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Wildlife fan has designs on a better wood

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Noelle Wright takes a stroll through her woodland, now set to be revived as part of a push to improve the condition of ancient woodlands in the Northern Pennines

A precious fragment of ancient woodland in the North Pennines is set to be rescued by a nature fan inspired by wildlife with support from the Forestry Commission.

Noelle Wright, who runs her own graphic design business in Newcastle upon Tyne, bought four hectare (10 acre) Chapel House Wood in Allendale, near Hexham, Northumberland, six-years ago.

But now the woodland desperately needs some tender loving care.

Native trees including oaks are being shaded out by faster growing foliage, whilst rye grass blown in from nearby fields is overwhelming wild flowers.  General under-management following major timber felling in the 1990s has also left the wood a shadow of its former self.

Now the Forestry Commission has offered its expertise and a £4,000 grant to help re-invigorate the wood, working hand-in-hand with the eager landowner and the North Pennines AONB Partnership.

Ancient woods have been dubbed Britain's rain forests – irreplaceable for many plants and animals.  Evocative species like wood anemone and dog's mercury are typical of their plants, while some fungi are found here and nowhere else.  But a recent report found that 43 of 94 ancient woods surveyed in the North Pennines AONB were in a poor condition.  Some were overgrown, dark and moribund, while others planted with conifers.

Noelle Wright explained:

“It's daunting faced with the task of nursing the wood back to health and frankly we weren’t sure where to start and whether we should just let nature take its course, or be a lot more hands on.”

Forest chiefs and the North Pennines AONB Partnership have prescribed a course of active management, which will include removing sycamore.  Horses will be used to extract timber in the spring as they can cope with the steep terrain and are kinder on ground vegetation.  Meanwhile, rye grass will be controlled and different tree species planted and allowed to regenerate naturally.

Noelle Wright continued:

“It’s the wildlife that motivates me and the chance to create a better habitat.  Woodcock and tawny owls live in the wood and the green woodpecker and cuckoo are summer visitors.  This place is more than a possession - it's a passion. With oak, ash and juniper, there are some lovely trees to work with and this is about giving nature a sporting chance.”

Ian Everard, from the Forestry Commission, added:

“We are striving to help landowners improve their ancient woods and these grants are an important part of that. The AONB Partnership will also help the owner manage the site as part of its commitment to support the region’s oldest woods, which are key for biodiversity, and yet in many places dangerously fragmented.”

Lis Airey, The North Pennines AONB Partnership's Woodland Officer, said:

"We're delighted that Ms Wright is tapping into the resources available to improve a fragile habitat.  Chapel House Wood is the ideal spot to show how sensitively a woodland can be worked using forestry horses, benefiting both the owner and ecology."

For more information about applying for grants contact the Forestry Commission on 01669 621591, or visit

Note to Editor

  1. Ancient woods are defined as being continuously forested since at least the 1600s when the first reliable maps were produced. Even where such woods are planted with conifers they can still be restored, but there is a time limit.

  2. The Forestry Commission is also working to reinstate all the ancient woodland on the public forest estate in the North East.

  3. Forestry Commission England runs the English Woodland Grant Scheme (EWGS) to protect, improve and expand our forests, as set out in the government's Natural Environment White Paper

  4. EWGS is a part of the Rural Development Plan for England (RDPE). Further information about these schemes can be found at

  5. 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. 

  6. The North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is one of the finest landscapes in the country. It was designated in 1988 and at almost 2,000 sq. kilometres it is the second largest of the 46 AONBs (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland) and is one of the most peaceful and unspoilt places in England. The purpose of designation is the conservation and enhancement of natural beauty. It lies between the National Parks of the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales, and Northumberland with the urban centres of County Durham away to the east. The AONB lies within the boundaries of five local authorities; the three counties of Cumbria, Durham and Northumberland, Carlisle City Council and Eden District Council. More information – call 01388 528801 ( or visit

  7. The North Pennines AONB Partnership is a strategic alliance of 25 public, statutory and voluntary sector bodies with an interest in the future of the AONB. The work of the Partnership is carried out by its Staff Unit. The Staff Unit takes action to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the area, to raise awareness of its special qualities and to improve the quality of life for local people. The Staff Unit is based at the Weardale Business Centre, The Old Co-op Building, 1 Martin Street, Stanhope, Co. Durham DL13 2UY. Call 01388 528801 (, visit or follow us on:

Media calls: Richard Darn on 0750 8010411