Quantock Hills Blog

Conservation Conversations

- Quantock AONB Manager Chris Edwards discusses when conservation gets complicated

Katy Coate

Posted by Katy Coate on 25 February 2014

Conservation Conversations It can be hard to see the wood for the trees when trying to protect and enhance the treasured landscapes, endangered wildlife and historic features of the Quantocks all at the same time. You might think that what’s good for one will automatically help the others and often that is true, but not always.

In an area like the Quantocks the landscape is officially recognised as in the top 30% of beautiful areas (protected at the national level) in the country, we have important wildlife habitats (protected at European level) and endangered species (protected internationally) and this precious landscape is also littered with nationally important and protected ancient monuments. So - we’re agreed it’s a pretty special place, but what are the most important elements of that matrix, the things we really must look after?

The beautiful sessile oak woodlands reaching up into the Quantocks through the deep combes above Holford are a pretty recent innovation. As late as the 1930s those oakwoods were being cut down on a regular basis (perhaps every 10 years) to provide bark for tanning and timber for charcoal - these were busy places, ringing with the sound of working people effectively clear felling the trees over large areas every decade or so.

The beauty of these areas must have been very different - where we now see dark, damp canopy woodland full of mosses, ferns and lichens with interesting birds, fungi and beetles we would have seen bright open areas full of butterflies, wild flowers and different birds: perhaps a nightingale instead of a pied flycatcher or a grasshopper warbler instead of a wood-warbler. Both sets of features are beautiful, both are important and endangered ecosystems with wildlife that is in trouble, but we can’t have both on one site - a choice has to be made.

Today we have a dilemma on Cothelstone Hill. It seems that some 40 years ago, with great foresight and care for the landscape, the owner of Cothelstone Hill and an invited group climbed to the hilltop to plant a new clump of beech trees. They wanted a replacement to be ready to take over the major Somerset landmark when the final Seven Sisters ancient beech trees succumbed and fell. Perhaps to give a bit of added height they were planted on and around a mound of earth to the west of the original trees and since then they have been slowly growing and developing towards their intended destiny of replacing the original clump.

Unfortunately it turns out that that mound of earth has a history of its own. Sometime in the middle ages a landowner looking to increase the status of the estate (and provide an additional meat resource) had the mound created as an artificial rabbit warren, permission for which could only be granted by the king. It was called ‘Rights of Free Warren’. This pillow mound, as is the archaeological term, sits at the top of the hill, surrounded by what was in medieval times Cothelstone Estate’s deer park.

The problem is that these trees, planted and now established to provide a replacement for the Seven Sisters are sending out their roots into the pillow mound and damaging the archaeology of this important feature - important because it is one of the best examples in the area and has not been dug to see what it can tell us.

It is difficult to weigh a much loved landscape feature against an underground, unexplored archaeological feature - although the fact that the pillow mound is a legally Scheduled Ancient Monument does mean it has protection in law. The fear that if a replacement tree is blown over it will rip up the pillow mound is of particular concern and the conclusion that protecting an ancient pillow mound is more important than a comparatively recent clump of trees was perhaps inevitable.

Through an agreement with Natural England with contributions from English Heritage, the AONB Service has the task of cutting the replacement trees down over the next 4 years and will be planting a replacement clump in a less historic location on the hilltop. The replacement for the replacement clump will be planted nearby in late autumn/winter this year and the removal of the others will be carried out a few at a time over the coming years.

Cllr Jane Warmington, daughter-in-law of the landowner who planted the replacement clump, is saddened by this but agrees they should go - as Jane put on Facebook: “it would be nice if the family were asked to plant these again…” That is what will be done giving some historic continuity - we are hoping to get them in the ground in November.

The three Seven Sisters still standing will hopefully last long enough to see this new clump grow to a decent size before they finally fall - they seem remarkably unharmed by the recent series of storms we have suffered, so fingers crossed.

Feb 2014

To read more about this, here is the link to our earlier blog about the work taking place. Read Protecting our Quantock Heritage here

Image: Cothelstone Hill, replacement clump to be slowly removed are the clump of trees to the left in the photo.

Comments in chronological order (Total 3 comments)

Add your comment

  • No avatar available
    Tim Russell

    26 Feb 14

    very well put Chris ... great that the Warmingtons will be helping with replaacement planting.  Tim

  • No avatar available
    Sue Honeyball

    19 Mar 14

    I strongly object to removal of these trees which are a landmark for all to see. A rabbit warren is not important as it can’t be seen. People love the trees

  • No avatar available
    sally ravenor

    19 Mar 14

    It is a disgrace to remove these trees, a landmark which can be seen from far away. I have looked at these trees from the Blackdowns and Brendons and they remind me of t beautiful Cothelstone hill. A norman rabbit warren doesn’t mean much to me or my friends. I strongly object to removing these trees.

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