FSC | Field Studies Council

Field Studies Council: Bringing Environmental Understanding to All


Slapton Ley plays host to a variety of wooded habitats, ranging from ancient woodland through small hazel coppice to wet alder and willow woodland. Here we take a look at three of the principal wooded habitats, how they differ, and the management prescriptions in place for each of them.

Slapton Wood - Ancient Woodland

Slapton Wood, situated in the Northwestern corner of the reserve, is an Ancient Woodland (an area that has been wooded since 1600AD - Slapton Wood is mentioned in the Domesday Book), and as a result has very little active management.

In practise what this means is that the only work that goes on in Slapton Wood is to maintain the network of footpaths and steps, which includes the clearing of dead, dying or dangerous trees when they pose a threat to public safety.

The wood itself is mostly composed of Sweet Chestnut and Oak, with a reasonable amount of Ash and Beech also present. An understorey of Hazel and Holly can be found throughout most of the wood. For a more comprehensive list of the plant species that are found in Slapton Wood, please click here.

Southgrounds Wood - Hazel Coppice

The hazel coppice at Southgrounds is a fine example of a traditional form of woodland management being exercised for a modern conservation purpose.

A coppiced woodland is managed on a rotational basis and can be done with many types of tree, some species responding better and yielding more wood than others. The woodland to be coppiced is split up into compartments, with one compartment being cut each year. Trees of the species to be coppiced are cut down, stimulating vigorous regrowth and opening up the canopy, allowing more light to reach ground level and increasing the diversity of ground flora.

Coppicing, historically, was a means of providing a sustainable resource - the actual wood being coppiced was used for a variety of purposes such as buildings, fencing, firewood and charcoal. Modern technologies and the increased use of alternative materials has seen traditional coppices decline and in many places disappear throughout the last century.

France Wood - Semi-natural Broadleaved Woodland

France Wood, is a tranquil wood just inland from Ireland Bay. Within the wood are the ruins of the France farmhouse buildings - a reminder of the evacuation of the Slapton area for the D-Day practice landings in 1944.

Access to France Wood is restricted to the general public, though events run from the Field Centre. A 100-year Management Plan prescribes the removal of the non-native Sycamore in blocks on an annual basis. Click the thumbnail below for a map showing the areas that have been cleared of Sycamore over the last 45 years.