Tuesday 3 March 2015

More than 7,500 tonnes of timber have been removed from a conifer plantation in the Peak District, as part of an ambitious landscape restoration project.

The project, which was organised by Sheffield City Council in partnership with the RSPB and the National Trust, aims to transform an alien conifer plantation into native oak woodland and open heathland in the Burbage Valley, in the northern Peak District National Park.

The majority of the forest plantation in the heart of the valley has now been removed to bring the area back to a more desirable condition of restored upland heath and new native broadleaf woodland.

Councillor Isobel Bowler, cabinet member for culture, sport and leisure at Sheffield City Council, said: “One of the reasons I moved to Sheffield was due to our wonderful access to the Peak District National Park. Sheffield is the UK’s Outdoor City and the best city for access to the countryside.

“I am pleased to see this important project completed successfully and on time. I regularly walk in the countryside and know how popular this area is with Sheffield people.

“It is also important that we at Sheffield City Council continue to work hard to improve, maintain and restore the irreplaceable and beautiful landscape on our doorsteps.”

Roy Taylor, RSPB Manager for the Peak District said: “This ambitious project has transformed the landscape of what was already one of the most beautiful valleys in the Peak District National Park – gone are the dense brooding conifers and in their place is an open mosaic of native oaks and heather – in keeping with the wild landscape of this area.

“This is a new woodland which will grow rich in wildlife and is accessible to the people of Sheffield and beyond.”

The conifers in the Burbage Valley were planted in the shape of Britain in the late 1970’s, to be harvested as a crop. However, the area representing Cornwall couldn’t be completed.

The plantation had reached maturity and had started to blow over, representing a fire risk to the surrounding moor. The project, which has been in the pipeline for several years, was then made possible through a range of grants, at no additional cost to the council.

Thanks to the success of this project, there has been an overall gain of nine hectares of new heathland habitat and 20 hectares of upland oak woodland.  These will provide the foundation, over the long term, to develop into a Special Area of Conservation, in line with the Sheffield Moors Masterplan.

By replanting with native broadleaf species such as oak, birch and heather, encouraging natural regeneration and restoring heathland, it is intended that the landscape will be improved and wildlife increased.

The project aimed to bring the site back into positive conservation management and forms part of a wider programme called the Dark Peak Nature Improvement Area, a partnership of local authorities, private landowners and conservation organisations.

Dave Aspinall, woodlands manager at Sheffield City Council, added: “The project experienced some technical challenges, not least the need to extract the timber in the most sensitive way.

“Helicopters have been used to speed up the work by lifting some of the cut trees on the steep slopes of the valley over the river where they were deposited in a processing area.

“This minimised disruption to important wildlife along the stream bed including water voles and dragonflies. We also carried out the work during the week only, so as not to disrupt the area on a weekend for walkers, mountain bikers and others who enjoy the countryside.”

The final stages of the work will be completed by the end of March. Meanwhile, the conifers, comprising larch, lodge-pole pine and Scots pine, have been taken to local sawmills to be turned into wood chip, pallets and saw logs.

A community planting day is also being organised on site, though dates and times are yet to be arranged. For further information on getting involved, contact Mr Aspinall on 0114 2053787.