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Balancing conservation objectives and the challenges of rapid policy change

Fingle is proving to be a lively place to stimulate debate about the challenges of woodland management, and in particular, balancing the seemingly conflicting objectives  of timber production and conservation. At Fingle, we are trying to develop strategies and management approaches that can provide benefits across the board and, as part of the demonstration programme, we are keen to share these experiences.

We recently hosted a visit from the South West Forestry and Woodland Advisory Committee (FWAC). This committee advises the Forestry Commission on its work in the South West, ranging from Gloucestershire and Dorset down to the Isles of Scilly.

It is chaired by Dr Mike Moser, a woodland owner and ecosystem management consultant. Other members include:

  • Peter Wilkinson, Greenspace design and planning consultant
  • Roger Griffin, Natural England
  • Gavin Bloomfield, RSPB
  • Justin Milward, Woodland Trust
  • John Wilding, Head of Forestry, Clinton Devon Estates
  • David Pengelly, forestry consultant, Canopy Land Use
  • Geraint Richards, Head Forester, Duchy of Cornwall
  • Melanie Sealey, Rural Development Officer, Devon County Council
  • Sam Whatmore, Director, Forest Fuels
  • Helen Bentley-Fox
  • Caroline Harrison

There interests and experience variously encompass land ownership and management, environmental, social and access issues and working with local communities.

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The visit focused on the very steep ground which is common in many parts of the SW and the complexities of “economic” forest management this poses

The agenda for the meeting focused on the following areas:

  • The effectiveness and strength of the partnership between the Woodland Trust and National Trust and its ability to manage Fingle’s significant forest area.
  • The development of local supply chains for timber extraction and the ability to manage the woods within the context of the key objectives of Ancient Woodland Restoration.
  • The implications and feasibility of plantation on ancient woodland (PAWS) restoration on private landholdings including the adequacy of current grants and prescriptions.
  • The financial viability of Ancient Woodland restoration, including sources of financial assistance (such as England Rural Development Programme and the current Countryside Stewardship Scheme) and implications post Brexit.
  • The need to ensure ecological resilience in the face of tree diseases, changes to the forest structure and climate change.

Throughout we were seeking to establish what lessons might be learnt from Fingle for woodland management more generally and give considerations to the implications of the wider political, environmental and financial context.

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In this image pole length conifer timber has been cut and winched over 80m to narrow tracks which have been cut on the contour during millennia of coppice cutting. The timber is then processed and cut to produce length by a harvester. Where feasible the existing and regenerating broadleaves are haloed during this process to create space for future growth and to begin the restoration process.

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Highly skilled contractors using specialist equipment are needed to work such steep slopes. William Kingwell, working as sub-contractor to Euroforest, specialises in working complex difficult sites and is consequently in high demand. The winch, which is fixed high on the excavator ‘boom’ with remote operation, works extremely well on the very steep slopes at Fingle and the machine provides a stable operating platform but is restricted to moving only on the forest track.

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New market? As the wood fuel market matures and the buyers are increasingly developing the use of dryers, the potential market for whole tree chipping is increasingly an option. During the visit the economics of chipping first thinnings grade material to secure early silvilcultural intervention and thus improve long term timber potential was discussed.

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Supplying local markets is really important in order to exploit the timber resource at Fingle. One such market is cutting poles for ‘teepees’. Local contractor, Paul Hext, supplies around 3000 teepee poles per annum. The skinny tall conifer poles, which are abundant at Fingle, provide ideal material. Removing this material provides a useful early thinning intervention.

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Eleanor, Fingle’s Community Engagement Officer, also attended the demonstration event and commented “we feel really privileged at Fingle to be able to draw such an expert group together to visit the site and see the experimental work we’re undertaking. We benefit from their experience and the challenging and interesting questions they pose. It’s obvious from reactions on the day that the experts already think there is a lot to take away”. As Dr Mike Moser, chair of SW Forestry and Woodlands Advisory Committee said:

“The remarkable partnership between the Woodland Trust and the National Trust at Fingle Woods was an inspiration for us all. The restoration of Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites is certainly not an exact science, and the experiences you are gaining in such a challenging site will be invaluable to woodland owners and managers across the SW”.

 

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  • ninafenner

    22nd November 2016 at 12:56 pm

    Wonderful to see all this progress being made, I must come and visit soon, I bet I wouldn’t recognise some areas. I love the fact that tipi poles are in such demand, who could have predicted that! Those last two photos look a bit like art installation.

    Reply

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