A partnership between the Woodland Trust and the National Trust

Fingle Timber Goes Through the Mill

Parts of Fingle Woods have experienced a dramatic transformation this winter as the tree thinning and felling programme hit a crucial stage. After the Forestry Commission inspected some of the plantations of larch and served a Plant Health Notice in the autumn of last year, a sizeable fifteen hectares of Japanese larch has been clear-felled to prevent the spread of Phytopthora ramorum. This infectious plant disease can spread quite rapidly among certain plant species, and larch is one of them. To reduce the dispersion of the pathogenic spores the larch trees had to be felled before the needles began to regrow in the spring and this has dominated the work of the foresters at Fingle this year.
Now the felling is over, the woods will begin to recover. In some areas this will happen by natural processes as the young broadleaves will thrive on the reduced shading but, in other areas, the woodland restoration will need a helping hand. Thousands of young trees will be planted to replace the larch and speed up the process of the natural broadleaf recolonization of the Teign Valley.
As with all the timber being extracted from Fingle Woods, there is a commercial value to this resource and it can find its way to one of many end uses from the lower grade biomass wood-chip to high grade structural beams. Following one trailer load of larch timber to a local sawmill has revealed some interesting stories. Robert Colwill manages Petrock Timber, a long-established sawmill at Highampton in Devon and he received a truck load of Fingle larch during the winter. The articulated trailer transported two bays of larch in-the-round in lengths of 4.9 metres (16’) and 3.7 (12’) metres.

Fingle larch in 3.7 and 4.9 metre lengths

Fingle larch in 3.7 and 4.9 metre lengths

Bomber in full flight as he operates the timber mill

Bomber in full flight as he operates the timber mill

As Robert and his workforce only mill the timber to order, it may take a few months for all of it to be cut to size, but the initial batches have been converted to structural sections for agricultural buildings, cladding, fencing and gate posts, all for use in the north Devon area. Any offcuts will be used for smaller items and, this time round, the Woodland Trust’s Dave Rickwood has placed an order for around 8,000 tree stakes which will be used in the replanting job at Fingle Woods. There are many great examples of how local-grown timber can stay local. Waste is also avoided at the sawmill by sending the slab wood, the bark covered edges of timber, to be chipped for biomass. This is a relatively recent and growing use of wood and, as the timber market changes, Robert explains that “ten to fifteen years ago, there was less use for waste wood, now it all finds a home”.

Milled timber – struts and cladding for agricultural buildings

Milled timber – struts and cladding for agricultural buildings

He also explains how he maximises the benefit from the locally grown oak. Devon oak is generally quite slow growing and produces short lengths of knotty wood which is only suitable for small pieces. With careful milling, a range of smaller products can be produced, again for use in the local area. Robert is in the process of turning the latest batch of oak into bearings for agricultural rollers and, looking at a stack of part-milled timber he says “local oak is hard work, you have to cut around the knots”. The end product, though, is a tough and resilient block with accurately bored holes for the roller axle, mounting bolts and grease port. It should have many years of service in the fields of Devon ahead of it.

Part-milled oak in short lengths

Part-milled oak in short lengths

An agricultural bearing cut from knotty oak

An agricultural bearing cut from knotty oak

tree stakes stage 4 finished treated

Tree stakes cut from Fingle larch and treated before supporting the new trees

Once the larch has been milled to size it may have to go through one final stage before it is delivered to the customer. If any softwood timber is due to be exposed to high levels of moisture it’s life can be extended by pressure treating it with preservative, giving it a green tinge.

Some of the tree stakes for Fingle Woods have been through all the stages of manufacture and are now waiting collection. The Fingle Woods volunteers will be busy over the next few weeks as they will get to help with the tree planting task, using larch tree stakes to support the new growth of broadleaves and transform the slopes of the Teign valley to a more natural wild wood.

by Matt Parkins

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