The gradual transformation of the woodland landscape in the Bovey Valley Woods is making progress again this autumn and winter. This year, as usual, small groups of conifers have been selected for felling in different zones around Hisley and Pullabrook Woods to improve diversity of woodland structure and habitat. This technique of staged annual small-scale tree felling operations is proving to be beneficial to both the biodiversity and the landscape of this beautiful river valley as it can produce a balance of old growth, mature trees and vibrant young regeneration.
This method of conservation woodland management by small teams of foresters with lightweight equipment, tractors and trailers, is suited to the narrow tracks and steep gradients of the Dartmoor valleys. We can see the visual changes over the last decades but this attractive look is not only pleasing to us humans, the wildlife is showing signs of thriving too. This method is working, as we can see in some areas where large coniferous canopy trees stand over a vigorously growing shrubby understorey. Between them, glades where invertebrates are on the increase and where small songbirds perch and nest are developing well. Other areas of old growth woodland are protected and nurtured; achieving the balance of light and shade that suits the lichen the valley is known for. This mix of habitats is vital and management of small areas each year is the way to achieve the right blend.
Two main areas are being worked during the next few months. The first of these is in Hisley Wood where some of the remaining stands of larch are being thinned. At the higher slopes of the wood where the track climbs towards the top of Lustleigh Cleave, the felling is opening up a view across the valley to Black Hill. Allowing more sunlight to penetrate the woods is not just to let walkers appreciate the magnificent view of the moor but it permits more light to reach the assemblages of unusual lichen that grow well in these wet western valleys.
Further along the valley where the river Bovey takes a turn from its south-easterly route to flow north, some mixed conifers at Pullabrook Wood include some Douglas fir and Scot’s pine. These stands of conifers have been thinned in previous years, but the thinning cycle has moved round, and it is their turn again. These conifers grow fast and soon cast a shady canopy over the surrounding vegetation, so maintaining the more open woodland structure between these trees allows invertebrates (particularly butterflies) to move between Rudge Wood and Trendlebere Down. At the same time, it improves woodland structure, allowing some trees to reach maturity as the forest floor beneath has a greater chance to become more diverse and host a range of small birds and mammals. The woodland managers and foresters work with ecologists and naturalists to follow these careful procedures to limit short term damage with the aim to improve habitat in the long term.
Timber sawlogs are extracted by trailer to Pullabrook where they can be stacked and transported by road haulage or milled on site, producing structural timber products. This is a valuable local resource and can bring a bit of income back to support the conservation and wildlife monitoring work. This year, an additional task is needed after an old wind-blown tree fell and caused damage to the track above Hisley Bridge. This track was repaired quickly to prevent further erosion and keep the extraction route open. As you enjoy your walk around these wonderfully diverse woods, please take note of any safety signs you may see on your way.
by Matt Parkins