RSPB Saltholme is a nature oasis situated right in the heart of the Tees Valley and is a vital home for nature. Throughout the year, Saltholme is a haven for a menagerie of wildlife.

Saltholme wet grassland - credit: David Morris

The whole site is SSSI and proposed SPA (we are part of the Teesmouth and Cleveland Coast SSSI, a mosaic of freshwater and coastal habitats, which is of interest for various nationally important features including its assemblage of wintering waterbirds). This habitat is particularly significant because areas of wet grasslands have vastly fallen in the recent past and are a vital habitat for waders and wildfowl.  Reedbeds are another of our really important habitats. As well as benefiting birds such as water rails, reed buntings and reed warblers, many insects are also reliant on reedbeds as habitat.


Water rail - credit: Lockhart Horsburgh  

In March and April, lapwings can be seen performing their weird and wonderful displays and starting to nest on the grassland. Sand martins once again fill the skies find shelter in our special nesting bank. Swallows, in addition to the sand martins, return to Saltholme and spend their time skimming across the pool surfaces, catching insects. Saltholme is home to a colony of breeding common terns, which arrive in Spring to nest on the cockleshell-covered islands in our open pools. The islands provide the ideal nesting site for these birds, as they are away from predatory mammals and accidental trampling.  During the Summer, young gadwall, pochard, tufted duck and mallard ducklings comically splash around in the water.

Common tern - credit: Mark Stokeld

Autumn sees migrant wading birds, such as black-tailed godwit, ruff and green sandpiper continue to pass through. A few scarcer birds such as curlew sandpiper, little stint, pectoral sandpiper, might just be seen as they stop off for short periods on their migration. Huge, shimmering flocks of golden plovers(are present in Autumn) and lapwings arrive to spend winter with us and can be seen around pool edges and on grassland. Waders and wildfowl such as golden plover, lapwing, curlew, wigeon, teal, shoveler and gadwall gather in their thousands, roosting and feeding across the wet grasslands and pools. One of the most awesome spectacles is seeing massive flocks of roosting birds panic and fly into the air as peregrines hunt over Saltholme. Large flocks of starlings roost in our extensive reedbeds, delighting us with their murmurations as they drop into the reeds at night. Listen out for the cacophony of sound that the starlings make in the reedbeds as they settle down for the night.

Starling murmuration - credit: Brian Clasper

Part of our job to protect these amazing habitats is to look after the wet grassland areas of the reserve both as part of the larger SSSI and SPA. This is for the benefit of the nationally important numbers of wintering wildfowl and waders including golden plover, lapwing and wigeon, which graze the grass or peck at insects, which is why it is so important to protect it.

But it isn't all here by magic...


Saving Saltholme

The wet grasslands and reedbeds here at Saltholme are not only home to a range of incredible creatures, from insects, to plants, mammals and birds. They also benefit people, by reducing flood risk to homes and businesses. The reedbeds can also benefit us by acting as a natural filter to clean up excess nutrients from the water. Sadly though, much of the wet grasslands and reedbeds in this country have been lost to human activity such as development and agriculture, and are further threatened by climate change, making this reserve vitally important for wildlife and people. That is why it is so crucial to protect the landscape here at Saltholme and the wildlife that lives in it all year round.

When visiting Saltholme, we ask that visitors stay on the marked trails, because, venturing onto the wet grasslands can cause serious disturbance to both wintering and nesting birds and reedbeds are a lot deeper than one might expect. Many of the birds here have flown thousands of miles from their breeding grounds in the Arctic to spend the autumn and winter months here. Other birds spend the spring and summer months here and use the wet grasslands to raise their families. The over-wintering birds come here to feed and ‘roost’ (rest and conserve energy). Winter is a particularly stressful time for these birds, some of which may have lost half of their body weight during migration. They need to be able to rest and feed on the grassland undisturbed, to regain condition and put on enough weight to survive the winter and make the migration back to their breeding grounds in the spring.


We can’t protect the landscape or wildlife of Saltholme without your help.

From 1 January 2020, we’re making some changes.


Car parking charges will be replaced with per-person entry fees for non-members. These will be as follows:

  • £3.00 adult
  • £1.50 child (first child and under 5s free)
  • £2.00 student

A child is classed as anyone under the age of 18. The first child in any group is free (as are any under 5s).

For example, if you have two adults and one child, you would pay for the two adults and the child is free.

If you have two adults and three children, you would pay for two adults and two children, as the first child is free.

Entry to the shop and cafe only will still remain free.

RSPB members will of course receive free entry as a thank you for regularly supporting our nature conservation work – why not join the RSPB today and get free entry to all RSPB nature reserves.

If you would be interested in volunteering for us at Saltholme, there are many different opportunities for you to get involved in. You can get involved by helping on our conservation work parties, welcoming visitors in our visitor centre or becoming a guide in our hides. If any of these opportunities interest you, then we’d love to hear from you:

  • I’ve known about this for quite a few weeks, as saw the new admission structure for non-members on the main RSPB website in the details about visiting Saltholme. I think this very fair for admission to Saltholme for non-members as lots of other RSPB reserves with similar facilities cost a lot more for admission for non-members.