Located approximately 2 miles to the west of Hamsterley village, the majority of Hamsterley forest freehold was purchased in 1927 with the addition of Dryderdale/Knitsley in 1974. The long ownership of the forest is demonstrated by the majority of the trees planted being second or subsequent rotation, with only 16% being first rotation crops.
Of the total 2203ha area approximately 1917ha is managed and 286ha is permanent open land. In addition to the productive woodland the managed area also includes 46ha of agricultural land, 43ha of unproductive/unplantantable and 24ha consisting buildings, car parks and permanent picnic sites.
The current species composition is mostly conifer, a mixture of spruce, pine and larch with Sitka spruce dominant. The location of these species tend to reflect the soils and exposure of the site with spruce generally being sited on the less fertile and more exposed sites at higher elevations, with the other conifers and broadleaves being planted on the less exposed lower elevation sites within Hamsterley.
Hamsterley was planted predominantly from the mid 1920’s onwards and the majority of these early plantings have since been felled. A program of felling and restocking has been underway since the early 1980’s and the forest is now moving into its third rotation as some of these plantations are approaching economic maturity. Much of the remaining original forest is being managed through Continuous Cover Management or Long term retention.
Two statutory designated sites (SSSIs) are located within the forests covered by this plan, these being Low Redford Meadows and Frog Wood, which are also covered by detailed management plans agreed with Natural England. The Hamsterley complex is bounded to the North and West by the Bollihope SSSI and the North Pennines AONB. Remnant areas of ancient semi natural woodland and ancient replanted woodland are identified on the provisional register of ancient woodland.
The maintenance of the remnant semi natural sites is an aim of management, as is the conversion of the ancient replanted woodland sites to native broadleaf species. Where practical it is our aim to convert these replanted sites to native species through continuous cover.
No Scheduled archaeological sites are present within the plan area, though a number of unscheduled sites are located in the forest.
Hamsterley is a significant recreational resource in the area and forms one of the top visitor attractions in County Durham, receiving some 180,000 visitors annually. The recreational provision includes an Information Centre and shop, Forest Drive & picnic sites, classroom, cafe, children’s play area, way marked trails (walking cycling and horse riding) and an extreme downhill bike course.
Our aim is to create a more diverse and resilient woodland, with a greater range of species and habitats. The objectives of management here are:
- Maximise the value of sustainable timber production through the implementation of the harvesting and restocking plan
- Establish quality hardwoods in some areas.
- Manage a proportion of the forest as Continuous Cover to improve species diversity and age structure.
- Introduction of open woodland planting along upper forest edges which bound open moor to benefit species such as black grouse that utilise such habitat.
- Continuous cover management will provide opportunity for wider species and age class structure.
- Protection of SSSI features through appropriate management in accordance with agreed management plans with Natural England.
- Maintain Hamsterley as an important destination for our visitors.
- Improve internal and external views through restructuring and restocking with a diverse mix of conifer species and native broadleaves.
The proposals in this plan will lead to a more diverse and resilient woodland, with a greater range of species and habitats providing long term sustainability and greater resilience to potential pests and disease. Substantial areas of alternative conifer species will have been established, and the range of broadleaved species will have been extended.
Timber production will continue through a clearfell/restock regime with the focus on Sitka spruce towards the higher elevations in the west of the forest with a much broader range of conifer species and broadleaves at the lower elevations towards the east. The establishment of a broader suite of commercial species, including quality hardwoods will provide long term sustainability and the development of broadleaves will offer potential for local woodfuel markets. This strategy will also contribute toward climate change mitigation and long term forest resilience. Continuous cover management, mostly around areas of highest recreational activity will provide marketable timber whilst protecting the internal and external attractiveness of the woodland.
The current plan outlines management proposals including felling and restocking over several decades, with felling licence approval for operations up until 2025.
The areas due to be clear felled and restocked during the ten years to 2025 are summarised in the table below. The majority of the woodland will be managed as continuous cover through regular thinning every 5 to 7 years.
The proportions of spruce, pines, other conifer species and broadleaved woodland at the beginning of the plan period are shown in the bar chart. There will be a reduction in spruce and pine with a gradual move to a more diverse range of species over time as indicated in the right hand columns of the chart. Due to the risk of Phytophthora ramorum disease larch will not be a future component of the forest.