Northumberland sites chosen for major wild forestry projects

A nationwide venture to create wild forest areas will see the biggest of the projects take place in Northumberland.

Forestry England will help nature transform more than 8,000 hectares of land in four areas, with Kielder chosen for the most ambitious measures in taking a new approach to managing woodland landscapes. Wild Kielder, the name for the project area, will focus on the East Kielder forest area and Kielderhead Moors, covering at least 6,000 hectares – 10% of the total Kielder Forest.

Forestry England will restore a fully-functioning upland ecosystem by expanding native woodland and scrub and creating more open habitats including restoring peatland and natural water courses. The project will balance nature-first approaches alongside sustainable wood production.

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Kevin May, Forestry England’s forest management director for North England, said: “In the context of Kielder – a large productive working forest, we will create an exemplar of modern forestry that moves the sector forward. We will have forests that can fully deliver for climate, for biodiversity, for people’s health and wellbeing and maintain a productive element so it can be financially resilient going forward.”

The aim is that letting nature take the lead will, over decades, create valuable habitats for wildlife and, longer term, biodiversity benefits will spread out across other forests and the wider countryside. Nature recovery actions may include reintroducing lost wildlife including butterflies, rare plants, pine martens and beavers, ‘rewiggling’ rivers, introducing wilder cattle and planting wetland woodland.

There will be a wider use of tree species, and a mix of grasslands, fens, and heath with less intervention so that natural processes will play a greater part in shaping the landscape. Forestry England has experience of working on a landscape scale to restore nature through its Wild Ennerdale project in the Lake District which has run for the last 20 years.

Andrew Stringer, Forestry England head of environment, said: “There is an exciting unpredictability about starting this work in our four wild areas. We simply don’t know exactly how each of them will change over time or the detail of what they will look like.

“We are confident that whatever happens these areas will become more nature-rich, with benefits for neighbouring landscapes. Over time the benefits will be enormous in terms of climate resilience, reversing biodiversity loss, providing greater natural capital benefits to society such as natural flood mitigation, soil health, air quality and carbon storage.”

The wild areas work is being supported by Defra’s biodiversity funding, with partner Forest Holidays contributing funding over five years toward creating the wild area in Kielder Forest.

Andrew Brook, director of sustainable growth at Forest Holidays, said: “We’re proud to be investing in our wild landscapes and supporting Forestry England’s innovative science-based approach to understand and support the UK’s biodiversity. This new way of managing forest landscapes will create bigger, better, and more connected habitats.”