There are over 9,000 ha of woodlands to be explored on Exmoor (of which Exmoor National Park owns or leases 569 hectares, with the National Trust, the Crown Estate and the Forestry Commission managing much of the rest). The woodlands are scattered across the park, often in deep valleys or along the steep coastal cliffs; many are accessible on public rights of way and include some of the long distance walking routes, such as the Coleridge Way.
Exmoor National Park has a long-term, landscape-scale approach to conservation and access. Each of our woodlands is subject to a management plan, setting out how we can improve the diversity, extent and condition of our most important and valued habitats. This article focuses on our latest work, and introduces the partnerships and initiatives that support these special places.
Exmoor is home to one of the most precious and irreplaceable wildlife habitats in the UK: Ancient Woodland. These woods have a unique continuity with the past. Ancient Trees are those in the final stage of their life and Exmoor is fortunate to have an internationally significant population of ancient trees (our most recent survey identified over 1700 ancient and notable trees). An Ancient Woodland is so called because it has probably always been covered in trees; it contains soils unaltered by man that host some of the most spectacular and rare flowers and animals of the region, such as Bluebell and Wood Sorrel.
Nearly all of these woods also show the echo of man’s industry and have supplied wood for building, fuel and other products for millennia. Whilst the markets may change, the cycle of intervention causing light and shade provides a continuity and variety that really benefits wildlife and well as the rural economy.
Winter is a time when much of our wildlife is dormant, giving our Woodlands Team the opportunity to carry out vital conservation work. This winter their main activities focus on thinning work in the Barle Valley, Moor Wood (North Hill), Hawkcombe Woods (above Porlock) and Tarr Steps Woods. Small areas of the woodlands are thinned out to create gaps in the tree canopy. This allows ground flora and shrub habitat to develop and creates space for young trees to grow. The remaining mature trees also respond by developing bigger crowns and root systems over time.
Most of the timber felled is collected by our Field Services Team, who use the better quality milling timber to make the distinctive Rights of Way signs and gates that can be seen throughout the National Park. Some of the smaller diameter timber (which is unsuitable for milling) is sold as firewood. The rest (about a quarter of the felled timber) is left in the woodlands to add to the deadwood habitat, which attracts insects for the birds to feed on.
But Exmoor National Park doesn’t just look after its own woodlands – we also run an initiative called Exmoor Woodlinks, where we work with woodland owners and businesses. Thanks to a generous grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, we work with the Woodland Trust, the Forestry Commission and other partners across the Greater Exmoor area to build a strong woodland enterprise culture, bringing more woods into sustainable management for the benefit of the rural economy, environment and landscape.
As part of this scheme, back in the summer of 2016, the Woodlands Team were proud to announce they had secured the first Grown in Britain Group licence scheme in the UK, having passed a rigorous assessment. Grown in Britain is a national campaign to increase demand for responsibly managed British wood; our award confirmed Exmoor’s expertise to administer a group licence for woodland owners and timber processors joining the scheme from the local area.
We have also signed up as a #CharterBranch to support the Woodland Trust‘s initiative #TreeCharter (the Charter for Trees, Woods and People) which will will guide policy and practice in the UK. It will launch November 6th 2017 on the 800th anniversary of the Charter of the Forest.
Why not explore a wood near you? Take the chance to visit woodlands for their variety throughout the year – from spring floral displays, through cool summer shade and bird song, to atmospheric autumn colours.
Check out our Woodland Pocket Guide for more information.