Local wildlife set to benefit as farm decides to go native

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ONE of the biggest habitat creation schemes of its kind in England is set to take root in Tynedale.

The Forestry Commission has linked-up with Natural England, Defence Estates, Northumberland National Park and farmers Matt and Judith Ridley to back a major project which will see 200 hectares (500 acres) of new native woodland planted on farmland at Blindburn, near Otterburn.

The scheme will also be a major boost for wildlife, including insects, small mammals and birds like the endangered black grouse.

Grants worth £900,000 have been pledged by the Forestry Commission over the next 30 years to pay for 200,000 trees and shrubs to be planted and nine kilometres of wooden fencing to be installed, vital to protect saplings from grazing livestock.

The project is one of the biggest supported under the English Woodland Grant Scheme in recent years.

Richard Pow, from the Forestry Commission's North-East region, said: “Less than one per cent of the Northumberland National Park is native woodland, so there’s major work to be done in expanding this incredibly valuable habitat.

“This scheme will lock up carbon as trees grow, helping meet the challenges of climate change, and provide a rich mosaic of habitats, including moorland and wet woodland.

“It’s extremely unusual to be able to get such a large scheme off the ground. But this investment will help create a greener and more sustainable future for our children.”

Although Blindburn Farm is owned by the Ministry of Defence and used for training, it is also run as a tenanted 1,758 hectare (4,395 acre) hill farm by Matt Ridley and his mother Judith.

“This is a sound option for the land in economic and environmental terms,” said Mr Ridley.

“The plan was first proposed as part of a smaller scheme to encourage the local black grouse population, but it expanded when the wider benefits became clear.

“We are one of the few farms in the area that could accommodate a scheme of this size and still remain a viable farming unit.

“This scheme wasn’t entered into lightly and it was a difficult decision to take so much land out of agricultural production. But a lot of work has been done to ensure the project goes ahead.

“As farmers we need to see the bigger picture and provide the public with what it wants and what the environment needs.”

The farm is in an Environmental Stewardship agreement with Natural England, who provide financial support for the sensitive management of the heather moorland habitat. This will continue, but in a modified form to support the planting of the new woodland.

Andy McNaught, of Natural England, added: “The planting of a major new native woodland at Blindburn Farm will create exciting new habitats for wildlife in Northumberland and looks set to provide a vital lifeline in the region for a whole range of wonderful wildlife.

“Natural England’s Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme is already helping to safeguard the special upland habitat at Blindburn Farm and this new woodland project will significantly increase and diversify the wildlife importance of the area in the future.

“Natural England is delighted to be working with the Forestry Commission, Northumberland National Park, Defence Estates and Matt and Judith Ridley to help boost the biodiversity on the farm.”

The RSPB has added its support and planting will begin this winter and take a year to complete.