A partnership between the Woodland Trust and the National Trust

Doing the Right Thing – The Plot Thickens

Fingle bird survey part 3

After two years of woodland restoration at Fingle Woods we’re all hoping we’ve made a good start to protect this magnificent wooded valley. But from time to time we have to stand back and ask ourselves whether we are doing the right thing. We all know the plan; a gradual removal of planted conifers will allow the ancient woodland to recover. We might assume that, if we transform Fingle Woods from a timber crop to wild woods, the wildlife will respond and recolonise the valley. But is this true? How do we know?
To make sure our efforts are having the right effect and improving the habitats for wild species we need to check, look closely, listen carefully and collect information about “Where the Wild Things Are”. There are teams of volunteers and ecologists at work in the woods, monitoring the habitats in Fingle and, with other partner organisations, we can get a detailed understanding, year on year, of how our combined conservation efforts are going.

surrounded by conifers

Pockets of broadleaves in the conifers (P Moody)

One morning in June I went for a very quiet walk in Fingle Woods with local volunteer Julia Mockett. She has offered to do a monthly survey of one of the ‘demonstration plots’ that have been set up by the RSPB to monitor the numbers of some of the ‘red list’ species of birds. Based on the results of Rob Macklin’s surveys, these plots will study spotted flycatchers, pied flycatchers and marsh tits. Julia has taken on the task of checking the 11.6-hectare marsh tit plot and, as we walk, she listens keenly. Whispering and taking notes each time a bird call is heard, she shows great skill to identify the species. I creep quietly behind her with concentration on red alert. Her list grows; there’s a blackcap, a whitethroat, a willow warbler and a goldcrest. Then from deep in the bracken, a deer coughs and we both jump, startled by the rasping outburst. When my heart rate returns to normal Julia points to a group of trees. “That’s a marsh tit” she whispers.

One of the lighter spots – a good habitat for song birds?

One of the lighter spots – a good habitat for song birds?

When we reach the main track by the river I ask her how she recognises all these bird songs. “It was a misspent youth” she replies, recalling many days spent sitting underneath trees, marveling at the natural world. As the survey is completed we notice movement on a broad beech tree on the far bank of the river Teign. It’s a family of four tree creepers learning how to find food. Then, climbing back up the forest track, we head back to our start point through a mighty stand of beech. The high canopy and spaced out stems provide a beautiful acoustic quality and we finish our walk with a break to listen to a song thrush in fine voice.

Julia listening attentively while monitoring the bird plot

Julia listening attentively while monitoring the bird plot

Over the next few years, Julia’s results and those from other RSPB plots with provide a depth of detail about the wild habitats of the woods. They will give the woodland management team the best accurate information to make plans and make sure we’re doing the right thing.

by Matt Parkins

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