While the winter felling programme is methodically extracting lines of heavy weight timber from the large plantations of Douglas fir, some small teams of contractors are at work felling trees, a few at a time to make space for some gnarled old oaks to recover. Networks of old boundary walls and banks weave their way through Fingle Woods and one of them is being salvaged this year by Steve Pocock. Along the crumbling earth bank stand some of the most contorted and ancient trees, hanging on to life for many years under the deep shade of plantation conifers. This row of oak and other shrubs lie on the line of a boundary that, 100 years ago, marked the edge of a field. Since then a succession of conifers has been planted and today the 25-metre-tall spruce trees leave the neglected veterans of the woods in the dark.
The task for Steve and his assistant Sam is to select and fell some of the spruce trees to admit some sunlight in to rejuvenate the old boundary oaks, many of which are struggling in the low light levels. A few have survived better than others but it is not too late as, with increased vigour, they will have the chance to provide some seed for young oaks to spread in the woods. Standing under one of the survivors, Steve said “it’s all about old oaks like this one, with a bit of extra light it can have a new lease of life”.
The earth bank along the boundary has also been badly eroded over the last century. With no wild flowers and ferns to anchor the soil, much of the old feature has been washed away but it can be repaired and the wild woodland plants will be able to grow again. These old boundaries provide an important linking habitat for wildlife through the woods and, with a bit of careful attention, will be much more than just a thin black line on a map.
An ancient boundary oak – now with a flourishing future
by Matt Parkins