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Forest workers from Canada are taking the chilly English weather in their stride to help the Forestry Commission meet its target of planting over 3.7 million trees by hand in the North East by May.
The annual replanting programme is underway in the 73,000 hectare (182,000 acre) north east forest region, although recent ice and snow has slowed progress.
Undeterred planting teams are hard at work ensuring that woods like Kielder Forest, Northumberland, and Hamsterley Fores, near Bishop Auckland, County Durham, continue to produce valuable timber while offering wildlife a range of vibrant habitats.
This year five Canadians working for contractor Flat Cap Forestry are joining up to 45 other planters at any one time to help achieve this marathon tree planting programme. They continue a long tradition of North Americans working in Kielder.
During the second world war their countrymen came to the north east to help manage the forest while local men were away in the armed forces. Some even stayed and settled in the area.
These days their modern day counterparts are often young people looking to gain experience of different cultures and tour the world, or woodsmen picking up work before the Canadian forests are replanted later in the spring. But whether they are local or from oversees, each will need to hand plant around 1,500 each day to meet targets.
Chris Slater, from the Forestry Commission, said:
“We are producing about 450,000 tonnes of timber in our North East forests each year and the annual planting replaces trees felled and also allows us to make the woodlands even better places for wildlife and people.
“Despite the fact that we use hi-tech computers to plan the forests and take account of the needs of wildlife and recreation, planting still has to be done by hand. It’s hard work as the trees have to be planted before the weather warms up too much and tree roots become active.”
The total area of replanting is 900 hectares (2250 acres) and about 75 percent of the restocking is with Sitka spruce, a fast growing tree suited to local conditions and the main stay of future timber production. Broadleaves represent 7% of new trees and in Kielder Water & Forest Park small seed varieties like alder, birch and rowan are being preferred to maintain biodiversity whilst also creating a habitat more favourable for the endangered red squirrel, rather than its grey cousin.
But although Kielder produces 25% of all the domestically grown timber in England, forest chiefs also want to see more timber produced from the region’s private woodlands.
The market for wood fuel as a greener and more sustainable alternative to coal, oil and gas is growing and analysts predict major opportunities for north east businesses. The region is home to large consumers of woodfuel including Wilton 10 at SembCorp on Teesside and there are over 100 small to medium sized boilers providing heat to a wide range of building including swimming pools, supermarkets, offices, schools, pubs and hotels. By 2020 an additional 100,000 tonnes of wood could be produced in the region to meet this demand.
Richard Pow, from the Forestry Commission, added:
“We estimate that almost half of the region’s privately owned woods are under managed and could produce much more timber on a sustainable basis while also supporting wildife and being attractive. That would be good for the environment, the local economy and jobs. We are keen to offer grants to owners to help them manage their woodlands sustainably and produce wood for fuel and many other uses.”
For more information on woodfuel and grants in the north east go to www.forestry.gov.uk/northeastengland
NOTES TO EDITOR
The Forestry Commission 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.
Richard Darn on 01226 246351. Mobile 0775 367 0038.