Save our Forests and save our Goshawks!

It was 30th January 2011 when I attended the rally for ‘saving our forests’ meaning the land that the Forestry Commission manages for us. In total there are 700,000 hectares (about 1.7 million acres) of land in England and Scotland, making it the country's biggest land manager. The majority of the land (70%) is in Scotland, 30% of the landholding is in England. With such a large support nationally the government backed down in selling it even though several areas had been sold in the past.

Today the question of saving this land that belongs to us is there again. Not one item of people’s property is safe with this government. Even National Parks are under threat from fracking so this government can help their ‘friends’ so when the next election draws near £millions can be pumped in to the campaign to put them back in power.

Not far from where I live in Cumbria is the big green forest totally managed by the Forestry Commission for us. Its name as management is Kielder but there are several sections often joined together with several names like Kershope [part of Kershope runs into Scotland], Wark and Spadeadam. The total area is 25 sq miles with most of the planted area covered by Sitka Spruce with smaller areas of Japanese Larch and Lodge pole Pine. Few native species are found in this planting but species like Birch, Alder and Rowan are planted in some areas with Oak and Beech missing due their encouragement of attracting Grey Squirrels to the area due to having large fruit like acorns and beech mast.

It is advertised as having the largest concentration of Red Squirrels in England but it also has the highest density of Goshawks in Britain. This bird is highly persecuted by shooting estates in Britain as they claim to loose game birds from their presents. In fact a recent survey by the Langholm Moor Demonstration project has claimed that Goshawks are declining in their area which backs onto Sitka Spruce plantations. It is amazing that most breeding Goshawks are found on Forestry Commission land away from the preying eyes of such private estates.

The main food for the Goshawk is Wood Pigeons and Carrion Crows with the odd Red Squirrel. Predating Red Squirrels prevents the disease spread by Grey Squirrels getting hold in the forest. The food potential of Grey Squirrel for Goshawk is much greater. Cameras set up on Goshawk nests away from Kielder, has shown that greys can be 75% - 95% of food brought into nests. Wood Pigeons are, of course, pest species to farm crops so yet again the Goshawk is helping the farmer. Rabbits are not so common in these forests but are a major food in other forests helping to prevent damage to trees and farmland.

Several raptor viewpoints have even been started on Forestry Commission land around Britain with the one at Kielder even had the potential of watching Golden Eagles until, like the Goshawks, the adult birds were removed out of the area of the forest. The Forestry Commission used to kill wild goats for these birds to feed up on before breeding and they could produce 2 young a year. These young dispersed creating new pairs at Langholm and Peebles. The last young to leave the nest here at Kielder was 2001. This was the year of foot and mouth preventing any disturbance from the FC's recreational sports. In 2002 first the male was caught in a crow trap set by a game keeper and with no mate the female moved to Peebles area to set up territory with another male where she was eventually killed.

A single Golden Eagle was seen in 2015 and with a reintroduction scheme planned for the Scottish Borders it is hoped eagles will soon be nesting back in the forest again. The future looks good for many species with clear felled areas of trees producing up to 10 years of open ground for species to colonise. Even larger valley sides are planned without spruce and even wetlands like the ‘Border Mires’ which is the name given to a collection of peat bog sites in and adjacent to Kielder Forest, of which there are 58 separate sites. Here trees have been removed and open bog plants allowed to return with the help of damming drains to keep the areas wet.

Species like Hen Harrier, Short eared Owl, Whinchat, Reed Bunting and Skylark will enjoy these open areas and in some cases even Black Grouse are hoped to come back. A nest box scheme would also bring in species like Pied Flycatcher and Redstart that need holes to nest in normally in mature trees. Roe Deer are the commonest large mammal and their numbers may well include the reintroduction of the Lynx into this 25 sq mile area to help reduce their numbers as they are a massive threat to many young broad leaved tree species trying to establish in this new open ground. Smaller carnivores like the Pine Marten could be brought back from extinction here.

With some so called conservationists even calling these forests not worth keeping none of the wildlife above could manage under private ownership as we have seen in many of these shooting estates, they cause mass killing of species even if they are supposed to be protected by law. The future looks much more promising for wildlife tourism with the Goshawk high on the list of what visitors will want to see along with the returning eagles and the present day osprey which have enjoyed the Kielder reservoir which is an added habitat for the forest on the Northumberland side.

Once the land is sold then it is lost for ever and the money never comes back into our hands. Even in this case the size of the forest would be fragmented if given to community ownership like in many areas of Scotland. All the forests in England can stay in one ownership via the Forestry Commission and protecting the species for today and tomorrow.

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