It was a beautiful sunny afternoon on 18 May, when members of the Dartmoor Society took a tour of Fingle Woods, lead by Dave Rickwood (Site Manager).
The group are pictured standing at a spectacular vantage point high above the River Teign. From here there are long views up and down the valley – a perfect introduction to the landscape scale of the restoration of the woodlands. The mixed patchwork of conifer and broadleaf trees form interesting textures from a distance and this view will slowly change as conifers are gradually removed from areas of Fingle Woods.
The members were particularly interested in hearing about the plans to preserve Wooston Castle. Not a castle as we know it, but an Iron Age hill fort. Wooston is one of three hill forts in the valley, which is of great interest to archaeologists as they do not yet understand the hill forts connection to eachother or their purpose. The area of the Scheduled Ancient Monument is extensive and the group had the chance to walk around the large open area at the centre of the hill fort and also to see the impressive earthworks in the surrounding woods.
Dave Rickwood explained that the hillfort urgently needs active management to halt the decline in its condition and he described how, working with archaeologists, a detailed management plan is being developed to help preserve this ancient site. Some trees have already been removed from the area within the centre of the hill fort and this has given a sense of the dramatic scale of Wooston Castle.
One of the impressive earthworks in the woods around Wooston Castle that will need some management to protect the archaeology
Archaeologists are particularly concerned by the damage that bracken rhizomes have on the below ground archaeology and there are plans to use horses with specialist rolling equipment to manage the bracken in the flat area at the centre of the hill fort (pictured below). Areas of young trees will also be felled within the Scheduled Ancient Monument, as their active root systems damage the archaeology. The mature trees will be retained because of their value for wildlife and because their roots have already matured.
It was really good to have the opportunity to explain the work that is planned at Fingle Woods to members of the Dartmoor Society. The award of £730,000 to enhance the restoration of Fingle Woods, that was announced on 25 May, will support the management work on Wooston Castle including some excavations and interpretation. The funding is spread over the next five years so there will be lots of opportunities for the Dartmoor Society members to follow progress and hopefully start to see some very positive changes. You can also read a short report of this visit on the Dartmoor Society website.