Returning to Kielder Wildwood

For the first time in three years there was no planting activity on the Kielderhead Wildwood site through April, May and June. This is the longest I have been away from site in that time too. As I returned there on Friday, I found myself reflecting on the project and what has been achieved so far.

It feels these last few months have provoked much introspection and evaluation of our lives and how we work; I have been no different. And so, as I drove down the winding forest tracks to it, I pondered on what the Wildwood stands for and why the Trust, their partners and all the volunteers, have worked so hard to create it.

The valley opens up in front of you as you round one last bend of the Scaup Burn and you look up to the border ridge, no more than a mile in the distance. Sitka blocks still bound the site to the west and the south east, but as you look along the valley, what you notice most is the natural willow scrub following the gently meandering burn to its headwaters. These willow, mainly goat and eared, strike off from the Scaup in places to follow wet flushes up the hillside. A handful of other mature native trees dot the site, most strikingly the Scots pine at the burn’s edge halfway up the site.

I planned to walk the site from south to north along what will become the permanent bird and reptile monitoring transect. This wandering line takes in the whole site, crossing the burn twice and snaking its way up the hillside through the varying habitats and vegetation types. It also took me through the willow scrub, across the flowering heather and also, poignantly, through the previous years’ planting. It was at this point, I stopped and looked around me. In every ‘patch’ of planted trees I could see young trees beginning to emerge from the tops of their tubes, in some cases they were three or four foot beyond the tops. Flat tipped and rich green alder interspersed with the delicate, pointed and paler birch.

It was clear then to see what was being created, I could picture the trees in 10 years as thickets of woodland among the heather clad hillside, a statuesque standpoint to the willow scrub. I could feel the air shifted by the naturally altered topography and imagine new ground flora finding niches in the shade and leaf litter humus below. The project hopes to create a richer variety of habitats to promote a gain in biodiversity, it hopes to do it over five years for something that will grow and mature over 100. But here, three years in, I could already feel this process happening. 

My mind then went to the work still to be done. 18,000 trees to be planted, 18,000 more trees means 18,000 more tubes that will need to be removed one day – we desperately need a viable and sustainable alternative to plastic. 100 hectares of planted habitat that needs to be monitored to generate the data that shows the impact the habitat creation is having on biodiversity. 

We need to share all of this with the local community so they know what they have gained. We also need to shout about this far and wide so other people and communities look and think that they too could do this. And we need to celebrate the people who have made this possible; staff, partners, the National Lottery players and in particular our volunteers.

We will be planting again one day, but in the meantime, there may be ways to get involved in the coming months. If you would like to know more, think you can help or get involved please contact me steven.lipscombe@northwt.org.uk