Savernake Forest History

Pre-historical period

- Vegetation on the plateau was most likely semi natural (i.e. not untouched by human hands).

- Most of the settlements were on the fringes.

Bronze Age

- Development of field system in the surrounding area due to the prime agricultural land on the chalk geology.

Iron Age

- Political instability led to the development of hill forts in the area; such as Chisbury.

- Woodland at this time would have been quite fragmented with surrounding farmsteads.

- Woodlands were depended upon for timber.

- Archaeology on the plateau suggests that the centre had some sort of spiritual significance.

Roman period

- Establishment of a town on the Kennet

- Large areas of the Plateau were opened up to mixed farming.

- Thriving local pottery industry.

4th Century

- economic decline saw forest regeneration – probably starting eith birch and blackthorn and eventually being succeeded by oak, beech and ash.

8th Century

- population density was still low on the plateau.

- A settlement at Little Bedwyn grew into a Royal Estate.

- Under political stability the population grew and the landscape changed – farmsteads, wood pastures and isolated wooded groves.

- Archaeological evidence of divided land from this period.

- Most of the land was still in common useage.

9th Century

- Bedwyn was a major estate and this led to the establishment of Savernake Forest.

- This combined land held by supporters and servants of the King.

- The products of the forest would have then been used for the benefit of the Estate.

12th and 13th Centuries

- Forests were quite political and populations were growing – leading to fines and rules being imposed.

- This also led to emparkments and clearances to give the landscape a more managed appearance.

- Quite an open forest structure due to high demand for resources.

16th Century

- Savernake Forest was in the private ownership of the Seymour family.

- Earl of Hertford broke the landscape up into areas of different land use – introducing areas of coppice and grazing – previous the bulk of the area was woodland pasture.

- Deer parks were created to relieve pressure on surrounding land.

- This approach didn’t last long.

17th Century

- Enclosed parks were converted to arable holdings due to demand for crops.

- Woodland clearances.

18th Century

- Landscaping by Lord Burlington and Capability Brown

- Aesthetic in purpose and also to establish a social dominance over an ambiguous landscape.

19th Century

- sheep grazing had declined and moved the industrial north

- therefore more areas of Savernake were incorporated into the forest park (as it had become)

- The landscape was now well wooded.

- Coppices had been replaced by high forest of oak, beech and exotic conifers.

1850 – 1939

- Ownership was with the Bruce family who were prone to squabbles and financial difficulties followed.

- This led to the Forestry Commission lease – driven by political support for the increased productivity of rural land.


- large scale woodland clearance for timber

- large and important army base

- sawmilling

- ammunitions storage

Post War

- Monocultures of oak and beech were created

- Fast growing conifer from Europe and North America

- Majority of the older trees were retained.