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  • Coleridge Wood and the much feared phytophthora pregnancy test……

Coleridge Wood and the much feared phytophthora pregnancy test……

Earlier this month The Woodland Trust and  National Trust we were served with a  Statutory Plant Health Notice by the Forestry Commission following confirmation that the larch in Coleridge Wood was infected with the tree disease phytophthora ramorum http://www.forestry.gov.uk/pramorum

This disease is widespread in the UK but the south west is a particular hot spot. The notice requires all the larch to be felled before the 31st March 2016, the reason for this timing is to minimise the spread of the disease in advance of the larch developing new infected needle growth in April 2016.


Image  P. Moody – All the larch in this image is to be felled, the view will look quite different come the spring of 2016….

The felling will begin later this week. The larch in Coleridge Wood was planted in two phases, first,  in 1947  and then a small rectangular crop planted in 1965. Prior to these plantings the slopes would have been dominated by oak coppice which had been managed for many hundreds of years.

Coleridge is one part of the wood where with the help of Bill Hardiman of the Moretonhampstead History Society we have been able to trace back some of the earliest known activity in the woods;

The most notable recorded event of the early middle ages was the grant of the area around the hamlet of Doccombe as a manor to the monks of Canterbury by William de Tracey in atonement for his part in the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170. This grant included the woodlands that became known as St Thomas Cleve (in memory of St Thomas Becket) and Coleridge Wood on the south-east side of the Fingle woods area. The Doccombe Estate remained in the hands of the church until the 1860s and was finally broken up in a sale in 1921.

The two manors jointly owned the woods for about a thousand years; the share being acknowledged as about two-thirds to the ‘lord of Moreton’ and one third to the ‘lord of Dockham’. Small sections were owned by others from time to time such as Dean and Chapter of Salisbury’s 33 acres at Halls Cleave. The manorial records show that timber and wood were recognised as a highly valuable resource to be carefully managed. Timber was used in the construction and repair of essential things like buildings [‘housebote’], sledges (still used in the woods until fairly recently), farm implements, fences [‘foldbote’] and bridges. Oak bark was vital to the tanners while wood and frith provided a source of fuel [‘firebote’]for homes and local industries such as wool, tin and brewing both directly and indirectly – extract form Fingle Woods – An Illustrated Historic Outline – W. Hardiman

Coleridge Wood covers an area of some 13 hectares (in old money 32 acres). Larch is  a light demanding species which means it needs an open and widely spaced canopy to thrive and it is intolerant of shade, this is unlike most conifers which tend to be heavily shade tolerant.  One of the benefits of a more open canopy is that other species can regenerate and establish under the larch canopy and in places were fortunate to have a good covering of oak coppice, birch, rowan and hazel. This means that once the larch is removed we will still have some tree cover albeit some what damaged by the felling of the larch.

Where the field layer is dominated by bracken there is little established tree growth in the understory and some planting may be required , however, where the oak coppice is still present the ground cover includes well developed patches of bilberry,  and some heather.


Photo. D. Rickwood – This is Leo and John from the Forestry Commissions Plant Health Team, its there job to check for the disease and then to console the landowner if the test appears positive. A very tricky job indeed.


Photo. D Rickwood – A resin bleed associated with dying branches in the upper crown of the tree, a sure sign of disease .


Photo. D Rickwood – The “pregnancy” test that confirms the presence of ‘a’ phytophthora disease. Samples are then taken for lab analysis to confirm the presence of the disease. At Coleridge Wood the symptoms on site were very clear.


Photo. P. Moody – Thankfully in places there is a good understory of oak coppice (mossy stems), we are unsure how quickly these old coppice stools  will respond to increased light levels and there will be some damage as we attempt to remove the larch trees (grey moss free stems).


Photo. P. Moody – The field layer has a good covering of bilberry in places. Bilberry is susceptible to the same disease affecting the larch so its import to get the larch down as quickly as we can to reduce the volume of infected spores in the atmosphere.


P. Moody – The fallow deer enjoy this part of the wood  and when the larch is felled this part of the site will be very open and “warm” however, its a double edged sword as they will love browsing the young trees were hoping will begin to establish once the larch is gone.


S. Burnham – Finally a map of the infected area – please avoid this area during the felling, warning signs and notices are in place.




One Comment

  • Miles King

    26th November 2015 at 12:45 pm

    sorry to hear this news Dave. This bit of Fingle is going to look very different next Spring. Thank goodness you have done all the work improving the extraction routes. Fingers crossed it isn’t too wet a winter…..


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