Horse helps thin Raincliffe woods

Words and photos by Dave Barry 

A heavy horse is helping to thin a popular woodland area on the outskirts of Scarborough.

Scores of larch trees are being removed from Raincliffe Woods, Row Brow and Forge Valley.

The timber is being removed both mechanically and with the help of Missy.

The 16-year-old cob is guided by her handler Chris Wadsworth, of British Horse Loggers in Guisborough.

Whereas the vehicles are churning up the muddy paths, Missy’s hoof prints are much less noticeable as she hauls tree-trunk sections across ancient holloways and through hilly oak groves.

The trees are being felled by woodsman Andy Ireland, who can land a tree on a four-inch target if there is no wind to foil his calculations.

The aim is to return the area to its ancient woodland state through judicious thinning, allowing ground plants to thrive and broadleaf trees more space to grow.

There are too many larch trees, which have been planted in rows, giving the impression of a plantation. “We aim to remove the bulk of them and return the wood to a better balance of hard and softwood”, says Dave Evans, one of 14 directors of Raincliffe Wood Community Enterprise (RWCE).

“We are conserving indigenous trees such as oak by thinning around them, creating a halo effect and allowing them to thrive, albeit slowly. We also have a large number of ash trees in Forge Valley woods which are dying back at a rapid rate. We are not yet sure what will replace them”, Dave says.

The heavy-horse operation is complemented by a contractor who is mostly removing larch, plus a few beech.

The timber is sold to Flixton sawmill for firewood and the income invested into this and other woodland management programmes.

All the footpaths will be re-instated by a local contractor. “We aim to support local companies and eventually create local employment”, Dave says.

The woods are owned by Scarborough Council, which set up RWCE to manage them. The council invited the Woodland Trust to advise RWCE and carry out initial felling on its behalf. A lease will be signed shortly transferring ownership to RWCE.

The area covered by Raincliffe Woods, Row Brow and Forge Valley is 221 hectares, making RWCE the largest community enterprise in the country.

All the work is planned by the RWCE board and all board members are local volunteers.

To join or become a member, register on the website raincliffewoods.co.uk.