Workshop 3: Kielder Water and Forest Park


Date: 25-27 March 2011

Venue: Leaplish Waterside Park conference centre, Kielder

Construction of Kielder Dam and Reservoir. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Kielder Water and Forest Park is the location of the largest artificial lake in the UK and northern Europe, with a capacity of 200 billion litres, the largest hydroelectric plant in England, and is next to Europe’s largest artificially planted forest, which covers an area of nearly 650 square kilometres.  In the early twentieth century, however, the area was moorland which was used for grazing sheep and rearing grouse. Planting the forest began in the 1920s. In the 1930s, unemployed miners and shipyard workers from the nearby industrial centres in the northeast of England were given work planting trees. The forest is now managed by the Forestry Commission.  Construction of the dam began in 1975 and lasted until 1981. It took two years for the lake behind the dam to fill. The reservoir was intended to supply water to the region’s industries, for example ICI and British Steel on Teesside, but the subsequent period witnessed the decline of industry in the northeast. The lake remains a repository of drinking water that can be transferred from the Tyne catchment to the rivers Wear and Tees. The lake is owned and managed by Northumbrian Water Group plc, which is the project partner for this workshop. The main use of the lake and the vicinity, however, has been as a major recreation resource for the population of the region. Kielder Water and Forest Park hosts a range of activities, including sailing, kayaking, water skiing, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, horse riding,  and spotting wildlife. It is perhaps a paradox that an area that has been transformed by human activity in planting the forest and damming the river is also an important habitat for rare and endangered species. The forest is England’s most important red squirrel reserve, and home to the largest remaining population of red squirrels in the country. For the first time in more than two centuries, moreover, ospreys have nested successfully in the northeast of England.

Workshop Organiser: David Moon, History Dept, Durham University,

Project Partner: Northumbrian Water Group plc,


David Archer, Tyne and Tide. A Celebration of the River Tyne (Daryan Press, 2003), Ch. 10.

C.S. McCulloch, ‘The Kielder Water Scheme: the last of its kind?’, in Henry Hewlett (ed.) Improvements in reservoir construction, operation and maintenance (Thomas Telford Books, 2006), , pp. 196-210.

R. McIntosh, ‘The history and multi-purpose management of Kielder Forest’, Forest Ecology and Management, Volume 79, Issues 1-2 (November 1995), pp.1-11.


Map Kielder

Seamless historical map provided by the National Library of Scotland.
The map is composed of map sheets from Ordnance Survey map series:
1:1 million, Great Britain, 1933; Quarter-inch to the mile, England and Wales, 1919-1921; One-inch to the mile, New Popular edition, England and Wales, 1945-1947