Ancient Forests of the South Devon Coast (2007)

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Author(s): Cove. Mary; Year published: 2007; Origin: DA Transactions; Pages: 293–331
Topic(s): ; Location(s): South Hams and Torbay

This paper by Mary Cove is in pdf format and can be read using the viewer below.

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Permission to republish this paper for research and educational purposes was kindly given by the author in November 2021.


Along the South Hams coast, peat remains are the only trace of the formerly abundant woodland. Close to, and on the coastal shelf, sediments have been eroded, re-created and exposed many times during the Quaternary, but most have not been recorded. This paper focuses on lowland peat formed during the last 8,000 years within the coastal lithology of several near-shore south Devon valleys now impounded by coastal barriers. As the outcome of a research project that spanned twelve years, the paper reports findings from nine sites located in Tor Bay, Start Bay, Lannacombe Bay, the Salcombe estuary, Bigbury Bay, and Wembury Bay. In all, some 44 sediment cores were taken and subjected to pollen and macrofossil analysis. Fifteen radiocarbon dates were obtained, thereby establishing a woodland chronology for the region. The previously unrecorded Holocene valley sediments focused upon in this study reveal the changing woodland species communities that existed in settings close to the English Channel in the past. Moreover, it has been possible to identify responses in the woodland communities to environmental changes such as episodes of flooding and the increasing interference in the landscape by early human settlers such as tree clearance and farming. The findings for the South Hams are related to those published by other authors for sites elsewhere in southern England.