The change in the route of the track was necessary as it is the only feasible way to extract softwood timber from Cod Wood. The road between Clifford Bridge and Mardon Down is in poor condition and is too narrow for large vehicles so, hauling timber through Hall’s Cleave to the public road on the other side is the only practical extraction route. Advice from hauliers and a forest road engineer suggested that the original track was not suitable; the combination of a narrow track, tight bends and steep inclines made it impractical. A more gradual curving route that maintains a more even gradient was proposed.
The engineering work required to re-route the track involved the removal and reinstatement of a quantity of woodland topsoil that holds many plant species of conservation interest. This layer of ground flora also supports a wide diversity of invertebrates, an important part of the woodland ecosystem. During the works, this soil and its floral diversity had to be preserved and a carefully planned approach has been followed, beginning with a series of ecological surveys to record the vegetation, the invertebrates, the breeding birds and protected species of mammals.
The recommendations from each of these ecology reports were integrated into the management plan before the ground works began. These included:
- Leaving standing deadwood in situ to provide habitat for invertebrates and nesting sites for birds
- Retaining topsoil during earthworks to be replaced along wider rides sides to maintain diversity of woodland flora and habitats for invertebrates, mammals and birds
- A hand search for dormouse nests took place through a patch of bramble scrub prior to the works.
Richard Brown of the Woodland Trust surveyed for the nesting birds and Devon Wildlife Consultants completed the vegetation and mammal surveys. The invertebrate survey in June will act as a seasonal record of the invertebrates present in that month. This survey was carried out by Tom Williams using a sweep net, camera, a “pooter” (bug pot) and a lot of patience.
After the completion of the track works, further ecological surveys will continue to check up on the recovery of the ground flora and invertebrate populations. It is worth noting that the ecological monitoring and sensitive construction techniques are likely to improve the overall biodiversity around these two forest tracks in the medium and longer term.
If you are planning to visit Hall’s Cleave to take a look, horse riders and walkers may enjoy using the older route as it will no longer be used by vehicles and will gradually become an undisturbed haven for nature.
By Matt Parkins
To see the track from the air, view a short YouTube film by Tom Williams – Dartmoor UAV Services
OS maps reproduced with permission: © Crown copyright [and database rights] (2017) OS 1000021607
As Fingle Woods is a high-profile woodland restoration project, a full case study focusing on track infrastructure will soon be available.