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Demonstrating best practice – Forest Services Board

Last week the team at Fingle were  honoured to welcome the England Executive Board of the Forest Service (FS). Their chief role is to provide leadership for the Forestry Commission in England by setting the strategic framework for all their business in the country.

The main photo shows those members of the England Executive Board who visited:

  • Richard Greenhous – Director of Forest Services
  • Joe Watts – National Team Leader, Sustainable Forest Management
  • Stephanie Rhodes – Head of National Expertise & Strategic Development
  • Richard Britton – Head of Forest Services Delivery
  • Jane Coles – Strategic Development Team Leader
  • Mark Prior – Area Director Representative

and colleagues from the South West regional team:

  • Richard Paton – Acting Partnerships and Expertise Manager
  • Kate Tobin – Local Partnerships Advisor
  • Roger Ford – Acting Field Manager


The Board were especially interested in the interactions between the local Forestry  Commission Office  and  the Woodland Trust and National Trust as joint land owners. The team were fortunate to join us a beautiful autumn day when we were at our most busy.

The visit began with a discussion about the support the Forestry Commission has provided landowners for capital investment to unlock timber resources.


This was the old Dartington Sawmill at the top of Clifford Hill, which had very limited space to turn lorries or stack timber and there was no access for modern timber hauliers.


Following the granting of the Woodfuel WIG in 2015 this entrance was widened to permit haulage access suitable for modern articulated vehicles. This alone has resulted in a £2/3 per tonne improvement in prices being offered, a benefit which will continue long term.


The Woodland Trust and  National Trust were able to benefit from a support mechanism under the English Woodland Grant Scheme  called the Woodfuel WIG, that provided a 60% capital grant towards road infrastructure. At Fingle we undertook four improvements in 2014 . Together this enabled timber haulage from more than one direction, thus taking pressure off the Chertion Bishop access route (which had traditionally limited the type of haulage vehicles used).

We then walked to an area felled in 2015 as a result of a Plant Health Notice. These are issued by the Forestry Commission following the notification of the tree disease Phytophthora ramourm. This compels the landowner to fell the diseased trees to minimise further spread. The trees in this instance were sufficiently mature to ensure a return on the felling operation but for many landowners the notification can be very expensive and there is no compensation available. The cost of felling and extraction can be very high on steep sites typical of Dartmoor and many smaller farm woods have no access roads or tracks making operations very difficult and hugely expensive.


Area felled due to the tree disease Phytophthora ramourm which affects larch but can spread to bilberry and other native ground flora. Now replanted with oak, hazel, rowan, birch and holly.

Whilst  we were discussing the issues of plant health we were fortunate enough to see one of the large fallow stags which return to the woods at this time of year for the rut.


Very few of the large stags have impressive palmate antlers but we were lucky on this occasion. Thanks for the image Paul.

We then moved on to discuss the challenge of the steep land at Fingle and the need to create safe working conditions. There is a distinct contrast between the sophisticated safe ergonomic design of modern purpose-built forest machinery used in our more accessible areas and the “old fashioned” winch teams and chainsaw operators needed to work on the steep exposed slopes. Without this contrast of old and new typically referred to as “motor manual” it would just not be possible to achieve an economic return.



A Ponsee purpose built Harvester(largely confined to working off the track network) serviced by two winch teams, winching material to the trackside for processing.


Large Douglas Fir stems (60ft plus) on very steep ground typical of Fingle winched to trackside ready for processing by the harvester.


One of the winch tractors working on site pulling timber down hill to the trackside.

The visit to see the modern forest harvesting was contrasted by a visit to the Scheduled Ancient Monument of Wooston Castle. The site is currently undergoing a transformation as the  young conifer cover, which is deemed a “threat” to the archaeology, is being felled and removed by a team of volunteers from the National Trust led by Fingle Ranger Fred Hutt working along side the horse loggers (William and Alex Hampton and John Williamson) and contractor Tim Cox.  Due to the sensitivity of the site  very limited machine access is permitted and the bulk of the work is therefore being undertaken by man and horse.

Nigel, Rachael (with Fen the pointer) and Fred

Volunteers Nigel and Rachael (with Fen the pointer) and Fred – Happy after a day’s felling on the hillfort


John Williamson and Jentz using an old fashioned horse drawn timber trailer. Note the mountain of brash behind for burning.


Alex working with Beano to bring logs for stacking by machine ready to be converted into biomass.


Will ironically working with William the horse to pull timber off the site felled by the volunteers.

Conversations with the Forest Services Board were wrapped up overlooking the view which has re-appeared after many decades as the hillfort has been cleared.


As the comments below illustrate, the feedback from the visit was very positive:

Mark Prior ” The opportunities for the demonstration of a mixed modern approach to forest management are manifest”.

Kate Tobin – “great visit and managed to see lots of different strands of activity and cover a lot of ground. Thank you for all the work you put into the preparation.  I sat down and read your booklets this morning – they are really interesting and I’m sure we’ll be coming back to you soon on the subject of case studies etc”.

Richard Britton – “What impressed me about the ongoing management at Fingle Woods was the strong partnership approach, led by the Woodland Trust and National Trust joint leadership, and the range of operations of different intensities that reflected the woods’ conditions and opportunities for more stewardship.   I think one of the greatest challenges ahead will be judging the right intensity and cycle of thinning of the Douglas fir compartments to enable those areas to fulfill their silvicultural potential and remain resilient to winds and other potential threats, and wish the managers every success in their endeavours to open-up the woods”.

This last comment was very timely as this week we are hosting a visit from the Forestry and Woodland Regional Advisory Committee (FWAC) of South West England.


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