A nature lover has won the support of the Forestry Commission to help rescue a precious fragment of ancient woodland she owns in the North Pennines.
Noelle Wright, who runs her own graphic design business in Newcastle, bought four hectare (10 acre) Chapel House Wood in Allendale, near Hexham, Northumberland, six-years ago.
But now the woodland needs some tender loving care.
Native trees including oaks are being shaded out by faster growing foliage, whilst rye grass blown in from nearby fields is overwhelming wild flowers. General under-management following major timber felling in the 1990s has also left the wood a shadow of its former self.
Now the Forestry Commission has offered its expertise and a £4,000 grant to help re-invigorate the wood, working hand-in-hand with Noelle and the North Pennines AONB Partnership.
Ancient woods have been dubbed Britain’s rain forests – irreplaceable for many plants and animals. Evocative species like wood anemone and dog’s mercury are typical of their plants, while some fungi are found here and nowhere else.
But a recent report found that 43 of 94 ancient woods surveyed in the North Pennines AONB were in a poor condition. Some were overgrown, dark and moribund, while others were planted with conifers.
Noelle Wright says: “It’s daunting faced with the task of nursing the wood back to health and frankly we weren’t sure where to start and whether we should just let nature take its course, or be a lot more hands on.”
Forest chiefs and the North Pennines AONB Partnership have prescribed a course of active management, which will include removing sycamore. Horses will be used to extract timber in the spring as they can cope with the steep terrain and are kinder on ground vegetation.
Meanwhile, rye grass will be controlled and different tree species planted and allowed to regenerate naturally.
Noelle continues: “It’s the wildlife that motivates me and the chance to create a better habitat. Woodcock and tawny owls live in the wood and the green woodpecker and cuckoo are summer visitors. This place is more than a possession – it’s a passion.
“With oak, ash and juniper, there are some lovely trees to work with and this is about giving nature a sporting chance.”
Ian Everard, from the Forestry Commission, adds: “We are striving to help landowners improve their ancient woods and these grants are an important part of that. The AONB Partnership will also help the owner manage the site as part of its commitment to support the region’s oldest woods, which are key for biodiversity, and yet in many places dangerously fragmented.”
Lis Airey, The North Pennines AONB Partnership’s Woodland Officer, says: “We’re delighted that Ms Wright is tapping into the resources available to improve a fragile habitat.
“Chapel House Wood is the ideal spot to show how sensitively a woodland can be worked using forestry horses, benefiting both the owner and ecology.”
For more information about applying for grants contact the Forestry Commission on 01669 621591, or visit www.forestry.gov.uk/northeastengland