We have provided answers to some frequently asked questions about the work to fell infected trees at The Grove and Ball Copse in Churston.



We have been served two Statutory Plant Health Care Notices (SPHN) by the Forestry Commission to control the spread of a disease called Phytophthora ramorum. These SPHNs compel the council to fell all the larch within The Grove and Ball Copse, Churston and any sweet chestnut trees in these woods showing signs of ill health.

Forestry Commission SPHN 2075 Ball Copse 221116
Copy of the Statutory Plant Health Care Notices (SPHN) issued by the Forestry Commission for Ball Copse.
Forestry Commission SPHN 2076 The Grove 201216
Copy of the Statutory Plant Health Care Notices (SPHN) issued by the Forestry Commission for The Grove.

Nationally, many trees have been infected and killed by the disease and the SPHNs are employed by Forestry Commission to try to halt the spread of the disease. These diseased trees not very attractive to look at but, more importantly, they serve to assist the spread of Phytophthora ramorum to other areas and healthy trees.

Phytophthora ramorum (P. ramorum) is a fungus-like microorganism which causes extensive damage, including death to a wide range of trees and other plants. It is sometimes referred to in Britain as 'Larch tree disease' and 'Japanese larch disease' as larch trees are particularly susceptible. Large numbers of trees in these woods have been affected by this disease.

No cure has been found and there are no effective chemical treatments available. In the case of infected larch, this means affected trees should be felled or otherwise killed as quickly as possible after detection of the disease and before the next spring or autumn period of sporulation begins on the needles. 

Work started on 4 January 2017 and the felling of trees, together with the removal of the timber, would continue for 12 weeks.

Update 8 March 2017: The felling works were completed today.

As of 28 January 2017, approximately 800 tonnes of timber had been hauled from Churston to mills around the South West, approximately 900 tonnes awaited extraction and haulage. We are awaiting final figures.

No. However, due to large machinery being needed to carry out the work and the large number of trees needing to be extracted, parts of the woodlands will be restricted at times to members of the public. The woods have been split into areas and you will be able to see as you walk around which areas are being restricted to ensure your safety. We note many people have been taking pictures of the works progressing and we must add a cautious note not to get too close to the teams working on site.

The Forestry Commission has issued Biosecurity guidance that is applicable to the served Notice. This guidance advises what precautions we need to take against the spreading of the Phytophthora diseases. These precautions include the restrictions of some areas and disinfectant measures of the workwear being used by the contractors during the course of the works.

Please see the accompanying maps as these give an indication of the areas that trees will be removed from. The plans were indicative but, now felling is under way, they are reasonably accurate in showing the extent of the works. We appreciate that onsite, the felling works look vast but it is within original expectations.

It is difficult to identify the exact number of trees but the estimated size of Ball Copse is 5.06 acres and of this there is estimated up to 2.3 acres of Larch. The estimated size of The Grove is 37.7 acres and of this, there is estimated to be 14 acres of Larch. A significant quantity of sweet chestnut growing among and adjacent to the larch has also been removed. Some Sweet Chestnut has been left where it does not show signs of infection. These trees will be monitored in the future and trees showing signs of infection will have to be removed.

It has been estimated that the removal of between 1000-1500 trees will take place and will result in 2,700 tonnes of timber.

Unfortunately, due to the tight deadlines within which work to comply with the SPHNs had to be completed, works had to take place as soon as possible. Many trees had already died and there were still a great many in the infectious stages of the disease. Thus, the more quickly these were felled, the better our chances of keeping other nearby forests healthier for longer. Given the high levels of recreational use of the sites, leaving weakened trees in place also creates an elevated risk to public safety as they are more likely to shed branches or fall over.

We can appreciate people thinking this - it’s a normal reaction when any large scale felling takes place, this is something very rarely carried out by us. This woodland was planted with Larch and Sweet Chestnut in the 1960s; not only for recreation but also for timber production. It’s made even more noticeable by the fact that the Larch allowed lots of light to reach the ground, which helped encourage a great range of flowers and ferns to walk amongst. Although clearing all the larch and sweet chestnut is drastic in the short-term, it does offer the opportunity to re-establish the woodland through natural regeneration and then a developed woodland management plan.

We appreciate people thinking this - we have engaged an ecologist to survey the site prior to any works beginning. They have also been instructed to look at the timber extraction as it happens to continually monitor the impact upon wildlife. We have been in communication with Devon & Cornwall Police and local wildlife charities to ensure everyone is kept informed and they have the ability to raise any issues with us direct. Of course there will be an impact on wildlife, but the works are being carried out outside the bird nesting season and we are doing all we can to protect as much as possible.

An ecological survey of the site prior to any works beginning has been undertaken. An ecologist has also been instructed to look at the timber extraction as it happens to continually monitor the impact upon wildlife.

Ecological Report
An ecological appraisal of an area of woodland located north of Brixham which comprises of two plots known as Ball Copse and The Grove.

For example: During the works we have located about 30 Dormouse boxes. The majority of boxes are missing their lids, and one has fallen from its position and is starting to rot on the ground.  Torbay is known to be lacking in dormice in comparison to the rest of the county, and a data search yielded no records of dormice in the area, the nearest one being over 7.5 kilometres away on the other side of the River Dart.

For now, we have moved all of the boxes from the area where the trees are being felled up to the top of the woodland.

No. This area of Churston is protected from any development as identified under Policy NC1 in the Torbay Local Plan 2012-2030. The area is also identified for protection within the Brixham Peninsula Neighbourhood Plan. We are only implementing the works to comply with the Statutory Plant Health Notice.

Absolutely. People find woodlands to be very calming and relaxing places and they get very emotionally attached to their favorite woods. We do understand how upsetting this can be for some. We understand that the woodland was a very popular with walkers, families, those exercising their dogs and mountain bikers. The tree felling was, however, necessary to address the spread of disease and, as woodland managers, we are as devastated as anyone about what we have had to do.

We have been in communication with various wildlife organisations and charities to ensure everyone is kept informed and they have the ability to raise any issues with us direct. We have not received any negative reports from these organisations though.

Representatives of Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust (TCCT) have been to the site and met some of our contractors undertaking the works. They consider that the extent of larch and sweet chestnut removal appears largely consistent with what the council was required to do in order to comply with the SPHNs. Given the scale of the works, they consider that the contractors have done well not to cause more damage.

The Forestry Commission have also undertaken site visits at The Grove and Ball Copse following the SPHNs. They attended to view current operations but have not received any representations concerning the work. Going forward the regeneration of the woodland and its diverse ground flora will be considered as part of a management plan.

We are carrying out some tidy-up work initially and you will see some fires on site where we are burning the brash from the felling operations. While the site might still look untidy for a time the wood and branches that will be left will provide valuable habitats and nutrients for new trees and other plants. It will take time for new trees to establish; to help ensure that these woodlands regenerate quickly modern techniques and approaches to woodland management will need to take place.

This is the most popular question we are being asked and is, of course, something we are taking very seriously.

We will be working with the Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust to develop a viable plan for regenerating the woodland through a combination of managed natural regeneration and supplementary planting. The earliest available opportunity to commence replanting will be winter 2017, which gives us time to work with the Trust and other partners to secure the necessary funding and plan how the community can be involved. We will fully support any grant applications that Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust make to the Forestry Commission to fund the regeneration and any future planting if required.

The concerns expressed by the public shows the considerable level of support for the benefit provided by these woodlands and their contribution to the landscape, environment and recreational resource of Torbay. The community has expressed a desire to facilitate the improvement of the woodland and, once the works are completed and the council’s contractors have vacated the site, proposals for community engagement can be developed.

It will obviously take a long time for the woodland to recover at these sites. In the short term, things will begin to look green again fairly quickly and within about a good ten years or so we will see young trees established at these sites. Remember, nature is resilient and woodlands are tough - they can bounce back from large-scale disturbance by wind, fire, insect attack or disease.

We are confident that the felling of the Larch trees and infected Sweet Chestnut should reduce the likelihood of the disease spreading further in the immediate vicinity. Unfortunately, if other areas in Torbay are identified, these will need to be treated in the same way.

Your Churston Woodland has a great future!

As woodland managers, we are used to seizing these moments and turning them to our advantage. We are already looking at the wider landscape and deciding what species can be planting at each location. Whilst it may not be very evident yet, the council is committed to make good all the extraction routes for the removal of the timber, so these can be maintained as part of the path network.  There may be an opportunity to retain some of the views that have been opened up by the felling.

There is also the opportunity to work with the community to identify desired improvements in recreational access and obtain funding for these.

The timber is being removed from the woodland using America Lane and will be taken to a storage area which is on private land. We are sorry about the mud on the lane and we are managing this as best as possible. We have sold the timber to sawmills in the South West. This means the timber will then be processed into fencing materials, garden products and pallets. The lower grade timber will go into the local biomass plants for power and heat generation. The costs associated with the works have been significant and the funds generated from the sale of the timber will likely cover the costs of these works.

No. There are no plans at this time to remove any Ash trees in Torbay or within the immediate surrounding area in response to Ash Die Back (ADB). We are part of the Devon Ash Dieback Resilience Forum, which is a cross-organisational forum designed to develop a coordinated approach to ADB. No trees at this time within the boundaries of Torbay have been identified as infected with ADB. We would urge members of the public to report any signs of ADB following the guidance on the Forestry Commission website; however this is not something for the community in this area to be worried about at this stage.

We are continually updating this page and our Facebook page.

We are aware of a lot of social media activity concerning the works but enquiries to our office have been of a low volume. Whilst we appreciate that members of the public are concerned about the work, we would reiterate that the works have been carried out with careful consideration and in consultation with local organisations. Some of the concerns being raised are due to misinformation. If you have a specific query which you feel has not been answered, we would welcome your feedback and will provide further updates.

Of course; the woodland is public open space and enjoyed by residents and visitors alike. It is essential for the future management of the woodland that we all work together to ensure the woodlands can be better than before.

No. In comparison to other affected sites, the affected area in Torbay is very minor. Both Scotland and Wales are subject to large scale clearance of larch with operations in Wales involving the removal of hundreds of thousands of infected trees. This far exceeds the works in Torbay.