Sprucing Up Houndtor Ridge

During a spell of sparkling weather in February a few hints of Spring began to show in Houndtor Wood. This south facing sun trap was once an ancient woodland, part of the network of Atlantic ‘temperate rainforest’ that is native to the western side of Britain but, since the 1950s, has been cleared and planted with a timber crop. These conifer species include Sitka spruce, western red cedar and Douglas fir, all introduced from the west coast of North America.

Houndtor is currently a ‘restoration’ woodland, being managed by the Woodland Trust to restore the diversity of woodland species that once thrived here; in January this year, we have been able to make a start on its restoration. This has been possible with the support of Viridor Credits Environmental Company, who have made an award of £47,292 for ancient woodland restoration in the Bovey Valley, the grant extends for a twelve month period, with the work in Houndtor running until the end of March and restarting in September.

In the dappled sunlight, there are hints of Houndtor’s former glory. Here and there, splashes of colour appear, showing how the wild woodland species can struggle on in the deep shade of the planted conifer trees, waiting for their chance to bloom.

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Woodland restoration is best tackled with a slow and steady approach and, for over ten years, the Woodland Trust has been gradually removing these conifers to let in more of that precious sunlight. This year the felling work continues, and ecologically minded foresters have been busy. Standing in a sunny spot on the highest point of Houndtor Ridge, contractor Sam Pyne said, “we’ve been working in this wood all winter. We started thinning the Douglas fir by the Becka Brook and we’ve worked our way along some of the ancient hedgebanks to open up the woodland to benefit the lichen. We’re felling this stand of spruce around the Houndtor hillfort where there is an area of oaks that will benefit from a bit more sun.”

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Barry Green works with Sam and he’s often the one on the chainsaw, felling the tall conifers. The change in the landscape of the immediate area is noticeable. Sun penetrates a new glade in the woods and the neighbouring semi-natural woodland can breathe again. This year’s winter work will come to an end soon as bird song builds in the cool air while butterflies soak up the sun’s rays as they rest among the fallen leaves.

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From a distant viewpoint across the valley, the landscape will change as the profile of the ridge is softened after the dominant line of spruce has gone. Looking from Trendlebere Down, the remaining stand of beech blends into the ancient oakwood surrounding the hillfort. Year by year the bold line of deep green conifers is slowly receding as the wooded ridge takes on a more natural look. This forestry work has a long-term positive effect on birds and insects, but also on lichen which, in many parts of the country, is disappearing due to the loss of habitat. This restoration work will improve the opportunities for these valuable species to regain a foothold. Working together with Natural England and Plantlife, a monitoring program will record how successfully the lichen makes a comeback and with continued careful management, the diversity of woodland species will return.

ridge P Moody
Felling of dominant conifers will slowly soften the view of Houndtor ridge [P Moody]

by Matt Parkins

This ancient woodland restoration work in Houndtor Wood has been supported by Viridor Credits Environmental Company, via the Landfill Communities Fund.

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