Hidden bell pits uncovered as site is cleared by helicopters

Revealing a landscape hidden by forest for 30 years was the aim behind an arboriculture project that involved airlifting thousands of trees from a former ironworks.

Helicopters swooped into the Wilsontown Ironworks site in Lanarkshire last week and removed 2,000 trees from the area.

The unusual method of extraction took out part of a forest that was planted in the 1970s on top of a large group of shallow mines, or bell pits.

More than 77 bell pits have been recorded at the site, which was established in 1779 as the second coke-fired ironworks in Scotland.

The work is part of the first phase in the Wilsontown Iron Works Heritage Project, led by Forestry Commission Scotland, which aims to enhance the area for local people.

Forestry Commission Scotland community and environment ranger Emma Stewart said: "The biggest challenge for us has been finding a way to remove the trees from the bell pits in a way that didn't damage the mines and was safe for forestry workers. Usually we would use machines to fell the trees and move them to the roadside but we decided to use a helicopter to airlift the trees out."

The trees were removed in a five-day operation by PDG Helicopters, beginning on 13 March, and the bell pits will now be restored. Members of the community have also been involved in clearing vegetation and improving paths.

The core of the site is legally protected. It has been designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument since 1968.

Stewart added: "People will get a better idea of the sweat and toil spent here in the past, and the area will be one of the most wonderful places in Scotland to view this kind of industrial remains."

Historians, archaeologists, academics and local people have shared their knowledge of the ironworks site with the Forestry Commission, which is planning a revamp that, it is hoped, will attract people to the area for walking and recreation.

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