A lot has changed at Fingle Woods over the last year and, to capture the progress, Tom Williams has been filming from his Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (that’s a drone to most of us!) over Halls Cleave again. One of the most dramatic changes in the landscape was the sudden clear felling of around 13 hectares of larch trees in Hall’s Cleave. That all happened over a year ago after the Forestry Commission issued a Plant Health Notice because of the plant infection Phytophthora ramorum. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, two areas of larch had been planted at different times with varying success rates of oak removal prior to planting, leaving a proportion of small oaks growing slowly under the taller larch. Now the larch has gone, taking the infection with it, the oaks are growing and the new planting is making progress too.
Tom’s first flight took place just after the felling and the new planting had been completed in 2016. The pale green tubes, protecting the fresh new saplings stood out on the side of the hill at the time and, a year later, a new view from the air provides us with an excellent record of how the broad-leaved trees are maturing.Meeting up with Tom on a clear, sunny day we carried the drone, in its case, back to the same launch site we had used 12 months earlier. Setting up the equipment, he was planning to replicate the flight and started off with the pre-flight checks. As a qualified UAV pilot, he had already alerted the naval air station at RNAS Culdrose and talked me through the briefing sheet.
Tom explained “I have programmed the UAV to accurately follow a pre-planned survey path. We’ll be looking out for potential hazards including birds in flight and other aircraft”. My job was to stand on the forest track, keeping my eyes and ears open for people in the woods and warn Tom of their presence.
Standing there and looking down the valley, it was clear that the hillside was a lot greener. The oaks have put on a lot more leafy growth and the new saplings are rising out of their protective tubes, but the extent of the changes could only really be seen by looking at the footage.
The landscape isn’t the only thing that has changed since last year. The demand for Tom’s UAV piloting skills has prompted him to set up Dartmoor UAV Services.
by Matt Parkins