AN ancient woodland which combines natural beauty with a diverse social and industrial heritage is to be made more accessible to visitors in a £120,000 investment project.
Bluebell Woods – on the outskirts of Morpeth – once had its own racecourse, and hosted the town’s own version of the Olympic Games in the natural amphitheatre of Easter Field.
It was used for coal mining from the 1730s, and also had its own clay pit, tile and brickworks, a gasworks and the County Pauper Lunatic Asylum, built on the site of the former racecourse.
Now the Greater Morpeth Development Trust (GMDT) has unveiled plans to open up access and encourage public use of a woodland which has been described as an “ecological gem”.
Over the next few years the GMDT will invest about £120,000 in improvements to overgrown and waterlogged footpaths, new amenities such as seats and benches, illustrative signs and interpretation panels and a woodland management and conservation programme drawn up by retired Newcastle University professor, and Morpeth resident, Alan Davison.
Funding has already been secured for the first phase of work, with a £40,000 grant from Natural England and a £20,000 contribution from GMDT itself.
Work has started on a feasibility study, and mapping of the woodland, its flora and fauna, and the first phase of improvements are scheduled to be completed by next spring.
Local residents and groups will be encouraged to become stakeholders and volunteers in the project.
Ro Matheson, environment director with the GMDT, said: “This is such a tremendously exciting project. The Bluebell Woods are an absolute gem, both ecologically and historically, but public access has become difficult and perhaps uninviting because paths have become overgrown, waterlogged and, in some cases, inaccessible.
“We want to encourage far greater use of what is such a wonderful amenity on the doorstep of Morpeth, by people of all ages and interests. There is so much that people don’t know about the woods – the wonderful walks, the industrial past and the part they have played in the social and recreational life of the town for hundreds of years.
“The woods are at their best when the bluebells are in bloom, so we are all looking forward to getting the winter behind us and enjoying the spectacle when the better weather comes around.”
Mr Davison said: “The work already undertaken by GMDT around the town has greatly helped people understand what treasures we have on our doorstep.
“What it is now doing in Bluebell Woods is so important because we have an absolute woodland treasure on the outskirts of the town that should be enjoyed in all its glory by local people and visitors for generations to come.”
This is such a tremendously exciting project. The Bluebell Woods are an absolute gem