Elaine Rigg worked at the Park for 22 years

An area of native woodland near Greenlee Lough in Northumberland National Park, has been extended and dedicated to a former member of staff in a ceremony looked on by family, friends, and colleagues.  

Elaine Rigg, formerly Landscape and Recreation Manager at Northumberland National Park, worked for the Park for 22 years* but she sadly passed away a year ago this month with cancer. She was responsible for founding many areas of new native woodland woven throughout the National Park, such as Kilham near Kirk Yetholm, Dueshill near Rothbury and Ryeclose Wood in North Tyne. Back in the early 1990’s as part of her first job as a planner, Elaine also wrote the National Park Plan. 

The area of woodland dedicated to Elaine is situated to the northwestern side of Greenlee Lough, a site of significance to conservationists, North of Winshields Crags, Hadrian’s Wall, and The Sill: Landscape Discovery Centre. 

The wood was first established by Elaine, over 20 years ago, when Northumberland National Park hosted an annual conference of 15 UK National Parks. The Park was concerned about the carbon emissions resulting from travel from other Parks to the conference and so it was proposed that a wood would be established to help offset emissions. Conditions at the site are exposed for many plants to survive but Elaine persisted and identified it as a suitable site to begin establishing a native broadleaf woodland and organised its planting.  

Over two days, Thursday 29 February and Monday 18 March, 32 of Elaine’s family, friends, old colleagues, current members of National Park staff and members of Hexham Rotary Club, gathered in the woods to hear the dedication. A wooden plaque was affixed to the top end of the wood with the words ‘Elaine’s Wood’ routed into the plaque by Northumberland National Park Rangers. 

Tony Gates, Chief Executive Officer, led the dedication to Elaine, saying: 

“My lasting memory of Elaine is someone who just knew her stuff and cared passionately about her job and getting it right. If she felt there was a piece of woodland in the wrong place, she would say. And I think in her memory, we carry that passion forward at Northumberland National Park. 

“So, when the idea to dedicate the wood to Elaine was posed, I thought it a wonderful suggestion because people who work for National Parks do so because they care, and Elaine had such a connection to this place that there could be no better tribute than this wood being named after her.” 

Former colleague, Dr Albert Weir, who worked with Elaine for the longest and gave her her first job at Northumberland National Park was next to speak. He said that Elaine’s passion for woodland may have contributed 20 years later to the notion of rewilding areas to address biodiversity loss. He said that he still thinks about Elaine pretty much every day, saying: “We are devastated as colleagues. She was a truly nice person and I’m privileged to have known her.”  

When Elaine planted the wood 20 years ago, she had the idea to leave some gaps in the planting potentially for a memorial, never anticipating it would be used to commemorate herself. 

After the dedication, the group set about extending the existing woodland with a range of native broadleaf saplings including rowans, silver birch, alder, willow and bird cherry. 

In addition, hundreds of oak tree saplings that Elaine and her husband Andrew grew from local acorns were also planted, including one near the plaque. 

Speaking about his late wife, Andrew Rigg, said: “Elaine secured the original funding to plant the woodland back in 2003. Today, we are extending it with trees that Elaine and I grew from acorns over the last five years. It’s a great privilege for me and an honour for the family to have this wood dedicated to Elaine but, in particular, she would think it wonderful if she still were here today. Elaine so loved her job at the National Park.” 

After retiring from the National Park in 2011 Elaine established a successful consultancy called EPR and worked around the North East and Scotland until she and Andrew finally retired in 2022. Sadly, only one month after her retirement Elaine was diagnosed with cancer.  

Andrew Rigg is also Hexham Rotary’s Environment Team Leader. Over the last 5 years new native woodlands have been established and managed in partnership with the Woodland Trust, the National Trust, Northumberland County Council and on private land in the Tyne Valley to offset the effect of Ash Chalara (Dieback) and to offset CO2 emissions. Andrew says “Rotary is such an effective vehicle for such projects as tree planting, accessing both funds and volunteers. The tree planting compliments all the other worthwhile community projects that Rotary completes every year”     

Gill Thompson, Ecologist for Northumberland National Park worked with Elaine for 12 years and was the person who initiated the idea of naming the woodland after her colleague. She said “Elaine did a lot of work planning and planting of trees and when I go around the Park, I see many of the fantastic woodlands that were initiated by her. When she sadly passed away last year, we thought it would be a fitting tribute to dedicate a wood to her, and it’s lovely to see something positive come out of this even though it’s a sad time for us all.” 

The woodland is on land owned by Northumberland National Park. In the future, as well as establishing more trees in the area, plans include rewetting the woodland to create a rare woodland habitat for botanicals and wildlife and create a footpath around the site so it can become a place to visit. Specialists at the National Park also plan to have the wood’s new name reflected on the Ordnance Survey map. 

The wider Greenlee Lough site is the location of Northumberland National Park’s landscape scale nature-first project, Hadrian’s Wall: Recovering Nature, which has bold ambitions to develop the area around Greenlee Lough to the benefit of the local ecology, letting people get hands on with nature recovery, while setting new benchmarks in conservation practice.