Stories from the North East Nature Archive: Kathleen Barratt’s diaries

Explore more treasures from the North East Nature Archive with NHSN Project Archivist, Kristopher Mckie

‘…the scene itself enchanted me. In the distance, rolling moors & forestry plantations. Nearer at hand, a couple of tractors followed by noisy [black-headed] gulls & a field more than half full of buttercups. The burn flows in a steep-sided valley, a miniature dene, with ascending bushes & trees. In the field where I sat were little groups of Viola tricolor, the tiny wild pansy of the [North East], & clumps of very deep-coloured violets.

According to Kathleen Barratt’s diary, 18 June 1979 was ‘the first really hot day of the summer’, coming on the back of an unsettled spring and a very cold winter. Out on a birdwatching walk to Nookton Burn, near Consett, County Durham, Kathleen writes about lingering longer than usual just to enjoy the warm weather and the scenery. Her account of the day tells not only of the joy she took from birdwatching – ‘…grey wagtails at last!’ – but the love she had for the landscapes and wild places of the North East.

Kathleen Barratt was a writer and lecturer with a lifelong love of birds. Born in 1911 in Liverpool, she studied literature at King’s College, Newcastle before working as a lecturer at the Northern Counties Training College. As well as teaching, Kathleen published four novels, including To Fight Another Day (1947), as well as several poems.

An extract from Kathleen Barratt’s diaries

A self-professed amateur naturalist (‘I’m not a scientist – English is my subject’) Kathleen’s lifelong love of nature and ornithology occupied much of her time. In October 1960, she enrolled on an extra-mural course on Birds of the North East with the Natural History Society of Northumbria, keeping meticulous diaries of her sightings and notes and information about different species and their habits. In 1969, what she referred to as ‘serious birdwatching’ began, and Kathleen would make multiple trips a week from her Newcastle home to different places around the North East.

Kathleen’s diaries give a remarkably personal and unique insight into the joys and travails of a passionate bird watcher, from the excitement of a sighting – ‘My first special sighting was most unexpected: a hawfinch ticking away on a tree in a garden alongside the road…’ – to the challenges of accessing remote areas on public transport – ‘The 10.30 418 started off 10 minutes late. It was the shabbiest, dirtiest old long-distance bus I had seen in some time. When I sat down in my chosen seat I sank about 3 inches…’.

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.

Share Your Story

Please help us build a picture of what nature means to people in the North East during difficult times by sharing your story about ‘Nature’s Cure in Time of Need’.

How do you connect with nature during times of need? We’d like to hear from people from all over the North East. Share your story below.

Kris McKie
Project Archivist

Kristopher is the NHSN Project Archivist for ‘Nature’s Cure in Times of Need: New Voices for North East Nature’.

A professional archivist for over 15 years, Kris has worked closely with diverse communities across the North East to explore and reinterpret local archives and shared histories.