Fingle from the wildwood

Last night I gave a talk entitled ‘Fingle from the wildwood – a story of a changing climate, prehistoric people, their descendants and their impacts‘ at the Fingle Bridge Inn in Drewsteignton.

AC- Paul Moody

I tried to weave together the story of the end of the last Ice Age to the present time by looking at the pollen record, the climate, the actions of prehistoric people from the New Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age and the impact of the extinctions of our mammal fauna over the period. I won’t try and reproduce it all here but you can download my Powerpoint presentation here (I have removed the photographs to make the file a more manageable size) – it may not make much sense if you didn’t hear the words that went with it!

I started with this quote from Oliver Rackham “Conservationists do no service to woodland if they try to remake it on the image of what they imagine wildwood was like” – just in case anyone had a brainwave!

I include here a few tables which people might find useful as they catalogue some of the key timescales and events.

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The vegetation history of the British Isles

Pollen1A pollen diagram of tree cover from Dartmoor

From Harry Godwin’s book – the History of the Brtish Flora summarising vegetation, cultures, woodland cover and geology

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Key dates and events in our archaeological history

I then discussed what all this means, highlighted the huge gaps in our knowledge and talked about Frans Vera’s counter-theory that the ‘wildwood’ was in fact a savannah with ‘parkland trees’. A controversial theory but one which does help explain how the wildwood was cleared by a small number of people using stone axes.

I talked about some challenges for the future: tree diseases, the growing number of deer, climate change and people.

I finished the talk with a quote from Fingle Woods’ Spirit of Place statement – which Fingle Woods’ managers can use as a benchmark to determine whether their actions are appropriate.

Over the centuries, people have changed the appearance of the landscape from heathland and wild woods to oak coppice and then to conifer, driven by local and then national need, influenced by fashion and economics. As a result, the gorge has been dressed in different ways. In the coming decades, we want to help the gorge to clothe itself again, reverting to its more natural state. Fingle Wood’s inheritance will help shape its future, making it a place of conservation in a changing environment, and inspiration and enjoyment for everyone – today and for the generations to come.

Thanks to everyone who came and seemed to like what I had to say.

Teign Valley in the sunshine

Spent lunchtime with the Woodland Trust in the Teign Valley making a short film about Fingle Woods.

Fingle Woods filming 1Your’s truely at Fingle Bridge (photo Dave Rickwood)

It was a glorious day and it is a great place for a walk – click here for details – here are a few pictures.

Teign Valley 1The view from Sharp Tor looking east

Teign Valley 2Looking west up to Castle Drogo

Teign Valley 3All the oaks are now fully in leaf

Sharp TorBack to Sharp Tor


A walk in Fingle Woods

Yesterday I led a walk around Fingle Woods for the Dartmoor Preservation Association. When we started off the wind was strong and the drizzle was hard but fortunately once we got going into the Woods we hardly seemed to notice it.

I talked about our partnership with the Woodland Trust, how was came to buy the woods and discussed our plans for the future.

DPA-Fingle 1The weir between Fingle Bridge and Clifford Bridge

DPA-Fingle 2It is still early spring but at least the wild daffodils were flowering

DPA-Fingle 3The highlight of the day for me was finding this otter spraint on the river bank

DPA-Fingle 4As a result of the rain the river was pretty high and quite wild

DPA-Fingle 5Back to Fingle Bridge

A visit to Wooston Castle

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours showing a researcher for a Welsh Channel Four (S4C) natural history programme around parts of the Teign Valley. In May S4C are coming back to Dartmoor to make a programme with Iolo Williams. As I understand it the programme will be in Welsh and only shown in Wales. One of the places we visited was Wooston Castle, here are a few photos from a rather overcast morning.

Wooston2 Wooston Castle was built in the Iron Age c 1000 BC – here is part of the ring ditch

Wooston3Pretty major excavations – at the moment we don’t know exactly how Wooston Castle functioned – as it exists in a landscape with at least 2 other Iron Age Hills Forts nearby

Wooston1Inside the ditches – the place where people would have lived – now inhabited by pearl bordered fritillaries and managed by the National Trust and the Woodland Trust

A visit to Grantham to the Woodland Trust

It was a long day yesterday – I drove up to Grantham to the Woodland Trust HQ with Dave Rickwood – the Fingle Wood site manager. The round trip was 6 miles short of 500 miles! The purpose of the trip was to give a presentation to Woodland Trust staff on Fingle Woods, the partnership between the WT and the NT and progress to date. There were around 60 people in the audience and lots of enthusiasm. Also met Becky Speight, the WT CEO for a quick chat too. Here are a few photos of their new  (ish) HQ – interestingly designed by the same architects that designed and built the NT HQ in Swindon – Heelis.

Woodland Trust 1From the car park

Woodland Trust 2


Woodland Trust 3Main entrance

Woodland Trust 4 Three floors

Woodland Trust 6 Love the skylights

Woodland Trust 5Title slide of our double act

Woodland Trust 7The shrink pot given to Becky Speight at the launch of the Fingle Woods partnership last summer – Helen Ghosh our DG had one as well.

Wood ants by the tens of thousand

I was in Fingle Woods yesterday (which is owned and managed jointly by the National Trust and the Woodland Trust) and they must have one of the best populations of wood ants in the south west. There are dozens of nests per hectare and one nest can contain up to 250,000 individuals. Wood ants are social insects rather like honey bees and each colony normally consists of a queen and a host of worker ants. Wood ants are predatory catching other insects and caterpillars but surprisingly get most of their food from ‘milking’ aphids for their honey dew. Wood ants have been found 90′ up trees searching for honey dew. If you want to know more about wood ants see here. The species in Fingle Woods is Formica rufa. They are most common in coniferous woodlands but they do also occur in quite large numbers in broadleaved woodlands such as Dunsford Woods. It is hard to believe that although they are so common (but local)  in Fingle Woods and elsewhere in the west and north of Britain that they are rare in the rest of Europe.

Wood ant 2A small wood ant nest beside a ride at Wooston Castle

Wood ant 1A wood ant – note the jaws – they can nip!

Wood ant 3Colonies are busy places

Wood ant 5Colonies can be quite dense and close together

Wood ant 4And some are huge – this one is nearly 3′ tall


Fingle Woods celebrations

Yesterday the Woodland Trust and the National Trust met up  to celebrate our partnership at Fingle Woods.

Event 8Helen Ghosh (National Trust Director General) Becky Speight (Woodland Trust Chief Executive) at Fingle Woods beside the Iron Age fort Wooston Castle

WT-NT signingFormally signing the partnership agreement on the bonnet of a land rover!

Mick WT-NT signing

An exchange of gifts – NT Lead Ranger Mick Jones explains how these ‘shrink pots’ were made from birch logs from the woods by local artist Sean Hellman. The design is based on an iron age technique which makes the woodland connection to Wooston Castle

Event 7I think this banner sums it up pretty well

In the afternoon funders, donors and members of the public were invited to the Fingle Festival.

Event 2-2Local people making music

Event 2A heavy horse demonstration

Event 5Pole lathing




Mick WT-NT charcoalCharcoal making

Event 10Dave Rickwood the WT project manager at Fingle talks to a story teller who entertained our visitors

(Dave’s the one on the right)

Thanks you to everyone who attended and made yesterday so special. More photos from the day can be seen here.

Shaptor Woods and HG Hurrell

High above Bovey Tracey at the end of the Wray Valley next to the National Trust’s Bearacleave Wood is another lovely woodland accessible to the public – it is Shaptor Woods and is owned and managed by the Woodland Trust. Here are the details of how to visit.

It is a classic Dartmoor oak woodland and amonst the trees there are a number of huge granite boulders / Tors.

ShaptorThe most famous of these is Shaptor Rock

Shaptor WoodsDoes anyone know whether any of these other rock outcrops have names?

Shaptor Woods 2And this one?


Finally, near to Shaptor Rock is this simple plaque – a dedication to the influential and highly effective Devon conservationist HG Hurrell – it says ‘A distinguished naturalist held in high esteem by all who knew him’ hear hear.


Restoring Fingle Woods – wild flowers in the wings

The National Trust and the Woodland Trust bought Fingle Woods so we could provide access to these wonderful woodlands and restore the ancient woodland back to broadleaves.

The following set of photos shows how dark the conifer areas are – and as a result habour no wild flowers. They are show that a good range of classic woodland species are lurking and waiting on the ride edges where the light is brighter. Once we start removing the conifers these species will recolonise the former ancient woodland.

RideThe main ride from Clifford Bridge

Under conifersUnder the conifers there is little growing

Woodland floorNot good for wildlife!

PrimposeA primrose

Wood sorrelWood sorrel


Dogs mercuryDog’s mercury

DaffsWild daffodils

MossPlenty of mosses

Old treeAnd some original broadleaved veteran trees

It will take a long time but all the necessary ingredients are present – we just need persistence and patience!

Teign Valley is the daffodil valley

Dunsford Wood at Steps Bridge is well known as a great place to see wild daffodils. The woodland is owned by the National Trust and managed by the Devon Wildlife Trust. Popped in there yesterday to have a look at the daffs – they are now in full bloom so this weekend is a good time to visit.

Daff1Daffodils at Dunsford Wood

Daff2A close up!

I also made  quick visit to Fingle Woods further up the river. We have just bought Fingle Woods in partnership with the Woodland Trust and this is the first spring where we have owned it. I went into Cod Wood which is south of Clifford Bridge. I walked along the river path (we are currently putting up  waymarkers and signs to help access) and I was amazed at how many wild daffodils there were.

Daff3Wild daffodils in Cod Woods

Daff4Get your eye in and we will see there are thousands of wild daffodils under this plantation – image how many more there will be once we start reverting the conifer areas back to broadleaves!

Daff5And more still

SignThe new signs going in a Fingle Woods