June 21, 2008

Putting Conservation at Top of the Tree

THE latest step in a drive to protect the last areas of ancient woodland in the North East took place yesterday amid one of the best examples of the habitat in the region.

The Forestry Commission staged a workshop at Allen Banks in Northumberland to give land managers a chance to comment on proposed guidelines on protecting ancient woodland.

Ancient woods are defined as those marked on the earliest reliable maps, which date to the early 1600s.

In reality, many of these are much older by hundreds, or perhaps even thousands of years. The oaks, ash and other native trees at Allen Banks support a rich eco-system of plants, birds and insects, forming part of the largest area of ancient woodland in the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

A long-term project is under way by the National Trust to restore this habitat, supported by Forestry Commission grants. The North East has 30,000 acres of ancient woodland. This is equivalent to just over one per cent of the region's land area - the lowest figure in England. By comparison, the figure for the South East is 7%.

The study, the first of its kind in England, undertaken by the Forestry Commission on behalf of the Northumberland Native Woodland Partnership, assessed all 665 ancient woodlands in the county and 45 of the most important woodlands across the North East.

Furthermore, in the North East about one third of what remains of ancient woodland has been re-planted to varying degrees by non- native trees and conifers like pines, spruce and larch.

Mostly this occurred in the 20th Century in the rapid push to expand the nation's depleted timber reserves, drained after two world wars.

However, since then priorities have changed and conservation is now at the top of the tree. Brendan Callaghan, regional director for the Forestry Commission in the North East, said: "Ancient woodlands represent one of our greatest ecological assets."

Last year, the Forestry Commission earmarked pounds 46,000 in grants to restore 26 acres of ancient and native woodland in the region. One of the largest restoration projects in the North East is now under way at Holystone Wood, near Rothbury.

The Forestry Commission is removing conifers to give a new lease of life to ancient oaks, allowing light to reach the forest floor to promote regeneration and invigorate woodland plant growth.

(c) 2008 The Journal - Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.