Hello! My name is Kelly Hollings and I am lucky enough to be one of the project officers, working alongside Graham Holyoak and a super team of volunteers for a project called Restoring Ratty. We are based at Kielder Castle, if you have any questions about this blog, please call us on 01434 250898.

In the summer of 2016, ‘Restoring Ratty,’ was born; a five year partnership project aimed to re-introduce water voles back into Kielder, thanks to a grant of £421,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Our partners are Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Forestry Commission and Tyne Rivers Trust.

We are coming to the end of our first year; have learnt lots on the way, and have received so much support. Most importantly we have released 560 water voles back into Kielder on the upper catchment tributaries of the Kielder Burn and North Tyne above Kielder Reservoir.

Our first task was to assist Ecologists from Derek Gow’s consultancy, Roisin Campbell-Palmer and Ben Wright to catch Water Voles from the North Pennines to breed from for our project. Consent was given to do this from Natural England and the North Pennines AONB. Only voles under 160 grams were taken as these were juveniles born in the very last litter and had a slim chance of surviving through the winter. We caught 16 voles in total from the North Pennines. Derek Gow already had some Water voles from a re-introduction project in Scotland taking the total up to 40 water voles to breed from. It is important to only breed from water voles in the North East and Scotland in order to maintain the correct genetic haplotypes.

The Water voles spent the winter at Derek Gow’s consultancy in Devon and were paired up in March. The first young were born in late April. And in June 320 young water voles bred in captivity by Derek Gow were brought up to Kielder Water & Forest Park to be released! A huge thank you goes to all who helped us, especially our volunteers and staff from Forestry Commission and Tyne Rivers Trust. We undertook another release in August and will be repeating this for the next 2 years.

20 years ago water voles were common sights in Kielder, but were sadly wiped out by the American mink released from a local fur farm. Forestry Commission Rangers spent years trapping mink and we can now declare that Kielder is mink free and safe for the water vole’s return

Our much valued volunteers still head out into the forest twice a month to check the mink rafts for tracks; this will remain hugely important throughout the next 4 years. We need to maintain a mink free zone in order for the release of water voles to be successful. We are pleased to report that we have found no confirmed signs of mink since this project began. We are always happy to welcome new volunteers, if you would like to find out more, please contact Kelly Hollings, Kelly.hollings@northwt.org.uk

We have begun to roll out our 3-way school Education programme. In September we worked with Terrington Hall School in York who helped us capture some voles from a Forestry Commission site in the North York Moors, to breed from for our next release. In March 2018, we shall be working with St Davids School in Exeter and Devon Wildlife Trust, who will be visiting Derek Gow’s farm and learning about the breeding of water voles. Bellingham Middle School will help us with the next release in June 2018.

You can follow the progress of the project:
via Facebook at: www.facebook.com/Restoring Ratty or
via the Trust website: www.nwt.org.uk/restoringratty
This video gives a flavour of our first year from start to finish, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ko7UktGXFqg&t=360s

There are some days at work that you know you will remember for the rest of your life. Since I’ve started working at Kielder, I’ve already had a few…

Mid-June saw the return of a much-loved mammal back into Kielder Water & Forest Park – the water vole!

So why is the project called Restoring Ratty? Probably the most well-known water vole can be found in the classic children’s book ‘The Wind in the Willows’ –‘Ratty’, that charismatic and kind gentleman who lives on the river bank. Sadly, the water vole has been lost from 97% of its original British range in the past 30 years, mainly through predation by the introduced American mink. Although water voles were historically present within Kielder Water & Forest Park, water voles have not been seen in the area for at least 20 years.

Water vole in Kielder Water & Forest Park credit Katy CookBringing the water vole back to Kielder has been a long process, with much work taking place in the preceding years by my colleagues at Northumberland Wildlife Trust and our partners in the Forestry Commission and Tyne Rivers Trust, along with other individuals and organisations. To make sure that they are returning to a safe habitat, volunteers have been checking mink rafts in strategic locations around the forest to ensure that mink can no longer be found here. The Forestry Commission has done much to improve water vole habitat, leaving open areas next to water courses after felling which means banksides have more light, allowing a greater range of plants to grow.

With thousands of checks confirming that there are no mink in Kielder, and much work on habitat improvement, we have every confidence that the conditions are right for the voles to thrive.

The first step of the project was to find water voles to use as breeding stock for our reintroduction programme. Individuals have been taken from stable populations in Scotland and the North Pennines (so that they are genetically similar to the water voles that were here in years gone by). The voles then travelled to Devon to spend time with Derek Gow and his team who are experts in water vole captive breeding techniques.

I joined the Restoring Ratty team of staff and volunteers to release the last few individuals out into the wild. During the previous week, over 300 water voles had been returned to various locations in Kielder. Walking along the meandering burns with some of our dedicated volunteers, it was the most wonderful thing to see the wide smiles on their faces as they released these much-loved animals back into the wild. All of their hard work and dedication over the previous years had finally paid off!

In the afternoon, we took the children from Kielder First School up to the release site and what a delight to see their excitement and hear the many ‘oohs’ and ‘awwwwwwws’. These children must be some of the most well-versed in conservation in England as they get to be involved in so many different projects taking place in the Park! I’m sure the sight of water voles swimming away from us across the pond is something they’ll remember forever – it’s certainly something that will stay with me.

If you want to spot them for yourself, the best chance currently is to visit the wildlife hide on the forest drive which is accessed from Kielder Castle – there is a small fee payable for going up in your car. An alternative is to walk up the track and leave your car behind, which is about 1.5miles each way. Further introductions will be taking place over the lifetime of the project, with the next release scheduled for August.

None of this would be possible without funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, so a huge thank you to them (and to you if you buy a lottery ticket!).

If you want to keep up with the progress of the water voles, visit the ‘Restoring Ratty’ website www.nwt.org.uk/restoringratty and the ‘Restoring Ratty’ Facebook page for updates, photos and a video of the first release.

Thanks to National Lottery players, through a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), the project began in October 2016 with the main aim of promoting the wildlife of Kielder Water & Forest Park. It’s great to be working back at Kielder and talk about going full circle – my first job as an 18 year old was cleaning the holiday lodges over the summer holidays!

Roughly 50% of England's red squirrel population can be found within Kielder Forest

Roughly 50% of England’s red squirrel population can be found within Kielder Forest

Hi! I’m Katy Cook, Project Coordinator for the Living Wild at Kielder project.

Kielder Water & Forest Park is home to the biggest man-made lake in Northern Europe and, at over 250 square miles, the largest working forest in England. For many people, commercial forests can seem dark, forbidding places, with a much lower diversity of wildlife than your typical English broadleaf woodland… but look closer and there are some fantastic species that make their home here.

In March, I took part in a Forestry Commission guided walk to look for goshawks displaying over the forest canopy. Goshawks are resident all year round in Kielder Forest, but usually are quite secretive birds that hunt amongst the trees.

If you haven’t seen one before, they’re an arresting sight – like a sparrowhawk on steroids! Your best chance of spotting them is during the spring when males and females are looking for a mate and, although we were watching at quite a distance, I still felt dizzy observing the rollercoaster flight of its sky dance, a display I won’t ever forget.

An added bonus of the walk was seeing countless crossbills, perched like little parrots with neon plumage on the tops of the trees. Crossbills are conifer specialists, and a quick look at their unique beak shows their adaptations for extracting the seeds out of cones – nature is so very clever.

One of my personal favourite species is the red squirrel, having been fortunate enough to have spent four years working for the Red Squirrels Northern England (RSNE) project which is dedicated to protecting this iconic native mammal – who doesn’t remember Squirrel Nutkin from their childhood?

Kielder Forest is famously our largest red squirrel reserve and contains an estimated 50% of all the red squirrels that can be found in England. The more I
worked on squirrel conservation, the more I learned: did you know for example that squirrels only have four fingers and no thumbs? One of my favourite activities to do with family groups was to get everyone to try and build a drey wearing modified gloves with the thumbs sewn closed – it soon gives you an appreciation for their dexterity and appreciate just how amazing they are. Now imagine doing that high up in the canopy whilst keeping watch for predators!

Kielder’s most famous residents are arguably the ospreys that returned to breed at Kielder in 2009 for the first time in over 200 years.

Kielder's most famous resident the osprey

Kielder’s most famous resident the osprey

Ospreys used to be widely distributed through Europe, but persecution by
egg and skin collectors led to their extinction in England in 1840 and Scotland by 1916. Natural recolonization took place in 1954 with a pair of Scandinavian
birds nesting at Loch Garten in Scotland. Since then, the osprey has spread through the UK, although Scotland remains the main stronghold.

As I write this towards the end of April, there are four pairs nesting at Kielder, with the first bird arriving back on 26th March. Two of the nests have eggs and it won’t be long until hopefully all four pairs are incubating. But don’t just take my word for it, go and see them for yourselves… you will not be disappointed.

I suggest you visit Osprey Watch at Kielder Waterside, where Northumberland Wildlife Trust staff and volunteers are available to show you the nest through scopes and you can also see footage streamed directly to our Osprey Cabin live from two of the nests.Osprey Watch is now running every Saturday, Sunday and Monday from 10.30am – 4.30pm until the birds begin to migrate in mid- August.

You can also view the live nest cam footage at Kielder Castle café and, for the most up to date information on the Kielder ospreys, visit the blog at https:// kielderospreys.wordpress.com – a great way to ensure your Kielder experience continues long after you have returned home.

If you want to explore more of the wonderful wildlife that can be found in Kielder Water, take part in the Wild at Kielder festival over the weekend of
Saturday 13th and Sunday 14th May at various locations across the Park. A huge range of activities will be available, including wildlife safaris, alpaca walks, wildlife and osprey boat cruises, wild food foraging and much, much more. For more details and to book your tickets, visit www.nwt.org.uk/wildatkielder

I hope to see you there!

Katy Cook
Project Coordinator
Northumberland Wildlife Trust

Kielder's first 24 hour mountain bike race

Kielder’s first 24 hour mountain bike race

On 11/12th of Feb 2017, some 200 riders will descend on the frozen winter wonderland of Kielder Castle, ready to push themselves and their bikes to the limit.  This event has long been in the planning with the Forestry Commission keen to make it a success and highlight the use of the fantastic trails in both winter and summer.

With entries opening a month ago, there are already over 100 people signed up for the challenge.  Riders are coming from all over, including Belgium, Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, Isle of Man and even the remote Orkney Islands.  All visitors will be welcomed with open arms and shown the usual high standards of hospitality the area offers.

The chosen route for the event centres around the Deadwater Red with the addition of some extra forest tracks put in for event vehicles.  These trails are carefully crafted by the volunteer Kielder Trail Reavers who work hand in hand with the Forestry Commission.  All these people are passionate about riding and the tracks are a reflection of this passion, combining testing climbs with fast and flowing descents.

If riding a mountain bike for 24 hours was not enough of a challenge, the weather is also going to have a big say on the experience.  Kielder sits well above sea level and the bracing winds that can whip up will chill people to the bone.  Competitors who have chosen to ride in pairs will at least get some respite as they shelter in their cars, but solo riders get no such luxury.

Although the ride is a race, there is always space for people who want to try this type of riding for the first time.  Kielder trails are there for everyone and this race takes the same ethos.  So why not try the ultimate test of mountain bike endurance?  Take on the wild elements of northern England and still be on your bike when the sun starts to rise on Sunday morning.  Let the beauty of Kielder fill your senses and your soul.  Now what are you waiting for?

The launch of "The grass seemed darker than ever"

The launch of “The grass seemed darker than ever”

In 2015 Kielder Art & Architecture invited expressions of interest from artists or architects to create a new temporary work for the surroundings of Kielder Castle, Forestry Commission England’s visitor base in Kielder Water & Forest Park, Northumberland. Interested parties were asked to propose a work of contemporary art or architecture in any media that explores and responds to the Castle and its broad environs. This commission would become part of a larger strategic project by Forestry Commission England and the Kielder Trust, involving artists Heather & Ivan Morison and Mosedale Gillatt Architects, that is currently exploring options for the longterm future usage and identity of the Castle and the wider western end of Kielder Water & Forest Park.

The call out resulted in the London-based artist, Fiona Curran, being selected to create ‘The grass seemed darker than ever’. Located only 600m from Kielder Castle visitor centre, the sculpture consists of  350 individually painted sycamore fence palings encircling a section of the forest, which has now been painted black.

The piece is inspired by the history of enclosure of the English landscape, reflecting, in particular, the Black Act of the 18th Century. This Act enabled the death sentence to be passed on people suspected of poaching on the newly-enclosed land, or those found in the forest with blackened faces.

Fiona said: “It has been a wonderful experience working at Kielder over the past year with such a committed and supportive team of people. The landscape has been a constant source of inspiration throughout the changing seasons. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to work in such a magical place, to participate in the Art and Architecture programme, and to contribute to the area’s rich histories.”

The launch also saw the introduction of ten temporary installations created by Fine Art students at Newcastle University. All 11 pieces of work form part of Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust’s Art and Architecture programme. These particular pieces have been made possible thanks to support from the Forestry Commission, Northumbrian Water, and Arts Council England.