Smoke, Wood Skills and Horses

Once again the smell of wood smoke filled the air combined with the friendly chatter of voices. A steady thudding sound passes by along with the clink of chains – The horse is pulling 3 hefty logs of wood along with complete ease.

As you look across the glade several small fires are releasing small plumes of smoke. These are keeping people warm, allowing bread and marshmallows to be toasted, and making mini-charcoal sticks – perfect for adding camouflage to peoples face. Close by a story teller is keeping the children entertained by telling tales of woodlands, people and the creatures.

Storytelling. Photo – K Smith

In one corner a  bonfire is drawing peoples attention. This is being created by the Natural England volunteers who once again have given up a Sunday morning in order to help conserve these woods. There is lots of brash (twigs / small branches / brambles) that have been cut and accumulated after the forestry works and the best way to deal with this is to burn them. Fire always has an appeal and people are keen to help add to this and the warmth emanating from the fire is very welcome on a cloudy and cold day.

Across the other side of the glade people are gathering together looking a glimpse of times gone by. Matt is making hurdles – adding and twisting layer on layer of straight thin branches to his frame and building in patterns as he goes along. Running Deer are using their shave horses, expertly demonstrating how these are used and alongside this a charcoal kiln is also smoking away. Chatter ensues as people discuss how all these things work and what skills are needed.

2nd hurdle underway
Hurdle making – Photo – M Parkins


The appeal of the horses is very evident. Though strong enough to pull heavy logs from the woods these really are gentle giants. They were used in forestry in the past before the times of machines to remove the felled trees from out of the wood, and they still have an important role today. They have a very low impact on the ground compared to modern machinery and so provide a brilliant alternative when we want to protect the ground underneath the trees where there is archaeology or sensitive soils and ground flora.

Horselogging2 (2)
Horse Logging. Photo – K Smith

A group of people gather at the registration point, where they are met by Dave Rickwood, who manages Bovey Valley Wood. He takes people out of the glade and walks along the top track. People pass by the modern mobile sawmill and see how the trees felled here are being used for projects locally. Jim is cutting up logs into sections – creating different sized planks of wood for various projects including sheds, fences, and raised beds.

varied sections of timber
Cutting a smaller larch log. Photo – P Moody


Dave informs people about how economical this is, some of the difficulties of managing a wood within the valley setting and the work the Woodland Trust is doing here and with Natural England as part of the wider East Dartmoor NNR to protect this woodland setting and the creatures found within it such as the dormouse, barbestelle bat, pied flyer catcher and other numbers creatures and plants.

Our Working Woodlands day has been a success. Despite the cold people stay around learning more about the how woods past, enjoying the atmosphere and the warmth from the fires. It seems everyone had lovely time and we hope to run something similar again next year. This has been made possible through the HLF funded Moor than meets the eye Landscape Partnership.








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