Aug 03 2020

Fingle Woods: Then and Now

As the years pass, gradual changes in the landscape may go unnoticed but, sometimes, as we walk through the woods, we may dig deep into the recesses of our memories to recall what it was like before the Fingle Woods restoration began. Perhaps we try to remember what particular parts of the woodland looked like, but our memories may not be as precise as we would hope. Those of us that know Fingle well can see the woods are changing and really want the restoration and conservation work to succeed. The regular thinning of conifers and habitat improvement projects across the Plantation on an Ancient Woodland Site (PAWS) is having a positive effect on wildlife – we know it is, but how do we show it? Where is the evidence? We have ever-growing species records of woodland plants and birds. These show some interesting results and tell us where these species are spreading and thriving but, what does that actually look like?


Fingle Bridge in the old days – a postcard from 1907                    Fingle Bridge – Spring 2020

There are a few historical photos and images of Fingle Bridge and the Teign valley, but they are often limited to the main viewpoints and beauty spots. To find the best evidence we need a precise point of reference among the trees; an accurate record of the past that can be held up next to the current view of the woods. So, to capture these changes in the landscape and woodland habitat after five years of restoration, fixed-point photography from 2015 and again in 2020 demonstrate how the increasing light levels after PAWS thinning have improved the visual and conservation value of Fingle Woods. The initial challenge was to find the right site where a photo captured at the start of the restoration would demonstrate the theory of PAWS restoration in a picture – rather than a thousand words. A few examples of these changes can be illustrated by looking at pairs of photos from before and after the work was carried out. You may recognise some of these fixed-point locations, but others are buried deep in the woods.


F03 east 2015                                                              F03 east 2020

At point F03 east
Very dense, poorly managed conifers have been thinned. Individual trees emerge from the impenetrable dense mass of whiskers that maintained the deep shade. A few glades and wider ride sides have been created around the woods. In time, a wider variety of habitats will emerge, for example, gravelly areas will become populated with a range of wild plants that compete well in poor, low nutrient soil.


F06 north 2015                                                          06 north 2020

At F06 north
An excellent demonstration of the effects of the thinning process after 5 years. Skinny, pole trees have gone to make teepees. The dense side branches have been brashed and light now filters through, allowing the vegetation to recover at ground level. This is one of the areas where timber horses worked the woods to lessen the damage to the habitats and work around heritage features like ancient boundaries, charcoal platforms, pack horse tracks and probably even older historical features (a Neolithic stone tool was found here). Protecting these linear features is a very important part of the overall restoration of the woods as they connect up areas of good habitat.


F12 east 2015                                                                F12 east 2020

At F12 east and…


F12 south 2015                                                          F12 south 2020

… F12 south
Much more light can be seen in this part of the woods. The better quality conifers are able to put on some growth while the ground level vegetation is recovering. Continuous Cover Forestry is working well here. The conifers will continue to grow and become a valuable timber resource while the habitat and diversity improves.
With good foresight, some of the locations have illustrated the restoration process better than others and this has been, in part, a successful method of recording the restoration process and will complement the other maps and records of species. This technique may also be useful in planning targeted woodland management operations as it reveals where conifer trees are becoming dominant or where ground level vegetation needs more help.


F13 west – Rickwood’s Bank 2015                    F13 west – Rickwood’s Bank 2020

Near the river at F13 west – Rickwood’s Bank
This shows that area known as Rickwood’s Bank (on the left) that was felled of conifers back in 2014 (i.e. pre 2015) to demonstrate how vegetation recovers when a small glade is cut in the dense conifer. Initially, the bank was covered in dense conifer. These lines of trees were pushed back from the track and now the vegetation is much more diverse here. It has shown how the wildflower seedbank can stay dormant in the soil for decades until the soil is exposed to sunlight when it flourishes again. The 2020 photo shows how rapid the growth of broadleaved vegetation can be.


F28 south in Hall’s Cleave 2015                              F28 south in Hall’s Cleave 2020

At F28 south in Hall’s Cleave
Additional light is evident through the thinned conifers on the left of the track while the rapid growth of scrub and broadleaved trees is shown on the right as the woodland recovers. This fast-growing scrubby woodland has shown to be excellent habitat for many birds, invertebrates and dormice.

As time has passed and technology has moved forward, other methods of monitoring the change in tree cover have been useful, such as the use of drones to give us a birds eye view of the Continuous Cover Forestry methods being used. Another interesting resource we found was an archive of aerial photography on Google Earth. For a picture of the overall visual impact, a series of images from space shows the general view and the impressive rate of coniferous tree growth (and the volume of timber on site) but without the ability to see the details on the ground.

From the initial 2002 frame to 2019, this sequence of aerial photos shows many changes in the Fingle landscape around Clifford Shed

by Matt Parkins

2015 photos – Paul Moody

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