Restoring Ancient Habitats at Milkwellburn Wood

Exciting woodland management work was undertaken at Milkwellburn Wood Nature Reserve last winter as part of a large scale habitat restoration programme that aims to restore the reserve back to the once expansive broadleaf woodland. Ancient broadleaf woods are an incredibly rich habitat for wildlife yet today ancient woodland only covers around 2% of the UK. Milkwellburn Wood sits on an ancient broadleaf woodland site, it was largely felled and re-planted with mixed stands of pine, spruce and larch in the 20th Century severely reducing the number of threatened and common woodland fauna and flora. Gradually removing the conifers and non-native trees so that the native broadleaf woodland can re-establish across the site, will dramatically improve the area for wildlife.


Last year Euroforest were appointed as forestry contractors to undertake the thinning works in designated compartments within the wood. The thinning works have made a really positive difference already. By creating a more open woodland, light can penetrate to the ground allowing new broadleaf saplings to grow and the woodland ground flora to develop. Local people from Blackhall Mill village have already commented on how the woodland feels much safer as it’s easier to see and be seen. The work also allows for good opportunities for people to view wildlife such as birds and butterflies as they move between the trees and along the woodland rides.


After the forestry operations were finished in November 2018 the Durham Wildlife Trust volunteers had the task to ‘dead hedge’ the arisings (cut branches/twigs left over from the forestry operations) in each thinning compartment. The was extremely important as we wanted to maximise the new sunlight getting to the ground so that the vegetation could grow, which would be much harder if there was a layer of twigs and branches on top of the ground. Durham Wildlife Trust volunteers have worked tirelessly over 20 days of dead hedging at Milkwellburn Wood since last November. A dead head is essentially a line of branches and twigs which forms a kind of eco pile!  As well as helping ground flora and saplings, the creation of dead hedges are good for wildlife – especially for small mammals and birds – because it gives them somewhere to shelter that is protected from predators and from the elements. In March we were joined by staff from the Forestry Commission who kindly lent a hand in the dead hedging efforts.


As you can see from the images there is already some existing woodland plants that have been able to survive under the dark canopy of the plantations prior to thinning such as wood sorrel. We hope that these plants are able to expand across the thinned areas now that the habitat is more favourable to them. In time as the broadleaf trees grow the woodland will improve in diversity of species and the structure of the wood which will be much better for woodland as a whole and for wildlife to flourish.

Chris Jones – Living Landscapes Officer (North)

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