Words and photos by David Rickwood, Woodland Trust Site Manager, Devon
I took some time out from Fingle yesterday evening to visit possibly the most iconic of all Dartmoor Woods, Wistman’s Wood, a National Nature Reserve managed by Natural England. I was accompanied by Beccy Speight, the Woodland Trust Chief Executive, a rare chance for her to visit this beautiful wood while she was in Devon. It was a beautiful clear evening on the high moor and these incredible gnarled trees seemingly clinging to life in amongst the dense granite clitter (granite blocks) create an evocative landscape.
Although stunted in their growth some of the trees here are thought to be 400 years old. The woodland is dominated by the pedunculate oak Quercus robur, a species usually associated with lowland areas. This is just one of the mysteries of this magical woodland, that sits on the high moors of Dartmoor. The woodland boundaries appear have expanded in the past 100 years and the trees in this isolated pocket of woodland have regenerated and survived in amongst the granite blocks, the rocks providing some protection from the grazing livestock on the moor.
Early Spring, before the leaves begin to form, is a perfect time to see the real beauty of the rare lichens which drape the branches of the trees in many of Dartmoor’s woodlands. Wistman’s hosts a diverse range of lichen species each competing with their neighbour for survival. The huge range of epiphytes adorning the trees are due to the clean westerly air flows which are essential for their survival.
Much has been written about this iconic Dartmoor woodland. To see the technical SSSI citation for Wistman’s Wood. You can also read Adrian Colston’s perspective on the history of Wistman’s Wood (Adrian was the former Dartmoor General Manager for the National Trust).