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More about Whitelee Moor National Nature Reserve

Whitelee Moor is recognised as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) thanks to its blanket bog and heather heaths. The wider National Nature Reserve has been designated both an SAC and a site of special scientific interest (SSSI). It forms part of a larger area known as the Border Mires, Kielder and Butterburn Special Areas of Conservation.

Blanket bog is a type of peatland which is only found in a few places in the world, often where the climate is cool and wet. These conditions encourage plants like bog mosses and cotton grasses to grow which, when they die, break down very slowly to form layers of peat which can be up to eight metres deep. 

On the lower slopes of Whitelee Moor you’ll find the heather moorland. The heather’s delicate pink flowers appear from August to October and this area is home to wildlife including buzzards, peregrine falcons, the small heath butterfly and the northern eggar moth.

Peatland restoration in Redesdale 

Activities including industrial peat extraction, overgrazing, and burning to promote fresh growth for livestock, have all threatened peatland and reduced the amount of it which we have in the UK.

As well as providing precious habitats for a vast array of birds, insects, plants and other wildlife, peatland can help to combat climate change, as it stores large amounts of carbon, preventing it from being released into the atmosphere. 

In Redesdale, our peatland also regulates the flow of the River Rede and provides a source of water throughout the year, even in times of drought. In areas where peatland has been damaged or degraded, we often see brown colouration and particles of peat in river water and increased levels of silt, which threaten species like freshwater pearl mussels. 

Peatland restoration projects across our region, including at Whitelee Moor, are repairing key areas of peatland as well as trialling new and novel techniques in peatland restoration. 

Restoration activities include:

  • Removal of conifers (Sitka spruce) – conifers damage peatlands as they can dry out the bog and they block light, killing underlying vegetation. Where bogs are close to plantations, self-seeded trees can pose an ongoing problem and need to be removed on a periodic basis.
  • Ditch blocking or reprofiling – drainage ditches reduce water levels on peatland sites, affecting vegetation and reducing the effectiveness of the bog to control water flows. These ditches can be blocked with peat plugs, coir logs or stone dams, raising water levels across the site. 

The feral goats of Whitelee Moor

If you’re lucky, you may spot Whitelee Moor’s resident herd of feral goats, particularly near the border with Kielderhead. 

These wild goats are not native to Britain, but they have been here for thousands of years, having been brought here by farmers in neolithic times. 

There are various theories around the origins of the goats you see in Redesdale today – for example, they may be descended from domesticated herds which were allowed to go wild when sheep overtook goats as the favoured livestock for farmers. Or they might be linked to the goats which were owned by the monks of Lindisfarne, and then released when the monastery closed. 

From mid-February, you may see young goats (called ‘kids’). If you spot a kid on its own, leave it well alone; the mother goats often leave them unattended while they graze. 

A team at Newcastle University has been tracking some of Northumberland’s feral goats using GPS collars, to find out more about where they roam, and to minimise the possibility of any issues caused by the proximity between the goats and active farmland.  

Dark skies in Redesdale 

The vast majority of Redesdale falls within the Northumberland International Dark Sky Park which was unveiled in December 2013. At 572 square miles (1,483 square kilometres), it is Europe’s largest area of protected night sky and has been awarded gold tier designation by the International Dark Sky Association, making it officially the best place in England for people to go to see sights such as the Milky Way, meteorite showers and the Aurora.

A number of local businesses, such as the Redesdale Arms, offer dark skies weekends with local astronomers, and many accommodation providers are often fully booked over winter weekends with visitors wanting to experience the dark skies for themselves. 

Exterior lights in a number of locations, including Elsdon, have been replaced with lights that minimise light spill, as recommended by the International Dark-Sky Association, and you will see dark skies interpretation panels dotted throughout Redesdale, with more information on what you can see in our night skies. 

The Border Reivers

Centuries of fighting between the English and the Scottish in the border country brought devastation to the people that lived there.

People were robbed and killed by armies, crops were burned and properties destroyed. Because of the constant threat of attack, borderers began to live by their own rules, which often meant taking what they needed. Cattle rustling, feuding, murder, arson and pillaging were all commonplace, and this led to the rise of the Border Reivers.

Reivers were considered unique in that they came from all social classes. The only thing they had in common was the violent code they lived by. Reiving was considered by many to be part of Border life. 

The Border Reivers were united within their family clans and could call on hundreds of men to join them in raids across the border. Men were known to go alone, or with 12 to 50 men in tow. Some large-scale raids would see groups of up to two and three thousand men.

Because the Border Reivers came from every social class, they had a wide range of skills, which stood them well during raids. They showed courage and bravery as well as a blatant disregard for authority, which meant the job of the wardens to enforce law and order was a dangerous one.

Border Reivers rode horses which were sturdy and fast. They wore a ‘jack’ or ‘jacke’ to protect their upper bodies and many would use pewter or brass chains to protect their arms and upper legs. Reivers wore a burgonet to protect their heads and rode into raids with a range of weapons, including lances, bills and daggers.

The accession of James VI to the English throne brought about the end of the Border Reivers. The Borders was renamed ‘the Middle Shires’ and criminals were brought to justice; many of them hanged. Fighting in the Borders finally came to an end in the early 1620s. 

Find out more about other places to visit in Redesdale through the landing pages for the interpretation panels along the valley.
For information about self guided walks in the area see our walks page with downloadable pdfs of 18 walk routes.