Work in Progress

Managing reserves for wildlife is part of the core work of Northumberland Wildlife Trust. These reserves are places where people can come and enjoy nature on their own doorstep and provide refuges for species that have lost habitat. One such reserve is Briarwood Banks, on a tributary of the River Allen. It is one of the best examples of semi-natural ancient woodland in Northumberland. Much of the woodland had been previously under-planted with an assortment of non-native tree species such as Norway spruce and beech. I accompanied a work party, comprised mainly of volunteers, to the wood to photograph their work in action. Geoff Dobbins, the reserves manager, was on site and explained to me what was going on. This winter is the fifth in a five-winter plan to remove the non-native trees. Those people with the skills to use a chainsaw – including Geoff – get on with tree felling, while other volunteers trim the fallen trees.

A Norway spruce being sized up prior to being felled.

Once the trees are felled, they are sawn up and stacked to prevent them all ending up in the burn below. Soon, the team will return to plant native saplings in protective plastic tubes. These are planted at a high density because many are expected to fail. I could see a miniature forest of plastic tubes in the block adjacent to us, these having been planted the previous winter. Geoff is hoping that birds such as pied flycatchers and redstarts will return as the restored woodland approaches maturity.

This kind of management work is undoing environmental mismanagement of the past, but has been met with opposition in some places. Removing trees – any trees – is seen as a bad thing by some woodland users, typically dog walkers who enjoy the tree cover. These woodlands planted up with conifers are poor in biodiversity in comparison with the woodlands of oak and ash that existed before. Fortunately, there is much support for the Wildlife Trust’s long-term vision of restoring sites such as Briarwood Banks to their former glory, drowning out the voices with short-term concerns. I look forward to visiting the woodland in the spring, when the migrant birds will be back…

Opening up the canopy allows the planted salpings to take hold.

Saplings in tubes that protect them from deer.

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