On a rare dry Dartmoor day, the Timber! celebration took place, once again, at Pullabrook Wood in the Bovey Valley. As before, it was hosted by the Woodland Trust and Natural England but, this year, recent storms and floods have left the woods feeling a bit damp, though a healthy turn out of visitors got together to enjoy and learn about the conservation management of the Bovey Valley Woods. Restoration of plantation woodlands is a complicated process and this special event, threw a bit of light on it, giving people an experience of the various stages of the process. A demonstration of conservation felling started to provide an answer to the frequently asked question “Why do we cut down trees?”
Foresters and conservationists call it Continuous Cover Forestry, when the local native wild plants are encouraged to recolonise the soil under the introduced timber trees. On site and on hand to answer more questions was Barry, one of the felling team. Using an ingenious forest of umbrellas to demonstrate the theory of removing a few trees at a time, he revealed how the increase in sunlight would empower the indigenous woodland to regenerate. To show this in action, Barry’s colleague Sam felled a large Douglas fir, demonstrating how to safely bring a tonne of timber to the ground in one piece.
Logging horses then demonstrated how to extract large sections of felled timber with a light-touch, leaving the woodland soil and ground level plants moderately undisturbed. Hitching up a section of felled Douglas fir, Beano the draft horse made short work of hauling a section of the tree out of the woods. This stage of the process gave the visitors a chance to follow Beano as he hauled the timber down the forest track.
The next stop saw the crowd watching a top-class display of chainsaw expertise. There is no better person to demonstrate the suite of skills required to operate a chainsaw than Richard Elliott, a championship standard logger. He started with some de-branching of the top section of the tree that had been hauled into position by the horse. The process known as ‘snedding’ was rapidly completed by Richard, almost as a warm-up for an exhibition of ‘limbing’. A large pole had been set up with a standard array of side limbs that had to be removed with both precision and speed. This is one of the disciplines of competition forestry and he achieved a timed run of around 14 seconds – an unofficial world record according to our stopwatch!
The final demo was a timed removal and replacement of the cutting chain. He can even do it blindfolded. To achieve full marks, the chainsaw must work safely after the chain swap. Richard will be competing in the UK Team for the World Logging Championship in Serbia in September.
Once timber has been felled, hauled and cut to length, the next stage in the process is to mill it into useable pieces. The larch and Douglas fir grown in this valley is of top quality, as good as anywhere in the country, and its value can be increased by sawing it into functional sections for construction and boarding. The mobile mill, operated by Jim White, was converting larch saw-logs into posts for a moorland peat bog restoration project. With different settings, they made boards for building bird boxes. These boards (or ones that were made earlier) were being assembled into boxes for another Woodland Trust site in the Dart Valley.
Once everybody had seen the experts at work, they had a chance to do a bit of wood craft for themselves. Willow weaving produced colourful, natural platters and baskets while the green wood working was busy and popular. There was time to chat about the conservation work across the whole of the East Dartmoor National Nature Reserve at the Natural England information stand and a wildlife walk, led by local volunteer Simon went in search of signs of the elusive otter. As they returned he commented that the flood water had removed any hint of otter activity but predicted they would be back soon.
Up and down the track that connected all the activities was a nature walk. This is what the woodland work is all about. The Bovey Valley wildlife is slowly becoming more varied and this kind of careful, targeted management work will provide a better mix of habitat for some of the beautiful, weird and wonderful species that can be found here. This time of year is when it starts to reveal itself after a long wet winter. Glowing yellow celandine emerging along the brighter forest rides provides food for the violet oil beetle and early season butterflies can be seen on the wing in the spots where the sun shines through the trees.
by Matt Parkins
A few quotes from happy visitors
“My son made a bird box and spent a long time on the shave horse – he loved it!”
“It was interesting to see Richard limbing – we won a prize for a close guess of the time”
“It’s been a great day – we stayed a bit longer than we thought we were going to”
“There was a lot of things to do – it’s interesting to learn about our local woods”
More highlights of TIMBER! 2020