Australia Day takes place on Saturday 26th January and will see many Aussies down under light up the barbie as they celebrate their history and heritage. Closer to home, volunteers in the Land of Oak & Iron have learned heritage skills in managing woodlands, producing charcoal that will be used to light BBQs across the region come the warmer weather.
Led by Peter Downes, Access & Woodland Officer from the Land of Oak & Iron, and Bill Oakes from Greenwood Training, 14 volunteers were taken through the process of making charcoal, from coppicing to burning, at Priestfield Wood near Burnopfield.
Peter said: “The weather may be cold and snowy here and our thoughts are far from digging out the BBQ to dine al fresco. However, what most people don’t realise is that preparations for the summer season here in the UK actually begin in the middle of winter.
“There’s nothing quite like the taste of chargrilled burgers with a cold beer and the BBQ has become synonymous with the summer season. While it may be blazing hot in Oz at the moment, we’re working with volunteers as part of a woodland management programme now, to ensure locals have all the charcoal they need once the sunnier skies arrive.”
During their time at Priestfield Wood, the volunteers learned that coppicing is a traditional method of managing woodlands, where trees are felled at the base or stool, allowing them to regrow multiple stems and provide a sustainable supply of timber. From the coppicing activity, sycamore, birch and hazel were collected to produce the raw materials needed for the burn, carbonising the wood by burning it in a low-oxygen environment in a process which takes several days.
As a result of the burn, in December, 41 bags of charcoal weighing a total of 80kg were produced. This charcoal is now on sale in the Land of Oak & Iron Heritage Centre at Winlaton Mill and the Tyne Riverside Café in Tyne Riverside Country Park at Prudhoe. The proceeds from the sale of the charcoal will be reinvested in Priestfield Wood through tree planting and woodland management work.
Karen Daglish, Partnership Manager at the Land of Oak & Iron, said: “Australia Day might be a great excuse for us to talk about charcoal, now, here in the UK, but the fact is our team of volunteers have been learning some brilliant skills, that belong to the heritage of the region.
“In keeping these skills alive under the watchful eye of experts like Peter and the team, we’re working to make sure they aren’t lost to history and are put to good use. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate than with a good old BBQ – it’s just a shame the weather’s not quite up to scratch yet!”
Interest in learning how to make charcoal is growing and as a result, Land of Oak & Iron is planning another two training sessions. The first is scheduled for March with the second in the autumn.
The Land of Oak & Iron is a 177 km 2 area surrounding the Derwent Valley including Consett, Rowlands Gill, Prudhoe and Whickham. It is rich in woodland and natural habitats to explore, with a wealth of wildlife to discover and enjoy, as well as being home to areas of great industrial importance that once shaped the landscape.
The Land of Oak & Iron project is hosted by Groundwork NE & Cumbria and has been made possible by National Lottery players through a £2.2m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
For more information about the Land of Oak & Iron visit: http://landofoakandiron.org.uk