The next time you are out for a walk along the Old Manaton Road in the lower part of Hisley Wood, pause for a while to look around to see what treasures are there, there may be more than meets the eye.
The tangled mass of mossy trees and ferns in the waterlogged ground beside the river Bovey may not initially look like a wildlife haven but this wet woodland is teeming with life. Also known as Willow and Alder Carr, this type of habitat is particularly important for many species of animals and plants. The high humidity and proliferation of decaying wood provide perfect breeding conditions for insects and an ideal location for mosses, ferns and liverworts to thrive. The protective environment of the tree cover presents breeding sites for many small birds and supports numerous bat species. In conservation terms, it’s diversity bestows a jewel in the valley. It’s an interesting habitat though, because it hasn’t always been like this. Being dominated by willow and alder trees, the wet woodland can be a transitional habitat, a sign that it is slowly changing. As human intervention varies through the years so the landscape reflects that change.
Look even closer at this wet woodland and, between the pools of water and boggy patches, you can find earth banks, remnants of stone walls and gate posts that stand to mark the positions of ancient buildings, tracks and gateways. This is where the medieval farmstead, now known as Vinnimore, is waiting to be uncovered by a team of local historians and archaeologists next spring. Little is known about the old farm that, in the 1700s, was called Ferny Moor and evidence shows that during the 1830s it comprised ploughed fields and meadows.
To allow this closer inspection and small excavation of the site to take place, some of the standing water around the main heritage features is being diverted. The Woodland Trust recently repaired a badly eroded section of Old Manaton Road to allow some of the surface water to drain onto another part of the woodland nearby. Reg from the History Hunters said “these ditches will redirect water away from the site of the building, ready for the excavation to determine the heritage of Vinnimore”. Adding that “History Hunters, as a small team of volunteers welcomed the support of Barry and Tanya Welch who completed a surveyed plan”.
Using a suitably seasoned technique with optical instruments on a surveying table an accurate hand drawn plan of the old farm buildings, tracks and enclosures was produced. It has since become clear that the ground water had been flowing along an old trackway and Reg continued, “the new realisation as to the track function facilitated the drainage of the water”.
Once the critical area of ground has dried out sufficiently, the archaeological work can go ahead next April. It is a good example of partnership working with local volunteers from the Lustleigh Parishscapes project and History Hunters alongside Dartmoor National Park Authority, Natural England and the Woodland Trust. As the winter progresses and the water flows from one part of the woods to another, a close ecological eye is being kept on the wet woodland habitat. This minor intervention is unlikely to cause a significant interruption to what is already an ever-changing wildlife gem.
This project, funded through the Moor than meets the eye Parishscapes project, will bring together numerous partners including members of the Lustleigh Society who are leading the project, volunteers from the wider Lustleigh community, the History Hunters group, archaeologists from Dartmoor National Park Authority, Natural England and the Woodland Trust.
by Matt Parkins