Oct 22 2019

Working Woodland Open Day: Meet the Tree Fellers 2019

At the start of autumn, the Fingle Woods partnership held an open day of hands-on family-friendly woodland exploration. Nearly 170 people from the local community and further afield braved a typical Dartmoor mixed weather forecast, and ventured to the Wooston Castle area of Fingle Woods to find out what this years’ Meet the Tree Fellers day had in store.

As we move out of the summer and into the seasons where wildlife rests, it’s woodland management time. Over the spring and summer months woodland workers pause some activities to give various species, particularly birds, time to nest and breed. Once this period passes, the gradual thinning of conifer woods can recommence,  bringing more light and life back into Fingle Woods.

Following the success of previous years’ events, Meet the Tree Fellers day was back for 2019, celebrating all things woodland work, from big machinery and tree felling, to green-woodworking and other wood-related crafts and activities. Click here for a photographic review of last year’s event.


The contrast of modern timber production techniques vs low-tech traditional                  An open day of woodland work – horses steadily moving timber around the site

Arriving at the meeting tent, there was cake, a hot drink, and lots of smiles and information to get visitors started. Children picked up a checklist of activities to get collect stamps as they took part. These served as a trusty list to make sure adults didn’t miss any activities too!

Fred Hutt, the Fingle Woods Ranger, took participants on a fascinating tractor trailer ride through much of the Fingle Woods site. He demonstrated where the areas of conifer thinning have been carefully planned to gradually restore the woods to something more vibrant. This is an example of where you can see the light coming in clearly even on a darker day

  Discovering areas where lines of conifers have been removed to gradually allow more light into Fingle Woods

Passing a log pile, we discover that Fred is particularly fond of the sabre wasp – a wasp that you’d be likely to find by such a log pile in a coniferous woodland. The female sabre wasp drills deep into deadwood, stings the larvae of another wasp, then lays her egg on that larvae. The sabre wasp grub then hatches and, you guessed it, eats its paralysed victim. This is one of the many details of a site that only a knowledgeable guide can bring to add depth to your woodland explorations.

Marvelling at massive wood ant nests as we return, there’s more to discover once we get back to base. Working through the list to collect stamps, we find leaf bashing is a fun and rather cathartic activity, helping the leaf-basher learn to identify different leaves as they make imprints on fabric. As you can see here in the leaf print below, the bracken leaves a clear pattern.

  The busiest of all the woodland workers – wood ants! You can see many of these large wood ant nests beside the paths.


Woodland hoopla                                                          A game of woodland kerplun                                              This leaf print will become a bookmark, a constant reminder of Fingle Woods while she reads at home.

For children, and children at heart, there was a wonderful set of woodland games, where you could easily while away hours playing skittles, kerplunk or hoopla. These are games that you could easily create at home with your own wood or some sourced locally. We enjoyed the satisfaction of green woodworking and creating a sword with a draw knife (using ash, preferred wood for this), whilst watching the professionals at work using a traditional lathe to make the parts of a chair. In the spirit of Fingle Woods and the day, all the wood we were working with was sourced from Fingle


Using a traditional lathe to create poles for a chair            Draw knifing to create a sword with Fingle Woods’ ash

Over at the axe throwing area, we chat about the history of the sport. In fact, its background is highly contested and rather unclear. Whether it stemmed from Europe, the Americas or Africa, it seems to have been a long-standing activity across the world for centuries. It’s not every day that you get to throw an axe, so do give it a try if the activity presents itself to you! Again, thanks to the nuances of how to rotate the axe in relation to the distance from the target, this was another activity on the day that could take up many hours.

  Visitors of all ages had the chance to learn the art of axe throwing!

One exciting moment that we were all waiting for was the tree felling. Crowds started to gather behind us so we headed over to see what the fuss was about. A safe distance away, we see a tree feller, ready to take this coniferous giant down. I’d guess this tree was around 30 metres tall. Below you can see the orange hi vis jacket hung up in the foreground – this was to demonstrate where the tree would fall. And, with great skill and care, you can see that this does indeed happen. The tree comes down with an impressive thud and ends up just a foot or two from its target, followed by a round of applause from the onlookers!



The “before” shot – one upstanding tree, and the      “Timber!”                                                          Look how close the tree fell to its target            A close-up of the tree’s distance to the original target

hi vis orange target on the left

Watching the timber being effortlessly moved by the great heavy horses, I wondered where this tree would end up. We’ve learnt that the restoration of Fingle Woods creates a supply of sustainably sourced wood for the timber market, which maybe is where this is heading. Perhaps it will become a wood carving, similar to the one we saw taking shape on the day at the chainsaw carving area. Unfortunately not one of the activities we could take part in, but fascinating to watch, we observed an unlikely stump of wood evolve into a beautiful owl, with only chainsaws as tools. It was fascinating to watch this tool be used for such intricate artistic creations.

      Gradually, a stump of wood becomes

… an owl!

We discover how Fingle Woods is becoming home to a tree nursery, where seeds are collected at this time of year to grow varieties of trees that are best accustomed to their local habitats. This gives nature a helping hand to increase the number of native trees. We reach up to branches to gather acorns, squeeze berries and open fruits, and learn about the different ways our ancient trees reproduce.


Gathering tiny acorns to grow more mighty oaks             Some seeds after they’ve been gathered                        Inside a crab apple

We saw individuals, groups and families all enjoying a special day that showcased the woodlands at work. We’ve all come away with a new appreciation of the work that goes into landscapes like Fingle Wood, particularly when working in sensitive areas such as this archaeological site here on an Iron Age hill fort. It takes teamwork and a diverse range of skills and expertise. It was a pleasure to be able to see it all at work here together on this occasion.

To discover what future events are coming up at Fingle Woods, stay subscribed to this blog or follow our Facebook page. Expect 2020 to see the return of many of our previously popular events, and plenty of new and exciting ways to explore Fingle Woods.

Words and images by Emma Fancett

For more in Fingle please visit https://finglewoods.org.uk/



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