On Thursday the 17th of May the Royal Forestry Society (RFS) visited Fingle as part of their week-long Whole Society Tour of the South Western Division. The RFS tour began with a visit to Clinton Devon Estate. An ancestor of the current Lord Clinton planted the very first tree of the then recently formed Forestry Commission in 1919, at a wood called Flashdown in North Devon. This was followed by a visit to the Forestry Commission’s Haldon Forest Park near Exeter, a SSSI with around 150,000 recreational visitors per annum. Wednesday’s visits were held at the Restormel Estate in Cornwall, hosted by Geraint Richards, Prince Charles’s Head Forester for the Duchy of Cornwall Estate, with a guided tour of Restormel Castle, the seat of the Black Prince, and a visit to Restormel Manor in the morning and the nearby Boconnoc Estate in the afternoon. Fingle Woods were lucky to be included in this array of highly renowned South West estates.
The visit to Fingle began with a landscape scale view of the woodland on the northern fringe of wild Dartmoor –
David Rickwood, Project Manager, set the scene describing the joint acquisition between the Woodland Trust and the National Trust and how the partnership functions. This was followed by a short history of the wood from its role in the murder of St Thomas a Becket, to its more contemporary and key role in the development of the UK forest industry in the 20th Century. From the mid 1930’s Fingle was owned by the philanthropic visionary Leonard Elmhirst of Dartington and he along with his Forestry Advisor, Wilfred Hiley, were pivotal in some of the early grant schemes developed by the Forestry Commission for private woodland owners. The theme then moved from the historical to future and the vision of Professor John Lawton of bigger and more connected habitats across the wider landscape, as set out in the government’s 2010 White Paper ‘Making Space for Nature’: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/government-response-to-the-making-space-for-nature-review, can be achieved. Darren Moorcroft, Director of Estate and Woodland Outreach, introduced how the Woodland Trust is working in partnership with the RSPB, National Trust and Wildlife Trust to create landscape opportunities. This was reinforced by Shelly Dewhurst, recently appointed Partnership Manager, who was able to explain her role working across all the organisations to explore ways to deliver this vision.
Our second stop of the day was a large 15 hectare clear-fell of larch following a Plant Health Notice issued in 2015. A discussion of the increasingly worrying issue of tree disease and the Woodland Trust’s response was led by John Tucker, Director of Woodland Outreach. The merits and objectives of restocking and the risks involved in the selection of provenance in the light of future climatic changes were discussed. Despite the large scale felling on this site, significant areas of understory of sessile oak, birch, and hazel were retained despite damage, which resulted in only a limited requirement for restocking.
The post lunch break out provided an opportunity to split the group into smaller subsets to discuss a range of subject areas in more detail, marketing high value beech (D. Rickwood), mobile sawmilling (J. White), access and recreation (E Lewis), partnerships and delivering the Lawton vision (D. Moorcroft) , Deer management (M. Jones) and the CCF demonstration approach (L. Weston).
The afternoon began with the National Trust Lead Ranger, Tom Wood assisted ably by Fingle Ranger, Fred Hutt explaining the tree clearance and excavation undertaken on Wooston Castle, which is one of three Iron Age hill forts in the Teign Valley. As a Scheduled Ancient Monument under threat from tree growth, around 10,000 conifers were removed from the hillfort and this generated some £20,000 income from whole tree chipping operations. The team went on to describe the more recent excavation of the hill fort following the tree removal. This turned out to be the first excavation on an Iron Age site on Dartmoor for nearly 100 years.
The last few stops of the day were focused on the benefits of a restoration approach, that protects semi-natural hotspots such as watercourses and other linear features such as historic banks and boundaries and how a pragmatic approach to commercial harvesting can help drive this objective. Contractors increasingly recognise and can work to buffer fragile semi-natural components and to develop opportunities for linking fragmented habitats and ultimately to create more robust network to ease future harvesting.
Andrew Wood President of the RFS summed up the day:
“On behalf of the RFS membership may I express our delight and thanks for all you showed us at Fingle Woods. Bryan Elliott the RFS regional secretary said “prepare to be surprised” and it’s fair to say we were ….Your joint venture with the National Trust is proving highly successful, the terrain is challenging, the landscape and views are outstanding, but you are embracing production as an essential part of your activity and this the RFS members love.”
A number of delegates offered us their views on the day:
- As someone with substantial knowledge and experience of CCF he was always sceptical about its success in delivering the owners aims however he admitted to being very heartened by our pragmatic approach to this management system.
- Pleased to see we are measuring the trees and better understanding what is actually happening in the woods. CCF has become fashionable yet very few people understand the process or are properly managing their stands through systematic processes including measuring the trees’
- Best monitoring scheme and approach to long term transformation that the respondent had seen in 20 years
All the 72 delegates left with a lasting memory of a beautiful landscape scale woodland with a highly diverse structure with an equally diverse range and complex array of objectives. A visitor from Sweden who has been undertaking the RFS tour annually suggested:
“that Fingle was one of the most amazing and inspiring woods he had been to over the past 10 years with the RFS…….”
Written by David Rickwood, Project Manager for Fingle Woods
Photos by Paul Moody