Conserving Miss Chichester's fancy piece

A young cob pony named Tyler has been leading the charge in conserving an area of woodland, once labelled as ‘Miss Chichester’s fancy piece’ at the National Trust’s Arlington Court estate in North Devon.

Letting the light shine through

Around 20 years ago a storm blew down a lot of trees in one area of woodland. A variety of new trees were replanted, and a deer fence was erected to protect the young saplings.. Over time the trees have begun to compete for light and water, and the current project sees the woodland being thinned to allow the best trees to thrive. Additionally some selection is being made between the species. When planted the woodland was a mix of sycamore, beech, ash, birch and oak; the first two are being targeted for removal to allow the native species to flourish in the woodland.

Straight from the Ranger's mouth

A hard days work for Tyler the horse in the Arlington woods
A horse pulling logs in the woodland at Arlington Court
" “We chose this area of woodland as it had been neglected for a while. It’s close to the most popular walking route on the estate, so we’re hoping a lot of visitors will have the chance to see the impact we’ve made.”"
- Barbara Haddrill, Equine Ranger

Barbara continued; “We began over the winter, felling the trees, and have now brought Tyler in to help move the timber from areas that would be inaccessible to machinery. As we are thinning very selectively, Tyler is perfect for this job as she is  able to manoeuvre very easily in the remaining stand of trees and when we have finished you will hardly be able to tell where the horse has been.”

Good for nature, good for us

Using a horse to work the land is a traditional method of woodland clearance, leaving less trace than heavy machinery so the ground can recover more quickly. Bluebells and other plants are already beginning to re-appear in the ground and so with nesting season not too far away, the work for this year is nearly complete. All of the wood being extracted is being used on the estate. The tops of the trees will be used in the garden for staking plants and the thicker trunks and branches are being kept for a venture in charcoal making later in the year.

Ready and waiting, the logs extracted from the woods
Log stacks of wood extracted from the forest at Arlington Court

A curious name

On maps the site is officially called ‘Brockham Plantation’, but is has been found on an old map labelled as Miss Chichester’s ‘fancy piece’. Miss Rosalie Chichester was the last heiress of the Arlington estate and strongly believed in the conservation and nature protection work of the National Trust. Rosalie’s resting place is by the old lake, not too far from the stretch of woodland being cleared.  Rosalie would also have approved of the use of horse power to restore the woodland. Her memorandum of wishes passing the estate to the National Trust included the care of her animals, which included Shetland ponies, descendants of which are still on the estate.