An independent voice and a forum for debate for those who find Dartmoor a source of livelihood or inspiration

The Dartmoor Society 13th Annual Debate

What Future for Dartmoor Woodlands?

The Dolphin Hotel, Bovey Tracey, 23rd October 2010

Some 65 delegates attended the 13th Dartmoor Society debate at the Dolphin Hotel, Bovey Tracey.

The morning session was chaired very ably by Nick Davey of the Royal Forestry Society (SW Division) who had very kindly stepped in to take the place of Chris Roberts, who was indisposed. Nick reminded the audience how things had changed within living memory – in the 1960s a planting application consisted of one page; the equivalent in 2010 was 26 pages long! He stressed the need for more informed opinion about woodland and felt that this was the primary purpose of the day.

The first talk was by Norman Baldock, Principal Ecologist of Dartmoor National Park Authority, on ‘The Wildlife of Dartmoor’s Woodlands’.  There had been woodland on Dartmoor for some 9000 years and it now covered some 10 % (9700 ha) of the area of the national park. Half of it was broadleaved, and half coniferous. One-third of the broadleaved woodland is classified as ancient semi-natural woodland. Sessile oak is dominant. The clean air allows a fine suite of lichens, ferns and mosses to grow.  Dartmoor contains 25% of the global population of Wilson’s Filmy Fern and of the Tunbridge Filmy Fern.

Bluebells were a unique element of Britain’s woodlands; the native subspecies of daffodils are very difficult to identify. The Pearl-bordered Fritillary butterfly was probably once ‘super-abundant’ when woods were coppiced. He mentioned two rare woodland ‘giants’: the Blue Ground Beetle and the Ash black Slug (which can grow to up to 30cm in length). He mentioned the Pied Flycatcher, the Wood Warbler and the Common Redstart as woodland specialists. Dormice were very widespread in Dartmoor’s woods. The Willow Tit (about eight pairs known) and the Royal Fern were both important in wet woodlands. The Barbastelle bat has been known for ten years on Dartmoor where there are at least three breeding colonies. In conifer woods the Crossbill was important as also the ground-nesting Nightjar – at least 50 pairs are now known in cleared areas. An overall impression was how little we yet know about our woodland wildlife – new species were still being discovered e.g. Ectoedemia heckfordi, a micromoth, of which the larva burrows into leaves. The moth has a wingspan of 5–6mm.

Climate warming and increased storminess, with human interference, may speed up processes of change, with faster growth rates, and perhaps colonisation by different species such as Scops Owl, but it may lead to decline in sessile oak and perhaps the loss of the Willow Tit. There was also a risk of new diseases such as the recent outbreak of Phytophthera ramorum (Sudden Oak Death) There was a need for ‘good connectivity’ with other semi-natural habitats.

Questions: Gerald Quinn asked about wet woodlands and in particular Alder Carr. NB said that there was some on the NE side of the moor and that it was specially important for invertebrates. Mike Hedges asked if there was evidence of big cats but NB said he was not aware of any. Chris Meathrel asked about the comparison between woodland and moorland. NB said they were very different spaces.

The second talk before coffee was by Dr Tom Greeves, cultural environmentalist, on ‘The Cultural Content of Dartmoor’s Woodlands’. He began by drawing attention to the River Dart whose very name contains the root of ‘oak’ and which may have been a ‘sacred river of oak trees’. As an example of its importance in Dartmoor’s culture and tradition he mentioned the ancient story of Jan Coo/Jan Oo who may be Dartmoor’s own ‘Robin Hood’ i.e. John of the Wood. He then drew attention to the surname Leaman which is concentrated in the valley of the Dart and especially in the vicinity of Buckland-in-the-Moor and eastern Dartmoor. He suggested that this long-established name meant ‘woodman’ or something similar and was distinctive to Dartmoor. Leonard and Walter Leyman were colliers in Buckland-in-the-Moor in the 17th century.

He emphasised the importance of management of Dartmoor woodlands for charcoal, it being used as fuel for smelting tin, for heating the combs of woolcombers and for heating pans of clotted cream. He illustrated two of Robert Burnard’s photographs showing charcoal burning activity more than one hundred years ago. Dartmoor’s woods are full of hundreds of examples of charcoal-burning hearths, reduced to an archaeological state as circular terraces, but with sometimes differential vegetation and usually still full of charcoal.

Charcoal hearth below Venford reservoir (Tom Greeves)
Charcoal hearth below Venford reservoir (Tom Greeves)

Connecting them were zigzag tracks for packhorses etc – the Revd John Swete in 1796 had noted them in the Plym valley near Bickleigh: ‘innumerous windings...of the rugged trackway of the Woodman or Charrer...an alpine passage with zig zag Ascents’. The woods contain structures (huts etc) related to the industry and even a plaque, near Fingle Bridge, commemorating the work of Siegfried Marian (d. 1952).

One of the most iconic woods of Dartmoor was Wistman’s Wood, recognised as one of the three ‘remarkable’ things of Dartmoor in the early 17th century, and important as a survivor of indigenous pedunculate oak. It was of great cultural significance too – in about 1797 the Revd John Swete noted that local inhabitants were afraid of ‘a bug bear, resident among the recesses of these old trees, which though their Imaginations cannot personify, they yet stand in dread of’ (iv p.71).  Tom quoted from an essay about the wood written by John Fowles in 1979: ‘But it is the silence, the waitingness of the place, that is so haunting: a quality all woods will have on occasion, but which is overwhelming here – a drama, but of a time-span humanity cannot conceive. A pastness, a presentness, a skill with tenses the writer in me knows he will never know; partly out of his own inadequacies, partly because there are tenses human language has yet to invent.’

The ancientness of this wood led Tom to consider peat and the information it stores about past woodland on Dartmoor, sometimes directly through the discovery of bog oak but more usually through the pollen preserved in it.

He then considered the fact that many people lived in Dartmoor’s woodlands, and prehistoric roundhouses and medieval structures can be found within them as at Broomage Wood, near Cornwood.

Prehistoric hut circle in Broomage Wood, Cornwood (Tom Greeves)
Prehistoric hut circle in Broomage Wood, Cornwood (Tom Greeves)

At Deeper Marsh by the R. Dart at Spitchwick is an enigmatic prehistoric enclosure; elsewhere there are impressive prehistoric hillforts in woodland as at Holne Chase or Wooston Castle. Many woodlands contain evidence of tinworking as Chilly Wood, Horndon, the Walkham valley above Double Waters,

Peckpits, Wheal Whiddon, Great Week or Owlacombe Beam. Mills too are found such as the tin mills of Thornworthy or Heckwood, or corn and iron mills such as Fingle Mill.

Tin streamworks near Double Waters, R. Walkham (Tom Greeves)
Tin streamworks near Double Waters, R. Walkham (Tom Greeves)

Hembury Wood on the Dart even has a medieval motte-and-bailey castle within it. Other woods are iconic plantations of the 18th/19th centuries such as Brisworthy and Ringmoor.

Coniferous plantations now have a long association with Dartmoor – many prehistoric and medieval sites are now within them when once they were on open moorland – such as Lakehead Cist, Fernworthy stone circle, or Assacombe farmhouse. There is a memorial plaque to a forestry worker Jim Jackson at Wooston.

Tom concluded by drawing attention to the fact that humans could create whatever woodland or vegetation we wanted. A boundary wall in Holne Woods emphasised a difference in management either side of it; photographs of the Teign valley in the 1860s and today showed what a terrific growth of woodland there had been in the past 150 years. Tom’s final picture returned to the River Dart and showed Lovers’ Leap in the 1860s, with its romantic cultural associations, and the magnificent Holne Chase woodland opposite it.

After coffee, four case studies illustrated aspects of current woodland management [Chris Marrow of the Forestry Commission was indisposed and unable to attend]. First was Adrian Colston, General Manager of the National Trust on Dartmoor, who spoke about ‘The Management of the Teign Valley Woodlands – as many questions as answers’. He said that the NT managed some 2500 acres of Dartmoor woodland. There were issues about erosion and people.
Twentieth century growth in Whiddon Deer Park was being removed to allow veteran trees more breathing space. Some coniferous plantations (planted by former NT colleagues in some instances) were being replaced with broadleaved trees.

At Wistman’s Wood there was a huge increase in oak after AD 1600 – before that there was more grass and heather, as shown in Figure 1 below.

Pollen profile from Wistman's Wood

Figure 1 – pollen profile from Wistman’s Wood
‘Reproduced by kind permission of Claire Jones and Richard Bradshaw. Source: Jones, C. (2011) Holocene stand-scale Forest Dynamics of the British Isles (PhD thesis, Univ of Liverpool).’

The use of the countryside is changing – now there is kayaking, climbing, biking, river-jumping, geocaching, orienteering, and wild swimming. Climate change was likely to lead to drier summers, wetter winters and stormier conditions. Sessile oaks will struggle and will be replaced by pedunculate. Will the pied flycatcher become extinct? There will be a serious impact on lichens and mosses.

Conservation targets, sometimes set only recently, were now often undeliverable, so what happens next?

The peak use of oil, on which we are completely dependent now, is expected in 2020 followed by decline. The NT has pioneered a wood-powered microgeneration system for Castle Drogo (which uses 8000 litres of oil per month) using Teign valley wood. This may save £35,000 per annum.
But there are problems – regrowth can be ‘unbelievably’ slow in the newly coppiced areas. There were more deer than ever before – they eat everything. The most ‘economic’ thing to do was to sell wood for firewood.

The NT aims to make a 55% reduction in its carbon footprint on Dartmoor. Seven potential hydro schemes could produce one-third of the electricity used by the NT in Devon. A hydro scheme in the Teign valley and a hydro scheme at Finch Foundry, plus woodchip boilers at both Drogo and Lydford Gorge, plus a 10% reduction in electricity use generally, could reduce the carbon footprint by 55%. Local food production and non-fossil fuel production will become increasingly important.

The National Trust is supposed to plan 100 years ahead, but nothing is clear now. Disease such as Phytophthora is an issue.

The second case study was presented by David Rickwood, Manager of Dartmoor Woodlands for the Woodland Trust. He began by outlining the core aims of the Woodland Trust which were to create more native woodland, especially by linking fragmented areas (an example of a new woodland on the edge of Barnstaple was shown); to protect native woodland and its wildlife; and to inspire everyone to enjoy and value native woodland by engaging with people. Phytophthora ramorum disease was a major issue – it had been introduced through imported rhododendron planting stock from the west coast of America.

On Dartmoor the Woodland Trust owned 248 hectares of woodland. This comprised 121 ha (6 sites) of Ancient Semi-Natural Woodland (ASNW); 144 ha (4 sites) of PAWS (Plantation on Ancient Semi-Natural Woodland) i.e. coniferised sites planted in the post-War period which were being converted back to broadleaved woodland; and 19 ha (3 sites) of woodland planted within the past 20 years. David did not think the creation of new woodland was likely to feature much in the Dartmoor area as there are so many varied interests in the land, but new woodland was being created around Plymouth, funded by the new Langage Power station – the MOREwoods initiative.

One of the key actions is to bring the right light levels back into woodland. A neutral operating cost was the best one could expect. In the Bovey valley the Woodland Trust were harvesting 3500 cubic metres of woodland at a cost of £8000 - £10,000 which represents a cost of about £3.00 per metre.

David concluded by emphasising that the future depended on Finance, the Engagement of People and a constant supply of New Ideas and Energy.

The third case study was presented by Robert White, a commercial forester and former Director of Fountain Forestry: ‘Dean Woodland – a Private Dartmoor Woodland – Sustainable Management?’.

‘I’m going to talk about the management of the Dartmoor woodland that my wife and I own and manage, but so you know where I’m coming from a bit of background first. I was, and to some extent still am, a professional forester. I was a manager with Fountain Forestry for thirty years ending up as Director for the company’s operations in England & Wales. However, for number of years I was a Manager based at Poundsgate, on the moor, involved in managing some 6000 ha in the south west for around 120 private owners, many of which were on Dartmoor.

When I retired from Fountain over 10 years ago we had the opportunity to buy  some woodland with the main criteria that it had to be within 5 miles of home. I’d spent enough time charging round the country not to want to go further. We started with 5 acres, then added 65 acres and now have some 350 acres - 8 years ago we bought the 265 acres of Dean Woodland on the southern fringe of the National Park near Buckfastleigh.’

Dean Woodland is a steep-sided woodland bordering the Dean Burn. It is 3 miles in length and has 12 miles of forest tracks within it. Its slope means that it costs £10 more per metre to harvest than on a level site.

Robert’s personal view of sustainable management is:

Dean Woodland is very diverse. 90% of it is classified as ‘Planted Ancient Woodland Site’ (PAWS), as shown in figure 2 below.

Spread of species in Dean Woodland

Figure 2 –spread of species in Dean Woodland

Good Douglas Fir should be kept as it is the most productive species. During World War Two ash was felled for Mosquito planes.

Another benefit of streams in steep valleys like this is one can explore the potential of hydro power which the Feed in Tariff payments make an attractive possibility.

However, despite having areas of productive conifer on previously ancient Semi Natural Woodland Sites, there are also significant areas of ancient semi- natural woodland and bare ground. Most of it is there because the access was so difficult that nobody could work it. Public policy is to encourage the replacement of conifer plantations on these sites with native species, to restore as far as possible the ancient woodland characteristics.

‘While I’m wholly in favour of the right tree on the right site having mixed woodlands with a diversity of species, I’m not in favour of the wholesale felling of high quality conifer on old hardwood sites and their replacement with low grade hardwood.

There is no public access through the woodland  - while perhaps selfish this is something I cherish, partly as it a very quiet and delightful place to be, and  protects wildlife. But it is also because it’s very much a working woodland, providing employment, housing expensive equipment and a working environment, which would be difficult with public access. Fortunately there is no responsibility to maintain the boundary fences, as they extend to more than 8½ kilometres. The broadleaved woodland is a mixture of mainly oak and ash with many other species from sycamore, willow, birch hazel and some rarities such as field maple.

Excavator

The plan was to grow large valuable timber on long rotations with minimum clear felling. This is particularly challenging because the site is steep, difficult and very expensive to work.  As you can’t get modern harvesting machinery onto much of the site, hand felling with chainsaws and extracting with a winch to trackside is the order of the day.

The effect of this is that it costs £10 per cubic metre more to carry out many operations, and I can’t make money on the timber prices paid for the bulk markets and have to go for high quality large timber.

The only way to improve the economics is to invest in the infrastructure. Though the wood was already quite well roaded when purchased we have put in a further 3 miles of track to get to areas that previously had no access to ease the difficulty of timber removal, although there are still some small inaccessible areas.

The infrastructure of having good tracks is essential. The intention is to run the woodland as a long term business. It still costs money to run, though we are getting close to breaking even.’

Robert keeps the equivalent of 1.5 men in employment per year in Dean Wood. He provides 650 tonnes of timber annually to local markets in the south-west. He also supplies 250 tonnes of hardwood annually to a local sustainable group – this has brought the hardwoods into management for the first time. The increased interest in sustainability has had considerable benefits in increasing interest in firewood use, which means that low grade hardwood that used to be ignored now has a value leading to improved management. ‘I now look at all the hardwood areas as an asset which can be thinned with improvements to the remaining timber quality and to flora and fauna.’

The different tree species have different levels of growth measured by Yield Class. This is a measure of the expected average growth  rate of timber measured in cubic metres (for practical purposes tonnes) per hectare per year. For instance the Douglas Fir is growing at YC 18+ and the oak at YC 4 to 6.

The total growth rate is estimated at 1143 cu m of timber per annum. The thinning cut each year is some 900 cu m (650 of conifer and 250 of hardwood). The hardwood is being overcut at present as it has not been managed for many years. Overall the stock is increasing  by some 243 cu m per annum. This will change as the crops mature and clear felling is started and also because of Phytophthora disease.

While long term objectives and plans are essential for forest management this can still be thrown totally off course by outside factors. Phytophthora Ramorum is very serious – Robert likened it to Foot and Mouth for foresters.  It’s the speed with which this spreads that is most alarming. In April 2010 he had four trees infected. By May 2010 he had felled 500. Rigorous sanitation felling on a fortnightly cycle has been unsuccessful.

‘It has clearly been spread on the wind as sporadic trees have been infected throughout the wood, many of which are remote from normal access.
Despite spending a lot on this felling and biosecurity, and while the disease apparently slowed through the summer it has increased dramatically again in the autumn and I don’t feel very optimistic about the future. It appears now I will have to fell most if not all of the larch, if nothing else to reduce the risk of it spreading to Douglas Fir and the susceptible hardwoods. The maximum sporrulation will be between September–October. The larch market has collapsed – there are 10,000 hectares of larch in the south-west, of which 2,000 ha. are currently infected.

Financially this has a severe impact. You not only lose the crop, but except on the sites where you can get a harvester in to clear the trees it will cost money even to remove them.

There are also significant environmental effects. Larch is not only an attractive tree providing variety amongst the conifers, but because of the relatively light shade and loss of needles in the winter it encourages the under-storey with biodiversity benefits. At present Sitka Spruce appears to be the best candidate to replant with, unless the areas are to revert to unproductive scrub.’

A cubic metre of timber approximates to 1 tonne. About 1143 tonnes are produced annually and about 900 tonnes are cut annually.

Robert remains optimistic. Having this commercial woodland means, in theory, there is an Inheritance Tax advantage. Fundamentally, it is a ‘green’ pursuit. It is also ‘fun’ and you have an opportunity to buy interesting machines – ‘big boy’s toys’.

Nick Davey commented that North Sea Oil had allowed us to delay proper management of our woodlands.

The fourth case study was presented jointly by Merlin Howse and Christina Tugwell of the Steward Wood Community near Moretonhampstead (Christiana was standing in for Owen Kebbell). The Community was established in April 2000 on 32 acres of woodland (formerly belonging to the Dartington Estate). Members of the Dartmoor Society visited in 2007.

Steward Wood Community

Merlin began by describing the enterprise as a permaculture project - ‘an approach to designing human settlements and agricultural systems that mimic the relationships found in natural ecologies’. The fundamental principles are:

Christiana then spoke about the history and context of the site.

Steward Community Woodland is based on the edge of Dartmoor National Park, a mile to the southeast of Moretonhampstead. The idea of the community originated within a loose network of experienced environmental activists, all of whom wanted to achieve a positive response to the world's social and ecological circumstances – as opposed to campaigning against them.

Numbers of community members fell in the first year of living on the land, and have since risen slowly, resulting in a group of people with a stable social dynamic and a wide range of skills. The community now numbers 12 adults and 9 children and is not currently open to new members. The legal structure of the community is that of a not-for-profit limited company, of which all community residents are registered as co-directors. Following a land search the woodland was purchased by the company in 1999.

The site has an on-site spring, seasonal watercourses and steep gradient, enabling the generation of some hydro electricity. It is entirely plantation woodland and is not remote from an access road (it is just off the main A382 road) or a settlement.

The setting of our woodland is the beautiful Wray Valley that stretches between Moretonhampstead and Lustleigh. Our woodland is small – 32 acres, consisting of several compartments that have different histories of human involvement. It is the northernmost section of the long wood on the southwest-facing ridge of the Wray Valley, and until the early 20th century was not considered to be part of the woodland at all.

Documentary and physical evidence indicates that the site became progressively more wooded over the course of the 19th century, and that hazel trees were planted for coppicing. Site works during this period included at least one dwelling, stables, a stone shed, and stone walls throughout the site. There may have been links with local haematite mining.

The upper tree canopies that now dominate the woodland were planted by Dartington Woodlands in the 1930s to 1960s as experimental conifer crops, on both unwooded and wooded areas. The hazel stools were not grubbed up, but were coppiced and retained, and this has been an influence on the stability and biodiversity of the woods today.

The woodland now has an obvious overstorey of conifers that are among the tallest trees in the local area, with a thriving understorey, mainly of hazel and sycamore but also with significant populations of ash and oak. It is semi-natural in structure, with a mix of shady and open spaces and natural regeneration of native tree species, but tree species are very mixed, indicating the human involvement with the site.

The woodland soil is underlaid with thick layers of fine granite sediment and is classified as “mor” type humus, dominated by fungus mycelium with a low organic matter and micro-organism content. In these circumstances soil structure can take decades to develop and, once disturbed, nutrients are washed out by the high rainfall typical of Dartmoor.

WOODLAND MANAGEMENT PLAN

The major objectives of our woodland management plan are to:

Biodiversity

Our woodland is a working wood, and we plan our works to have a neutral or positive impact on habitat and biodiversity within the wood.

Strategies for biodiversity:

Zoning. Possibly the most important, as it is in effect all year round. Zoning distributes the impact of our day-to-day lives unevenly within the woodland. The Settlement Area, of approximately two acres, the main path from the entrance track, and the growing area see most of our activity. The designated ancient woodland on the east side of the wood is a low-intervention zone.

Felling seasons. To avoid disrupting breeding birds – this winter we are felling between 1 October and mid-February. To minimise the disruption within potential dormouse habitat – work should be carried out before they hibernate.

Planning works. All works should be planned well in advance, the site should be observed and if necessary, action taken to mitigate impact (for example, killing ivy on trees months before felling). By always watching the wood you see the impact of what you’ve done.

Dead wood. Retaining standing dead trees and dead wood; this is vital habitat for birds and bats.

Protecting coppice and natural regeneration from deer browsing.

If replanting, using saplings of local provenance when possible. This ensures the continuity of the genetic heritage of local trees.

Taking care when working in wet areas. Working around them if at all possible.

Avoiding the routine use of heavy machinery. This avoids ground compaction. We extract logs using person power and winches.

Taking particular care of oak seedlings. Oaks are less prone to disease within a mixed-species woodland, so ours is ideal to nurse some of the local provenance oaks of the future.

Managing the wood on continuous cover forestry principles.

Woodland management based on continuous cover forestry principles, which incorporate:

Continuous cover forestry enables the development of a population of diverse age range, and this is a key method of monitoring its success. There is evidence that successful wildwood forest has a great number of seedlings and saplings and that numbers in each age cohort decrease with time.

Continuous cover management therefore monitors tree population at each stage and may 'top up' age cohorts found to be low in number through planting, or selectively thinning around young trees to encourage survival.

Monitoring is done within sample areas that are representative of the whole woodland. At Steward Wood we randomly sampled 31 circular plots of 8 metre diameter. Every five years monitoring is carried out within each area, recording diameter at breast height (DBH) and species of each tree within the area, as well as other indicators of the health of the woodland such as presence of deadwood, flora and any animals and insects observed.

Maintaining landscape features

The historical features of the woodland include stone walls, ditches, boundary trees and the remnants of Steward House. Due to its gradual, ongoing nature, continuous cover forestry is recommended as the method of woodland management most desirable to conserve physical features of the site.

The retention of a belt of screening trees visually screens the community from neighbours and the A382, and also reduces the noise of the busy A382 for the community.

Merlin then continued, describing how hand tools are generally used for felling timber. The community is completely self-sufficient in fuel (ash/ hazel/sycamore coppice).

Rocket Stove
A ‘Rocket Stove’ can cook a meal on a handful of twigs.

Timber is also used for building and a saw mill is a new acquisition.

Wood-gasification technology is being explored.

The very low use of electricity (lighting, computers and tools) by the community is met through a 300-watt micro hydro plant and solar panels.

The woodland is an educational venue. Visitors (individuals and groups) are welcome and courses are run such as those for volunteers – 72 staying for 2 weeks each.

Outreach visits are made to schools etc and to events such as this day.

The community consider their project radical and unique but not suitable for a lot of woodlands. It is a form of traditional, subsistence living and working, with experimentation, access and education all important, especially with the current environmental issues we are faced with.

After a fine buffet lunch, most of the delegates climbed aboard a bus (provided by the appropriately named Wood’s of Buckfastleigh) and were taken to Yarner Wood where we were met by Simon Lee, the Senior Reserves Manager employed by Natural England who then led the group on a tour of the wood.

Yarner was the first National Nature Reserve to be designated in England (in 1952). It is one of four on Dartmoor. The wood itself comprises 350 acres, which was ring-fenced in 1955. The total NNR comprised some 1000 acres and this was part of an even bigger Site of Special Scientific Interest.  The primary purpose of the NNR designation was to further research; people and the public interest were not really considered. Research and monitoring has been continuous at Yarner for more than half a century and has some of the longest data records in the country. Of special importance has been the monitoring of nest boxes for Pied Flycatchers. Research by Dr Malcolm Burgess has shown that their eggs are being laid 1-2 weeks earlier than 50 years ago. Weather is the most significant factor. Thinning of the woodland has had no effect on them. It has also been shown that Welsh and English Pied Flycatchers are genetically different from European ones. There are plans to put ‘geolocation’ monitors on 20 birds.

Members of the group remarked on the relative abundance of holly. There was a beautiful leaf cover on the paths.

Ten per cent of the wood is now open glades which used to be managed mechanically but recently 7-8 ‘heritage’ Dartmoor ponies have been introduced to do the job.

The most significant and radical change in management philosophy has been adoption of the concept of managing for climate change, by allowing the wood to develop as naturally as possible, so no longer will there be clearance of beech, sycamore and hazel. [Only a few years ago there was largescale felling of mature beech trees on the edge of Yarner Wood on the grounds that they were not indigenous]. Simon mentioned that Dendles Wood on south-west Dartmoor has beech trees that are about 400 years old, and there were certainly beech trees in Britain ‘a few thousand years ago’.

‘Landscape Permeability’ was mentioned. Because of its relatively rapid growth a species such as beech will be able to adapt sooner to climate change than other species. Cherry, laurel and rhododendron are considered non-native species.

A visit was made to the site of a charcoal burner’s hearth where modern charcoal production had also taken place. By a hide where four species of tit were observed flitting through the trees – Blue, Coal, Great and Marsh – the group had pointed out to them, across the valley, an area which had been planted with sweet chestnut, Scots Pine, and European larch to replace oak woodland – this was a product of the original policy at the start of the management of the National Nature Reserve.

Simon mentioned that they had a dedicated Education Officer at Yarner and had adopted a policy of ‘engagement with people’. Yarner was now a ‘destination National Nature Reserve’ with some 40,000 visits annually. The site of the mid-19th century copper mine was being partly converted to an outdoor classroom.

After a cream tea back at the Dolphin Hotel the day was opened up to a general Discussion session chaired by Tom Greeves.

Gerald Quinn asked about the use of horses in woodland. David Rickwood said that the Woodland Trust had used them.

Phil Page, former manager of Yarner Wood, commented that we were experiencing a period of intense change and asked what strategy Dartmoor National Park had regarding woodland. No representative of the national park was present to answer this.

Jeremy Hatch said we should not make any irreversible decisions.

Dinie Brickl asked about the use of donkeys at Steward Wood. Merlin Howse said they had been used for grazing etc.

Dawn Hatton wondered whether there would be enough fuel to go round if Castle Drogo adopted wood fuel boilers etc, and if more people adopted woodburning stoves. David Rickwood commented that it would be wrong to produce electricity from biomass. Christiana Tugwell mentioned that Rocket Stoves resulted in a 70-95% reduction in consumption of fuel.

David Rickwood said that 80% of our timber is imported. In the Uk we consume 1 cubic metre of timber per person per annum. Comment was made that there was a lack of saw mills in the region and that the timber supply chain was ‘very weak’.

Andrew Wrayford asked about Phytophthora ramorum. David Rickwood said that the felled timber can be used. The bark is likely to carry spores. The disease can cross to bilberry (vaccinium).

John Barkham felt that the Steward Wood project was extremely interesting and forward-looking.

Mark Bailey mentioned that the Bovey Climate Action Group had extracted wood  for fuel from Wray Cleave woods (owned by Dartmoor National Park). He said that the scheme had worked ‘after a fashion’ but that there were issues regarding health and safety, extraction and age.

Tom Greeves suggested that there should perhaps be a survey carried out by each parish of the extent of its woodland etc.

Phil Newman felt that the cultural content of woodlands was not really on the agenda of Natural England and woodland managers, and noted that some landowners can be obstructive. Christiana Tugwell asked if archaeological advice was obtainable and he said, yes, though the national park in the first instance.

In his own comments Tom Greeves felt that there was a real sense of change in the air, and that some of the old maxims for management were no longer clearcut. One aspect of the day which had struck him forcefully was how little we still know about our woodlands – whether in terms of the cultural or natural environment - and that exciting times lie ahead for research and exploration. A willingness by woodland managers to ‘engage with people’ was a positive step. However, there was an urgent need for a new strategy regarding woodlands to be devised. The national park should lead the way, but will they? In general, our Dartmoor woodlands were a significantly underused resource.

The day closed with thanks being expressed to all participants and speakers, and also to the Dolphin Hotel and its staff.

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