BABY boomer trees have boosted a Northumberland forest’s production to new heights.
It is anticipated that up to two million trees will be felled this year in Kielder Water & Forest Park.
That rate is expected to be maintained for around five years as conifers planted in the years after the Second World War become ready for harvesting.
About 440,000 tonnes of timber worth around £12m will be produced in Kielder this year – over 25% of all the wood harvested in England.
And the scale of the operation is creating “timber tourism”.
Last year the Forestry Commission took people behind the scenes in the 155,000-acre forest to watch trees being felled by huge £300,00 harvesting machines.
Nearly all the tours were sold out and forest chiefs are back with another series of working forest visits this summer.
They take place on Tuesdays from July 26 to August 30, but places are limited so people have to book on 01434 250209.
Neville Geddes, planning and environment manager with the Forestry Commission, said that 60% of the timber will go to North East sawmills. It will be turned into a range of products, ranging from construction wood and woodchip to fencing and pallets.
The surge in production is due to the high number of trees planted after the Second World War – when two thirds of Kielder took root.
Mr Geddes said that the first mass planting, mainly of Sitka spruce, happened after the First World War in response to shortages caused by enemy disruption of imports.
“The shortage of timber meant a shortage of pit props and coal was vital to the war effort,” he said.
The Battle of the Atlantic during the Second World War saw more timber shortages.
“There was a lot of planting in the 1950s in case there was another war,” said Mr Geddes.
Just about every available patch of land was planted, including what is now recognised as an internationally-important habitat, the Border Mires.
But because of the soggy conditions many trees grew no bigger than 12ft, and the mires have now been cleared and restored.
Last winter nearly four million trees were planted to make good those felled, while broadening habitats and creating a more natural looking forest.
The banks of water courses have been left clear and broadleaf trees and open spaces are being added to the mix.
Instead of the commercial rate of 2,500 trees per hectare, the level is being reduced to 200-300 on the moorland edges of the forest so that merges more naturally with the landscape.
Mr Geddes said: “Timber is a crucial and renewable resource and Kielder is making a tremendous contribution to the local and national economy.
“Forestry is a long term business and the art is to balance harvesting with all the other objectives we have such as conservation and recreation.”
Today’s harvesting machines are computer controlled and can fell and strip 500 trees an hour to customer specifications, while machine operators sit in air-conditioned comfort.
But horses are still the best way to remove timber from inaccessible areas and traditional woodsmen like Danny McNeil from Byrness and his shire Scout are still being used for special jobs.
The working forestry tours last from 2pm to 4pm and cost is £10 per person, including minibus transport to the site.
For details go to www.forestry.gov.uk/NorthEastEngland.