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One of the biggest habitat creation schemes of its kind in England is set to take root in Northumberland.
The Forestry Commission has linked-up with Natural England, Defence Estates, Northumberland National Park and farmers Matt and Judith Ridley to back a major project which will see 200 hectares (500 acres) of new native woodland take root on possibly England's remotest farm at Blindburn, near Otterburn.
Wildlife will get a huge boost, say experts, including insects, small mammals and birds like the endangered black grouse.
Over the next 30 years grants worth £900,000 have been pledged by the Forestry Commission.
More than 200,000 trees and shrubs will be planted and nine kilometres of wooden fencing installed, vital to protect saplings from grazing livestock.
The project is one of the biggest supported under the English Woodland Grant Scheme in recent years.
Richard Pow, from the Forestry Commission's North East region, said:
"Less than one per cent of the Northumberland National Park is native woodland, so there's major work to be done in expanding this incredibly valuable habitat. This scheme will lock up carbon as trees grow, helping meet the challenges of climate change, and provide a rich mosaic of habitats, including moorland and wet woodland. It's extremely unusual to be able to get such a large scheme off the ground. But this investment will help create a greener and more sustainable future for our children."
Blindburn Farm is owned by Defence Estates (part of the Ministry of Defence) and used for training, but it is also run as a tenanted 1,758 hectare (4,395 acre) hill farm by Matt Ridley and his mother Judith.
Matt Ridley explained:
"This is a sound option for the land in economic and environmental terms. The plan was first proposed as part of a smaller scheme to encourage the local black grouse population, but it expanded when the wider benefits became clear. We are one of the few farms in the area that could accommodate a scheme of this size and still remain a viable farming unit. This scheme wasn't entered into lightly and it was a difficult decision to take so much land out of agricultural production. But a lot of work has been done to ensure the project goes ahead. As farmers we need to see the bigger picture."
Blindburn is within the buffer zone of the nearby Kidland Forest Red Squirrel Reserve. Trees producing small seed offer relatively better havens for reds than greys so Scots pine, birch, rowan, alder, willow, hazel, hawthorne and ash will be planted. Streamside planting will also help maintain water quality and local businesses will benefit through planting and fencing work.
The farm is also in an Environmental Stewardship agreement with Natural England, who provide financial support for the sensitive management of the heather moorland. This will continue in a modified form to support the new woodland. In total over a third of the new wood's area will be heather moorland and open space and archaeological features will be protected, whilst hill top summits remain unplanted.
Andy McNaught, Lead Adviser Land Management with Natural England, added:
"The planting of a major new native woodland at Blindburn Farm will create exciting new habitats for wildlife in Northumberland and looks set to provide a vital lifeline in the region for a whole range of wonderful wildlife. Natural England's Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme is already helping to safeguard the special upland habitat at Blindburn Farm and this new woodland project will significantly increase and diversify the wildlife importance of the area in the future. Natural England is delighted to be working with the Forestry Commission, Northumberland National Park, Defence Estates and Matt and Judith Ridley to help boost the biodiversity on the farm."
Andrew Miller from the Northumberland National Park Authority said:
"Partnership has been the key to the success of this scheme. The National Park Authority works very closely with farmers and partner agencies to take a balanced approach to land management. This ensures we jointly deliver social, environmental and economic benefits from this very special area."
The RSPB has added its support and planting will begin this winter and take a year to complete.
Note to Editor
- The Government commissioned Lawton Report warned that fragmented habitats posed a danger to biodiversity. The Blindburn scheme will address this concern by creating 'wildlife corridors' allowing animals to move easily through the landscape and avoid becoming isolated.
- A decade ago the Forestry Commission sealed an agreement with the Northumberland National Park Authority to increase native tree cover and boost biodiversity. Since then forest chiefs have supported 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) of new planting with grants.
- The English Woodland Grant Scheme is part of the Rural Development programme for England 2007-2013 which is jointly funded by Defra and the European Union. The RDPE aims to deliver targeted support to rural businesses, the natural environment and communities. It is managed in the region by One North East, Natural England and the Forestry Commission. For more information contact 01669 621591, or go to www.forestry.gov.uk/NorthEastEngland
- 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 to Richard Darn on 0750 8010411.