Aug 28 2019

Horsing around with BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today

Woodland Wildlife Toolkit coverage distracted by working horses

Back in the spring, BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today programme team visited Fingle Woods to learn about woodland restoration and our involvement in the development of the Woodland Wildlife Toolkit.

Farming Today’s Sybil Ruscoe came to learn all about how Fingle Woods has been sharing its best Ancient Woodland Restoration practices, and Fingle’s involvement in the trials for the new toolkit. On her wander with Project Manger David Rickwood, Sybil spotted our charismatic horses while they were logging on site. But first, a little more about the toolkit…

The Woodland Wildlife Toolkit is an online resource providing advice on managing woodlands for wildlife, in particular rare and declining species that are dependent on woodland habitats, just like Fingle. In true partnership style, this toolkit has been developed by Bat Conservation TrustButterfly ConservationForestry CommissionNatural EnglandPlantlifeRSPBSylva Foundation and Woodland Trust. The website aims to be a one-stop shop for all the information on species, management, templates, assessments, forms and plans that landowners and managers might need to put together and implement a plan for a woodland teeming with wildlife.

You can’t fail to notice the gravity of biodiversity loss in the UK, with estimates being that in the last 50 years here in Britain, we’ve destroyed over half our biodiversity. At Fingle, we’re taking bold steps to halt and reverse this decline, and manage the woodlands for some of the most threatened species that have been declining over that half a century. These include providing ideal habitat within our patchwork of habitats at Fingle that connect in with the wider landscape around the woods. Without active management of woodlands, we run the risk of seeing fewer and potentially losing the following:

  • 18 species of plants and trees
  • 17 birds
  • 14 butterflies
  • 9 moths
  • 7 bats
  • 2 other mammals (dormouse and red squirrel)
  • Countless other invertebrates (beetles, ants, flies and lots of other bugs!)
  • Adders
  • Bryophytes and fungi and lichens (the latter of which all species are national priorities)

While we don’t manage for all these species at Fingle, we are excitingly seeing a return or increase in numbers locally of many of the following:

Dormice, woodpeckers, pied flycatchers, pearl-bordered fritillary butterflies, oil beetles, oak, beech, rowan, and don’t forget the ground flora like bluebells, yellow archangel, tormentil, all of which are all loving the transformation of Fingle from a coniferised monoculture to a light-filled wildlife haven. See this recent blog for more detail and a recent review that took place of the species we’re managing for at Fingle.

We tested out the Woodland Wildlife Toolkit before it went live for public access and use. It’s not just for conservationists. It’s for anyone owning or managing woodland, small or large, or using a woodland for activities such as Forest Schools or teaching. It’s also a great resource to just read and learn about best practice in woodland management. Setting up an account can also help you keep track of your searches on the site and you can map, store data, and create management plans for your woodland. Find out more here.

Now there’s one species not native to Fingle Woods that really caught Sybil’s eye. And it was the mighty horse loggers! Here’s one of her tweets about them. Managing the woods for wildlife is not just about what you do, but how you do it. And using horse loggers is commonplace at Fingle, and Sybil bumped into the horses at work on her visit. We use Dartmoor Horse Loggers because of their light touch in many areas of the woods. Kate Mobbs-Morgan, Chair of British Horse Loggers tells us more about horse loggers at Fingle:

“There is a lot of history running through the wood, and we use horse logging in Fingle because it is both sensitive to the archaeology and the wildlife. We work in conjunction with other extraction methods, and one of the horses’ strengths is selective thing, where we preselect the trees that need to be felled, then thin through the crop without impacting on the remaining timber. These ‘first thinnings’ are what we were doing at Fingle. They are a low-impact woodland tool, specialising in difficult access, steep or wet sites, and environmentally sensitive sites”.


It’s no wonder that Farming Today’s Sybil Ruscoe was so taken with the horses and their way of working when she visited, as Kate highlights, “The working relationships and the trust bond is really important to safe working. That’s something I get a massive amount of pleasure from. I have three horses, all different personalities, and you use all the different strengths of each horse. Use the right horse for each job.”

Before and after – 2.5 years after horse logging. An astounding difference in the ground flora.

And the work the horse loggers have done at Fingle is making a beautiful change. Here’s a shot of the same spot, 2½ years apart. You can just see the difference that the increased light is making to the woodland floor!

If you’ve got a woodland to manage, do check out the Woodland Wildlife Toolkitfor everything from grant access information, species fact sheets, management approaches and plenty to learn and put that learning into practice. If you want to discover more about how we manage Fingle, follow our blog and get news on upcoming events and future talks.

Farming Today’s visit and interview was aired on 23rd March 2019, see the original BBC link here.

Words by Emma Fancett, photos from Sybil Ruscoe’s Twitter feed and Paul Moody

for more information on Fingle please visit the blog

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