The Kielder Forest Plans cover an area of more than 60,000 hectares in Northumberland and Cumbria, the majority of which is owned freehold as part of the public forest estate. Around 4,000 hectares are leased from the Ministry of Defence and other landowners.
The character of the forest's landscape is dominated by rolling hills, rising from the relative shelter of the lakeside to the exposed moorland edges, with Deadwater Fell and Castle Hill prominent. All the plan areas in Northumberland have in common tributary valleys running into Kielder Water, their form varying from the more intimate nature of the Lewis Burn to the wider valleys of Kielder and Bells Burn.
In the Cumbrian part of Kielder the relatively gentle slopes from west to east across Spadeadam and the rolling landscape in the south west of Kershope rise to steeper valleys and exposed moorland to the north.
Most of the forest is currently planted with conifers, primarily managed as a timber resource, although there are smaller areas of ancient woodland among the plantations. On average more than a third of the planted area now comprises younger second rotation stands. Future restocking will introduce greater species diversity into timber crops, as well as increasing the area of native broadleaved woodland.
Kielder provides habitat for many species of wildlife, and it is estimated that the forest is home to up to 75% of the Red squirrel population on the English mainland. It will be important to maintain connectivity of suitable coniferous habitat to support a viable population into the future.
Kielder Head, Kielder Moors and Butterburn Flow are designated as Sites of special scientific interest (SSSI) and lie wholly within the area covered by the plans. Parts of Kielder and Spadeadam Mires, Kershope Bridge, Birky Cleugh and Irthing Gorge SSSIs also fall within the public forest boundary. These sites are covered by separate management plans agreed with Natural England.
A significant number of sites of archaeological interest also exist within the area covered by the plans. All the scheduled sites are well documented and covered by separate management plans, which are reviewed by an independent archaeologist.
The forest is well used for informal recreation throughout Kielder, and most is dedicated for open access on foot under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act. There is an extensive formal network of cycle routes and waymarked trails, notably the Lakesideway, and picnic sites at Elfkirk, Lewisburn and Cruddies Hall. More diverse attractions include the James Turrell Skyspace installation and the recently constructed Minotaur Maze.
The environmental, social and economic objectives of forest management detailed in the plans balance conservation, landscape and recreation values with the constraints of both the current high risk of windthrow and its future management.
Clearfelling has been planned to create age separations wherever conditions permit, and where practical the opportunity to implement lower impact silvicultural systems has been taken.
At restocking opportunities are being taken to mitigate the straight boundaries of earlier planting, increase the open area, and introduce broadleaf species.
The introduction of open woodland planting along the forest edges which bound on to the open moor will mitigate the hard change from moor to forest. This will significantly enhance the potential for increasing the Black Grouse populations associated with Kielder Forest.
There are a number of border mire sites within the forest without formal designation, some of which have been planted. The aim is to reinstate these as active raised bogs as the trees are removed through planned clearfells, and so restore the mires to their former extent.
The plans outline management proposals including felling and restocking over 25 years, with felling licence approval for operations up until 2021.The planned areas of clearfelling, restocking and open space creation during the ten years to 2021 are summarised in the table below. The area of open space includes felled areas due to be regenerated over a longer period of time.
It is anticipated that there will be a gradual increase of both broadleaved woodland and open space over the next 25 years. The chart below shows the proportions at the start of the current plan period and the change over time, as well as the expected shift towards more mixed and open woodland.