Forest History

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.

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