Fingle Demonstrates its Woodland Restoration Expertise
Ancient woodland is a cherished and finite resource and, when the woodland restoration project started at Fingle Woods, it set out to turn around the losses of semi-natural woodland that took place in the 20th Century. The Forestry Commission states that, “between the 1930s and the early 1980s nearly 40% of ancient semi-natural woodlands were converted into plantations, most of which were of non-native coniferous species.” In the relatively few years since the Woodland Trust and National Trust teamed up to tackle the challenging task, perceptible and positive changes have been taking place and 2018 has been a year of progress. The efforts of staff, volunteers and contract workers alike has begun to bear fruit, and during 2018 the Fingle project has shown to the outside world just how much effect this combined effort is having on the re-establishment of a rich and varied woodland habitat.
When the project began, the Woodland Trust and National Trust stepped up and signed up to share their experiences of this ambitious project with other organisations and, in doing so, it has become a demonstration site of some repute.
The key to a large-scale restoration is to follow the principles of Continuous Cover Forestry (CCF). Remaining features and fragments of Ancient Woodland have been preserved and the process of careful conifer thinning is slowly revealing the ancient woodland soil where the dormant seeds of woodland plants can, if given the chance, replenish the diversity of our woods. To record the activity so far, a case study captured the first steps of the fledgling CCF project.
Dense, immature conifer with low biodiversity compared with a more diverse semi-natural oak wood
Through 2018, Fingle Woods has also demonstrated its forward-thinking approach to many visiting groups of ecological specialists, woodland managers and local conservation partners. In April, members of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) visited Fingle to see how the good woodland restoration practice was supporting biodiversity on a landscape scale. The 2010 report on “Making Space for Nature” suggested that, “we need to embrace a new, restorative approach which rebuilds nature and creates a more resilient natural environment for the benefit of wildlife and ourselves”, and Fingle Woods is perfectly placed to demonstrate this process in action. This was followed by a training course when 20 delegates were invited to learn more about the PAWS (Plantation on an Ancient Woodland Site) assessment methods being developed and used at Fingle Woods
Forestry Commission European Protected Species and Tree Health Training day: Carol Williams of the Bat Conservation Trust
CIEEM members visiting Fingle Woods in April
Then, in May, the Royal Forestry Society (RFS) visited Fingle as part of their week-long Whole Society Tour of the South Western Division. 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 that Fingle Woods”.
Royal Forestry Society getting an all-round view of Fingle Woods
During one of the hottest Junes for many years, other local conservation partners took up the chance for a guided walk around Fingle Woods. The RSPB has been developing the Southwest Woodland Wildlife Initiative, a toolkit to help woodland managers and owners to improve habitats for birds. To see this project in action at Fingle, members of one of their interest groups took the opportunity for a walk-and-talk. Dartmoor National Park Authority also visited Fingle Woods in June. Each year, the staff, National Park members and rangers are able to take time out of their regular work routine to visit some parts of Dartmoor where interesting developments are going on.
Dr Tim Harrod discusses soil profiles with Wessex Silvicultural Group and the implications on soil acidity and condition after 1000 years of oak coppice management
In July, Fingle Woods hosted a visit by the Wessex Silvicultural Group (WSG); arguably the most pre-eminent silvicultural group in the UK. Leading foresters and silviculturalists from across the SW and Southern England attended. Also, renowned ecologists and scientists were speaking including leading soil scientist, Dr Tim Harrod and plant ecologist Keith Kirby. Their tour began with an introduction to the site and the partnership of organisations working on the restoration, followed by discussions about soils, tree diseases, retaining ancient woodland features and best practice in the management of Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS).
Expanding the ‘rewilding’ debate – Fingle Woods management team visited the Knepp Estate in Sussex with a site visit in the safari vehicle: looking at how natural processes are allowed to develop across formerly managed fields. The boundary behind the vehicle is one of the “hot spots” for turtle dove, a rapidly declining species, now finding space to breed at Knepp.
During October, Fingle Woods hosted a unique event to demonstrate how the woodland restoration project has not only been improving the local environment and becoming more attractive to visitors but providing work for local contractors and plenty of varied opportunities for volunteers to hone their skills. A special day to showcase the woodlands at work was billed as ‘Meet the Tree Fellers’ (look out for the upcoming blog with photos from the event).
Fingle Woods – a team approach
With Autumn approaching the local Environment Agency staff visited Fingle Woods to look at the woodland water courses and discuss the effects of the restoration work on the quality of water and flooding potential. Working together with the Westcountry Rivers Trust, the water quality is being monitored in the streams and river but, the latest development is the construction of three ‘leaky dams’ using logs and ‘woody debris’. These will mimic the effects that beavers have on the landscape and, while the stream flow will continue, the impounded water will act as a new wildlife habitat and flood prevention pond. This type of feature is referred to as ‘Natural Flood Management’ and the Environment Agency staff will be watching the development of the habitat and the effects on the aquatic environment very closely. As local partners and national experts in the management of beaver habitats, the Devon Wildlife Trust reserves team also visited Fingle Woods to see how the new ‘beaver dams’ were progressing.
Installing ‘leaky dams’ as Natural Flood Management
In summary, Fingle Woods is a significant site both regionally and nationally, as a large-scale PAWS woodland restoration site and, after five years, it has proven to be a good demonstration site … and there will be many more years of woodland restoration to share as the project forges forward and the restoration story continues.
The complete CCF case study and the full 2018 demonstration article are available – use the links below to view the documents in .pdf format
Photography: Paul Moody, Dave Rickwood, Matt Parkins
For More information on Fingle please visit www. finglewoods.org.uk