Felling Larch at Hisley Woods – It’s All in the Timing

Pools of sunlight pick out the larch trees in Hisley Wood

As autumn makes its way across the Dartmoor landscape the colours are changing throughout the Bovey Valley Woods and the wildlife is getting set for winter. Glowing pools of sunlight illuminate the bronzing oak leaves and golden larch as the trees slowly slip into dormancy but they aren’t alone in their winter preparations. One of the treasured residents of the woods, the hazel dormouse, a protected species, is getting ready for hibernation. During October, they are building up their weight, busily foraging, eating plenty and storing body fat in readiness for lean times ahead.

This is an active time for the woodland managers too. The larch standing in Hisley Wood is gradually being removed to allow the broadleaved woodland to develop and, to reduce the impact of this felling work, it is being done in stages, a few rows at a time. As the larch is becoming dormant it’s the best time of year to cut it and local contractors Sam Pyne and Barry Green are back in the woods with their chainsaws and winch tractor. They are removing a strip of 25 metres from the edge of the larch plantation, revealing the hazel shrub layer beneath. This understorey is a crucial habitat for dormice and the tree felling plan is designed to inflict the least possible damage to the hazel and other developing broadleaves.

The timing of this stage of the operation is important. There are a few critical weeks when the larch is ready to cut and the dormice are still active in the trees. Getting the balance right is essential. In the long term the removal of the timber plantation will breathe life back into the wild woods but in the short term, the disturbance on the ground must take place before the dormice build their hibernation nests in the leaf litter. It’s a fine balancing act. The current occupants of the dormouse nest boxes are not quite ready for hibernation yet. Maybe next week or, if the mild weather holds, maybe the week after. This is the perfect time to fell the larch and winch the timber to the track side, leaving the dormice in peace for the rest of the winter. New fresh growth in the spring will welcome them out of their deep winter sleep and the restoration of the Bovey Valley Woods will have taken another successful step forward.

The on-going ancient woodland restoration work at the Bovey Valley is being supported by Viridor Credits Environmental Company via the Landfill Communities Fund. The work also forms part of the wider Moor Than Meets The Eye Landscape Partnership which is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The work in Hisley Wood is part of a programme of restoration work for this winter.

by Matt Parkins

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