Mark Furnell, our volunteer coordinator was tasked with organising a team work day in the fresh air of the AONB. There were two criteria - good views and a fire.
With the Omicron wave of COVID-19 sweeping across the country in December the AONB staff team decided to cancel their Christmas social event as nobody wanted to be ill over Christmas. By mid-January we still hadn't met up as a team but nobody wanted to meet up indoors so Mark Furnell, our volunteer coordinator was tasked with organising a team work day in the fresh air of the AONB. There were two criteria - good views and a fire.
We're not short of good views on the Northumberland Coast so that bit was easy.
January 25th dawned cold and cloudy but at least it was dry. The team assembled in the Harper's Heugh parking area between Waren Mill and Belford and were armed with bowsaws, loppers and gloves. Tools, and a fine selection of food in-hand we headed up the hill to Kippy Heugh, a fine whinstone outcrop affording views over Budle Bay and across Ross to Holy Island so the first criteria had been met.
Our task for the day was to cut down Gorse bushes from the sides of the whinstone crag, and the best way to get rid of the gorse is to burn it. Criteria number two was met. Mark explained the importance of our task. These coastal whinstone outcrops, or Heughs, are found at the eastern end of the Great Whin Sill, a tabular band of the igneous rock that stretches from the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Hadrian's Wall to the coast between Embleton and Holy Island. The grassland that establishes on the shallow whinstone soils on these Heughs comprises a unique assemblage of plants only found on this area of the coast and nowhere else in the world. The whin grasslands here are rarer than rain forest! In recent years, changes to grazing and milder winters has meant that gorse has colonised the Heughs, outcompeting the host of more delicate grassland wildflowers. Through removing the gorse and appropriate grazing it is possible to restore this unique habitat - and that was our task. We set to work clearing the gorse whilst Mark got the fire going.
After lunch, whilst we waited for the fire to die down, Sarah Winlow took us to see the prehistoric settlement remaims on the western side of the heugh.
By the time we got back, the fire had died down and looked perfect for toasting marshmallows and thankfully Mark had come prepared. We'd earned them!
It wasn't the Christmas lunch in the pub we had planned, but we all agreed there was no finer place to meet each other again and enjoy the AONB at its best whilst helping to recover this unique habitat.