On Saturday 23 March at the Moor than Meets the Eye event, ‘TIMBER! Trees, Tools and Tall Tales’, we felled two conifer trees. But why are woodland conservation charities chopping down healthy trees? TIMBER! was all about telling that story.

When you walk into Pullabrook Woods, it’s worth looking at the two sides of the valley, on the left are closely planted conifers, with a dark understory of bramble and bracken. On the far slope, across the burbling stream is a mix of native trees, with lichens, ferns and mosses. The Pullabrook Wood conifers were only planted in 1950s, by the Forestry Commission to increase the UK’s sustainability in timber. Prior to that, the wood would have looked very much like the far side of the valley, which is ancient woodland and has been since at least 1600 when records were first kept.

Video of the tree felling demonstration

TIMBER! highlighted how the Woodland Trust, in partnership with Natural England, are working to restore the wood to its former glory using modern machinery alongside more traditional. The tree felling demonstration showed how skilled chainsaw operators, like Sam and Barry, are selectively clearing the wood to allow it to regenerate naturally, creating light and space for native species, like oak, hazel and lime.

Working horses are often the only way we can then get the timber out from steep slopes without damaging the woodland flora emerging underneath. As well as working at Pullabrook, Kate and her two heavy horses have been busy at Fingle Woods pulling out timber at the Hillfort. Jim and his mobile saw mill at the top of track showed how we can mill the trees on site, rather than trucking them to a large sawmill many miles away. The timber they milled at the event, is being used locally as part of the Dartmoor Mires project, creating structures to prevent water runoff which causing the peatland soils on the moor to dry out.

Further down the valley, into the woodsmoke filled glade, craftsman and women demonstrated other uses for our wood, with spoon carving from Jon Mac and Little Acorn Furniture’s pole lathes and shave horses being well used all day. Young and old had a chance to try their hand at these traditional green woodworking skills using birch that had been cut from the woods just the day before.

A demonstration of charcoal making and chainsaw skills at TIMBER!

The woods of the Bovey Valley have also been long known as a source of charcoal, with many species coppiced for this important fuel. This time we used holly that had been thinned from the woods to make space for native broadleaved trees, and had the opportunity to try out the Exeter Retort, which was quietly smoking away at the end of the glade. The retort sends ignited gases back into the burning chamber, making it much cleaning and faster than traditional techniques.  

Our conservation partners were also on hand – Plantlife, the Ancient Tree Forum and our dormice surveyors can all testify to the benefits this active management has to the wildlife of these precious Atlantic woodlands.

So we are chopping down trees, but we are making good use of their timber and in the long run, these ecologically minded forestry operations are securing the future of these precious ancient woodlands.

Written by Rachel Harries, Engagement and Communication Officer at the Woodland Trust

You can learn more about how the timber from the Bovey Valley Woods is used, in a couple of blogs written by Matt Parkins. He has been following the ‘timber trail’, to see how Dartmoor timber has been used to restore an ancient bridge and to construct dams on Dartmoor’s mires.

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