What is the The Hillyfield restoration project?
The Hillyfield woodland farm on Dartmoor is a unique award winning ancient woodland restoration project managed for environmental and community benefit.
Ancient Woodland in the UK
About seven thousand years ago almost all of Britain was wooded, but now only 2% of land in this country can be classed as Ancient Woodland.
Ancient woodland is defined as pre-dating the beginning of man-made plantations. They are our native soil, and even when they have been turned over to plantations still hold some of the richest seed-banks on this land. Ancient Woodlands have evolved over millennia and they are our most rich and biodiverse habitats. Not only that they offer really important environmental services like carbon sequestration and flood protection. The areas of remaining wildwood are our equivalent to rainforests... and if you spent some time in the woods at the Hillyfield you would know why.
Why is restoring ancient woodland important?
Currently 1133 of these precious woodlands in the UK are under threat, at risk of damage or destruction from development. HS2 is a key example, directly threatening to destroy 108 ancient woodlands. But also land management choices threaten ancient woodlands with risks from tree disease and nitrogen pollution. Most pernicious is that over 40% of ancient woodlands are neglected, unmanaged and uncared for because they are not seen as economically viable. This makes them vulnerable to all of the risks above. It also has a negative impact on the overall biodiversity of this country.
Protecting Ancient Woodland is important, and working out how to afford to do that is a delicate balance of creative enterprise and environmental conservation.
How it started?
Dough set The Hillyfield up in 2010 when I bought this beautiful but neglected wooded valley on the edge of Dartmoor National Park. After a couple of years volunteering with the previous owner he started the difficult task of bringing it back into active management as a working woodland.
The Woodland Restoration Project
So far the project has been successful in planting over 7000 trees, including 5 acres of new woodland. They have won awards for our work including silver at the Royal Forestry Societies 'Excellence in Forestry Award' 2019. They have established working woodland rides and planted hundreds of meters of new hedgerows creating rich wildlife corridors full of berries and nuts. They have trained people up in woodland management skills and all elements of woodwork, and we have hosted some awesome community events including egg-hunts at Easter, Open Farm Sundays, and networking events for wood-working folk. All good fun and games.
But we have also suffered some heavy duty set-backs. The first few years meant taking responsibility for serious disease in the trees which had to be managed. Then there was a public inquiry into the needs of small woodlands and the building of forestry structures. The upside of all this was that we set up a small sawmill which now provides timber for local makers making good use of the timber felled due to diease, and we have been supported to build our own barns here in the woods. Turning the trees that grew here into beautiful structures which can keep our wood and tools dry and offer us shelter and provide workshop and event space is amazing.
What can you expect from Hillyfield?
Each year we also host a number of community events and educational workshops and support local groups and organisations to come out to the woods to learn about woodland culture, forestry work, and enjoy the peace of this hidden valley.
If you want to find out then please visit their website http://www.thehillyfield.co.uk or follow them on facebook http://www.facebook.com/thehillyfieldwoodlandfarm or instagram http://www.instagram.com/thehillyfield