The Broadleaved Woodland of Dartmoor - by Mark Beeson

Article Index
The Broadleaved Woodland of Dartmoor - by Mark Beeson
A constant state of change
Green men and regeneration
Dartmoor's 'jungle'
All Pages

Broadleaved Woodlands: The High Moor

The broadleaved woods that have attracted most attention from ecologists on Dartmoor are the three upland oak woods at Piles Copse on the River Erme, Wistman's Wood on the West Dart River, and Black Tor Beare on the West Okement River. They are composed of almost pure stands of pedunculate oak, to which species belong almost all the isolated oaks on the high moor up to 500m, as well as much of the valley oak woodland on the granite. The usual species of oak in the South West is the sessile one. This has led Simmons to argue that sessile oak has replaced pedunculate oak in the South West, but was unable to complete this replacement on the granite. In this sense the upland oak woods of Dartmoor can be considered relicts of Dartmoor's former forest cover.

It used to be thought that individual trees in these upland oak copses, particularly in Wistman's Wood, with their fantastic shapes and gnarled appearance, were themselves of extreme age - older than the Norman conquest according to a botanical report quoted by Samuel Rowe in 1848. Some of the trees in Wistman's Wood may be up to 300 years old but recent work by the ecologist John Barkham on Black Tor Beare (Beare being an old word for wood) has shown on the contrary that none of the trees are much more than 130 years old and that many trees die at under 100 years, giving a remarkably quick turnover for oak which in lowland woods is generally regarded as remaining sound for at least 200 years, often taking another 100 years to decay to the point of falling.