A partnership between the Woodland Trust and the National Trust

Fingle timber

Cutting Trees with Intent

The restoration of Fingle Woods is providing many interesting opportunities for people within their working lives or during their rest and relaxation. Various parts of the woodland have been busy through the winter with forestry contractors and volunteers hard at work, and the longer days of spring and summer are likely to attract even more people to enjoy a walk or find their own bit of peace among the trees. Devon’s economy relies heavily on visitors enjoying the great outdoors and on the ingenuity of local people like Paul Hext from Buckfastleigh who has found a way to combine woodland management work with some rest and play. New and interesting styles of holiday accommodation are always growing and this arboreal entrepreneur is involved in making poles for tepees for those adventurous visitors who want to spend a night under canvas.

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The sources of his timber supply are the small Douglas fir trees that sit between the larger, faster growing conifers that got going a bit quicker after they were planted some decades ago. These little trees have been overtaken and left in the shade where they struggle for light and develop slowly.
Paul explained that “what I’m taking has no commercial timber value. I can remove the rubbish without causing a disturbance and you can hardly see where I’ve been”. This is a win-win situation as the removal of the poles provides Paul with the materials he needs which, in turn, creates a bit of space for the forestry workers to access the trees to fell in the next phase of the woodland restoration programme.

He continued “I’ve got orders from the tepee making companies for some bundles of 19-foot, 21 and 23-foot-long poles. Once I’ve cut them I take them back to my workshop to peel them and sand them”. The finished products don’t have any snags, they are smooth enough to support the taut canvas without damaging it. He said “I’m quite busy at the moment but I’m likely to get really busy through May and June. Some of the tepees go to the summer festivals like Glastonbury, but many of them stay on local campsites. I have a few on my farm that people use for events or barbecue parties; you can even have a camp fire inside them as the open top is like a chimney”.


Paul continued to measure and cut the poles to length before loading them onto his Land Rover. As Fingle is gradually transformed into a more natural looking woodland, he estimates that there might not be many small Douglas fir poles left at Fingle in ten years’ time but joked “I’ll probably be retired by then!” Checking the load was well strapped on and ready for the road, he drove out of the woods, leaving only a few firewood offcuts and the scent of tree sap hanging in the air.

by Matt Parkins


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