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Make the most of high prices, farmers urged; TIMBER Ruth Lognonne.

Byline: Ruth Lognonne

WITH the price of timber as woodfuel at an all-time high, the Forestry Commission is urging farmers to cash-in on undermanaged woods on their land.

At least 50% of private woodlands in the North East are under-managed and there is massive scope to expand the timber and woodfuel supply - supporting the rural economy while improving wildlife habitats.

A survey five years ago revealed that 80% of Northumberland's ancient woods were in a poor condition causing alarm among forest chiefs.

Major threats included under-management, over-grazing and planting with conifers in the 20th Century when the push was on to bolster timber reserves drained by two world wars.

Since then the Forestry Commission has worked with landowners to tackle the situation. Grants totalling nearly pounds 200,000 have been allocated to eight schemes in Northumberland and the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to reverse the decline in old woods.

An area on the banks of the North Tyne is going back to its roots thanks to a pounds 50,000 grant from the Forestry Commission.

More than 20 hectares of woodland, much of it dating back hundreds of years and snaking along an idyllic stretch of the North Tyne at 13th Century Haughton Castle, near Hexham, is being worked for the first time in at least 30 years.

The grant has paid for forest tracks to be built, allowing conifers to be removed as part of a long-term plan to create a native broadleaf woodland brimming with wildlife.

Ian Everard, from the Forestry Commission, said: "A big reason why so many ancient woods have fallen into neglect is because they are often inaccessible.

"This grant has allowed nearly one kilometre of tracks to be built so harvesting machinery can be used. The project has been made even more viable because some of the timber extracted will be used for woodfuel, a lean and eco-friendly energy source.

"With demand soaring, woodfuel prices have risen making restoration projects like this one even more financially do-able.

"Oil and gas prices have shot up, making the installation of woodfuel boilers more attractive in both domestic homes and for businesses. The likes of Kielder Forest is already working to full capacity, supplying 25% of all timber grown in England to the UK market.

"Therefore, it is time for us to call upon the private sector to fuel this growing demand.

"In the past, it wasn't economical for farmers and landowners to manage their woods in this way. But with the current price of timber and the grants available, this is now a very viable source of revenue."

The grant for Haughton Castle is the first awarded by the Forestry Commission in the North East under an initiative to improve access to woods and boost production of timber and woodfuel.

Anthony Braithwaite, owner of Haughton Castle, said: "The woodland has been untouched for the better part of three decades because of the difficult terrain and badly needs some tender loving care.

"Our trees are a wonderful resource in Northumberland, which we need to do more to tap. Well-managed woods are important for biodiversity, which I am passionate about, and a source of a renewable raw material and energy source."

The Forestry Commission has awarded a further pounds 15,000 to support woodland restoration on the estate.

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SCHEME Haughton Castle's Anthony Braithwaite and Rachel Sparks from the Forestry Commission
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 11, 2012
Words:567
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