielder Castle, Bakethin Nature Reserve and Tower Knowe peninsula as well as an activity sheet based around Kielder Waterside.
After over 200 years of absence from Northumberland it is a delight to see ospreys thriving at Kielder. Landmarks include our 50th chick fledging in 2017, and in 2020 the first Kielder hatched osprey to try and breed in the Forest was 2014 Blue UV from Nest 1. Sadly, he and his Scottish partner’s eggs failed to hatch.
Since 2009, when re-colonisation in Northumberland began, Kielder Forest has made an impressive contribution to the northern osprey population. Kielder Nest 1 hatched female Blue 35 is breeding at Foulshaw Moss in Cumbria, and in 2020 female Blue Y6 from Nest 2 raised 2 chicks in Perthshire.
Between late March and early September visitors using the Lakeside Way may see ospreys hunting over the water. The birds use all parts of the reservoir, but some favourite areas are either side of the water at the dam, the area between Bull Crag and Leaplish Bay, and Leaplish Bay itself. The ospreys regularly hunt soon after first light and again in the early evening, around 17.30-18.00, but can be active at any time of the day. As the breeding season goes on, more fish will be required by ever-hungry growing chicks. So June-August are the peak months, giving the best chance of seeing this magnificent bird plunge into the water and emerge with a fish. Once the ospreys have migrated, over winter do check the blog for news of sightings overseas.
Once the ospreys have migrated , over winter, check the blog for the most up to date news of sightings overseas.
Goshawk - is another species that went extinct in UK in 1800s due to persecution. It looks like a sparrowhawk on steroids! Still very rare in UK, but there is a good population at Kielder. This bird is very hard to see as it hunts under the canopy. March is the best time – look for them displaying above the tree line. They will eat rabbits, squirrels, birds, pigeons, waterbirds… they will fly through vegetation and will give chase on foot!
Crossbill - chunky finch with distinctive crossed bill used to extract seeds from conifers. Look like small, brightly coloured parrots. Males are red/orange, females greenish brown and are usually found in family groups or larger flocks. They fly close to the tree tops – look up! They are seen regularly at Bakethin and all around Kielder.
House martins, swallows, swifts and sand martins - are all common around Kielder in the summer months. House martin and swallow nests can be found on almost any building! These provide a brilliant nature experience for visitors. Swallow nests have an open cup shape, whereas house martin nests are more enclosed. Sand martins burrow into sandy banks and live in colonies. All 3 of these species can be seen perching on wires. Swifts nest in holes and crevices in buildings. They are brown with scythe-like wings. They often screech when flying. They do not perch – they even sleep on the wing! House martins have a glossy blue-black back and head cap, with an all white underside. Swallows are blue with a red chin and deeply forked tail. Sand martins are brown in colour. The white of their undersides is split by a brown band on the breast.
Red squirrels - around 50% of England’s native red squirrel population live here, the largest remaining stronghold in the country.They are now very rare in UK. Red squirrels breed early in year and often have 4 kits. They will sometimes have 2 litters if there is enough food available.
Red squirrels are threatened by the introduced grey squirrel which out compete them for food, but more importantly carry the squirrelpox virus, which does not affect greys but is lethal to red squirrels.
If you see a grey at Kielder, please report it to Northumberland Wildlife Trust - 0191 2846884. The Red Squirrels Northern England project employs red squirrel rangers working around Kielder Forest.
Find out more through the Red Squirrels Northern England project.
Salmon – are closely related to brown trout and can reach 70cm – 1m in length. Because of Kielder dam, salmon can no longer migrate to spawning grounds high up the North Tyne catchment. Salmon Centre staff collect adults to breed – up to 900,000 young each year are released back into the Tyne river systems. The Tyne is now one of England’s best salmon rivers.
2019 is the International Year of the Salmon. Kielder Salmon Centre is the largest conservation salmon hatchery in England and Wales and is free to visit, open daily 10am to 4pm from April until end of September.
Learn about why the Environment Agency raises thousands of young salmon to be released into the River Tyne. The refurbished centre has a natural North East river environment aquarium showcasing salmon and other local river species as well as videos revealing the behind the scenes work at the centre to protect iconic species. There is also a prehistoric salmon fossil dig, a quiz and brass rubbings to unveil interesting information about the salmon. New and improved outside spaces and pearl mussel breeding beds. More information at kielder-salmon-centre
Water voles – The charming Ratty from Wind in the Willows, is actually a water vole. These iconic creatures are back in Kielder Water & Forest Park following an initial reintroduction in June 2017. Good burn-side habitat and absence of mink mean that they should thrive! Find out more about the Restoring Ratty project.
These little mammals can often be mistaken for a rat – distinguishing features include furry tail, blunt nose and short rounded ears. The major threat to water vole survival is predation by the introduced American Mink. They largely eat vegetation (227 plant species identified!) but will eat insects, worms etc if they need to. They live in burrow systems and are highly territorial. Females can have up to 5 litters a year, of between 2-8 pups. Male territories are larger and will overlap with several female territories. Signs they are present include latrines of droppings and lawns of chewed grasses.
Pine Martins - (photo below) are the latest mammal species to colonise Kielder Water and Forest Park, first sighted in 2018. These highly agile members of the weasel family are at home in the maturing forest areas and are omnivores, eating everything from small rodents to fruits and nuts. Their young are called kits and although mating only produces 2-3 kits each year, these small but powerful animals live longer than other weasel family members. Pine martens are thought to help red squirrels by reducing the occurrence of the invasive grey squirrel, a benefit of one of the rarest mammals in England making its home in Kielder Water and Forest Park. Small numbers are present at the moment, but this is expected to change as more pine martens colonise from the recovering population in South Scotland and start to breed in the park.
Roe deer - are the only deer you species you will see in Kielder. Males have short antlers, while females have none. They are usually a solitary animal but can form small groups. They are a woodland species. They rut mid-July to end August, and give birth following May/June – usually to twins. Often see them from the dam and on the road to Kielder Observatory. Roe deer numbers are controlled by Forestry Commission wildlife rangers at Kielder.
Bats - there are at least nine species of bat at Kielder: Pipistrelle, soprano pipistrelle, Natterer's, brown long eared, Daubenton's, whiskered, Brandt's, noctule and Leisler’s. The pipistrelle, the most common British bat, is one of the easiest species to see – abundant around buildings. Daubenton’s are also easy to see as they hunt insects over the water, picking them off with their feet and tail. They are larger than pipistrelles with a silvery underside. Brown long-eared bats not only look extraordinary – they have exceptionally sensitive hearing and can hear a ladybird walking on a leaf!
Fox- is a highly adaptable species found across UK. They are territorial, with a family group occupying a territory. They have a wide and varied diet – rabbits, voles, birds, insects, beetles, fruit. Usually one litter per year of 4-5 cubs, in spring. Regularly seen at Kielder on roadside.
Badger - are another widespread species. They are unusual in the mustelid family (weasels, stoat, polecat etc) in that they live in groups of 2 – 23 adults (usually ~6). They are a nocturnal species and are rarely seen during the day. They live in setts, with a litter of 2-3 cubs born in February. Cubs begin to venture above ground at 8 weeks. Badgers can be found throughout Kielder Forest.
Otter - made a huge recovery in Northumberland after dramatic population decline in 1960s and 70s – pollutants, pesticides and poor riparian management being to blame. They are semi-aquatic and are closely associated with water courses. Major food items include salmonids, crayfish and frogs. They will occasionally eat birds. Otters cover large ranges. They can give birth at any time of year – usually 2-3 cubs
Otters are seen regularly at Bakethin. Presence of spraint (smells like jasmine tea!) on rocks under bridges is a good sign of their presence.
Adder - are the only venomous snake native to Britain. They aren’t aggressive!
Males are silvery with black zig zag, females pale brown with dark brown zig zag. The best time to see adders is early spring when they emerge from hibernation. They shed their skin in April and then mate. They have live young in late August/early September.
Adders eat small rodents, frogs, newts, ground nesting birds
Seen at Bakethin and Kielder Waterside wildlife garden basking in the sun. Cyclists will often see them on the Lakeside Way.
Woodlands – Before Kielder Forest was planted, there were native trees growing here, and in the forest edges around Kielder village veteran trees and native woodlands still persist. The Forestry Commission are increasing the biodiversity of Kielder Forest and softening the plantation boundaries by planting native tree species and conserving the remnants of ancient semi-natural woodlands. Pollen analysis of the peat on Kielderhead moor shows that once these hills were covered with pine, alder, birch, elm and willow. Ambitious plans for replanting this ancient woodland are in development through the Wildwood project.
Grasslands – The north shore of Bakethin Nature Reserve has grasslands grazed by Exmoor Ponies as part of the Flexigraze scheme which uses rare breed animals in traditional land management schemes. The ponies used here are a hardy breed used to poor food and weather, and they help keep the variety of habitats along the lake shore, by eating any scrub or young trees trying to take over from the grasses and flowers.
Wildflowers - 19 miles of roadside verges – more than 100ha in total! The verges act as a continuous ‘highway’ for pollinators – bees, butterflies, insects etc. Red clover, yellow rattle, bird’s foot trefoil and other species can be found. There are a variety of orchids too: northern marsh orchid, common spotted orchid, heath spotted orchid and fragrant orchid can all be found at Kielder (along with other species).
Open water – By keeping the water at a constant level at Bakethin Nature Reserve we have created a nature reserve, including three islands, which provide an important sanctuary for local plants, birds and other wildlife including otters. In 2016 a new osprey nesting pole was installed on one of the islands, which can easily be seen from the new wildlife hide. This was rebuilt in early 2017 by Architecture students from Newcastle University, with a green roof and charred timber cladding to blend into its environment.
Bogs – The raised mires and blanket bogs around Kielder Water & Forest Park are astonishing habitats. They trap carbon from the atmosphere, regulate river flows by holding water back in the headlands, and preserve organic matter in their depths creating a record of past environments. They are home to curious plants and delicate insects, and are acclaimed as the most tranquil place in England. Conservation of these wetlands on a landscape scale is ongoing, to increase the rate at which the peat develops and to provide safe access for visitors.
Kielder is one of Northumberland Wildlife Trust's Living Landscapes.