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Newsletter of the College Valley Estate Issue 5 • SUMMER 2015

If you go down to the woods today There’s plenty of forestry activity in the valley just now, as Netty Horne, of Border Consultants Forestry, explains


orestry in College Valley was established on difficult terrain and with no consideration for access when the woodlands were planted. Since those days, harvesting machinery and timber lorries have changed. The most cost-effective method of harvesting is felling with a purpose-built harvester that fells the tree and cuts it into the correct assortments for the different markets. It is stacked and then extracted by a “forwarder”, a specialised tractor with a hydraulic grab that collects the timber and stacks it at the roadside. These multi-wheeled machines with wide tyres have been developed now so that they can work on very steep terrain. The alternative, of winching timber using a “high lead” system, a bit like a ski-lift, for the steepest ground, is very

expensive and rarely necessary, although this year it will be used for part of the harvesting in areas where the ground is too steep and the surface too unstable for traditional machinery. Horses were considered, but steep, slippery ground is also unsuitable for horses. The distances involved are too great for harvesting to be completed in one summer. The machinery can travel straight up and down, but to travel along the hill, tracks have to be constructed to avoid machinery toppling over. Often these tracks are reinstated after harvesting. To avoid damage to the forest soil, branches from the felled trees are laid down for the machinery to travel over and most modern harvesting sites show very little soil damage. The machinery can be very damaging to

Harvesting at Hethpool, left, and Madam’s Law, right

Working with memories of the places I had visited all my life, I got to understand what was distinctive and what the whole region of the north-east still held in common. I am from North Yorkshire but spent childhood holidays in Northumberland and the Wolds and have worked in Northumberland for ten years. I visited the familiar and the new and blended it together, to express my “mind map” of Northumbria today. But it was the pure unspoilt qualities of landscape and feeling of apparent wildness I felt in this north Northumbria that set the whole tone and which I keep returning to in my thoughts. A word on “wildness”. It is a relative term and an emotive one; there is much talk of rewilding and creating true wilderness. In England this is misleading. No landscape here is truly natural, indigenous or purely wild, the nearest we get are large bog lands like the Border Mires, fragments of ancient woodland and river valley, parts of the coast. Everywhere else, especially uplands and moors, are semi-natural at best and mostly managed. Indeed nowhere apart from the most extreme environments on Earth are really wild. But what many people feel is wild is down to their personal experience of nature. To some, a piece of urban woodland or meadow is wild and to many people the Cheviots are as natural, as wild, as it gets. To encourage more scrub woodland on moors is to my mind to deny the heritage and evolution of our landscapes. When people talk of this I point to the balance and harmony of landscape we see in the College

road surfaces, so every effort is made to keep the forwarders off the road. A well-designed timber-stacking area keeps lorries and forwarders apart. Modern timber lorries have also been adapted to reduce impact on roads. The most innovative system is the central tyre pressure control system. This allows the driver to change tyre pressure from the cab on the move, improving grip and reducing damage. It is a unique British invention. The weather also has a big impact on roads, and harvesting is best carried out in dry conditions, during the summer. This is especially important in the College Valley, as roads here were not built with modern timber lorries in mind. All efforts are made to avoid water pollution and measures such as extra drainage and filtering can be put in place where necessary. Again, dry conditions make this a lot easier. Prior to harvesting, areas are surveyed for nesting birds, badgers and bats to ensure as little disturbance is caused to wildlife as possible. With good planning, the latest in machinery and a bit of luck, the forestry in College Valley can play its role in providing a diverse habitat and financial security for the estate. This year’s harvesting removes a conifer plantation from an ancient woodland site, to allow restoration after felling. 

Valley and the Cheviots, with all its micro variety, from hill, to valley. It’ll do for me, anyway, and for many others. I love the rolling shapes of the sheep-grazed hill tops. Back in the hills again, approaching the Hen Hole, from the Schil and Mount Hooley, it is the views and colours that impress, like being on an island interior looking out from one hill to the next. As I walk I experience the ‘Russian Doll effect’ of one hill eating up the next as you climb one and then the next, which is slightly higher. It’s something I’ve never felt so much as here, as if the hills are being stacked into one another. I lose count of the hillforts and prehistoric features I have seen in one day. I feel like I am collecting them as I progress. My lasting memory this time, which will transfer on to pages down the line, is of watching a pair of kestrels wing-tumbling a raven, of a moonbow reflection across the darkening skies, of a dipper so close I could see its white eyelids, a hare burnished by the evening sunset. Having now written my experience of the whole of Northumbria, I am tempted to come back to the College Valley and Cheviots and just focus my energy here. It is so sewn through its weft and warp with natural inspiration. It is the true heart of Northumbria, the start and end of it all. My Wild Northumbria is published by Red Squirrel Press and is available from, from the Northumberland Wildlife Trust and frombooksellers. page


The Valley summer 2015  
The Valley summer 2015  

News from the College Valley Estate in Northumberland.