The wildlife of the Bovey Valley has adapted to human influences for thousands of years, and today, there are many clues in the landscape showing where and how our ancestors have lived, side-by-side with nature for millennia. Remains of stone buildings from prehistoric and medieval times are scattered through the valley and recent studies have recorded where enclosures and boundaries defined different land uses. Further work by archaeologists continues to tell the story of human habitation in the Bovey which, in turn, helps the woodland managers to understand how the past has created today’s “wild” habitat.
As the archaeological investigation into the ancient Vinnimore farmstead proceeded, the excavation was managed carefully to protect the woodland species. Today’s woodland is a transitional habitat; last century’s farm enclosures around Vinnimore farmstead have now become a willow and alder wet woodland, where invertebrates thrive and provide food for many small birds. Frogs and newts inhabit the patches where water collects and springtime insects emerge to find their seasonal food plants.
During the dig, the team of professional and volunteer archaeologists found some fascinating structures and interesting small finds. While pottery sherds, clay pipes, fragments of glass, flints and iron nails were all cleaned and displayed, the search for fireplaces, walls and a bread oven continued in the building area. The full story of the buildings will be understood in time, once the finds are studied and interpreted, but the wildlife of the woods will remain unaffected and unchanged. Waterlogged areas, where amphibians and invertebrates breed, were avoided by boots and wheelbarrows, that stayed on the timber walkway. Excavated soil was stored on a plastic sheet and lengthy discussions concluded that minimal disruption to roots, would maintain the strength and vigour of the trees standing above the building remains.
As the excavation went on, the ancient woodland ground flora, ground dwellers and other inhabitants were left undisturbed and when the dig was finished, April’s wildflowers still showed off their colours.
The team of archaeologists finished their week with many discoveries and finds, but the find of the week for the woodland managers, was a rare blue ground beetle. A species that is only found in a few sites in southwest England and is a shining star of woodland ecology. It had taken up temporary residence in a nearby dormouse nest box, unaware of the disruption only a few steps away. Once the soil has been replaced all will return to normal and the woodland species will be left to settle back into their old routine. They will be none the wiser … but we will!
The woodland conservation and archaeology investigations in the Bovey Valley Woods are part of the Heritage Lottery Funded Moor than meets the eye scheme.
by Matt Parkins
Throughout May 2017 the Moor than meets the eye Landscape Partnership will be hosting a month long Festival of Woodland Wildlife. There will be a series of workshops at East Dartmoor National Nature Reserve, please see the programme below…
A beginners guide to the Dawn Chorus
Sunday 7th May, 7am-8.30am – Booking essential
Experience the Dawn Chorus in all its magnificence on our early morning walk around Yarner Wood, part of East Dartmoor NNR. You will have an opportunity to learn some basic fieldcraft from RSPB guide John White. Please bring your own binoculars if you have them, wear suitable outdoor clothing and footwear. We will be walking a fairly short walk within the reserve. Due to the nature of the site paths will be steep and rough in places but we will walk at a gentle pace.
To book your place visit www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/events
Butterfly ID skills
Thursday 11th May, 10.30am-3.30pm
Join Butterfly Conservation at East Dartmoor National Nature Reserve to discover the ecology of the rare Pearl and Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary butterflies. Learn how to identify these two special species, and how to monitor them using a variety of recording techniques. The day will consist of an indoor learning session followed by an afternoon in the field practicing what we have learnt (weather permitting!). This workshop is ideal for those interested in learning more about these Fritillary species, and improving their identification and recording skills. Please bring a packed lunch, suitable outdoor clothing for the afternoon, and sturdy footwear. This workshop is FREE. Please book your place by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org
A Naturalists Guide to the Oak Tree
Thursday 18th May, 10.30am-3.00pm
Learn more about the natural history of the oak tree and the biodiversity it supports – right from the roots where they impact on soil biodiversity and associate strongly with fungi; the bark on their trunks and branches, that support a wide range of invertebrate life; then up these branches and into the canopy where small mammals, birds and more invertebrates thrive. Festooned with epiphytic plants and lichens these wonderful trees are both at the centre of their own ecosystem, whilst being a part of the wider woodland habitat. This workshop is ideal for those interested in learning more about woodland ecology, this rich biodiversity, and for those wishing to improve their identification skills. Please bring a packed lunch, suitable outdoor clothing and sturdy footwear.
This workshop is FREE. To book your place please register at the Woodland Trust Website
The Secret Life of Soil
Tuesday 23rd May, 10.30am-3pm
A practical hands-on workshop where you will discover more about soil, the life within it and how important it is. You will learn how to collect and extract different kinds of soil organisms and practice using microscopes to look at soil life using some basic identification keys. There will be some work indoors and outside. Please come suitably dressed for the outdoors and bring a packed lunch.
This workshop is FREE. To book your place please register at www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/events