ANCIENT woodlands managed by Exmoor National Park Authority are in good and improving ecological condition and are providing increasingly valuable habitats to rare and threatened woodland plants and animals. That's the view of the country s top woodland

ANCIENT woodlands managed by Exmoor National Park Authority are in good and improving ecological condition and are providing increasingly valuable habitats to rare and threatened woodland plants and animals. That's the view of the country's top woodland ecologist who visited the ancient oak woods of the Barle Valley on.Dr Keith Kirby, Senior Woodland Ecologist with Natural England is a renowned woodland ecologist who has secured an international reputation on the ecology of trees and woodlands, came to Exmoor as part of a visit with the Forestry Commission, The Woodland Trust and Exmoor National Park Authority. The purpose of the delegation was to view work by Exmoor National Park Authority in woodland Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) which they own and manage in the Barle Valley. "Overall I was very impressed by the work that Exmoor National Park Authority has put into these sites I hope that they will continue to find the resources to keep going with their work" reported Dr Kirby. His visit follows the news that all woodland Sites of Special Scientific Interest managed by the Authority have been assessed as being in "favourable" or 'improving' condition by Natural England, the Government's advisors on nature conservation.There is almost continuous woodland cover along the length of the Barle Valley from Dulverton to Withypool, a distance of around 10 miles (by river) and much is ancient semi natural; one of the most extensive tracts of ancient woodland in the South West. Most of it is privately owned, but many owners have been making great efforts to improve the condition of their woods with the help of the Exmoor Ancient Woodland Project.Graeme McVittie, Woodland Officer with Exmoor National Park Authority commented; "The woods in the Barle Valley are among the real jewels of Exmoor's woodlands. The clean, moist and cool conditions are ideal for rare mosses and lichens. "Exmoor also remains one of the top areas in the country for woodland birds such as pied flycatcher and redstart which are declining elsewhere so we are delighted that Dr Kirby has been able to endorse our work."The National Park Authority is now committed to helping private landowners in other SSSI woodlands. Through the Forestry Commission English Woodland Grant Scheme, landowners are being offered substantial grants to help bring SSSI woodlands into 'favourable' or 'recovering' condition. Graeme McVittie said: "Through the Exmoor Ancient Woodland Project, we are able to provide free help and advice to private landowners and help them apply for Forestry Commission grants. So far there has been good uptake and we have secured schemes to help improve over 240 ha of SSSI woodland, but we are keen to hear from other landowners and would be happy to help anyone if they would like to get in touch with me on 01398 322276.