Blackdown Hills Forest Plan
The Blackdown Hills Forest Plan area, totalling 1230ha, is made up of numerous forest blocks with a confluence around the complex of woodlands at Neroche. A large majority of the Plan area lies within the Blackdown Hills AONB. The forests managed as part of the public forest estate stretch across Devon and Somerset from Tiverton in the west and then a cluster of woodlands within close proximity to the town of Taunton. The Plan area is made up of numerous woodland blocks within the catchment of the Rivers Exe and Culm.
The public forest here is a mixture of ancient and secondary woodland having been planted with conifer to address the national timber shortage of the early Twentieth Century. The area has recently gone through significant transformation with considerable areas of pasture and heathland restoration completed in the last ten years. The Plan area is still important in producing quality timber primarily with beech and spruce with areas of remnant ancient seminatural woodland and wood pasture remaining and restore. Most of the areas are actively managed to provide timber for local and national businesses, and to improve the quality of the remaining tree crop.
The Plan area is rich for ecology with five SSSI and one SAC designations highlighting the high ecological value of the Forest Plan area. The approved management of these sites will be integrated into the Forest Plan to aid and coordinate management. The woodland types include NVC W8 Priority Lowland Mixed Deciduous (ash/birch) Woodland as well as other Priority Lowland Mixed Deciduous Woodland types which are all important habitat flora and fauna species such as dormice, raptor and lepidoptera.
The vast majority of the Plan area is freehold, with open access permitted. The exception being Priors Park, Buckland, Huntsham and Otterford which are limited to de facto access due to it being leased from another landowner. Neroche is the main focus of informal recreational activity and is particularly nice place to picnic, walk or run given its close proximity to the town of Taunton, good path network and fine views over Taunton Vale.
The core aim of the Plan is to deliver the 50 Year Vision by producing woodlands with increased conservation, recreation and landscape benefits whilst maintaining a viable timber output. The long term aim of management is to continue to sustainably produce timber whilst providing a forest rich in wildlife, attractive to people and increasingly resilient to climate, pests and diseases.
The social, economic and environmental objectives of management are:
- Protect and enhance woodland and open habitats and their associated species
- The restoration and management of the Sites of Special Scientific Interest
- To protect and enhance areas of Ancient Semi-natural Woodland and restore areas of PAWs in line with ‘Keepers of Time’.
- Deliver well-designed forests that both protect and enhance the internal and external landscape in keeping with the AONB and local landscape character.
- The continued production of sustainable and marketable woodland products.
- To conserve, maintain and enhance cultural and heritage assets.
- The provision and maintenance of recreation facilities.
The current plan outlines management proposals including felling and restocking over several decades, with felling licence approval for operations up until 2028.
What We’ll Do
Crops in more exposed positions where soils are thin will continue to be managed primarily for conifer timber production under a clearfell and restock scheme. Crops in less exposed positions will be managed to continuous cover forestry prescriptions so as to create a diverse and resilient forest structure.
A comprehensive review of forest and recent heathland and wood pasture creation has meant that an additional 9.5ha of open space will be restored in the next 10 years within wooded heath and wood pasture areas. Restocking design in specific places will look to enhance the heathland connectivity and butterfly habitat.
The Plan makes provision to ensure proposals are in keeping with the surrounding densely-wooded, steep scarp sloped landscape. Implementation and maintenance of an environmental corridor system will continue to increase diversity of habitat and internal landscaping.
The planned areas of clearfelling, restocking and permanent open space creation during the ten years to 2028 are summarised below.
Clearfelling of 63.7ha of conifers and 4.3ha of broadleaves. Restocking/regeneration of 36ha conifers, 20ha broadleaves.
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 species composition will also change from 37% conifer, 44% broadleaf and 19% open space in 2018 to 33% conifer, 47% broadleaf and 20% open space in 2028.