The ongoing restoration of the Bovey Valley Woods provides many opportunities for people to join in – a chance to play a part in reviving the ancient woodland in Dartmoor’s eastern valleys. Some areas of the timber plantations along the valley have been dominated by conifers for decades and the remnants of wild broadleaves have struggled to survive in the heavy shade. To give these wild woodland species a helping hand, a set of experimental fenced areas are being planted up. These square “exclosures” of two-metre high mesh are designed to keep the browsing deer out of the selected areas where shrubs and trees of the woods of the future have been planted. This task has been started by local woodland contractors in Houndtor Wood but students and volunteers have also had the chance to help at Pullabrook Woods.
On a bright, crisp February day a group of Exeter College’s Apex students joined Emma Fancett of Natural England to plant some trees. Emma has spent the last year at East Dartmoor National Nature Reserve as an Eco Skills trainee and this was now a chance to share some of her skills with this group of young students from the college. After a busy day she proudly described her experience.
“I led the group of learners and staff to plant over 100 hazel saplings, which is part of a woodland restoration project at Pullabrook Wood. The morning started at a leisurely pace, while the group learnt about the importance of woodland management and the diversity of a deciduous woodland versus a conifer plantation. They drew on their previous experiences of engaging in practical tasks to remind themselves how to safely and effectively use tools. Climbing into the deer-fenced enclosure, the group noticed how some trees had already been planted, and started to work out how to distribute the remaining saplings. Working in pairs, they slowly but steadily found out the best way of working, and ensured that the trees were planted so they would have the best start in life, and remain upright and stable. Lunchtime came around quickly, and it soon became apparent that it would be difficult to finish the planting in time at the current pace. The group were prepared to take a rolling lunch, with some eating as they worked, and they sped up to finish the planting at an incredible rate. They naturally fell into various roles; sapling distributer, hole digger, sapling stabiliser, quality checker, motivator, and optimised the process.
Spirits were high as the group started to name the trees that they planted. They reckon they’d be able to pinpoint exactly where Bob, Jim and Stuart were planted! Everyone enjoyed the day and took pride in their work and what they achieved. We all gained a greater understanding of woodland areas and wildlife habitats, and formed and strengthened friendships while we learnt more about each other during our over-the-spade chatterings. Many of the students are looking forward to revisiting the patch of woodland in years to come and seeing the fruits (or nuts!) of their labours”.
As the new intake of Eco Skills trainees makes a start in the coming spring, they will not only learn new skills on the nature reserve but will help the community to restore and protect the woods of the Bovey Valley for future generations of people and wildlife.
by Matt Parkins and Emma Fancett