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Take a walk that unlocks the lough; Special path opened up to natural lake.

Byline: Tony Henderson

APROJECT has been completed to allow more people to enjoy Northumberland's largest natural lake set against a backdrop of Hadrian's Wall.

A 500-metre boardwalk has been built to improve public access to the remote Greenlee Lough, which being north of the Wall offers a barbarian's view of the frontier. Greenlee is designated as a site of special scientific interest, a national nature reserve and a European Special Area of Conservation, making it one of the most important areas of biodiversity in Britain and Europe. The new route there has been opened by Tony Gates, chief executive of Northumberland National Park Authority, and Rob Aubrook, Natural England's North East director.

The boardwalk links the lough to the public road via a new footpath through farmland, which has been made possible through Higher Level Stewardship funds managed by Natural England.

It is intended that this access will protect the sensitive environment of the lough while encouraging visitors with a particular interest in nature to divert from the Hadrian's Wall national trail.

The 195 hectares of the Greenlee Lough site includes the 45-hectare lake and adjoining areas of reedbed and fen, raised peat mire and wet woodland. It is owned and managed by Northumberland National Park.

The shallow open wetland is an important staging post for winter migrating birds and visiting osprey, and is home to otters, the rare native white-clawed crayfish, and unusual aquatic plant life.

The large heath butterfly lives and breeds amongst the flowers and grasses of the bog and warblers and buntings prosper in the reeds and woodland.

With additional funding from Natural England, the boardwalk was constructed by ranger Mick Bolton and trainees from the authority's Traditional Skills training scheme.

The signposted footpath is the latest in a number of enhancements to the lough site.

Since it bought the land in 1991, the park authority has re-wetted the mires, increased the native woodland, arranged for stock to be excluded from the sensitive areas and provided a bird hide on the lake for visitors.

Greenlee is approximately three miles north-west of the park visitor centre at Once Brewed and Steel Rigg car park.

Mr Gates said: "We are keen to encourage people to better appreciate and value the natural wonders of Northumberland National Park - and their importance to the public - through managed nature-based tourism and educational visits.

"For example, as well as being a haven for wildlife, carbon roughly equal to the annual emission of 10.5m average cars are locked into the soils of the national park in bogs and fens like this one at Greenlee. Our natural areas are worth looking after for the numerous benefits they provide to society."

Mr Aubrook said: "We are delighted to help support the work done at Greenlee Lough which now enables people to extend their visitor experience to include the amazing natural and geological heritage that runs along the Hadrian's Wall corridor and walk where the Romans once walked before them.

"With 2010 being the International Year of Biodiversity, this new path opens up an extra dimension to visitors drawn to the historic environment by offering them the opportunity to truly get closer to nature and their natural heritage."

NATURE'S REFUELLING STATIONS THE loughs - or freshwater lakes - north of the central section of Hadrian's Wall are vital refuelling stopovers for wintering arctic-nesting birds.

Broomlee, Crag and Greenlee loughs are all favoured watering holes where the birds dabble and graze the wet grassland.

Whooper swans, a range of geese including greylag, white fronted, pink footed and barnacle, and ducks such as goldeneye, goosander, pochard, wigeon and teal can be seen on the loughs.

Some are passing through en route to the Solway estuary or Ireland. Others move around the north of England until conditions improve in early spring when they begin to make their way back to Scandinavia and the arctic circle to breed. Migration is triggered by changes in daylight hours. Most birds return to the same places each year, and many wintering wildfowl fly 3,000km from places like Greenland and Spitsbergen in the Svalbard archipelago.

CAPTION(S):

OPENED UP Greenlee Lough in Northumberland is an important habitat. TREADING THE BOARDS Rob Aubrook, left, and Tony Gates.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 7, 2009
Words:701
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