Paradise saved: Wildlife lovers chip in to protect Northumberland upland

Monday 08/07/2019
Paradise saved: Wildlife lovers chip in to protect Northumberland upland

Benshaw Moor in Redesdale, described as a paradise for botanists, is now a protected nature reserve after more than half a million pounds raised.

Nature lovers have rallied around to help buy and protect a 600-acre tract of upland Northumberland.

Benshaw Moor in Redesdale, which features heather habitat, peatland and limestone waterfall and springs, has now become Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s 63rd nature reserve.

The land, near Elsdon, is the trust’s biggest capture for 20 years, since it acquired its Whitelee reserve, at the other end of Redesdale.

The trust moved for Benshaw because it was feared that it could be used for commercial conifer forestry or a windfarm. Shooting has taken place on the moor in the past, but that will no longer be allowed.

“We were concerned that there was quite a high risk of commercial forestry, which we felt would not be an appropriate use for the site,” said Duncan Hutt, the trust’s living landscapes and conservation manager.

A total of £570,000 was raised from charitable trusts, businesses, and a significant bequest by the late George Swan, who wrote the Flora of Northumberland, a comprehensive record of plant species in the county. The bequest was specified for use in buying a site of botanical importance.

Mr Swan, who lived in Morpeth, was emeritus professor of organic chemistry at Newcastle University. He was born in Low Fell in Gateshead and was educated at Newcastle Royal Grammar School and Armstrong College in the city.

An appeal was launched in April in a bid to reach the final deadline amount needed to buy Benshaw, with the public donating £75,000.

“The site is all big skies and magnificent vistas ,” said Duncan. “It is a great site and a fantastic location and I think people recognised the opportunity.

“This amazing piece of land is a paradise for botanists and probably the trust’s most exciting and important acquisition in years. It would not have been possible without the support from our very generous members, and the public, and is a great example of how, if we all unite for wildlife, we can make something happen.”

Birdlife at Benshaw includes curlew, snipe, skylark, meadow pipit and short-eared owls.

Plants found on the moor include bogbean, butterwort, limestone bedstraw, grass of Parnassus, and bog species such as cranberry, sphagnum mosses and round-leaved sundew.

The first steps for the wildlife charity’s estates team and volunteers will include surveys to understand the site better and what it contains to guide future management.

Options being considered include areas of native woodland, and suitable levels of conservation grazing with cattle or Exmoor ponies.

Work to remove self-seeded sitka spruce has already been carried out and blocking peatland drains will also be undertaken.

A public meeting will be held on August 1 at 7.30pm in Elsdon village hall to discuss the site’s future, and improved access.

The moor falls within the Revitalising Redesdale Landscape Partnership area, which is a £2.8million project backed by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, where the trust is already working with Natural England, Northumberland National Park, Forestry England, Environment Agency, and councils.

The project aims to celebrate, conserve and enhance Redesdale’s cultural heritage, landscape and wildlife.

Meanwhile, Durham Wildlife Trust’s Low Barns nature reserve visitor centre, near Witton le Wear, has reopened following an extensive refurbishment, thanks to a successful fundraising appeal.

The redevelopment includes a redesigned and redecorated interior, new facilities plus updated parking arrangements and an outdoor seating area , with the coffee shop serving hot food and drinks plus homemade cakes and scones. A new classroom and meeting space will allow more work with schools and the local community.

The trust launched the visitor centre project having secured £88,000 from the North Pennine Dales LEADER and the Weardale Area Action Partnership, as well as funds raised from the charity’s own reserves and donations from supporters.

Trust director Jim Cokill said: ‘’We’re all really pleased with the project at Low Barns and we must thank LEADER and the Area Action Partnership for their support. The trust has been at Low Barns since the 1960s and the site has evolved over that time, as can be seen from the new interpretation in the centre and across the reserve.

“Places like Low Barns are needed so that everyone has a chance to get closer to nature and be inspired to help us conserve the natural world.’’

Volunteer David Makinson said: “I’ve been at Low Barns for more than 20 years. It is a hidden gem and we have a core group of regular visitors who enjoy the reserve and the vast array of wildlife it attracts.

“The updates to our visitor centre have made it much more accessible, and the new coffee shop means that visitors can plan a full day here.”

Published: Monday 08/07/2019

By Visit Northumberland


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