Woodlands should be appreciated
Exmoor, which boasts the UK's highest and longest stretch of uninterrupted coastal woodlands as well as some of the rarest trees in the country, should be doing more to look after and promote its forests, according to a new report.
The value and potential of trees, woods and forests in the national park has been revealed in a study commissioned by a partnership which includes the Exmoor Society, the national park authority and the Forestry Commission.
The report, carried out by the Silvanus Trust and Laura Jones Associates (called Unlocking Exmoor's Woodland Potential), sets out a new understanding of the ways in which woodland in the area could contribute to "ecological, economic and community sustainability" and outlines how these might be developed in the future.
Until now many astonishing facts about the national park's woodlands have been little known – like the fact that the area boasts the tallest tree in England (at Dunster), four species of endemic white beam found nowhere else in the world, the country's highest beech plantation, and one of the greatest concentrations of veteran trees to be found anywhere in the UK. Now, in recognising the richness and diversity of Exmoor's woodlands, the new report has laid out 18 recommendations on further opportunities to develop their full potential.
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Rachel Thomas, chairman of the Exmoor Society, said: "The wider cultural services – including education, recreation and access – found in such an unusual concentration on Exmoor should form the basis of a major theme and a much wider project that could seek special funding. This would be at the heart of developing the woodland culture of Exmoor."
Mrs Thomas added that although the landscape and ecological significance of the area's trees was widely acknowledged, the rich cultural and historical associations of woodlands was largely unrecognised.
"Part of the legacy of these associations is the landscape character today and the benefits that visitors and communities draw from them," she said. One of the major challenges, according to the report, will be in adapting to climate change. The authors state: "Helping woodlands develop resistance to pests and diseases and extreme weather events is particularly important, as is promoting resilience and ability for species and habitats to adapt to these inevitable changes."
Graeme McVittie, woodland officer for Exmoor National Park Authority, said: "The Government's recent Forestry Policy Statement gives a high priority to protect, improve and expand England's woodland, and this report shows that, although a great deal is being delivered already, we believe more can be done."