A partnership between the Woodland Trust and the National Trust

True Pulling Power

Saturday mornings can be a peaceful time to wander through the autumn woods, time to take a gentle stroll through Fingle’s falling leaves and to stop and take in the dramatic views along the valley. You might expect to see a few fellow walkers quietly making their way along the forest tracks, enjoying a weekend trip to the woods and, with over 800 acres to explore, there’s plenty of room to spread out and find your own space. So why were 25 woodland volunteers gathering at Wooston hillfort last Saturday, kitted up with loppers, bow saws and billhooks?

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A large group of Fingle volunteers ready for work on a sunny autumn day (photo: Emma Kelly)

In the clear, crisp November sunshine, the day’s task to cut small conifers from the hillfort seemed like a pretty regular job for the volunteers but Jim White, leader of the volunteer team, supplier of donuts and freshly brewed tea knew the real reason behind the spectacular turnout. One of the team members for the day would be Jens, the magnificent heavy horse, kitted out to haul small tree stems and brash away from the ancient earthworks. Horse teams have been working on the restoration of the Iron Age hillfort for the last few weeks and, being a part of this team was an opportunity too good to miss.

Jim, obviously happy to see so many people assembling for the task, said “this is the true pulling power of the heavy horses”. While the volunteers worked in groups around the hillfort the atmosphere among the teams was as bright as the autumn sunshine. Each looking forward to their turn to work with the horse, loading up brash for him to haul away to the fire.

The horse himself is a Brabant Heavy Draft, originally from Belgium and, after moving to England, learned all his working commands from John Williamson of Forestry Horses, based in the east Dartmoor area. The two of them have been working closely in the local forestry industry for around four years and the bond between them was absorbing to watch as they calmly hauled heaps of brash and branches off the hillfort. Jens wears a special design of horseshoe on his front hooves only. There are toe grabs at the front of the shoe and these give him the extra grip needed to work on steep slopes without damaging the ground surface.

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John and Jens working on the hillfort

As the afternoon progressed a few grey clouds passed with occasional showers prompting Pedro, a regular volunteer, to recite a local rhyme. “Come to glorious Devon where it rains eight days out of every seven”. Of course, the volunteers and the horse team kept on working and the rain soon stopped to bring out more pools of autumn sunshine to illuminate the full beauty of the Teign gorge.

For more information on the design of the horseshoes used by Jens look at Dunscombe Forge Farriers on Facebook

by Matt Parkins

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