As the shades of summer green start to fade, the cooling autumn air brings a final flurry of activity before the woods of the Bovey Valley settle down for winter. Bird nesting season is over and, for some woodland mammals, food caches are building. For others, hibernation has yet to begin, making this the perfect time between the seasons for some carefully planned woodland habitat management work. This steep and scenic valley is home to many interesting species including the scarce barbastelle bat, the nationally rare blue ground beetle and an array of lichen worthy of its status as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. These annual small-scale works provide the tweaks to the habitats that create optimum conditions for all these species and many more.
As you walk through the trees in the knowledge you are in a wildlife refuge and you admire the spectacular views this autumn, please take note of any signs you see. On the various woodland entrances and gate ways information is displayed to keep visitors safe and to show how our work is protecting wildlife. One of the signs says, “Larch trees at imminent risk of being affected by a disease called Phytophthora ramorum are being gradually felled to allow native, broadleaved species to regenerate in their place.” It also mentions that the extracted timber is being used in a project to protect Dartmoor’s upland peat bogs.
During your visit you may hear the urgent burst of chainsaws echoing along the valley or you may see the tractor-powered timber trailer hauling sawlogs to a stack in Pullabrook Wood, ready for milling into boards. Either way, a set of working practices have been put in place to keep everybody safe. As in previous years, Barry and Sam are the forestry workers who are felling larch trees. To prevent large scale habitat disruption, they have cut and extracted small pockets of larch trees over the last five years or so. This staged approach is working well to allow a diverse coppice and scrub habitat to develop in place of the conifers. The ecologically ‘vulnerable’ dormouse has its home here and is responding well to this gradual management approach. Each year, expert ecologists are over-seeing the work to make sure nesting areas are avoided and the local dormouse population will continue to thrive.
The felling routine has been specially developed for this site. On steep slopes there is a possibility for a felled tree to slide downhill. To counter this and to make the felling safe, Sam stands on the track below, acting as a ‘Banksman’ while Barry prepares a group of three trees. Once he is ready, he shouts down to Sam who checks the track is clear and replies, “OK!”. Only then will Barry put the final felling cuts in.
Once three trees are safely down Sam joins Barry on the slope to ‘sned’ the branches. Back on the track, Sam sets up the winch tractor and Barry attaches the cable to the group of three trees. Pulling them together like this prevents one of them from rolling away and controls the descent to the safety of the track. Here they are cut into lengths 12’ (or 3.6m). Each tree is around 25m in height, including the foliage on top so, leaving a small section up on the hill for habitat piles, about six lengths of varying quality timber come from each tree. Some are used as sawlogs for the peatland restoration while others become lower grade biomass or pulp. Nothing goes to waste.
On a few future occasions there will be a need to close the track temporarily for added safety. These events will be brief and only when necessary to protect passers-by.
Other woodland work going on this year will include the cutting of holly in other areas where the heavy shade they cast could reduce the vigour of a spectacular range of lichen that grow in Hisley Woods and around the valley.
Across the rest of the reserve there will also be some small scale woodland management work taking place, to create open glades and to manage holly.
Please enjoy your walk in the woods and watch out for information and signs. “Please be aware and follow all safety signage indicating variable path closures when operations are in progress…”
Any track closures are for the safety of everyone and will only be for short periods of time. A temporary interruption to the walking routes will be worthwhile as the wonderful diversity of the Bovey Valley Woods will provide a wildlife refuge for the future.
by Matt Parkins