Byrness : The 20th Century Forestry Commission Village
The village was planned by Thomas Sharp and comprises simple terraces of two storey houses. The original plans included 47 terraced houses, shops, a church and a village hall (Charlton 1986, 69; Frodsham 2004, 137). Similar villages were built at Stonehaugh in Wark Forest and at Kielder. A limited amount of additional housing was also provided at Falstone. However these villages did not develop as planned and were never to reach their anticipated size because of unexpected problems encountered in managing the maturing forest, which resulted in substantial reduction in the workforce required.
Experience in the 1950s and 60s had revealed that if the Kielder conifer forests were thinned to allow the remaining trees to grow taller, in line with normal forestry practice, this left the standing trees acutely vulnerable to windblow (see Wilson & Leathart (eds.) 1982, 15-16).
Trees cannot root very deeply in the wet, ill-aerated Border soils. Dense undisturbed stands are nevertheless able to withstand the strong winds. Their roots form a continuous platform and their branches interlock and support each other, acting as filters to even out the gusts and dampers to moderate the violent oscillations of the stems. However thinning left each remaining tree standing on a small, isolated, shallow platform, liable to oscillate violently in even quite moderate gusts.
As the work progressed the winds wreaked havoc and by the mid 1960s, which were in any case a particularly windy period in the Borders, thinning had been abandoned on all but the lowest ground. Following a period of research and re-evaluation it was concluded that all crops over the 250m elevation (about 85% of the Kielder Forests) were unfit for thinning. This resulted in a high yielding harvest, composed predominantly of small trees, work which could readily be mechanised, and with little requirement for the more labour-intensive thinning operations.
The development of the forestry villages was brought to an abrupt halt. More recent changes in the organisation of work in the forests, involving the employment of outside contractors, have further reduced the requirement for forestry housing. Today's many of Byrness' inhabitants commute to work outside the valley, whilst those working in the forests travel in the opposite direction into the valley.