Kielderhead Wildwood Helilifting

2020 has been a quiet year on the Wildwood site. At least in terms of us humans. Buzzards have continued to cry overhead; the barking of roe deer has still been heard and in general nature has carried on undisturbed. Some have even said aided by the huge turmoil that has engulfed our society. That quiet ceased abruptly at the end of October as probably the single most important event in the future practical delivery of the Wildwood planting occurred.

Until now, a dedicated and remarkable team of volunteers have turned up no matter what the weather to help carry stakes, tubes and plants, over rivers and up hills to enable us to plant the trees that will create the Wildwood. As time has gone on, they have been asked to carry them further and longer and every time they have accomplished it and we have planted our trees. But the top of that hill always looked a long way off and an ask too far.

The Wildwood site lives up to one half of its name…the rough unpredictable ground slopes steeply up from the Scaup Burn and takes those crossing through wet sphagnum beds, over thick heather and jungle like stands of bracken. To the edge of what feels comfortable and familiar, then beyond, to the wild. Now, the project aims to return what has been missing for millennia, the wood. Over 35,000 trees will be planted to create a patchwork of native scrub and riparian woodland which will grow alongside open areas of acid grassland and wet heath, creating a rich and diverse upland habitat.

So, on the 23rd October over 18,000 stakes and 7,000 tree tubes were airlifted to the most inaccessible parts of the Wildwood site. The decision to use a helicopter to take these materials onto site was not arrived at lightly and was informed by what we have learned from working on the site over the last 3 years. Balancing the aims of the project against the safety of our volunteers is paramount and the money spent to charter the helicopter will allow us to plant the trees we need, in a safe and effective way.

More complex is the justification for the use of a helicopter and its associated carbon footprint in a project which aims to counter the impact of our fossil fuel use on the climate and natural world. Here we have looked deep into the future at what the Wildwood aims to achieve over timescales beyond the project, and indeed our lifetimes. The creation of complex functioning ecosystems has the potential to counter and buffer many of the impacts of climate change. A more biodiverse habitat could cope better with the loss of some marginal species through change and even become a refuge for others.

Decreased biodiversity poses a heightened threat of reaching catastrophic tipping points through the loss of relatively fewer species. Finding ways to increase biodiversity at a landscape scale in viable and appropriate ways is therefore a priority, and one we need to find effective and efficient ways of achieving. The use of technology and machinery has a considered place in this process.

For now, the quiet has returned to Wildwood. Winter engulfs the site in a solitude it has become used to this year. The work done by eight Northumberland Wildlife Trust staff, two helicopter crew and one helicopter at the end of October means that quiet will only be disturbed again come spring when then volunteers and I venture out to pick up those stakes and tubes and begin creating our Wild Wood again.

The Kielderhead Wildwood project is a five year Lottery Heritage Fund funded project that has been running since 2018. Alongside the planting of the trees the project is developing a monitoring protocol to collect data on how the tree planting will affect the ecology of the site. We also collect seed and grow the trees we plant on site. We work with volunteers on all of these activities and offer training in the techniques required. If you are interested in getting involved, please contact steven.lipscombe@northwt.org.uk or visit www.nwt.org.uk/wildwood for more information.