The Royal Forest of Dean
The hunting domain of Norman Lords.
The Royal Forest of Dean is one of the few truly ancient forests that remain in England. Spread over some 27,000 acres of land that lies between the River Wye and the River Severn, its sometimes wild and often secluded woodland gives a sense of the landscapes that once covered the countryside many centuries ago.
From the time of the Saxons the forest would have been an important hunting ground and it's believed that King Canute set up the Court of Verderers and entrusted them with control over all that lived and grew in the forest. In the 11th Century it was the Norman Kings that introduced the concept of a "Royal Forest", declaring an area of land specifically for the Monarch and the Norman Lords to enjoy their hunting, usually for deer and wild boar.
The Forest of Dean has an impressive industrial heritage and with its natural resources of coal, iron ore and timber it played an important role in the economy of the Country for hundreds of years. In medieval times timber from the forest played a vital role in the early shipbuilding industry that helped make Britain into a world naval power. Its fine oak was used to build ships that helped defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588, many years later lord Nelson visited the Forest of Dean to encourage the re-generation of the forest after many years of exploitation. Throughout the Victorian era the coalfields of the Forest of Dean produced over a million tons of coal a year, and together with the iron ore mines helped the industrial development of the area.
In 1924 the Forestry Commission took over control of the forest and inevitably commercial timber production resulted in the planting of thousands of acres of quick growing foreign softwoods such as spruce, larch and fir. In 1938 the Forest of Dean was designated a National Forest Park and in recent times the focus has changed more to its environmental and recreational benefits. With over 37 miles of forest walks and waymarked nature trails the forest is now being enjoyed by visitors for its outstanding natural beauty. Today wildlife is once again flourishing in this traditional mixed woodland and it's now again possible to see wild deer and even the occasional wild boar roaming this ancient and beautiful forest.