Exmoor Forest Plan
The Exmoor Forest Plan area is made up of the plantations of Croydon Hill, with a number of surrounding forests such as Wootton Courtenay, Chargot, Hazery, Willett Hill, Birds Hill and Elworthy and is a prominent and distinct feature within an upland landscape and is made up of a number of large conifer dominated forests on high plateaus and reasonably steep sided valleys.
The Exmoor woodlands are situated a few miles south of Minehead in the parishes of Wootton Courtenay, Timberscombe, Dunster, Carhampton, Luxborough, Treborough, Stogumber and Elworthy on the north eastern flanks of Exmoor, almost entirely within the Exmoor National Park. The local authority is Somerset West and Taunton Council.
The Nation’s Forests here is a predominantly conifer having been planted after the First World War to address the national timber shortage. The area is known to produce exceptionally large and high quality Sitka spruce and Douglas fir which makes up the vast majority of the trees here. 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. Some of the Nations Forest’s here is ancient woodland and has been planted with conifer in the Twentieth Century (PAWS). Areas of remnant ancient semi-natural woodland do remain and are made up of oak and birch with ash and beech.
The Plan area is also an area of high archaeological importance, that has not yet been fully recorded, with a number of Scheduled Monuments but with many more undesigned sites likely to be of equal national importance particularly in the areas most recently forested.
The Plan area is a rich for ecology with habitat such as Priority Lowland Mixed Deciduous Woodland used by dormice, long-eared owls, nightjar, rare bats and raptor as well as other important flora and fauna species.
The vast majority of the Plan area is Open Access, confirmed by the Countryside Rights of Way Act. The exception is Willett, Side Wood, Slowley Wood, Tilsey and Elworthy where access is constrained to public rights of way due to it being leased from another landowner. Nutcombe Bottom is the main focus of recreational activity and is a particularly nice place to picnic, walk, run or ride thanks to the good path network and very large trees here. The woodlands are quietly enjoyed by local walkers and cyclists, as well as popular shoots, both retained and let.
- The core aim of the Plan is to begin to progress the 50 Year Vision by producing woodlands which 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:
- The continued production of sustainable and marketable woodland products.
- Protect and enhance woodland and open habitats and their associated species.
- To protect, enhance and restore areas of ancient woodland
- The provision and maintenance of recreation facilities.
- Deliver well-designed forests that both protect and enhance the internal and external landscape in keeping with the local landscape character and Exmoor National Park.
- To conserve, maintain and enhance cultural and heritage assets and their setting.
The current plan outlines management proposals including felling and restocking over several decades, with felling license approval for operations up until 2031.
The Plan makes provision to develop the complex and dynamic crop compositions of quality fir and spruce shelterwood forest. Areas identified as PAWS will be managed as mixed woodland to maximise their productive potential, with the aim of a gradual return to native woodland.
The Plan makes provision to ensure proposals are in keeping with the treasured upland moor farmed and wooded National Park 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 2031 are summarised in the chart below.
Clearfelling of 167ha conifers. Restocking/regeneration of 145ha of conifers, 4ha of broadleaves and 18ha of open space.
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 66% conifer, 19% broadleaf and 15% open space in 2021 to 62% conifer, 22% broadleaf and 16% open space in 2031.