West Exmoor woodland work

Woody Bay Coach Path Trees

The West Exmoor ranger team look after 1200 acres of woodland, an area roughly the size of 16000 tennis courts containing a staggering 400,000(ish) trees. These woods are protected by special designations for their rare species of moss, lichen and ground flora, and form an important habitat for many species of wildlife.

The woods are mainly sessile oak. You may also find beech, alder, hazel and birch.
Sessile oak woodland
The woods are mainly sessile oak. You may also find beech, alder, hazel and birch.

History of the woodland

Most of the woodland on West Exmoor and around Watersmeet is known as semi-natural ancient woodland. This means that, although trees have always been here, in the past humans played an important role in shaping the landscape. For example, less than hundred and fifty years ago the woods would have been alive with activity when trees were harvested for both firewood and timber. Timber from these woods was also traded with Welsh communities for lime which was used in agriculture here on Exmoor.

The West Exmoor woodland plan

As most of the trees on West Exmoor and Watersmeet were planted at the same time, we now have a lot of trees the same age. However, healthy woodland depends on a variety of age structures which we plan to encourage through:

  • Giving saplings a chance: by creating gaps in the woodland (through glades or thinning) the established trees let light in and allow new growth to take hold.
  • Letting older trees flourish: by identifying special older trees (veteran trees) and allowing light in around them, they have room to set seed and age. Veteran trees are also great for wildlife.

The type of woodland management practiced by the West Exmoor ranger team is known as Continuous Cover Forestry (CCF). As such there is never a time when large swathes of the woodland are felled. Here are a couple of the woodland practices undertaken by the team:

  • Glade creation: felling trees to create spaces within the woodland, allowing light to penetrate the canopy. These glades become important areas for wildlife (such as birds and butterflies) and light loving plants.
  • Thinning: individual trees are selected to reduce the density of a stand, letting more light into the woodland.
  • Pollarding and coppicing: this traditional practice was once used to produce wood and fodder for animals. Now we continue it as a way of creating habitat for creatures such as dormice and birds.
  • Invasive management: removing invasive plant species such as Rhododendron ponticum from our woodland ensures that our native species can flourish.
Volunteer helping with woodland management
Chainsaw work in the woods
Volunteer helping with woodland management

Sustainable futures

Being able to extract some of the timber we fell is also important in the sustainability of the property. Some is used in our biomass boiler and heats our buildings, some is milled up and used as 'estate timber' to make items such as gates and fencing material, and some is left in the woodland as it creates great habitat for wildlife. We also supply logs for firewood, sourced sustainably from our woodlands.

For more information please contact the West Exmoor ranger team on 01598 763556.