Durham Woodland Revival will restore woodlands, reconnecting forest networks, revitalising the forestry sector and helping to lessen some of the negative impacts of climate change.
Ancient woodland is a rare habitat in the UK, today only a small fraction remains in County Durham and is mostly surviving as isolated fragments which are in poor condition. Many ancient woodlands have been changed over the years by the planting of ornamental or commercial species. These Planted Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS) often contain relics of the flora and fauna of ancient woodland.
Most of the woodlands, ancient and planted, are in need of positive management. Many of the conifer plantations from restoration schemes have received no active management or maintenance. Undermanaged woodland leads to a decline in the quality of standing material and the loss of wildlife and amenity value. Thinning, harvesting and coppicing trees opens up the woodland floor to sunlight, allowing more species to thrive.
We will manage or restore and improve the condition of at least 247ha of ancient woodland on Durham County Council land. We will restructure over 500 ha of plantation forestry on Durham County Council land, improving the biodiversity and amenity value.
The county has 6% forest cover compared to the England average of 11% and a UK average of 13%. However, there is always potential to increase this; woodland creation is desirable for habitat creation, timber production, public benefit and as a carbon sink. One of our main aims is to increase the amount of tree cover, particularly in and around existing woodlands which helps to buffer and connect habitats.
We will work with land owners to create an area of new woodland equivalent to the size of historic Durham city centre, in places that offer the greatest opportunity for improving woodland sites and forest networks, adding to the 500 hectares that has been planted since 2000. This will be achieved by supporting 19 private landowners to plant a minimum of 20ha of new woodland and 2km of connective hedgerows. Woodland Trust will plant 61 ha of new woodland across three sites, engaging 460 school children and 125 volunteers in planting activities.
Over half of the settlements covered by Durham Woodland Revival are within the top 30% most deprived areas in the country, with poor health levels of people when compared to the rest of England. Anti-social activity is a problem within many of our woodlands. Local communities would like to manage their local woods but are not sure where to start or how to do it and established groups require more specialised support.
We will support ten community groups involving 150 volunteers, to enable them to undertake sustainable and effective woodland management and each hold a mini woodland festival. A wood allotment group will be trialled; woodland archaeology projects will be undertaken on six sites and a new umbrella organisation will be established to create an ongoing network of sustainable groups.
Community based projects will attract more people into the outdoors and provide them with a better understanding of their local history, heritage and natural environment. It will increase confidence to manage local woods and will encourage people to value woodlands and hopefully view them as important resources that can contribute significantly to their quality of life.
Long term unemployment is significantly higher in our area compared to the rest of England. Small scale forestry is uneconomical, many owners no longer have the necessary knowledge, understanding or skills, and the forestry sector has an aging workforce. We will stimulate the forestry sector, contribute to the local economy and support people towards routes to employment through volunteering, training and apprenticeships.
We will support 50 private landowners to develop skills, access markets and create networks that will allow sustainable and wildlife friendly woodland management. We will offer a programme of training to community groups, giving them the skills and knowledge to manage woodlands sustainably. In collaboration with Skill Mill, eight young offenders will be trained in woodland management, supporting their access to employment. Three paid interns will work within Beamish Museum's woodlands and shadow us and partners, to gain forestry experience, better enabling them to access relevant future employment.