Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Visionary Project....

Today's Guardian Country Diary describes a visit to Low Burnhall farm in Durham, now the site of a Woodland Trust major re-foresting scheme and the subject of an earlier blog post about its wonderful display of wild flowers. The photograph above of the farm was taken in spring about five years ago and the one below ..... 

... was taken from more or less the same spot in late June this year, although with a different focal length lens. The Woodland Trust is in the process of planting 94,000 native trees on this site (including rare black poplars) and the first stage has been to re-seed most of the agriucltural land with grasses and plant up the fields bordering the main road as wild flower meadows.

This year the floral display has been mainly confined to annuals like cornflower, corn poppy and corn chamomile that were sown last autumn, but these meadows also include biennials like viper's bugloss and perennial wild flowers that will make a big impact in future years. The wild flower meadows will be maintained in perpetuity, even after mature woodland develops behind them. Signs in the gateways welcome visitors and although it's the wild flowers that will tempt most people to follow the paths mown through the grasses there are quite a lot of other interesting features too.
The arable weeds like field pansy Viola arvensis that grew amongst the wheat and oilseed rape crops are still there but now the crops are replaced by grasses that support a large population of breeding butterflies like....

... this ringlet.
One of the paths through the grassland leads to this grassy bank between high hedges and rough grassland ...

... where betony...

... and lady's bedstraw are just coming into flower.

The fine old hedges are being extended with new plantings.

The eastern edge of the farm is bordered by the River Wear - with sand martin colonies in its banks and also kingfishers.

Looking northwards you can just make out one of the paths mown through the grassland curving up the distant slope (double-click for a larger image) - visitors are encouraged to wander freely over the site and if you climb to the top of the distant hill there are excellent views to the south.

The River Browney joins the River Wear near the southern boundary, with steep banks that are covered in....
...a dense canopy of butterbur leaves

... and with water crowfoot flowering in the river.
One bank of the River Browney is covered in a fragment of oak wood with some magnificent old trees. This part of the site must look very much like it would have appeared to the first neolithic farmers who arrived here to clear the forest, graze their animals and plant crops over five millennia ago.
Now that deforestation process is being reversed. The site includes important fragments of ancient semi-natural woodland and the new planting, which has already begin with the help of volunteers and schoolchildren, will link these up with a new public-access woodland that will develop over the course of the next century. It will be well worth visiting regularly during the early stages to document progress in this visionary project.

It will be a decade before the woodland grows sufficiently to be recognisable as such and in the meantime most people will probably visit to see the spectacular wild flower display in early summer - and all the bees and butterflies that this attracts.


  1. What a marvellous project! Thank you so much for the information and the pictures. It is wonderful to see a meadow again.

  2. Indeed it is a visionary project> I wish our politicians had such foresight.

  3. Those flowers are a beautiful sight Phil.

  4. As you say Phil,, a visionary project, and a fine example to others. Thank you for your very informative and interesting account of it.

  5. I'll be going back to explore the ancient woodland whenever I can toffeeapple - I've driven past the place for years completely unaware of its wildlife value...

  6. Me too lotusleaf - it's a great project

  7. Hi Roy, It's good to know that the management plan will ensure that they reappear every year - something to look forward to every June.

  8. Hi Richard, one of the great things about this project is that once the trees grow it will be possible to walk right around the east side of Durham city through woodland, crossing just one road.

  9. An amazing project Phil. A little piece of heaven.