November 2nd was the end of the ‘Ancient Boundary Season’. We all gathered in the Fingle Bridge Inn for a Thursday evening lecture where Alex Hamer, the intern who had led the surveying across the summer and autumn, summarised the work we had been doing and presented some preliminary findings.
As many of you will know, Fingle Woods is an ancient landscape where centuries of use have left their traces. Amongst these remnants is a network of boundaries that once served to divide wood from pasture, enclose fields, edge tracks or mark ownership. These not only tell us the history of our place but because they ‘got in the way’ were often left intact when the site was planted with conifers in the last century. They thus hold a key to regeneration. They are home still to veteran trees, to woodland flora and to soils that not only contain the seed bank but the micro-organisms needed for native vegetation to re-establish. They also provide vital habitats and linear corridors for wildlife.
The project wants therefore to map these boundaries systematically in order that they can understand their position and condition (including threats) and then manage them effectively. Our earlier blog (Walking with purpose) described the type of information the volunteers have been collecting in the field but this evening allowed us all to learn more about how that information will actually be used.
A first major achievement is using GPS to plot the boundaries. The map shows some of the boundaries we have surveyed to date, together with the significant features they contain (most commonly ancient oaks represented by the green dots).
A second is drawing all the data we have collected together so that the boundaries can be classified for management purposes. This has meant allocating boundaries to one of four classes:
- Lots of veteran trees or indicator species, boundary in good condition – interesting boundary
- Lots of veteran trees or indicator species but under threat from conifer or bracken encroachment – in need of management
- Lots of conifer or bracken but boundary still contains some significant features – needs urgent attention
- Lots of conifer or bracken, very degraded – already lost
The third really encouraging thing to hear was that the work we have done is already having a real impact on the ground. It is not only enabling the prioritisation of management effort (see Fred’s upcoming blog on the corn ditch, for example) but also directing the efforts of other experts.
Alex included a column for potential bat roosts, so we were not trying to record whether there were bats in the tree (thank goodness), but any features that we know bats like to roost in. So were there crevices, ivy or deadwood? With the support of Dr Matt Zeale and Andy Carr from Bristol University we then hope to be able to identify areas with significant potential for bats and ensure they are protected.
Then last week Neil Sanderson, a lichen expert, came to look at some of the boundaries we have been surveying. Neil is a great interpreter of historic landscapes and their management, partly because some species of lichens are so long lived and can indicate atmospheric/climatic conditions over centuries. Excitingly, he found some very rare species on his trip to Fingle. This included one species new to Britain and one last recorded on Dartmoor in the late 19th century. He was really very pleased with the boundary work and has encouraged us to do more. As Christine, one of my fellow volunteers said ‘How fascinating, isn’t it a treat to be involved in this!’.
We will all be back out in the field next year and welcome new recruits (please contact Eleanor – EleanorLewis@woodlandtrust.org.uk if you are interested in learning more). We are also looking forward to receiving some more training (you can join Julia in asking Father Christmas for a lichen guide!).
by Joyce Halliday on behalf of the Ancient Boundary Surveying Team