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.
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.
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.