Why are trees felled in the woods of the Bovey Valley? How are they felled and how is the timber extracted? Where does the timber go after it leaves the Bovey Valley?
Timber! Tools, Trees and Tall Tales is a special spring-time event hosted by the Woodland Trust and Natural England, as part of the wider HLF funded Moor than meets the eye project, where you will be able to find out the answers to these questions … and lots more.
The woodlands of the East Dartmoor National Nature Reserve include Yarner Wood and three other woods that link together along the Bovey Valley: Pullabrook Wood, Hisley Wood and Houndtor Wood. Each of these woodlands has their own interesting story to tell and each are being managed to favour wildlife conservation.
Throughout history, humans have always managed woodlands for many different reasons. In medieval times, there were small farmsteads in the valley where agriculture was established between the trees. Since then, many of Dartmoor’s ancient oakwoods have been used to produce charcoal that provide the power behind many rural industries. During the last hundred or more years, there has been a demand for timber which saw the planting of many introduced conifer trees, but today, these woodlands are in the safe hands of the Woodland Trust and Natural England whose priorities are to maintain the woods in a way that enhances biodiversity. Habitats for butterflies and insects are high on the priority list.
The pearl bordered fritillary, a species of conservation concern; Oil beetles, an unusual species that lives in Pullabrook Wood. You can join a wildlife survey searching for oil beetles on 25th.
In some cases, this means that the trees that have been planted by previous generations of woodland owners are now being felled, but this is done with a great deal of care and conservation planning. Local small-scale woodland contractors are working here each winter to fell and extract some of the large conifers. These have often been planted on old woodland sites, known as PAWS (Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites) and are gradually being restored to a more diverse and natural looking woodland.
The Bovey Valley timber is extracted using winches and small tractors rather than some of the large harvesting machines that are often used in commercial forestry. These forestry teams are able to fell trees with care and remove the timber from the woods with the least impact on the regenerating wild ecosystem. In some cases, where the wildlife habitats are particularly sensitive, the traditional horse logging teams are put to work to haul out the timber.
Tractor crossing the River Bovey. Jens, the heavy horse carries out some heavy-weight work.
While the wild woodland is given a chance to re-establish itself, the timber can be put to many uses. Timber is a valuable resource and can generate some income to offset some of the costs of its extraction. Sometimes the timber leaves the woods and is taken to sawmills around the UK but in recent years it has been finding its way into new markets and, with a little innovative thinking, can be used around Devon or even right here on the nature reserve.
Yarner Wood bird hide is built on Bovey timber beams. Earth Wrights build playgrounds around the Westcountry using Bovey Valley larch.
None of this timber goes to waste and even the bi-products and offcuts are used locally. A mobile sawmill is the ideal way to process the timber on site and reduce transport costs. These machines are becoming more and more useful in producing locally sourced timber products and are surprisingly versatile. Some of the smaller pieces of offcuts have been converted to firewood and even used by local children in their forest schools.
A mobile sawmill slices tree trunks into planks. Okehampton Primary School used Bovey Valley timber for the construction of their raised beds.
The Timber! Tools, Trees and Tall Tales open day will take place on Saturday 25th March – if you would like to see the woodland restoration work in action, alongside craft activities, storytelling, wildlife walks and much more. You can book a place for this free event on the Woodland Trust website
by Matt Parkins