Towering trees in Cod Wood are showing signs of fungal rot at the base. These giant conifers of 30 metres tall have been standing near the riverside track for half a century, but since the National Trust and Woodland Trust have been encouraging the public to use these tracks for recreation, there is a growing risk to passers-by. There are many tons of Western Hemlock timber being supported by a slowly decaying base and it’s high time this risk is managed – reduced to a safe level. But how do you do that when a chainsaw cut into structurally unsound timber can result in an unpredictable and uncontrolled felling? It’s too risky to fell in the normal way. Trees in this condition need to lose some weight; if they are not so top heavy they can be brought to ground safely. The answer in this case is to dismantle the tree from the top down.
During February a team of tree surgeons was called in to operate; to remove the limbs and extract the crown. Rigged up with a system of ropes, the branches were cut and dropped to the ground, starting with the lowest first. The climbers harnessed their adrenaline, and reaching the tip of the formidable trees, they cut through the upright stem, leaving sections to fall to the bed of brash below. Piece by piece, the conifers’ height was safely lowered and weight reduced. At this point there are two options; to either fell the tree or leave a standing totem pole, a monument to fifty years of prolific growth. Standing deadwood is always a beneficial part of a woodland ecosystem. Its continuing gradual decay provides a home for wood-boring insects, the favourite food of woodpeckers. The increased daylight reaching the forest floor is also essential to revitalise the wild flower carpet that these conservation efforts are aiming for. In the Teign valley, these improved light levels will help the survival chances for the rare and botanically interesting Flax leaved St John’s wort and a multitude of other wild plants.
By Matt Parkins
Images taken by Paul Moody – www.zoutelief.co.uk
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