Green shoots of recovery for Otterton Hill plantation

John Wilding assesses the young woodland on Otterton Hill

John Wilding assesses the young woodland on Otterton Hill - Credit: © Rekord Media

Nine years after one of East Devon’s most iconic hilltop plantations was saved from the rapid spread of a deadly tree disease, the green shoots of recovery are signalling the rescue programme’s success.  

In 2012, 10 hectares of mature Japanese larch trees had to be felled at Otterton Hill near Budleigh Salterton, after the crop came under threat from the deadly tree disease Phytophthora ramorum.  

Otterton Hill felling in 2012

Otterton Hill felling in 2012 - Credit: © Guy Newman

The fungus-like pathogen had been found nearby and had already wiped out swathes of South West trees.  

Clinton Devon Estates secured a licence from the Forestry Commission and in a race against time, harvested the trees, saving them before they became infected.  

Now the trees planted soon after in their place, are thriving and being used to highlight the importance of our commercial woodlands and the contribution they make to the economy.  

John Wilding, the Estate’s Head of Forestry and Energy, said: “The success of the Otterton Hill woodland highlights the Estate’s commitment to excellent forestry management and doing the right thing for the land and the environment.  

“By raising awareness of this, we hope to show people that this work is part of a managed process – these trees are a long-term commercial crop.  

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“While areas such as Otterton Hill are impacted at the time of the felling, what we create by replanting them is a whole new cycle of habitats.  

“Phytophthora ramorum was, and continues to be, a great threat.  

“The original trees were very vulnerable.  

“As it’s transmitted by airborne spores blowing across from plant to plant, in these cases we have no choice but to proactively remove trees and that is what we decided to do.  

“It turns out we did it just in the nick of time, helping to rescue a 50-year-old crop and also protecting further woodland from being infected, by creating a type of ‘firebreak’.  

“We replanted a combination of Douglas fir and oak and have accepted natural regeneration of sycamore, silver birch and pine, and so the cycle begins again but with a wider range of species. 

The replanted woodland at Otterton Hill is also a haven for wildlife including deer, songbirds and chaffinches.  

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