Book review: Wild Teesside

WILD TEESSIDE – Thirty years of industry and nature

Ian Bond, Mike Leakey, Robert Woods, Ken Smith and Phil Roxby

Teesside Industry Nature Conservation Association, 2020, 146 pages

Available from for £12.50 inc p&p | ISBN 978-1-5272-5628-6

Review by Peter Shirley

This is a case study of providing for nature not just in an industrial landscape, but with the active involvement of the companies whose infrastructure dominates that landscape. It is lavishly illustrated with excellent colour photographs. It discusses 30 years of the Teeside INCA – Industry Nature Conservation Association. Formed in 1989 this was intended to be the first of a number of such organisations, but today it is still the only one. The concept was to have an industrial equivalent of a Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group to “Avoid conflict and build trust between industrial developers and conservationists by working together on shared goals”.

The area concerned is the Tees estuary from the Tees Barrage to the sea, and from Marske in the south to Seaton Carew in the north. Unfortunately, there is no map to show the context and indicate these three places. There are a couple of artistic, but not wholly informative, watercolour diagrams, one of land claim history and one of designated sites. These include a National Nature Reserve, a number of SSSIs, a Special Protection Area combined with a RAMSAR site, and other non-statutory sites. The total area is nearly 30 square miles, just over half of which is industrial land, and all of which is separated from the surrounding urban areas of Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Redcar and Cleveland, and Stockton-on-Tees. Its distinguishing feature is the mixture of natural habitats with industrial and brownfield land.

Having said it is a case study, the book is really a natural history of the area, topped and tailed with tantalising glimpses of the INCA itself. The history of the INCA takes up just one page, full of positives but with little detail. Maybe there were no setbacks, conflicts of interest or controversies, but somehow I doubt that was the case. The purpose is given as “… avoiding conflict and building trust between industrial developers and conservationists by working together on shared goals”.

The opening chapter sets the scene with a review of the geology, geomorphology, habitats, land-use, history and so on of the Tees estuary. The text reveals some wonderful names for areas of saltmarsh, wetlands, and other habitats: who would not want to visit Greenabella Marsh, Seaton Snook, Dabholm Gut or Cowpen Bewley?

Then follows a series of chapters on plants, birds (nearly 400 species recorded) mammals, and other groups of wildlife, before a final one looking at specific management projects undertaken by, and in partnership, with some of the companies. The wildlife accounts are pretty standard stuff: the comings and goings of different species, the changes in numbers, rarities, losses and gains. Each will be fascinating to those especially interested in the group concerned, but perhaps not always a gripping read.

I always look to see what is said about non-native species. In the plants chapter there is mention of biological control of the water fern Azolla filiculoides with a north American weevil, and the demise of Crassula helmsii when a pool it occupied disappeared under a spoil heap – a case perhaps of the cure being worse than the disease. Otherwise, there is a bit more balance than is often the case: some known introductions are just noted in passing, others seem not to be welcome, but the unique assemblages arising from the eclectic mixing of native, introduced and extreme condition-tolerant species are welcomed.

It is page 127 before we get to some real detail about the initiatives and projects undertaken by the companies. Amongst these are habitat creation, including pools and wildflower meadows (sometimes by recycling spoil from development activities) staff managing nature reserves on company land, and welcoming visitors to view and enjoy the wildlife.

The book certainly gives us the why, where, when and what of the INCA and its partners. These include the RSPB (who have a reserve at Saltholme) the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust, and a number of local natural history societies. The companies involved include ICI and its successors (who, with the Nature Conservancy Council, kicked everything off) Johnson Matthey, Lucite and ConocoPhillips. The public sector weighs in through local authorities, English Nature and the Environment Agency.

Well done to all of them, but it would have been good if there had been more about the how, an inside look at the nitty gritty of forming and operating the Association. There is nothing about its infrastructure or the politics and personalities involved, the difficulties addressed and overcome, the lessons learned. Something about funding would also have been useful, as would an index, if not to the many species at least to everything else. Curiously, there is a list of locations, but with grid references given rather than page numbers. So if you have the appropriate OS map you can locate places, but it is more difficult to find where they are mentioned in the book.

So, is all for the best in the best of all possible worlds? I wonder. If everything is so hunky-dory why is this still the only INCA in existence? If this one is so good, please let’s have some more.

Overall the book is a useful source of information about the wildlife of this important wildlife area. It will make a good addition to anyone’s ‘people and wildlife’ library.

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Shirley, Peter “Book review: Wild Teesside” ECOS vol. 2021, , British Association of Nature Conservationists,

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