Tarn Hows woodland project

A horse pulling a trailer loaded with logs, Tarn Howes, Cumbria.

A horse pulling a trailer loaded with logs, Tarn Howes, Cumbria.

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When our team of foresters at Tarn Hows in Cumbria decided it was time to do a little forest housekeeping, little did they know they’d be faced with some tough conservation choices. But with the help of three strong Irishmen, two even stronger Shire horses and a logging trailer, they soon had Tarn Hows restored to its original glory.

If you’ve been lucky enough to visit Tarn Hows near Coniston in Cumbria, then you might be forgiven for thinking these majestic woodlands and rugged tarns (mountain lakes or pools) are a stunning natural feature of the landscape. However, in reality, the beauty spot was actually created in the mid 19th century by James Garth Marshall, a wealthy mill owner and MP from Leeds. Marshall created a large, single water body from the existing smaller tarns and then embellished it with the strategic planting of ornamental woodlands.

Our care of Tarn Hows
Tarn Hows came into our care via Beatrix Potter in 1930. Because of the mix of trees, it was assumed that Marshall’s vision for Tarn Hows included conifers as a key component of the landscape.

Therefore the woodlands were managed on this basis. However, the results of a Historic Landscape Survey produced in 2001 proved this to be wrong.

Marshall’s vision was for a predominantly broadleaved landscape, using 75 per cent coniferous nurse species (a larger, faster-growing tree that shelters a smaller, slower-growing tree) and 25 per cent deciduous trees (a tree that loses all its leaves at some time during the year). The survey also found that Marshall’s long-term intention was to gradually remove the conifers he had planted.

One of our key conservation aims is to try, where possible, to manage our places and spaces in a way that is true to the original intentions or use of each space. Therefore to stick to Marshall’s original plans to remove the conifers, in 2006 we decided to remove a group of spruce trees. On investigation however, this task wasn’t as simple as we first thought.

A conservation nightmare
The only way to and from the trees was across a very sensitive wetland, up a short steep slope and then along a very busy footpath. The potential for classic forestry ‘men, mud and machines’ incident was huge, not to mention the conservation issues surrounding the wetland. We racked our brains as to how we could remove the trees without damaging the site or having to limit access to this stunning spot.

The problem was finally solved when Simon Lenihan, a horse logger who was working on another part of the property told us he knew a way to complete the job with minimal impact to the site and no need to close the footpath. With a degree of scepticism we agreed to put Simon’s theory to the test.

Simon’s team of his two sons, two Ardennes horses and a Swedish-style log trailer set to work in the summer of 2006 clearing the area of tress. Far from having a negative impact on the public’s enjoyment of the site, the Lenihan team became a public attraction. The boys cut the trees, the horses pulled them across the wetland and up the steep slope – job done.

Engaging with visitors
In the true tradition of Irish eloquence Simon and his lads always did their very best to answer all the questions posed by an ever-growing fan base. In an effort to let our visitors know what the team were doing we set up a public viewing platform with a list of frequently asked questions. We had the ideal scenario of a constant stream of timber coming off the site, minimal site damage, a happy contractor and an engaged and informed public!

Looking back
This project was a great success, and is proof that with traditional techniques and a lot of hard work, difficult challenges can be overcome. We’re also happy to say that Simon’s work on this project was put forward for the British Horse Logger Woodland Management Award in 2007. He won and was presented with his trophy by HRH The Prince of Wales, which in turn led to a spell of work on the Duchy woodlands in Cornwall.