The long-term plan for the ecological future of Fingle Woods began a few years ago. Teams of woodland ecologists and volunteers walked the woods, studying each and every patch of planted conifer along with the remnants of ancient woodland. As they searched the ground, the wild flowers and herbs were recorded, providing a benchmark of how many ancient woodland indicator plants were surviving in the woods. It provided a picture of where the restoration work should begin, prioritising those places most in need.
Three years down the line this restoration work is beginning to show results as the conifers are thinned and the wild woodland plants are slowly reclaiming their place on the hillside. It’s a gradual transition from a dark and shady place to a bright and vibrant woodland habitat.
Planning ahead for the next stage of conifer thinning during the coming winter, excavators have been at work, improving the access for forestry machines that will come into the woods and remove selected lines of conifers. Matt, the machinery driver, explained his task saying “I’m taking out some of the conifer stumps from one side of the track which I can use to build up the other side. It’s making the running surface a bit wider so the machines can operate here in the autumn”.
Used as a harvesting track, it’s a necessary part of the process of felling and extracting the timber but it will also be one of the first places in this part of the wood where new plant life will re-establish itself in the increasing levels of sunlight. At ground level in the shady conifers, only a few small ancient woodland indicator species struggle to survive. The soil structure is poor and the heritage features, the charcoal makers’ platforms, are eroding away. The restoration work will reverse this decline and bring the woods back to life.
Only a few steps away from the dense, shading conifers is an area where the conifers have been worked. Earlier thinning operations have saved the diverse ground flora and the wealth of life is clear. Ferns, bilberry, wood sorrel, wood sage, honeysuckle, St John’s wort, and bluebells all survive here, indicating the presence of ancient woodland soil. They may be a little sporadic but they show what a bit of extra sunlight between the spaced-out conifers can do. It’s a view into a more diverse woodland ecosystem, a much brighter future.
by Matt Parkins