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Five Years at Fingle – What Do We Know Now?

Since the Fingle Woods restoration project began in late 2013, a lot has changed. Volunteers have cleared clumps of invasive plants and built new bridges while contractors have cut down conifers and thinned out timber trees.

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The aim of all this work has been to raise Fingle’s potential as a wild haven by increasing the diversity of plants and animals. It’s a slow process but wherever you look, there is more sunlight creeping into the woods and there are more places where woodland plants are taking hold, giving the birds, insects and mammals a chance to find a secure home.
Over this time, we’ve all got to know the woods quite well. From the popular routes for photographers who enjoy capturing moments of beauty along the banks of the river Teign to those quiet corners where explorers seek the tranquillity that seems to slow down time. But, how is the wildlife faring in this changing environment? And, how do we know? From time to time, we need to check, count and compare; monitoring numbers and recording changes in populations of our treasured species.

Original 2014 map showing connected dormouse habitat in three coloured zones

In September 2014 the first woodland-wide habitat assessment for dormice was mapped; we found all the old hedges, scrubby patches and copses that looked like the kind of places where dormice might live. Dormice leave clues behind; nibbled hazel nuts and cherry stones on the woodland floor or, if you are lucky, a leaf-ball nest in a hedge or a gorse bush. At the time, these fragmented habitats were few and far between and in need of some attention to reconnect them and secure a wider habitat across the landscape. The map was drawn up in three zones, with plans to link up those fragments of habitat and focus our minds on where some carefully planned woodland management could help.

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Four years later, we’re back in the woods, having another look at this map. In the intervening years we have learned so much more about the Fingle dormice and the places where they find food and shelter. We have taken some steps to let some light into their isolated habitats which were lost among the shady conifers and, in some places, we are getting some good results. Stabilising population losses is the first aim but, in some little corners tucked away in Fingle Woods, it looks like the dormouse activity is spreading. And with a slow-and-steady approach to restoring those habitats, there are also benefits to some of the woodland birds and insects too. Sun soaked woodland edges are a prime habitat for many wild animals and, by cutting back a row or two of conifers, they respond by moving into their new home.

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With all the new information on where, why and what these priority species will need to sustain a good population, we can continue our work to restore and replenish the woods of the Teign valley for the benefit of all the species, including us!

Please note: monitoring dormice is a licensed activity – nest boxes and tubes must not be disturbed.

by Matt Parkins

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