Durham Wildlife Trust secured ownership of Milkwellburn Wood on 21st July 2010. This was only possible thanks to donations from our members and supporters at County Durham Environment Trust, Biffaward and Gateshead Council.
In addition, a successful bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund has resulted in the appointment of a member of staff through the Wild Woods Project, which began in April 2011. The Wild Woods Project Officer will lead on the initial restoration of Milkwellburn Wood and the development of a local volunteer team to help with wildlife surveys and management of the wood. If you would like to get involved contact Durham Wildlife Trust on 0191 5843112.
The wood has been managed as a commercial conifer woodland for many years, but there are still enough fragments of the original native ancient woodland habitat left to enable the site to be restored to its former glory. By volunteering you can help Durham Wildlife Trust to create a native woodland that can be enjoyed forever by the people of the North East.
Where is it?
The woodland is situated near to Blackhall Mill and Chopwell, adjacent to the River Derwent and on the Northumberland/Gateshead/Durham border. The site has been designated as a Site of Nature Conservation Importance – now known as a Local Wildlife Site – since 1991.
It is Durham Wildlife Trust’s largest woodland nature reserve and provides the Trust with a fantastic opportunity to restore a significant area of woodland back to its former glory
This is a large woodland providing connectivity between the Derwent Valley and Blaydon Burn wildlife corridors and is one of several large conifer plantations in the area with restoration potential, including Chopwell Wood. Milkwellburn Wood makes a significant contribution to the wooded appearance of this part of the Derwent valley, enhancing its landscape value.
The site also has great value to Durham Wildlife Trust in terms of membership and community engagement as it is our most significant nature reserve in the area.
Milkwellburn Wood is also seen as a vital stepping-stone in a future Living Landscape Project in the Derwent Valley.
A Local Jewel
There is an excellent network of surfaced forest rides throughout the wood. There are over 2km of public footpaths and 4km of permissive paths.
The local community has always shown a strong interest and sense of ownership of the wood and it is vital that the Trust works with them to provide opportunities for wardening and volunteering
A woodland rich in wildlife
The woodland comprises 79.5 hectares mixed conifer and broad-leaved plantation with remnants of ancient semi-natural woodland along the steep sided gullies running in a north south direction.
The majority of the woodland comprises conifer plantation with mixed stands of mature Scots pine, Norway spruce, Sitka spruce Japanese and European larch. Many of these areas are mature, with a closed dense canopy, which has shaded out the original woodland ground flora and shrubby layer.
Two remnants of the original ancient semi-natural woodland remain in steeply sided gullies in the north-central part of the site. They have a canopy dominated by oak and ash with an understorey of hazel, holly and honeysuckle. The ground flora contains greater woodrush, primrose, bluebell, dog’s mercury, broad-leaved helleborine, sanicle, moschatel and ferns such as hart’s-tongue, soft shield and lady fern. Drier sandier soils support a distinctive flora of bilberry, heather, common cow-wheat and wavy-hair grass.
On the western edge of the site is an area of regenerating deciduous woodland with wet flushes which consists of birch and sallow with large bitter cress, marsh marigold, yellow pimpernel and brooklime in the ground flora. There are also areas of wet alder woodland along Milkwellburn.
Breeding birds include red kite, tawny owl, woodcock, sparrow hawk, blackcap, garden warbler, tree pipit and willow warbler. In winter redpoll, siskin and, sometimes, crossbill have been recorded.
The woodland is used by badgers, foxes, and roe deer and was an important site for red squirrel in the recent past. Rare butterflies such as white-letter hairstreak have been recorded along some of the woodland rides and more recently the purple hairstreak has been seen along woodland edges.
The restoration of Milkwellburn Wood is a long-term project that will span several decades and aims to revert the woodland from mixed conifer to native broadleaved . This will require felling of non-native conifer species and replanting or encouraging natural regeneration of native species such as oak, ash and birch. This will create a more diverse woodland structure allowing light into the woodland floor, which will promote the growth of woodland wildflowers, the seeds of which are lying dormant in the ground.
The network of surfaced rides provides the Trust with the opportunity of extracting some of the timber thus generating income for future management works and funding access improvements in the wood. A management plan has now been produced, identifying important habitats and species, and how these should be managed.