England’s first conifer-heavy woodland in more than 30 years

Image: Teesdale Mercury Labour MEP Paul Brannen, Crispin Thorn, from the Forestry Commission, Berwick MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan and Barningham’s Andy Howard at the Doddington Moor Afforestation Project
Teesdale’s Andy Howard has blazed a trail in Northumberland as the force behind England’s first conifer-heavy woodland in more than 30 years. He spoke to reporter Alex Metcalfe about the project.

ANDY Howard has blazed a trail in forestry in the past six months. The Barningham villager is leading a project to plant 600,000 trees on Doddington Moor, in 350 hectares of Northumberland countryside.

His scheme was given the nod on degraded pasture last last year and planting is already underway.

But the scheme faced a long battle to get off the ground – coming up against pressure groups and a sea of regulation.

H

e pops in to the Mercury offices to tell me what he’s been up to and why it matters to Teesdale.

Mr Howard says: “It was still a major challenge and ridiculously hard to get buy in because a lot of people had a preconception of what it could, or should, be.

“They were trying to undo what nature had done which was just ridiculous.”

It will take three years for planting to be completed at Doddington with materials from the forest eventually going towards building homes and helping industry.

The Stang Forest and Hamsterley are two of the standouts in Teesdale but Mr Howard explains how devolution and regulation differences north of the border make all the difference to the forestry industry.

He says: “Every single week I am looking for properties with potential afforestation properties – for example, we’ve just sourced a property in Scotland.

“Upland sheep farming in Scotland is a lot harder than in the northern England and the next generation do not want to carry on from their predecessors.

“Farmers are looking to sell up or reduce the size of their properties as it’s getting harder and harder to make money from sheep farms,” he says.

“Scotland is a lot further down the line in terms of selling up and moving on.”

The sheer amount of land available in Scotland and the absence of designated AONBs (Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) often make it a far safer investment for forestry than here.

Devolution means Scotland’s branch of the Forestry Commission reports to the Scottish government where ministers takes a less stringent stance on the industry when compared with English regulations.

Mr Howard adds: “The biggest challenge in the North of England is the AONBs and the national parks – these have created ‘forestry preferred zones’.

20 May 2018 TEESDALE MERCURY – Doddington

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