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Two remote areas of Cumbrian woodland will be more productive thanks to new access roads that have been funded by Forestry Commission Woodfuel WoodlandImprovement Grants (Woodfuel WIG). The previously inaccessible areas of Brink Rigg and Roundmount are owned by water company United Utilities. They are about 2.5 miles apart on the steep banks of the Armboth Fells above Thirlmere Reservoir covering a combined area of about 30ha (70 acres). The area is mixed woodland comprising conifer blocks and beech stands, both planted in the early 1900s.
The £50,000 funding has been used to excavate and build access roads on the two separate blocks of woodland. They will make it possible to take machinery into the woods to thin the trees and produce wood suitable as woodfuel for the growing renewable energy market and high quality saw-logs. As well as generating an income, in the long term the new management will allow native plants and animals to thrive again providing a host of wildlife friendly habitats.
The Cumbrian woodlands are in an area of England which is a high priority for Woodfuel WIG funding. The Woodfuel WIG is open to corporate, estate and private woodland owners. England is one of the least wooded countries in Europe, and this makes it important to manage the woods we do have in the best possible way. In this instance the Woodfuel WIG was used specifically for building forestry roads andit has paid for the machine and the skilled driver who literally carved out new tracks along very rocky, steep slopes to provide the access routes needed for productive management.
United Utilities’ woodland officer Paul Clavey said: “Thirlmere has steep-sided woodland compartments. As one of England’s Red Squirrel reserves and an important drinking water catchment the preferred silvicultural methods are based on continuous cover forestry (CCF) techniques. Access for thinning and group selection is crucial under a CCF regime. Due to the challenging terrain we have mainly used cable crane systems. A good network of forwarder routes will assist us to maintain the economic viability of these woods by enabling harvesting operations.”
The areas at Brink Rigg and Roundmount were inaccessible for timber harvesting but the Woodfuel Woodland Improvement Grant meant United Utilities identifiedthem as significant areas in which to expand their CCF operations. The construction of the forwarder roads will allow sustainable woodland management.
At Brink Rigg 300m of new forwarder road has been constructed to enable the 6ha of 30 year old spruce to be thinned at roughly every five to seven years and maintained indefinitely as continuous cover forestry – reprieving the wood that due to the difficult access had previously been marked for clearfelling in 2035.
At Roundmount 900m of new forwarder road will enable regular thinning of an area of 26 ha; an area which is currently managed as low intervention due to inaccessibility. The long term management of the area will change to a CCF regime with thinning on a five to seven year cycle. The combined Brink Rigg and Roundmount projects will generate in the region of 5,000m³ of timber over 20 years. Woodfuel WIG Project manager, Mike Furness, commented on the work that has taken place at Brink Rigg: “Even just from an engineering perspective, these works on the steep sides of the valley are very dramatic. The construction relied on the driver’s great skills because of the hazardous position and the public road beneath.
The result will be to liberate lots of timber from thinnings as well as enabling United Utilities to develop their management plans for continuous cover.”