Ancient Westcountry woodland could hold the key to unlocking the hidden effects of climate change on forests and its indigenous wildlife.
An intricate study of tree growth in in North Devon and Plymouth is expected to provide a template for volunteer scientists around the UK to help monitor the effects of global warming.
Scientist Alison Smith has begun a four-year research programme at Clinton Devon Estates' Hunshaw Woods near Torrington which could produce an inexpensive and easy-to-use toolkit to equip an army of "citizen scientists" in their local woodlands.
She plans to measure leaves, buds, ground flora, saplings and canopy cover, mapping her findings against climate changes and tracking the effects of hot temperatures, wet weather, severe cold and droughts.
It is hoped the work will ultimately be carried out by volunteer groups from local communities and schools across the UK.
Alison, a PhD student at Plymouth University's School of Biological Sciences, said: "At the moment, the methods used to detect the subtle changes in the growth and health of forest species are too costly, time- consuming and labour intensive to study as widely as is needed.
"I am hoping to find methods that can accurately monitor the effects of the climate on woodlands, which are cheaper and easier to use, and ideally which can be carried out by trained members of the community. Then we can gather information from all over the UK to work out how our forests are responding to their changing surroundings.
"Eventually, this will mean that we can implement appropriate and effective management to mitigate detrimental effects and protect species that might be endangered by changing climates."
Hunshaw Woods has been selected because it is one of the oldest native broadleaf woodlands in Britain and a registered Site of Special Scientific Interest.