Here in Devon the broadleaf species to be found in significant numbers are Oak, Beech, Ash, Sycamore, Sweet Chestnut, Hazel, Birch and Hawthorn. Some conifers, such as Pines, Spruces and Firs are also to be seen. There is more information about each of these here.
But sadly, the amount of woodland covering the South Devon AONB is less than in many other places, with coverage at only 7%, compared with 11.6% for the UK and 46% for Europe as a whole.
Even so, trees remain a very special part of our landscape, in particular the dense oak woodlands lining the estuaries and the willow scrub on the valley bottoms. In Salcombe, Pines – including those of the Scots and Corsican varieties, can be seen in prominent locations, where they provide quality visual amenity. However, with the soils throughout much of the area being productive for agriculture, the woodland we do have is mostly to be found on the steeper and less accessible valley sides that are more difficult to farm.
Our woodlands and treescapes are also stunning and crucial habitats for so much wildlife. But many have come under threat from Ash Dieback, which it is estimated will kill at least 90% of Devon’s ash trees in the coming years. And the increasing number of ever more powerful storms are also a major threat, with a noticeable number of trees now being lost each year.
Ancient woodlands form a finite irreplaceable resource of great importance, and a number of important woodlands in the AONB are owned by conservation organisations like the Woodland Trust and the National Trust. Others are owned by such private estates as the Lupton Estate, the Raleigh Estate and the Sharpham Estate. There are also eight small community woodlands run by local groups. But the majority of our woods are small woodlands owned by farmers and individual landowners. Noticeably there are no woods belonging to the Forestry Commission in the South Hams.
A few woods are actively managed for productive sawmilling timber, such as at the Flete Estate on the Erme Estuary. Some others, particularly ‘ancient woodlands’ acquired by the Woodland Trust in the Avon Valley, are being converted back from commercial softwood plantations to original oak woodland for conservation reasons. Some are managed in a low-key way for firewood or fencing materials. But many are neglected and unmanaged.
The South Devon AONB Management Plan makes it clear that the retention and sensitive management of trees and woodlands is to be promoted, especially “the hedge banks, hedgerow trees, historic parkland trees, ancient woodlands, small woods, orchards, veteran and ancient trees which are of particular importance in the AONB. The planting of orchards, specimen trees and some new woods will be encouraged, subject to existing biodiversity interests and the careful selection of sites and species to reflect and strengthen local landscape character.”
Without our trees and woodlands we would all be noticeably poorer. We need to afford them every protection we can. We also need to plant more trees. The South Hams Society is committed to doing both.