The West Devon Forest Plan covers 1,826 hectares of Public Forest Estate woodland between Holsworthy and Okehampton, straddling the catchments of the Tamar to the South West and the Torridge to the North East. The woods in the Torridge catchment fall within the Northern Devon Nature Improvement Area (NIA) and the North Devon Biosphere Reserve. Distinct areas of woodland covered by this plan include Ashbury and Wadland; Bramble, Cookbury and Dunsland; Halwill; Holsworthy and Leaworthy; Northcombe, Quoditch, Upcott, Westlake and Witherdon.
Most of the forest here is conifer plantation dominated by spruce, with numerous belts of broadleaves, scrub and open space running through it. Prominent in the wider agricultural landscape of large scale, irregular field patterns, the wooded plateaus afford panoramic views over the surrounding countryside.
Most of the freehold public forest land is dedicated as Open Access under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act. The network of forest roads and tracks provides a valuable recreational resource for the local community, and is well used by walkers and horse riders. Informal car parks are maintained at Halwill and at Circuit moor to the west.
The value of the commercial resource to the local economy is significant, while the woodland habitat supports a wide variety of protected wildlife. Ground nesting birds and birds of prey, bats, otter and dormouse are all found here.
There are two separate Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) which link public forest and neighbouring land. Whiteleigh Meadows is designated for its unimproved Culm Grassland, which is botanically rich, and Dunsland Park for the rare lichens associated with veteran trees.
The Devon Wildlife Trust is carrying out targeted habitat management, creation and restoration throughout the wider Culm grassland area as part of the Working Wetlands project. This links with the work of the NIA project, supported by the Forestry Commission (FC), and South West Water's Upstream Thinking programme.
Cookworthy in Halwill and North Down woods in Holsworthy are identified as priority sites in the joint Butterfly Conservation and FC strategy Lepidoptera on Forestry Commission Land in England. Cookworthy supports the nationally rare Wood White and locally rare Silver-washed Fritillary. North Down Wood provides habitat for several priority species including the Pearl-bordered Fritillary, and management will create links through the woodland to further benefit the increasing number of butterfly species found here.
Three bowl barrows in Halwill, Wadland and Witherdon are Scheduled Monuments - these features are managed in accordance with separate plans drawn up by the FC and English Heritage, now agreed with Historic England.
The objectives of management here are:
- Maintain the productive potential and sustainable management of the woodland resource.
- Improve economic resilience by diversifying tree species and management types to provide a wider range of products.
- Maintain the variety of habitats and ensure the woodland is robust and capable of adapting to a changing climate.
- Maintain favourable status in Whiteleigh meadows SSSI and implement plans to improve the condition of Dunsland Park SSSI.
- Ensure the most important features of conservation concern are identified and achievable management actions agreed with relevant specialist individuals and organisations.
- Maintain the wooded landscape, ensuring felling coupes conform to current landscape design principles.
- Enhance the aesthetic value of the woodlands adjacent to Council roads, at main entrances and well used recreational features.
- Ensure scheduled heritage features are managed to protect and conserve their value. As a minimum, the unscheduled features are to be identified and protected from damage by any management activity.
The current plan outlines management proposals including felling and restocking for a 30 year period, with felling licence approval for operations up until 2025.
Alternative species will be considered when restocking spruce stands, in order to improve resilience to climate change, plant health issues and economic conditions.
Through the scheduled felling, restocking and regeneration programme road, ride and streamside corridors and forest edges will be managed to increase the quality and connectivity of wildlife habitat. Active management will increase in areas of naturally regenerated broadleaves to benefit both wildlife and the local economy.
The planned areas of clearfelling, restocking and permanent open space creation during the ten years to 2025, and felled areas in transition from open to naturally regenerated woodland, are summarised in the table.
|Hectares||Conifers||Broadleaves||Open space||In transition|
In addition to these defined operations, ongoing thinning and selective felling of both conifers and broadleaves will be carried out in the plan area at five to ten year intervals.
The proportions of conifer and broadleaved woodland and open space at the beginning of the plan period are shown in the bar chart. The gradual change in species mix and the increase in open space expected within the plan period and over time is indicated in the middle and right hand columns of the chart.