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Ancient woods revival underway in north east

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View along the formal Ancient beech tree avenue of Charcoal burners

A Northumberland landowner is putting down new roots to revive an ancient woodland many hundreds of years old.

Nick Ridley, whose family has farmed the Park End Estate near Hexham for over two centuries, has become amongst the first in the North East of England to sign up for a far reaching new Forestry Commission grant scheme aimed at reversing the fortunes of the region’s oldest woodland.

Three years ago a survey revealed that over 80% of Northumberland’s ancient woods were in a poor condition, causing alarm amongst forest chiefs.

Further studies in the North Pennine AONB found that 43 of the 94 woods surveyed – 45% - also required urgent restoration.

Major threats were found to be under-management, overgrazing and planting with conifer trees in the 20th century, when the push was on to expand the nation’s timber reserves drained by two world wars.

Now the Forestry Commission has joined forces with The Woodland Trust in a project to restore such sites in Northumberland. Grants worth up to 80 per cent of restoration costs are on offer together with funding and expertise in drawing up a management blueprint and overseeing work.

For Nick Ridley it was the only incentive he needed to turn the uneconomic felling of thousands of conifers on 12 hectares of ancient woods on his land into a viable proposition. He has been allocated £33,500 over five years, with harvesting work getting underway shortly. He explained:

“Many conifers were planted on really difficult and steep terrain and getting them out isn’t going to be easy. But their removal will allow native species like ash and oak to thrive and also spark the return of ground flora associated with ancient woods. It’s really about creating a better wood for the benefit of wildlife, but the timber extracted will be put to a good use, especially for wood fuel."

The diverse operations on Nick's estate include arable and sheep farming, an electrical and plumbing business and a thriving off shoot installing eco-friendly biomass boilers, often fuelled by timber from his own woods. Estate woodchip production has soared from 400 to 6,000 tonnes in four years.

Elsewhere, £42,000 has been awarded to revive 63 hectares of ancient woods in Blubbery Woods, on the Trithington Estate, near Morpeth, and a management plan has also been agreed for 203 hectares of woodland at Netherwitton Hall, also near Morpeth.

Ian Everard, from the Forestry Commission, added:

“Ancient woods are a wonderful yet fragile habitat, formed over hundreds and even thousands of years, and vital for wildlife. But they also have a real economic value, as they can supply sustainable firewood or eventually premium hardwood timber The surveys we undertook were a call to action as many woods were found to be in a very poor condition. But there is hope because even those planted with conifers and other non native trees are still recoverable. The seed bank of flora typical of such woods remains viable for some years. But the clock is ticking and once an ancient wood is lost it’s gone for ever.  We are committed to working with partners such as The Woodland Trust to revitalise these havens of biodiversity.”

The Forestry Commission and The Woodland Trust plan to extend the scheme into County Durham, working with the North Pennine AONB Partnership. Work to assess the condition of ancient woodland in the Tees Valley is also underway, paving the way for grants to be offered here too.  Guidance and application forms can be downloaded at Further information is available by contacting your local Forestry Commission office:

Northumberland - 01669 621591

Durham and Tees Valley - 01388 488721

Notes to editor

Forestry Commission England is the government department responsible in England for protecting, expanding and promoting the sustainable management of woods and forests and increasing their value to society and the environment. Forestry makes a real contribution to sustainable development, providing social and environmental benefits arising from planting and managing attractive, as well as productive, woodlands. 

Media calls: Richard Darn on 01226 246351.  Mobile: 0750 8010411