A STUNNING wood sculpture depicting animals birds and fish commonly seen on a new wildlife walk is captivating visitors, while also offering a rest for their weary feet.

The new wildlife bench near Bakethin Nature Reserve at Kielder Water & Forest Park, in Northumberland, has been carved by self-taught sculptor Tommy Craggs, of Consett, County Durham.

Funded through Heritage Lottery’s Living Wild at Kielder project, it features four sturdy otters within the two arms and back of the seat, providing arm and shoulder rests.

The undulating seating area depicts the rolling water of the Kielder Reservoir itself. A salmon is swimming along close to the surface, while another glides along in the depths.

Alighting on the rear of the bench with its wings still outstretched for balance is a magnificent osprey, representing the 10th successive year that ospreys have nested at Kielder.

The front base of the wildlife bench is full of wonderful nooks and crannies, some of them natural to the cedar wood that Tommy carved from, and others adapted to look like water pools and holes for wild creatures.

Tommy, 54, left school just as the steelworks were closing down so there were few opportunities for work. The only thing he had enjoyed at school was art, but in the early 1980s, art wasn’t a career option locally and college was out of the question. Over the next 25 years or so, Tommy took various labouring jobs but often found himself out of work and life was tough.

When he was 43, Tommy was working as a tree feller in a forest and he happened to see a wood carving of a giant mushroom in the forest, which inspired him.

He said: “I thought to myself - I could have a go at that.”

Tommy is now an established, award-winning wood carver, working nationally and internationally, carving works of art in wood for people and places from municipal parks, and city centres to private houses, stately homes, gardens and forests.

All Tommy’s work is carved from wood that has come from a sustainable managed forest, and from trees that have either fallen naturally or trees that have become diseased or dangerous.

He particularly enjoys carving people, as well as animals, and takes great care to perfect facial expressions. Considering most of his work is done with a chainsaw, this is quite an achievement. .

He says: “I’m very lucky to have found something I love doing, which can earn me a living. Not many people get that chance.”

Lynn Turner, Director of the Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust, says: “Tommy’s Wildlife Bench is becoming a big draw for visitors to Kielder. They love its simplicity, and the way it blends into the landscape naturally as if these creatures were already living within the carved wood.”

Tommy’s sculpture can be seen along along the new, easy 1.2 km Wild Walk at Bakethin Nature Reserve. It’s one of a series of new trails at Kielder which can be downloaded on the View Ranger App.

For more information about his work visit: www.treesculpting.co.uk. For more information about Kielder Water & Forest Park visit www.visitkielder.co.uk.