Wealth of local skills helps restore historic Borders woodland

29th Mar 2018

The experience and skills of Borders’ foresters, craftsmen and young people were brought together to achieve the successful restoration of a 200-year-old historic woodland at Abbotsford, the home of Sir Walter Scott.

The £300,000 project, which has restored the woodland to Scott’s original vision, took 12 months to complete - and being based in the Borders was an advantage for Pippa Coles, Gardens Heritage Development Manager at Abbotsford, near Melrose.

“There were numerous challenges on the project, but there is a wealth of forestry experience here in the Borders and slightly further afield, which was great for us,” explained Pippa. “We were able to call on local firms to help us restore the woodland and make it good for the next 200 years.”

The restoration project was funded by the Forestry Commission Scotland’s ‘Woodlands In & Around Towns’ project and private donors. It took 12 months to complete the felling of trees, planting and path building, with the final work on signage and benches being completed in time for a day of celebration on Easter Sunday (April 1). Alongside the experienced contractors, the project also benefitted from the skills and enthusiasm of students at Borders College and pupils from Tweedbank Primary School.

The woodland was planted by Scott 200 year ago, but over the decades his descendants had given financial priority to the maintenance of the house and the woods had been neglected. Scott’s original paths had become overgrown, his planned views of the Tweed were obscured, and the woods were inaccessible to buggies and wheelchairs.

Pippa explained: “Over the years the forest and woodlands had been at the bottom of the list because of funds and issues with the house. The neglect meant the wood began to reach the point where 200-year-old trees hadn’t been tended and the woodland had become unsustainable.

“Through early discussions with the Royal Scottish Forestry Society and the Scottish Forestry Commission we contacted Andy Wiseman (Formerly of Buccleuch Rural Solutions), to think about how we could set off on the next 200 years, giving the woodland a new future in the spirit of Scott.

“The opportunity then came up to achieve this vision by a European funded grant, Woods In and Around Towns, from the Forestry Commission Scotland.”

Once funding was secured, work began on the site which presented a variety of challenges to the project team. The steep slopes, restricted access and riverside location were the obvious issues facing the professionals, but they also had to work around the many walkers who loved the woodlands, respect the reputation of one of the UK’s greatest literary figures and, in keeping to Scott’s original vision, implement a method of woodland management that tested modern ideas of how you should operate. This phase of work was managed by Netty Horne of Borders Forestry Consultants.

The Border’s forestry community rose to the challenge and finished the works in time for the opening celebrations on April 1, when a day of family activities will mark the completion of the woodlands.

Pippa said: “The site is very steep, planted on the river edge, so that was challenging. The scale of the trees also presented a challenge. It’s unusual to be felling 200-year-old trees, so we needed specialist contractors, plus there was the danger of damaging trees we wanted to keep, and to retain the value of the felled wood it had to be moved in enormous lengths.

“We had different teams doing different activities, with about 25 people working on site, with up to nine different contractors at the same time. We had a fantastic experience on the project, which went very smoothly, and the contractors have achieved something that they know is important for future generations.

“The woodland is now close to Scott’s original vision, and the gardens and woodland are now equal to the house in the Scott experience.”

Work is now underway to restore the land between the house and the Tweed to Scott’s original picturesque vision, with trees and shrubs being planted.

Borderers and firms working on the woodlands project included:

  • Andy Wiseman, formerly of Buccleuch Rural Solutions, who played a key role in planning the woodland;
  • Netty Horne of Borders Consultants (Forestry), Northumberland, engaged the contractors and planned and managed the teams on site
  • George Welsh, Four Seasons Forestry, whose team completed the high level cutting and felling;
  • Dean Dockray, Hexham, Northumberland who led the thinning work;
  • Glendinning Groundwork, Innerleithen, who built the new paths and installed drainage;
  • Rodger Builders, Earlston, who gave sponsorship in kind and installed the artisan benches;
  • David Kennedy & Iain Laidlaw, Scottish Forestry Commission South of Scotland;
  • Ross Ketteridge and a team at Real Wood Studios, Ancrum, designed and built the benches, made from the felled oaks;
  • W Campbell Fencing, Coldstream undertook the fencing and the more decorative fencing on the North Terrace;
  • T Keddie of Selkirk restored the wrought iron estate fencing.

Specialists from further afield included:

  • Ben Miller, BM Excavations Ltd, East Lothian; Peter McGowan, Peter McGowan Landscaping Associates, Edinburgh;
  • Nigel Buchan, Buchan Landscape Architecture, Edinburgh;
  • Chris Simpson, Informed Tree Services Ltd, Hamilton (tree health and safety survey).

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