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A bid to return more of Gateshead’s woods back to their ancient roots while also helping vulnerable woodland birds has earned backing from the Forestry Commission.
Forest chiefs today earmarked grants for a range of environmental projects by Gateshead Council focused on Derwent Walk Valley Country Park and other sites including Washing Well Wood and Ryton Willows.
Part of the work will include speeding the restoration of 53 hectares (132 acres) of precious ancient woodland by removing conifers and non-native broadleaves.
Ancient woods are amongst the most important of all wildlife habitats, dating back hundreds of years, and represent an irreplaceable asset. Their restoration is a priority in the North East Regional Forestry Strategy.
A grant will also help secure the future of vulnerable woodland birds. Willow warbler, garden warbler and lesser spotted woodpecker are amongst ten species known to be present locally which will benefit from habitat improvement work. These birds have suffered major declines in the 20th century and the Forestry Commission is pioneering a ground-breaking grant scheme supported by the RSPB to improve their fortunes.
Mike Riley, Woodland Officer with the Forestry Commission, said:
“This scheme ticks all our boxes. It includes the restoration of ancient woods and it will also make the Derwent Valley an even better place for wildlife like woodland birds, while improving public access. We know that this kind of work can produce real dividends.”
The overall value of the grants – all allocated under the English Woodland Grant Scheme – is £170,000 spread over four years.
Ancient woods in Derwent Walk Valley Country Park are concentrated in Paddock Wood (15 hectares / 37.5 acres) and also in Thornley Wood (38 hectares / 95 acres), nearly half of which is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, supporting rare insects, including a nationally rare moth (Dioryctria abietella). Over four kilometres of new and upgraded footpaths will also be created and new interpretation boards erected to help visitors make the most of the park. Work on removing conifers from some of the woods is likely to start in September.
Councillor Martin Gannon, Gateshead Council cabinet member for the environment, said:
“Gateshead Council strives to find the right balance between continuing to provide the very best in modern services and facilities whilst maintaining and preserving our rich natural heritage. Therefore I am delighted to give full backing to the Forestry Commission’s help to restore forests, such as those contained within Derwent Walk Country Park, back to their former glory by reducing the number of conifers and sycamore trees. These trees were grown to be felled to provide raw material, but thrived altering the ancient biodiversity of their surroundings. removing some of the trees the balance will be redressed allowing traditional woodland species to flourish, more colourful flowers to blossom and at the same time making the area more accessible to our residents and visitors.”
Funding from the Forestry Commission is spread over four years and work on removing conifers from one of the woods – Washing Well – has just started and will take up to six weeks.
Media calls to Richard Darn on 01226 246351, mobile 0775 367 0038.