History

Watchtree Farm
Watchtree Farm originally named in memory of a tree from which local people used to maintain a watch for reivers heading towards the area from Scotland.

RAF World War Two airfield and related buildings
In 1941 much of the required land required for Great Orton Airfield had belonged to Robert Timperon of Watchtree Farm, it was requisitioned “under wartime emergency powers”. The airfield was intended as a satellite for Silloth, but was built larger than its parent unit but had fewer facilities. Work began in August 1942 its layout of three concrete runways, along with a perimeter track it had four blister hangars, a control tower – as well as various communication, technical and accommodation blocks in the north.

An official opening took place in June 1943, but did not become operational until October and later it became an air ammunition park for the storage of various munitions until closure on August 15 1952. It was not until June 9th 1964 that the airfield was sold and local farmers who carried out work to convert barren scrubland that the airfield had become to productive use.

Agricultural Use
From 1964 until 2001 the site was used primarily as agricultural land with other ancillary activities taking place.

Car Rally Facility
The site had been used occasionally for car rally events.

Micro Light School/Flying Club
Great Orton Flying Club in July 1989 flew microlight aircraft from the old airfield runways until 2001.

Clay Pigeon Shooting Club
Carlisle and District Gun Club as a tenants of a local farmer had used the site twice a month from 1988 for clay-pigeon shooting until 2001.

Wind Turbines
The six turbines comprising the Great Orton wind farm (three of which are located on Watchtree Nature Reserve) replaced ten smaller turbines in 1999. This “re-powering” increased the maximum generating capacity of the wind farm from 3 to 4 MW but, to achieve this output, all six turbines must be operational and the wind must be blowing at between 30 and 55 mph. For these reasons, the average output over the eight years from 2003 to 2010 was less than 1 MW (22% of the maximum capacity). These turbines are 45m high to the hub with a maximum height of 68.5m to the tip of the blades.

Foot & Mouth Disease Burial Site
In 2001 during the foot and mouth outbreak what had been the RAF’s Great Orton airfield became internationally infamous during the crisis through images of animal slaughter and carcass burial broadcast around the world, and it seemed likely the site would be associated only with those harrowing scenes for many decades. The old Airfield had been acquired by Defra for the burial of farm livestock killed during the Foot and Mouth Disease between February and July that year.

But one positive legacy of the crisis where half a million or more animal carcasses were buried during that year’s cull of Cumbrian livestock was the dedication of local people with support from Defra and other bodies, which resulted in its transformation into what is now a wildlife haven, educational facility and leisure attraction, was the creation of Watchtree Nature Reserve.

Watchtree Nature Reserve was created in 2002 on the site of the former Great Orton WW2 Airfield. Following the burial of farm livestock killed during the Foot and Mouth Disease between February and July of 2001.

The after use of the site as a nature reserve was overwhelming view of people from the Local Community who responded to the consultation. It was renamed Watchtree as this was the name of the farm that occupied the site before it was developed as the Airfield in 1942.

Watchtree Nature Reserve Ltd was created in August 2004 by seven people from the Local Community as a Not For Profit Company. The company took on the trial management of the Nature Reserve in April 2005 and from April 1st 2006 under 25 year lease and land management agreement and a ten year funding agreement.

The agreement was to manage the development of the habitats and species, develop public access and educational use of the site. Defra retained all responsibility for the management of the ‘Operational’ aspects of the site through their appointed ‘facilities management company’ with whom Watchtree Nature Reserve Ltd would maintain close liaison.

Watchtree Nature Reserve Ltd became a Registered Charity in January 2009.

Watchtree Wheelers
Watchtree Wheelers was created in 2007 to provide a cycling opportunity for disabled and disadvantaged people within the reserve environment.