A partnership between the Woodland Trust and the National Trust

Halls Cleave – A Quiet Corner

Deep in Fingle Woods, in a quiet corner of Hall’s Cleave, a pint-sized stream carries pure Dartmoor water from the springs in the hills above. Day and night, it babbles enthusiastically to itself, tumbling through the woods along its 2-mile journey to the River Teign. For so long it has been neglected in the darkness of the shading conifer plantation but now, this little backwater has become the focus of restoration efforts to open up the waterside zones and give the riparian ecology a helping hand. There are fragments of ancient broadleaved woodland along the banks of the stream and revealing these from the shrouding conifers will breathe life into the stream and the surrounding woodlands.

Stream and riverside habitats are important lifelines of the woods

Last year, some of the bank side conifers were felled by the contractors, increasing the sunlight reaching the stream but this year, the finishing touches are being applied by the careful hooves of the heavy horses and the willing hands of the Fingle volunteers.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dartmoor Horse Loggers, Beano and Polly with their ‘assistants’ Will and Alex have been working their way along an ancient stream-side boundary. This kind of terrain is inaccessible to machines but is perfectly suited to the more agile horses and their handlers who can clear a route along the winding watercourse, leaving only the selected shrubs behind. In time, this patch of ground will green-up and allow a new wildlife corridor to flourish along the stream.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Will described the process of working. “We’re taking out one row of conifers, felling them carefully so the tree butt is accessible for the horses. We can fell a tree onto another so the timber on top is presented to the horses, making it easier for them. We also have to cut the stumps very low to avoid trips or snags as it is hauled out.” As the horses work, they demonstrate a blend of agility and pure power, guiding the full length of timber into the woodland clearing for collection.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Making their New Year return to the woods, the Friends of Fingle volunteers set to work, clearing the remaining brash piles left after the felling along the stream side. The fire crackled and the smoky atmosphere between the volunteers was warmed with seasonal cheer as they worked. One of these areas, it is hoped, will become a small glade where woodland butterflies may find a home. We’ll wait to see what the summer brings.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In another part of the valley, Dave Rickwood took some of the volunteers for a walk to look at the recently built ‘beaver’ dams. Now the dams are holding back some water and the ponds are developing, a new habitat will emerge, allowing more wildlife to thrive. Dave stressed the importance of the habitat management in this part of the woods where the diversity of habitats should play a part in the increasing richness of Fingle Woods.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Once this quiet corner falls silent again the restorative powers of nature will take over and reclaim a wild corridor, enhancing life along the stream.

by Matt Parkins

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.