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Issue 4 • Summer 2014

Inside p2-3 News from the valley forestry and moths

p4-5 HOLIDAY cottages thank you, robson green

p6-7 WONDERFUL in white our great wedding venue

Winning View p8 nature - wild goats and barn owl chicks


n our last issue we asked you to send us your favourite photographs of the valley. Thank you to all of you who took the trouble – it was great to see your superb shots. Best of all, we felt, was this one, by Jan Cunningham, of Downash, East Sussex, who spent a week in June at the Old Schoolhouse, which can just be seen in her picture. She said: “I walked up the road and into the field after spotting the buttercups. The clouds came and

went and I spent over an hour sitting there catching the light on the hills with my camera – sheer heaven. “Apart from being a photographer’s dream, the valley is peaceful and restful. Sitting outside the cottage, seeing the buzzards soar overhead and watching the hares all adds to the wellbeing you feel.” Please email your best College Valley picture to Colin Matheson on and we may be able to feature it in a future newsletter. 

SIGNS OF PROGRESS ALL AROUND The early evidence suggests that land use changes in the valley are working


elcome to the fourth issue of our newsletter. In our last issue, we reported substantial changes to the system of land management at the southern end of the estate. Instead of managing our most ecologically sensitive areas primarily for food production, the board took the decision to alter our objectives on these parts to protect and enhance the rare botany as a priority.

The resident (hefted) sheep at the Cheviot end of the estate have been gone about 18 months, replaced by stock that are released to the hill between April and October. At around the same time we started to monitor the botany intensively, as described on page 3, in order to ensure that our new system delivers the results that we would like. We are delighted to report that we are

already detecting changes in the flora on the Cheviot. Regular walkers along the Lambden Burn, close to Goldscleugh, might have noticed an explosion in the amount of bluebells this spring – see picture overleaf. The sharp-eyed visitor to the hill will also have seen that the most recently burnt areas continued on page 2

Tree transformation Changes in the approach to forestry are dramatically improving the valley


ur forest estate continues to develop. On purchase in 1953 there were just a few acres of woodland on the estate. Between 1960 and 1970 some 1,600 acres of mainly mixed coniferous plantations were established, some of them in remote, inappropriate and inaccessible places. These woodlands have been managed on a commercial basis over the years with much thinning of trees done between 1980 and 2010. Apart from the sparse semi-ancient woodland on the east side of the valley, there were virtually no broadleaved trees. Many of the coniferous trees are now nearing maturity and the policy of the estate’s directors is to clear fell the final crops of trees in the remoter plantations and, without repeating mistakes of earlier years, to replant areas of similar size with native broadleaved trees but in more appropriate places, principally along the valley floor. No felling can be undertaken legally without a felling licence issued by the Forestry Commission. One of the conditions of granting a licence is that replanting is carried out, not necessarily with the same tree species and not necessarily on the same area of ground. As you enter the valley you will notice that the ugly, large triangular-shaped plantation that once stood on the hillside over to the left has disappeared. Next year the lower

slopes only will be planted, not with sitka spruce but primarily with native broadleaved trees as a continuation of the natural woodland that extends southwards from here. Opposite Goldscleugh you may spot a sophisticated tree harvesting machine working, felling Foulburngair plantation. This is a 20-hectare sitka spruce woodland surrounded by open heather moorland. Some 36,000 trees are being felled, which will produce 9,000 tonnes of timber, all of which has to be transported to different markets down four miles of private single tracked roads originally constructed for use of horse and cart. Instead of replanting this same woodland with coniferous trees, a similar area of native broadleaves will be planted in various loca-

tions along the valley. Foulburngair will be returned to open moorland as it was some 60 years ago. Once this forest plan has been completed over the next five years, the estate will retain about 900 acres of valuable commercial coniferous woodland, which will be managed to produce a regular income for the estate, while providing essential habitat to wildlife, particularly our native red squirrel. This will be complimented by about 1,200 acres of broadleaved woodland. We hope that this balanced approach to forestry will provide a mixed woodland estate that will both be commercially viable and have high ecological credentials.  Colin Matheson, Land agent

continued from page 1

of heather, now ungrazed in winter and early spring, are recovering at a rate several times that seen under the previous management system. It is too early to say for sure whether reduced and targeted grazing will have a similar positive effect on the rare and sensitive sub-alpine species at higher altitudes, but the signs are good. Elsewhere, the never-ending task of estate maintenance continues. No one involved can be anything but amazed at the effort by Colin Matheson and Stephen Crees, and their helpers, in keeping the ship on an even keel. The board tries not to gild the wonderful lily for which we are responsible by over managing, but the exercise reminds me of Dolly Parton’s comment: “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap!” Finally I would like to apologise for the inevitable increase in traffic due to our forestry operations. The felling is necessary not only to allow the estate to take its harvest, but also to let us manage many of these areas in a more sympathetic way in the future in terms of both wildlife and landscape. We hope that you will consider any delays worth it in the long run.  John Cresswell, Chairman, College Valley Estates page


Newsletter of the College Valley Estate Issue 4 • SUMMER 2014


he unspoilt nature of the College Valley should ensure that there is a long list of both butterflies and moths to be spotted. But few surveys have been carried out and we are only now starting to get a feel for what could be out there. One notable butterfly is the large heath, found on the blanket bogs in late May and June. Another is the specked wood, found in Harrow Bog. Species that have not been discovered here yet include the purple hairstreak (which lives on oak), green hairstreak (on bilberry) and small pearl-bordered fritillary (in beds of bracken with violets). Many of the common butterflies are

found in good numbers when the sun is shining. We have only started to scratch the surface with the moths. Day-flying moths include the emperor, fox, northern eggar and chimney sweeper, all relatively common during their flight periods. A moth trapping session in June 2013, close to Sutherland Hall, produced 215 moths of 43 species, including eight barred umbers. This was only the second record for north Northumberland and the first since 1972. Who knows what else is out there? ď Ź George Dodds


all a-flutter

Above: A barred umber moth.

plants in focus

Vegetation and habitats in College Valley are the subject of close study


ollege Valley contains a variety of habitats, from the woodlands and grasslands of the valley floor to the heather moorlands and arctic alpine habitats of the summits and cliffs, and detailed study of vegetation in the area is under way. Consultants, rather than volunteers, were asked to do the field work to ensure that the data would be consistent enough to detect change reliably. It was immediately clear, as in most upland valleys, that altitude was the key environmental factor. This variable has the major advantage that it is readily available in digital form and could be accessed by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. It was decided to apply the principles of the procedure used successfully in recording vegetation for almost 30 years in the Countryside Survey, and to adapt it for College Valley. George Dodds and Anna Caine were taken on to do the field work. Firstly, it was decided to site plots in a dispersed random configuration within the centre of ten equal area divisions of the 16 strata, giving a total of 160 plots. It was decided to use 100 square metres as the plot area as this size had been found to be more convenient for some users than the 200 square metres used for the Countryside Survey.

All vascular plants, together with their percentage cover, were recorded. Lastly, for providing a record of the landscape, four pictures were taken at the cardinal points of the compass. A training course was held for George and Anna, who were anyway experienced in recording vegetation, so that it was only gaining familiarity with the plot layout that was needed. Priority was given to those strata most likely to change. Recording was slow at first, but this has speeded up with more experience. Results have been presented and discussed at steering group meetings and have been well received. After the second season a workshop was held in Cumbria to discuss the analysis of the data. These statistical analyses will first define the characteristics of the strata in terms of vegetation structure, environmental factors and species. When the plots are repeated, statistically significant changes in these parameters will be determined and their importance to policy assessed. A further meeting is planned as well as a field visit in the coming summer. ď Ź Bob Bunce, Estonian University of Life Sciences Claire Wood and Simon Smart, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology page


Thank you, Robson Green

Northumberland’s starring TV role – and upgrades to the valley’s cottages – mean the holiday business is booming


he College Valley’s holiday houses are much in demand – and thanks may be due to Robson Green. Certainly the team at holiday cottage agency Northumbria Byways are talking about the “Robson Green effect”, and we had an upturn in bookings early this year when Mr Green was on television extolling the virtues of Northumberland. The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed the valley appearing during the opening credits of each programme – and my elder daughter’s wedding in June at the Cuddystone Hall played a part in that. Some friends, whose company, Horizon AP, flies remote-controlled helicopters with cameras suspended beneath them, were there and they asked whether they could use some of the footage of the valley for the Robson Green series. If you blinked you’d miss it, but it was good to be in there none the less. Weddings have been increasing in number, thanks to Catherine Crees’s great efforts, and a knock-on effect of that has been a number of people taking the whole valley for a weekend. Four houses, the hall and the bunkhouse makes for quite a party. Hats off to Pat and Jeff for coping with the added changeovers and to Ros for helping out when necessary. The Schoolhouse has been on a lower tariff than the other houses, but it appeared to be page


less in demand. It appears that people prefer to pay a little more and get a little more. To this end we have replaced the twin beds in the big bedroom with a super king-sized bed, complete with linen headboard and ‘pillow-top’ mattress. The inspiration came from a stay my husband and I had in a hotel with the most comfortable beds we had ever slept in. I got details and now we have the same mattresses here at home. The bathroom at the Schoolhouse, which was a little bare, now has underfloor heating, a power shower and a much more luxurious feel. Kinder to a guest on a cold morning – or evening, for that matter. Outside, we are putting kennels into the old dairy with insulated sleeping boxes so that the many people who bring their dogs and prefer to kennel them have more choice. The most dogs for one booking we have had to date was 14 for a dog training weekend, the majority at Dunsdale with overflow at the Schoolhouse. None of the dogs were inside – six stayed in the kennels and the rest in vehicles. There has been much debate about television and internet at the houses, and thank you to the many guests who responded to a questionnaire on our website. The upshot is that we have installed satellite broadband at Dunsdale; the voting was interesting and the

emails I received about the subject even more so. Very nearly 50 per cent of people wanted no change i.e. neither television nor internet; of the rest 21 per cent were in favour of television, 14 per cent in favour of both and just over 30 per cent in favour of broadband. The data allowance is small and the speeds are not amazing but emails are not a problem. The vast majority of the emails I received on the subject were from women – wives and mothers – saying “please don’t, we find it difficult to get our boyfriend/husband/ children away from a screen and it is something that we love”. At least the lady whose husband drove to Wooler every day of their

Newsletter of the College Valley Estate Issue 4 • SUMMER 2014

seeing stars


Improving all the time: Dunsdale, left and right, now has satellite broadband, while the Schoolhouse, below, has a new bed, upgraded bathroom and newly tidy wood

stay to check his emails will see more of him. Team Crees has been into the rather scruffy bit of wood below the Schoolhouse and taken out the falling-apart fence, bedsteads, an engine, an old fire grate, boots, bits of wire and sundry other items, after which they took down the leaning trees and cut up and removed the fallen ones. It now looks as though it will be quite pretty in a little while. Friends stay at one or other of the houses occasionally and I get feedback from them about what is missing or not working or just not quite right and I am very grateful for it. It is impossible for a complete inventory check to be done at every changeover so inevitably

we don’t always realise things are not as they should be. If, during your stay, you notice something is missing or broken please let me know, and if you accidentally break something please tell us so that we can repair or replace it. We’re delighted to see many familiar names among the bookings. Do keep coming – the valley is always happy to welcome you and if you suddenly have a few days and fancy a break give me a call and we will see if we can find you somewhere.  Jane Matheson, Holiday cottages manager

For further details of accommodation in the College Valley, see To book online and for prices and availability go to or call our holiday cottages manager Jane Matheson on 01890 830 302

t’s official! College Valley, and the rest of the Northumberland National Park, has some of the darkest skies in England. In December, the whole of the National Park and much of the adjacent Kielder Water and Forest Park became England’s first – and Europe’s largest – International Dark Sky Park. As a “Gold Tier” Dark Sky Park, it is now recognised as one of the best places on the planet to view the beauty of the night sky. We can all enjoy the Milky Way if efforts continue to reduce light pollution, which can obliterate our view of the stars. By ensuring outside lighting is shone where it is needed, rather than up in the night sky, light pollution will be reduced, which is also better for nocturnal wildlife. The College Valley is probably one of the best places in the Dark Sky Park for visitors to view the thousands of stars that crackle in the darkness. Look out for stargazing events being planned in the region for later in 2014. For more information go to www.northumberlandnational  Duncan Wise Northumberland National Park



WONDERFUL In white Cuddystone Hall’s new look makes it a more magical venue than ever


uddystone Hall was spectacularly transformed at the beginning of 2013 by being painted white. It looks amazing, and inquiries for weddings have soared. Increasingly, couples want to move away from packaged, or traditional weddings, preferring the freedom to plan their own, completely unique, special day.

There were three weddings in May. The weather varied from wonderful to wet, but all couples and guests had a fantastic time. Anna Thomson and Chris Martin, who brought their seven-year-old labrador Tilly to their wedding, were lucky to have perfect sunshine. Anna, who has been picked as the valley’s bride of the year, says: “As we approach

our first anniversary as Mr and Mrs Martin, we still can’t quite believe how lucky we were to have our special day in such a stunning location. “Both Chris and I are so fond of the College Valley and agree it gets in your blood. My dad lived in the valley as a small boy so it has always held memories for the Thomson clan – now even more so for family and friends. “The weather was perfect, the sun shone all day over the valley, which showed our guests its true beauty. Guests from Sheffield, London, Lincoln and the Borders all came together to enjoy our day and couldn’t compliment the valley enough, many actually thanking us for introducing them to this gorgeous place. We

cannot think of anywhere we would rather have been, and hope to visit again soon.” Altogether there were 11 weddings held at the hall in 2013, including that of Sarah Macdonald Smith and James Parsons. Sarah knows the valley very well as her mother, Jane

plenty more fish in the burn


he whitling (trout in their second season) of the College Burn, and smaller burns running into it, seem to be doing well. The fry in the stream were surveyed in 2013 and many sites were found to be in the topmost category, including those on side burns, such as the Elsdon and Trowup. Also in 2013 some adults were “borrowed” for a project at Glasgow University, in which researchers are comparing the behaviour and metabolism of the young sea trout and brown page


trout. To be sure of the identity of the fish for this work, adults near spawning had to be collected for spawning in a hatchery. The sea trout came from the College and the brown trout from the Whiteadder, upstream of the dam, which is a complete block to migration. Both sets of fish were spawned successfully and then returned to their home areas and their young are now being compared.  Ronald Campbell, Tweed Foundation

Newsletter of the College Valley Estate Issue 4 • SUMMER 2014

Matheson, manages the holiday cottages. It wasn’t all weddings, though – the hall was much in demand for other events, too. It hosted the College Valley and North Northumberland hunt breakfast in March. In July it was used as a base by a team of

plant surveyors from the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Every year the society organises an event in Northumberland to record the flora of an area. Fifteen people studied the College Valley/Cheviot area over four days. It was a great success, with some finds of really rare plants. The Bu Bujin karate clubs from Berwick and Duns met at the hall on the wettest, wildest, windiest day in September to do a five-mile sponsored walk, which climbed to 518 metres. The walkers did exceptionally well, the youngest being five years old, and they raised £1,800 for Cancer Research. Everyone was glad to come back to hot homemade soup and College Valley venison burgers in the hall. The hall was also used by the CLA – the organisation for land owners and rural businesses – for its north-east annual meeting. Other users included the Northumberland

From left: Sarah Macdonald Smith and James Parsons, with guests, seen from the air; Chris Martin and Anna Thomson with labrador Tilly; the hall’s interior; Sarah with her bouquet; a happy day in the rain for Jenny Holden and Justin Pearce-Neudorf

National Park and sporting guests taking part in College Valley shoots. The annual church service was also held there. Improvements to the hall continue as we have had a new heating system discreetly placed in the roof and dimmable lighting around the hall. At the time of writing Cuddystone Hall is booked for 18 events in 2014, 14 of them weddings. People from all over the north-east of England, London, Aberdeen and East Lothian have all discovered our beautiful valley and chosen it for their special day.  Catherine Crees, Hall manager



ight members of a gundog group from Leicestershire came to stay in the valley, with a dog (or two) each, for some training. I provided a local trainer, with his helper, and stayed to help myself. Aside from the fact that we all got very wet, which neither dogs nor handlers seemed to mind in the slightest, a good time was had by all. There is a dearth of stone walls and rough ground that can be used for training “down

south” so a couple of days in College Valley was a real treat for them. We did two sessions each day starting with a talk, then some work for the dogs, across water, gullies, up steep banks, over walls and through heavy cover, lunch and time to rest. We then regrouped and did the same again, with a debrief over a cup of tea. It was so successful the group asked to come back.  Jane Matheson page


Photographs: Northumberland National Park Authority

Wild about goats O

Food and Rural Affairs has put them on the Breeds at Risk list. Their colour varies from dark brown to light grey, and each has different markings, making it possible to identify individuals. Growth rings on the horns give an indication of age. Shepherds always thought favourably of them, believing they could calm sheep, lead sheep to shelter, and even kill adders. The animals also, however, eat newly planted trees and knock stones off walls. Northumberland National Park Authority is working with College Valley Estates to minimise damage caused by goats and to

retain a viable population. Each year the goats are counted and if numbers exceed agreed levels, some are re-homed. Money has been invested in goat-proof fencing. The group is also working with Newcastle University to learn more about the ecology of the goats, which includes tracking some using GPS collars. The goats are not as shy as deer and you may get good views of them if you approach from downwind. Northumberland National Park has published a series of walks to give opportunities to see the goats. See uk or ask at Mounthooly Youth Hostel. Mary Gough Northumberland National Park



e still had a lot of snow here in April last year, and it was very cold – things were slow to get started. I saw the first ring ouzel on 5 April at Dunsdale Crags. Wheatears arrived about the same time and in good numbers. In August there were 18 ring ouzels sitting on the wire at Dunsdale, so they must have done well breeding. With the winter being so long and so severe, we were all worried about the survival of the barn owls, but we needn’t have been concerned, because they had an unbelievable success breeding. In the nest box at Whitehall we had four chicks fledge and in the Wilderness there were six chicks fledged. They were all ringed by John Steele, who said that there were very few



nest boxes occupied in the Northumberland National Park – we had more in College Valley than in the whole of the national park put together. My highlight of the year was to find a cuckoo

chick in a meadow pipit’s nest. When walking across the hill, I saw two meadow pipit eggs, which the cuckoo chick must have rolled out. Not thinking, I bent down to take a closer look and that’s when I saw this rather large chick in the little nest. The chick was probably not quite 5cm at that point. I went back with John to see if we could ring it, and in the space of about seven days the chick was bursting out of the nest and defending itself very aggressively. A couple of weeks later I saw two young cuckoos at Fleehope being fed by meadow pipits – maybe it was one of them. Our picture shows barn owl chicks.  Stephen Crees, Estate manager

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ne of the delights offered by the College Valley is the opportunity to see Cheviot wild goats. These small, shaggy, horned goats have their own aroma, which once smelled is never forgotten. They are often found grazing in family groups above Harrow Bog and on neighbouring Yeavering Bell. The area may have been home to goats since Neolithic times, 5,000 years ago, and the Anglo-Saxon name for Yeavering Bell is Gefrin, or hill of the goats. It is thought goats in Britain are descendants of the Middle Eastern Bezoar or Persian Ibex. They seem to have been an important source of food until about 500 years ago, when sheep became the favoured upland livestock. These feral goats are thought to be some of the best examples of primitive British goats. Thanks to the efforts of College Valley Estates and other members of the North Cheviot Feral Goat Management Group, the Department for Environment,

The Valley summer 2014  

College Valley News Summer 2014

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