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Saturday, 25 October 2014

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£130k to help rare grouse back from the brink

A PLUCKY survivor is in line for some help from a scheme to create a 25 hectare wood near Penrith.

The Forestry Commission has pledged £130,000 to local farmer Paul Stobbart for an ambitious plan which will help black grouse by establishing a new native woodland at Renwick Fell, near Hartside.

The endangered bird is one of England’s rarest and 80 per cent of the national population is concentrated in the North Pennines ANOB.

New figures reveal that the North Pennines’ population is about 1,000 adult males, representing a major recovery after hard winters saw numbers plummet to half that number.

Two steep ghylls on 200 hectare Scale House Farm will be planted with 16,000 trees like oak, birch and rowan, with higher levels nurtured as more scrubby woodland favoured by black grouse.

Such areas provide food such as buds, berries and heather and shelter from winter’s icy blast and potential predators. The hope is that the species will be encouraged to over-winter on the farm given a suitable habitat.

But helping the rare bird is just one of the aims of the green scheme.

The area also has a history of landslides – including one last June – and new trees will help bind together the soil and combat erosion, while also slowing the rate of rainwater run-off and the amount of sediment entering watercourses.

Research by the Forestry Commission has highlighted that tree planting has a significant role to play in tackling flood risk and improving water quality.

Because it helps meet key water quality objectives the Renwick Fell project has been awarded the top rate of grant of £4,800 per hectare by the Forestry Commission under an initiative to support such planting in targeted zones, which include parts of Cumbria.

Jim O’Neill, woodland officer with the Forestry Commission, said: “The North Pennines has very low levels of native woodland cover so a scheme of this size makes a real impact. Creating woodlands brings multiple benefits and nowhere is this better illustrated than this scheme on Renwick Fell, which is good for the wider landscape by preventing erosion and with added dividends for wildlife.”

Mr Stobbart added: “We don’t have any woodland on the farm so I’m keen to get the trees planted this winter. But there is a much bigger picture.

“It’s good to boost wildlife like black grouse, but planting is also a sound option for the land in economic as well as environmental terms.

“Long term I also hope trees will provide hill-side shelter for livestock. I’m not sure what we are going to call the new woodland but I am confident it will become a cherished feature of the farm for my two children.”

PMcClounie@cngroup.co.uk

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