In the footsteps of Kathleen Barratt: Gosforth Nature Reserve

North East Nature Archive Volunteer, Sue Vaughan, follows in the footsteps of ornithologist, Kathleen Barratt with a visit to Gosforth Nature Reserve

NHSN is celebrating the 100th birthday of the acquisition of what was to become Gosforth Nature Reserve.  In 1924 NHSN member W.E. Beck leased the shooting rights over Gosforth Park from the owners, the High Gosforth Park Company. This marked the beginning of the Gosforth Park bird sanctuary now known as Gosforth Nature Reserve.

Kathleen Barratt was a member of the NHSN from 1953 until her death in December 2003. She was an avid amateur ornithologist keeping detailed descriptive handwritten diaries of her bird sightings around Northumberland.

Kathleen visited Gosforth Nature Reserve regularly over a period of twenty years recording her sightings. Fifty years ago her diary of 1974 she described seven visits to the reserve, recording,  38 different species of bird the details of her visits were meticulously and beautifully written up.

A map of the reserve from the 1970’s shows very little in the way of facilities but in the last fifty years the reserve has had many additions and developments.  

Kathleen would now see the old tern platform has been recently refurbished with the support of a donation made in memory of former ‘Hancock Museum’ curator, Tony Tynan, and help from a large volunteer force who worked through the wettest winter since 1910 to complete the project.

The reserve has four bird hides, an eco-toilet, a Field Studies room available to groups for courses and meetings, toilets and wi-fi. The paths are more accessible with boardwalks to help avoid the mud and there are several new wooden benches on which to sit, relax, listen and observe.

Kathleen describes her visit in April as being “pleasantly sunny after the rain, wind light but still easterly”. In May she had lunch on a pleasant but increasingly windy day but by June the weather had improved and she describes it as “a summer day of the warm genial kind we have so rarely” The weather in July she describes as “sunshine at last after six drab days but still the easterly wind, now with a northerly flavour”.

On my visit in early June 2024, the weather was neither warm nor genial, it was windy and cold. This did not stop the Swallows and Swifts swooping low across the lake, just magical to see. I took time to sit in one of the hides out of the wind, to watch, reflect and enjoy the spectacle which included a sighting of a Gadwall.

At the entrance to the reserve, bird sightings can now be logged on a blackboard. The number of bird sightings listed for May was 55. Within the first two weeks of June 45 different sightings were made including Ring-necked Parakeets, our only naturalised parrot, which Kathleen would not have seen.

It was a privilege to have time to think and reflect on my surroundings away from the day-to-day noise and hurly-burly of life.

Kathleen Barratt’s birdwatching diaries are part of NHSN’s North East Nature Archive – a rich and unique collection of papers, images and artwork that document the natural environment of the North East of England, and people’s connections to it, over the last 200 years. Held at Great North Museum: Hancock, the North East Nature Archive is a testament to the joy, meaning and reflection that people have found in the natural environment of the region.

Nature’s Cure in Times of Need aims to grow this incredible archive by collecting and preserving the connections that people and communities across the North East have with nature today. We’re working to build a new collection of stories, pictures and recordings, that can help us explore the meaning, memory and feeling we attach to the natural world around us.

Whatever your story of your connection with nature and however you want to tell it, share it with us here. Your story will be preserved for future generations and could inspire others to connect with and help protect nature in the North East.

Sue Vaughan
North East Nature Archive Volunteer

Sue is a volunteer with NHSN, an outdoor enthusiast. She previously worked in the voluntary sector supporting health, physical activity and the environmental projects.