There are many elements of Dunston Staiths that need to be teased out. One interesting aspect of the site has occurred because it is no longer in use for industrial purposes and so there are two areas that are important local wildlife sites: the River Tyne Tidal Mudflat and the River Team Saltmarsh.
The basin on the near side to the river bank is silting up because the River Tyne is no longer dredged.This has created large mudflats. Because the site is relatively undisturbed, a number of birds roost here during the winter months. They feed off the mudflats and they also use Dunston Staiths as a protective structure. Again, some of the birds are quite rare to this region including the Golden Plover and Lapwing. It is interesting how nature can take back over places once human activity ceases. It means that if the structure is brought back into use for people, ecological concerns will have to be balanced against human concerns.
Saltmarshes are a habitat particular to coastal or tidal areas. They begin as mudflats in sheltered areas (such as Dunston Staiths provides). Sediment builds up and nature then takes over with plants growing. The more plants that come, the more that sediment becomes trapped and the more stable the mudflats become. The River Team Saltmarsh at Dunston Staiths derives from the former industrial uses of the site and the fact that the River Tyne used to be dredged. There are not many examples of this habitat in the north-east and some of the plant species at Dunston Staiths include wild celery, sea aster, saltmarsh grass and wild carrot.
During the Gateshead Garden Festival in 1990, this part was known as the “Saltmarsh Garden”. During this time, some of the land was enhanced with some further planting, including the common reed. Unfortunately, this is an invasive plant, which is strangling the natural plants that exist there. At present, it is not very well-looked after.
The Durham Wildlife Trust prepared an Ecological Enhancement Plan for Dunston Staiths and so the saltmarsh will be restored as part of the wider Heritage Lottery Fund project to restore Dunston Staiths.