Mixed results in restoration

In the even light during the rain yesterday, it was easier to photograph how the grass is growing in some of our fire place restoration sites.


However, the sites that are most compacted or get full sunlight (where grass germinated but then died in the recent drought) are not doing so well.  We have started reseeding those again, hoping that we’ll get enough rain over the next month.

Really frustrating, though, is the fact that in the last week someone has had another fire, close to a “No Fires” sign, and destroyed nearly a square metre of grass.  It is hard to understand the mentality of people who think that they can damage a beautiful place and that it is someone else’s responsibility to get it looking nice again before they come again.

Worse, there are also little piles of toilet paper and wet wipes in places.  As COVID-19 remains active in faeces for some time, we are reluctant to clean these up quickly.  And, as long as COVID-19 is with us, we don’t see how we will be able to give permission for people to camp in future since we know that illegal campers are doing this (and by giving permission we are raising our legal duty of care).

Any suggestions welcome!

Restoration work starting to show success

As explained in March, we have embarked on a campaign to restore the areas of the wood damaged by fires and associated damage. We have now made some progress in repairing the walls using the rocks removed from them to make fireplaces. We have also cleaned out and reseeded a number of fireplaces, using a moorland grass mix provided by the DNPA Ranger.

Here’s a general view of one area roped off for restoration, and the rebuilt wall near it.


And here’s another site. It’s a bit difficult to see with the dappled sunlight, but the grass is growing quite well despite the lack of rain.DSCF6687

All camping suspended

We are unfortunately obliged to forbid anyone to camp at Piles during the coronavirus restrictions.  This is mainly because, if you had an accident or became ill while you were there, you would cause unnecessary risk to the rescuers.

Meanwhile, the good news is that the growing season is coming, and reduced footfall will hopefully allow the ground to recover more quickly.  After a very wet autumn and winter, path and general sward damage has been exceptional.  Increased numbers of walkers when it has been very wet has led to unprecedented wear on many routes.  Also, someone rode a horse through the copse when it was very wet, leaving hoof marks depressing the turf by around 50 mm.  It will be years before these disappear.

An end to open fires

In the past we’ve allowed people to light open fires at Piles Copse.  However, recently we’ve become concerned about the impact that this is having. Fires are directly and indirectly the biggest cause of damage to the copse.

In the wood’s popular camping spots, fires have damaged grass, walls and trees. Although we ask people not to damage the trees, there are lots of places where branches have been sawn or broken off to be used as firewood. Natural England have also asked us to stop people having fires because it is affecting some of the habitats for which Piles Copse is an SSSI. In hot, dry weather lighting fires can also increase the risk of wildfires breaking out.

Damage to the ground caused by fires
Oak tree near a popular spot for fires, which has been severely damaged by people cutting off branches

Following a discussion with staff from the Dartmoor National Park Authority, we have decided to ban open fires at Piles Copse, which is in line with the rules for the open moor. We’ll be updating the signs at Piles over the next few months, and ask anyone visiting Piles Copse to respect this new rule. You are still welcome to use small, portable camping stoves for cooking, but please don’t put them on the grass.

We will also rope off the damaged areas and try to restore them. This will take some years, so we also ask you to respect the need for this, and to keep out of these areas.

Happy New Year & Hawthorns

Happy New Year, and welcome to the new and improved Piles Copse website! We’re hoping to do more work on it in the coming months, adding useful and interesting resources about Piles Copse and its conservation.

This year, the annual post-Christmas conservation effort involved planting hawthorn seedlings provided by Moor Trees, a charity committed to restoring and replanting native and broadleaf woodland in the South West.

Hawthorns are hardy.  Across Dartmoor, a lone, gnarled hawthorn bent into shape by the wind is a familiar sight. However, before they develop their characteristic prickles, hawthorns need a bit of protection from grazing sheep, ponies and cattle to get established.

One of the older, beautiful hawthorn specimens in Higher Piles

John and Lorna spent a couple of slightly windswept days between Christmas and New Year planting out over 100 seedlings.  They planted them in the small exclosures high up near the eastern boundary wall (it’s very rocky here, making planting difficult!), and in the exclosures around the sphagnum flushes at the south end of Higher Piles. We’ll be keeping an eye on the seedlings (and weeding the bracken around them) as winter turns to spring.

Planning for 2018

A few days after Christmas, we went up to Piles to blow away the cobwebs and start looking at what we’re going to work on in 2018. Now that the boundary wall has been made complete again, meaning that we can control when Higher Piles is grazed, we’re also thinking about which areas of Higher Piles need to be protected completely from grazing. We walked up and down the southern end of Higher Piles looking for sphagnum moss. Sphagnum mosses are found in wet flushes (spring lines) in parts of the moor, with their own high botanic interest.  Cattle and sheep crowd round them in dry weather, so the mosses get badly damaged and rushes come in instead.  To stop this happening, we are thinking of fencing around some of the flushes in the southern part of Higher Piles.  So we did some marking and measuring to see how much fencing would be needed to do something worthwhile.  There was a lot more than we thought, though the sphagnum is dominated by grasses in many places.  There used to be huge amounts of sphagnum at Piles. The family used to collect it during the second world war for use in dressings.

As you can see, it was quite a blustery day…