High on Dartmoor is a small and isolated oak woodland known as Wistman’s Wood. The short twisted trees are draped in ferns and mosses, and Wistman’s has become an iconic symbol of ancient temperate rainforest. It belongs to The Duchy of Cornwall and has been in the national news this week as they have plans to double its size over the next few years to cover 7 hectares. Wistman’s wood has been closely studied, and its shape has changed quite significantly over the years depending on the intensity of sheep grazing.

The woodland is already 25% larger than it was in the nineteenth century so further natural regeneration will be possible if sheep numbers can be kept low. We have a 1905 Ordnance Survey map of Stara Wood which shows many differences in shape and area of woodland compared to today. A hundred and twenty years ago, the level areas beside the river were small water meadows. The less steep sections of woodland at the top of Broad Wood are shown as two fields covering just over a hectare. We understand this was planted with conifers after the last war, so Stara is almost 10% larger than it was in 1905. On the downside, there was woodland to the south of Colquite Wood alongside the river in the field across the lane. This was cleared during the first world war, so the overall woodland area has probably slightly reduced. All we do know is that woodlands are not static and that they change their shape and size over time.