Notes from a meeting with Forestry England

Tuesday 21st March 2023 7.30pm

Swarland Club, Coast View, Swarland


Liz welcomed Alex McClennon from Forestry England (FE). In turn, he asked everyone present to introduce themselves and say what they hoped to get out of this meeting. Those present included SNAC members and two representatives of the Coquetdale Red Squirrel Group (Ian and Wendy).

Alex explained that Swarland Woods is an open and working forest. The need for the proposed works goes back to Storm Arwen in November 2021. There was less damage in Swarland than in other areas, but there is still damage which needs managing to make it safe. The works to do this will involve big machines so the access roads may need regrading and vegetation will need pushing back. The equipment used weighs about 30-40 tonnes. After the works are completed, we can expect to see more wild flowers as the works will help regenerate vegetation.

Removal of trees would always have been necessary in Swarland but Storm Arwen has accelerated the need to do this. Alex said he had shared the early plans for the work but emphasised that these are still being worked on.

Forestry England have a duty of care to the public and their number one priority is safety. Ian said that there are several squirrel feeders in the woods which have been installed with permission from FE. Alex said that FE will need to check this and see whether the licence for this needs renewing.

Alex handed out the latest plan of the works (still being worked on) which had two areas marked on it, one area in pale green will be thinned with dead and dangerous trees being removed. The second area was marked in purple, where all conifers will be removed. Broadleaved trees in the purple area will be left if they are ok.

The purple area is a mix of conifers and broadleaved trees but Alex didn’t know what the relative percentages were.

There will be opportunities for discussions with the community about replanting and Alex thought it was good that the community be involved and although he didn’t know what the species choice would be, FE would work around what was best for red squirrels.

Ian provided some figures about grey squirrels. In 2021, 242 greys were removed in this vicinity and 848 from the slightly wider area. In 2022, 159 greys were removed in the Swarland area and 718 in the wider area. Ian said that they are hoping this reduction is an indicator that the reduction of greys is due to their efforts but its certain that without it, the red squirrels would be gone.

With regard to the red squirrels, Ian said the chances are that Storm Arwen wouldn’t have affected them, but unfortunately Squirrel Pox struck 2 weeks later. However, the squirrel group doesn’t have numbers. Alex said that the FE are currently working on estimating the red squirrel population.

Alex said that the tree felling work wouldn’t start until September lasting for about a month and would be done Monday-Friday, probably 6am to 6pm. Jan Anderson suggested that an 8am start would be more acceptable from a potential noise nuisance perspective. Alex said he would take this suggestion back.

After the cutting was complete there would be some tidying up work at a later date.

During works, there would be no access but Alex suggested bringing local children/community in to see the machines and see what was going on.

It was asked if the risk assessment for the work would include the routes to be followed for the timber haulage. Alex said that there are agreed timber haulage routes for Northumberland on the NCC website.

With regard to replanting, Alex said there was an opportunity to have dark sky gazing spots, and areas with picnic tables. He said again that it would be good to talk with the community about tree species to be planted. Ian asked about tree thinning and Alex said it usually meant up to about 50% of trees would come out but this would depend on what they found. Alex said that in the purple areas, the broadleaved trees left would support the squirrels but Ian said this wouldn’t be enough. In nearby areas of privately owned woodland which have been felled the population of red squirrels has been lost. The importance of conifers to ensuring red squirrel survival was emphasised.

Next Steps

Licences are already in place for the timber removal.

See online Thrunton Beat Forest Plan for restock plan.

The FE Ecology team to complete their work which will be followed by obtaining a Legal order about rights of way closure.

Once the big machinery has completed its work, the footpath closures can be relaxed.

Alex will ask for the access road to be regraded after the timber has been extracted.

No brash burning will be done; brash will be left in situe.

Additional questions

Some trees have been marked in pink, what does this mean? Alex said he’d have to take this question back.

Will the squirrel dreys be marked? Alex replied that the FE ecology team are working on this. He will take this question back. Ian said the Squirrel group would volunteer to help find drays. Alex said that the ecology team would look at policy and he would act as go-between. He said the ecology team do want to speak to the squirrel group.

Could FE Ecology group speak direct to squirrel group? – Ian said the squirrel group would welcome this. He indicated that Scottish Woodland have been very supportive, paying them to install cameras and feeders, and supporting the group in eradicating grey squirrels.

What is going to happen about the root plates from fallen trees? – Alex said these would be dropped back into the hole they came from.

Liz thanked Alex for attending the meeting. Once plans for the tree works are a bit further advanced we’d look at a community meeting. Carolyn to liaise with Alex about a joint article for the April Column which goes to every home in the Parish.