Town mouse pleads for ancient woodland

We were above the buzzard hunting the Teign valley; below us, draping the northern shoulder of the Dartmoor National Park, was Fingle Woods, an intricately worked shawl of ancient woodland, now largely planted with conifers. Only 2% of Britain is now covered by ancient woodland. Once lost, it can’t be re-created. It can, however, be restored. That’s one reason that the Woodland Trust and National Trust want to raise the remaining £2.5 million needed to buy these 825 acres.

Another is revealed when we see, in the distance, a white rectangular structure-not a chewing-gum factory, but the scaffolding in which Castle Drogo is now encased. Fingle Woods lies between two National Trust properties, Castle Drogo and Steps Bridge Woods. Linking the two would create a glorious resource.

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Walking along the lovely stream of the Teign, beside lichen-encrusted oaks, we came to a monolith. It remembers a 20th-century forester who spent 44 years planting the estate. In the two World Wars, seamen risked their lives to bring timber to this country. In the drive for self-sufficiency, production was maximised and, at Fingle, oak coppice systematically destroyed. That work must now be unpicked. But carefully opening the forest canopy will produce, for lovers of Die Walküre, a Wagnerian moment. It will let in the spring.

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