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Steve’s Nature Diary

“When gorse is in blossom, kissing’s in season” or “when furze is out of bloom, kissing’s out of fashion” is a traditional saying that once would have been known, one way or the other, throughout Britain and Ireland. Gorse, also known as furze is a large, evergreen shrub covered in needle-like leaves and distinctive, coconut-perfumed, yellow flowers.

Throughout the year it can be seen in all kinds of habitats from heaths and commons to towns and gardens. Gorse scrub occurs wherever soils are light and free draining, in areas that are relatively free from severe frosts.

It is very important for birds and for invertebrates but can encroach onto otherwise valuable land and it sometimes has to be controlled to limit its extent. Large numbers of insects and other invertebrates shelter within the confines of Gorse, including multitudes of spiders whose dew-laden webs gloriously light-up misty, early mornings. Indeed, birds such as Willow Warbler habitually navigate a way through Gorse's prickly maze of branches, searching for spiders, and other insect prey, whilst Stonechats use the upper reaches as lofty perches from which to noisily “chak” territorial defiance.

When the sun is shining it is possible to find a number of insects among the masses of thorns. In fact, you can spend a good hour or two examining the Gorse bushes at Bishop Middleham Quarry looking for what you can find. One species particularly associated with Gorse is the Gorse Shield Bug. In winter they hide amongst the prickly thickets and are the colour of unopened gorse flowers, rich olive green with an eye catching yellow border to their plump bodies. It does take a while but when you get your eye in you start to see them everywhere. Later in the summer, the new generation of adults are a different colour, developing a purple red colour.

Other early insects to look out for in March include ladybirds, the Dark Bordered Bee-Fly and of course the first butterflies of the year. On sunny days in March you may be lucky enough to see a Small Tortoiseshell or Peacock, which hibernate as adult butterflies.

Download iRecord Butterflies from It’s a free app to record your butterfly sightings and send them to Butterfly Conservation.

It includes photos of all butterfly species to help beginners. Butterflies tell us so much about our changing environment because we have 400 years of spotting data; so why not download the app and let them know when you see your first butterfly of 2018.

Oxfam looking for wedding dress donations

Is your wedding dress taking up too much space? Are you a bride looking for the perfect dress with a perfect price tag? Oxfam Durham are asking members of the public to donate wedding dresses to their bridal boutiques.

The dresses on offer are priced from £150 to £700 based on their original price. The value of your wedding dress will be honoured by Oxfam to benefit the charity as much as possible. You can also choose to add gift aid to your dress meaning that the government will give an extra 25p to Oxfam for every £1 your dress is worth.

The initiative started in Glasgow when a volunteer asked designers to send donations of dresses to her house, the idea was brought to Oxfam and has resulted in 12 Oxfam stores throughout the UK having their own bridal departments including dresses, shoes, accessories and outfits for both the groom and mother-of-the-bride.

Michael Ridsdale of Oxfam Durham said: “A woman on holiday from Australia decided to spontaneously get married while in Durham. With four days’ notice the bride found her perfect wedding dress here at Oxfam. She spent hours trying on dresses to decide but finally found a dress. She was very happy and shared it with us on Facebook after the wedding.”

Donating a dress is easy. They can be donated in any Oxfam store or collected anywhere within County Durham. Information on the dress such as original cost can also help the charity honour the true value of your beloved dress to help as much as you can.

The North East is lucky to have bridal boutiques in Durham, Darlington and York. With customers able to book an appointment to try dresses and take time over their choice for the big day, Oxfam offers the experience every bride wants. The Durham store started with public donations and recently received almost 100 brand new corporate donations from ASOS, Debenhams and even men’s wedding suits from Marks and Spencer’s. Items such as Oxfam Unwrapped can also be bought from Oxfam as a thoughtful wedding present.

Instead of your wedding dress sitting around unloved why not help make memories for more brides and raise money to help people in the UK and across 70 countries in the developing world? To find out more about donating and to see the dresses available, visit:

You can contact Oxfam on or @OxfamB on Twitter.

We remember James Weir Gibbin

A hardy band of supporters came together at the war memorial on a chilly January morning, when Sedgefield LHS and the Village Veterans commemorated James Weir Gibbin, great uncle to the late Betty Amlin and her brother James Weir Jemmeson, named in his memory.

Born in Sedgefield in 1888 to John and Jane Gibbin, James was the youngest of eight siblings – four boys, four girls. His sister Elizabeth married Richard McDonald, who was killed in action on 14 November 1916. Another sister, Minnie, married Harry Billingham, who served with the Northampton Regiment.

James Weir Gibbin enlisted in Newcastle on 1 September 1914, crossed to France within that year and served with the 88th Battalion Royal Field Artillery. Promoted to Bombardier in December 1915 and corporal in August 1916, he suffered a chest wound and was hospitalised again in August 1917. He came home to marry Beatrice Maria Burrell on 15 November 1917. Two months later, on 16th January 1918, he was dead, aged 29.

He is remembered at Neuville-Bourjonval British Cemetery in France, 14 km east of Bapaume, known as the site of a major battle of WWI.

Awarded a pension of 15 shillings a week, less than £50 in today’s money, James’ wife Beattie never re-married. Born in 1887, she lived the rest of her life in Sedgefield, dying in 1979 aged 91.

Which health services do YOU think need to be reviewed?

Healthwatch County Durham exists to give everyone who uses health and social care services in the county a voice. It gathers your views on services and shares your feedback, good and bad, with those who have the power to change how services work. Now you have the chance to decide which services it focuses on next.

A list of six priority areas has been compiled, based on information gathered over the last year, and now it would like you to choose which four it investigates in 2018-19. The six areas to choose from are:
1. Mental health support services
2. Appointment systems in GP surgeries
3. Dementia support
4. Transition support (from children to adult services)
5. Patient transport
6. Dental charges and treatment
To vote for your choices, visit or call 0800 304 7039 to request a hard copy of the survey.
The deadline for voting is 31st March.

Skeletons mystery probe by Sedgefield Church Friends

Members of the Friends of Sedgefield’s St Edmund’s Church are turning detective to try and solve the mystery of the shrouded skeletons in the centuries-old building. The two skeletons, one male and one female, are depicted on brass plates displayed on the wall at St Edmund’s and are popular talking points with visitors. Little, however, is known about them. Brian Mutch, parish warden and membership secretary of the Friends, is now leading a determined bid to learn more about the mysterious figures by checking out sources it is thought may have detailed information.

He said this week: “We are aware of a document held by the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle on Tyne and one old record which says that the two figures ‘were formerly on one slab with a shield and ribbon above and with a border, probably with an inscription around the edge’ but that is really all we know.”

Brian is currently making contact with Archaeologia Aeliana in Newcastle and a London-based organisation that specialises in the history of old church brasses and hopes that this will eventually provide the information needed to allow an explanation of the skeletons to be displayed alongside the figures.

Local historian Alison Hodgson, secretary of the Friends, added: “We are asked about the origin of the skeletons on a fairly regular basis and it would be nice to have an explanation for people who visit the church.”

Why not join us for the Mothering Sunday Family Service on Sunday 11th March at 10am to see if you can spot them. This will be a less formal act of worship and as is our usual practice, daffodils will be distributed to members of the congregation. There will be refreshments after the service and time to continue the fellowship.

St Edmund’s Church lead thefts appeal

Members of St Edmund’s ancient church have launched an appeal for funds to help repair the roof of the North Transept which was recently stripped of a large amount of lead by ‘avaricious thieves’. Tne estimate for reparation puts the figure at around £30,000, though Parish warden Brian Mutch explained: “The actual amount will not be known until the architect has prepared plans and tenders have been received from a number of approved companies who specialise in church roof-repair work.”

Although the North Transept has been made temporarily waterproof (below right) organisers are anxious to make a start on a permanent repair as soon as possible to protect vulnerable 13th century roof timbers. A decision has already been taken not to re-clad the roof in lead. Instead, subject to the necessary approvals, the timbers will be covered in a special type of stainless steel which looks much like lead but is not as attractive to thieves.

Mr. Mutch said that the £30,000 repair estimate is based on repair costs to the South Transept roof when lead was stolen in a raid nine years ago. Because of that and the subsequent insurance claim for £23,000, insurers placed a £10000 payout ceiling on any future lead-theft from the building. In the latest twice-in-a-week raids in December, thieves stole all the lead from one side of the North Transept roof.

The remaining lead was then removed as a precaution against further theft and more damage to the church. Michael King, who is chairing the appeal campaign, commented: “We are confident we shall get support from people all over the county and much further afield, who appreciate the need to preserve St Edmund’s, as it is such an iconic and much-loved building.” Donations to the appeal have already been received from several local individuals and groups. Further offers of financial help can be sent to the Church Treasurer: Chris Rowsby, 36 Beaumont Court, Sedgefield, Stockton on Tees, TS21 3AH. Telephone 01740 621125. Cheques should be made payable to ‘St Edmund’s Church’ and marked ‘Roof Appeal’ on the back. The bank sort code and account number for anyone wishing to make an online payment are 20 82 18 and 90121630 (enter ‘Roof Appeal’ in the reference field).

For more information about the appeal, call Michael King on 01740 620910 or Brian Mutch on 01740 622302.

Co-op cash to help with conservation

Friends of Sedgefield’s St Edmund’s Church thank everyone who supported them in the recent Co-operative Community Fund project. The charity was awarded £1367.48 to help safeguard the future of the ancient building. The money was raised by Co-op members who nominated the Friends of St Edmund’s to benefit from spending on Co-op branded goods and services. Chairman Ron Eyeley said St. Edmund’s Church is entirely self-funded and the congregation has to work hard to raise enough money to ensure that St. Edmund’s will be here for future generations to use and enjoy."

The Friends of Hardwick are looking for a dog!

Have you an obedient dog and willing to help with a very different project? The Friends of Hardwick are looking for someone with an obedient dog to help in recreating how the recently restored duck decoy in Hardwick Park was used, from the 1750s to at least the 1890s, to catch duck for the table. The duck decoy is one of only about five left in England, and the only one in the North East; in 1800 there were over 200. Decoys are now used to ring the duck's legs for identification, rather than wringing their necks.

Ducks are naturally curious and when they see a predator, such as a fox, they will apparently keep it at a distance, but tend to follow it. The decoyman would train a dog to lure the ducks along the pipe (as the netted tunnel is known). The dog appears between a gap or ‘dog-jump’ in the screens and the ducks approach it. The dog then appears at the next gap further along the pipe, and so on.

The dog needs to be extremely obedient, able to respond to silent commands and carry out its duties without taking notice of the ducks. Dogs used in the decoys tended to be small, reddish, and fox-like with a bushy tail - though we are not going to insist on all these features! You, if you wished, could act as the decoyman ("full training would be given") or simply direct your dog from behind the screens.

Interested? Come along and see our duck decoy, with or without your dog (on a lead please - Park rules), and learn more about what is involved. Contact John Fitzpatrick on 01740 621431 or email Let’s hope Sedgefield News can help sniff out that very special friend for them! Ed.

New project to support County Durham photonics companies

NETPark, County Durham, UK – The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) and Durham University have joined forces in a project that will assist small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Country Durham to commercialise photonics and other emerging technologies through localised innovation infrastructure and commercialisation services. The project, called Spotlight, will run for three years, and is supported with funds from the European Regional Development Fund.

Photonic technologies use light for a range of healthcare applications including therapies, diagnostics, imaging and surgical interventions. This is an exciting and rapidly growing area globally, as the demand for non-invasive, cost-effective, rapid and/or personalised care and treatment rises.

There are many SMEs in County Durham with growth ambitions in the photonics area that need help with early stage proof of concept research and scaling up their technologies to accelerate commercialisation. Through this project, companies will get access to experienced senior staff at Durham University and CPI with strong track records in the research, innovation and the commercialisation process of photonics and emerging technologies. In addition, the project will offer consultation services in areas such as market assessment, health economics, regulatory and legislative matters, and specialised photonics.

The project is a collaboration between CPI and Durham University, and further expertise will be brought in to provide specialist services such as device approval. The project will work with local SMEs to understand their specific needs, find out what stage in the innovation process they are at and what assistance they require. A tailored package of practical laboratory-based work and/or support services will then be put together to help SMEs to realise their product concept or development quicker and at lower risk.

Professor John Girkin of the Department of Physics at Durham University and academic lead for the Spotlight project said: “The primary goal and key benefits of this project are to provide SMEs with support services to accelerate their technology commercialisation and into improving healthcare. This project also fits into a wider initiative benefitting County Durham by creating a healthcare photonics and medical technologies development hub in the area.”

Tom Harvey, Strategic Programmes Manager, Head of Technology – Healthcare Photonics at CPI said: “This project will drive long-term inward innovation investment into the region, in combination with CPI’s National Centre for Healthcare Photonics development at NETPark in Sedgefield. Ultimately, this is part of a vision to create a UK hub for healthcare photonics and medical technology companies to develop technologies within this field.”

The project will be launched at an event at CPI’s printable electronics facility at NETPark, Sedgefield on Thursday 22nd March. SMEs are invited to attend to find out more about this opportunity and how they can access and apply for the support available. Registration is at