Conservation work under way in Northumberland hills

The ongoing work on the Simonside Hills. Picture by A Mackenzie, NNPA
The ongoing work on the Simonside Hills. Picture by A Mackenzie, NNPA

Work to repair paths and stabilise areas of bare peat is now under way on the Simonside Hills in Northumberland National Park.

The Simonside Hills are designated as a European Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and are extremely popular with visitors. However, the pressure from visitors does present some problems for the fragile vegetation and underlying peat.

The ongoing work on the Simonside Hills. Picture by A Mackenzie, NNPA

The ongoing work on the Simonside Hills. Picture by A Mackenzie, NNPA

One of the consequences of this is that some areas of bare peat have developed on the steep north-facing side of Simonside summit and along the ridge itself in recent years. The area is now in urgent need of repair.

Northumberland National Park Authority has secured funding from Natural England and from a legacy to carry out some path repair and bare peat stabilisation works which will be happening over the next couple of weeks.

The repair work has begun with helicopter-lifting into position some 46 pallets of reclaimed mill flags onto the ridge for flagging along a defined path surface, as well as lifting 50 tonnes of local sandstone for pitching. Stone pitching in particular is a traditional skill undertaken by hand and this section of route will be particularly challenging.

Abi Mansley, Border Uplands Project coordinator for Northumberland National Park, said: “We know how popular Simonside is with visitors and it is absolutely fantastic to be making this project happen.

"These last areas of pitching and flagging will make a real difference to protect the land for generations to come. We have been determined for years now to complete the work on Simonside and are grateful for all the funders for their generosity”

Future plans for the site include some bog cotton transplants in summer 2016. The funding for the conservation and repair work has come from Natural England’s Water Framework Directive Grant in Aid and Geoff and Val Stoddart’s legacy, as well as Northumberland National Park Authority’s own project fund.

Nick Brodin, Natural England’s senior adviser biodiversity, said: “Simonside is one of the most important areas for blanket bog in Europe. Erosion of the peat means loss of the distinctive plant species which grow on the bog, release of extra carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and increased sediment run-off into adjacent rivers. The work being undertaken will address all of these issues and ensure that this iconic area is protected for future generations”.

Parts of the ridge was flagged with reclaimed mill stones more than 10 years ago and at the same time the lower section of the north face near a large rock - known as Bob Pyle’s Studdie - was pitched.

However, a few sections were left. On the ridge, for example, wet areas in winter have meant walkers are taking a wider line, which results in a braided path and bare peat. At Bob Pyle’s Studdie, it is unclear to walkers coming down the hill which is the best route, so again a wider and wider route is being opened up in the heather, sandstone and peat. This repair and conservation work will mean that the bare peat is stabilised to prevent further damage and walkers will now have a defined path to follow.