Lighting up the Darkness

Following pre and post-management surveying along Bovey Valley wood’s ancient banks and boundaries in August 2020 (Back in the Bovey blog), professional habitat-management contractors working for the Woodland Trust and Natural England have been selectively clearing holly, beech and sycamore to bring back the light to the woodland understorey, as part of Plantlife’s ‘Building Resilience in South West Woodlands’ project.

Without management, many of these ancient boundaries have become over-grown with shading tree species which can become invasive if not kept in balance with less dominant, temperate rainforest species such as sessile oak, hazel and rowan, and threaten the abundance of biodiversity, and lower plants they support. By opening up light levels, the many rare species of lichen that the Bovey Valley supports can thrive long into the future. Other wildlife such as ground flora, invertebrates and birds will also benefit from the kick-start in microbial soil activity. Please note, some of the key holly specimens have been left and as autumn stretches into winter it will be easier to see that there is no shortage of holly throughout the catchment.

Coordinated by the site manager, professional ecologists were on site to ensure wildlife such as dormice and bats were not harmed during the specialist operation. Contractor Mark Scofield and his team have years of experience working on nature reserves, and were key to carefully improving dappled light levels without compromising the micro-climate of the woodland. “ It wasn’t just about going in and taking out sycamore and holly, as a lot of the veteran ash were showing signs of dieback. We had to think about leaving some of the more mature sycamore to be the natural successor to the ash, while still trying to achieve the project aim of letting more light in for the lichen. The process of selecting the mature sycamore depended on the tree’s location (is it casting a lot of shade? Are there other trees we can take around it?) and health (are there signs of disease, damage from squirrels, etc?)”

With most of the boundary management work now completed in the Bovey Valley there is still some work happening in Yarner Wood, and after four years of conservation work and outreach through the Building Resilience in South West Woodlands project there will be a final round of surveying in summer 2021. Following this the Woodland Trust and Natural England hope to continue working with Plantlife and others to enhance these special woodlands, as a resilient oasis for wildlife into the future.

This vital funding and conservation work at East Dartmoor NNR has been made possible thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Plantlife.

Written by Sam Manning, Woodland Trust

Further reading: Building Resilience Back in the Bovey blog (September 2020)

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