Mar 21, 2019 - 5min read
If forests are the lungs of the world, then our 3.17 million1 hectares here in the UK are particularly precious. That may sound like a lot but it actually only covers 13% of the UK - a far cry from somewhere like Sweden, where 69% of the land area2 is covered by forest!
That said, we are a nation of nature lovers, as renowned for our leafy countryside as we are for our love of rambling through it. But our forests don’t just offer a great place to visit; they provide a natural habitat that is teeming with biodiversity, all while cleaning our air of carbon dioxide.
Not only that, but two of our favourite woodland areas have inspired some of the world’s most beloved works of literature, and one is actively working to increase the proportion of the UK that is covered by forest!
Grizedale Forest, Cumbria
Made up of 24.5km2 of woodland in the Lake District, Grizedale Forest is a World Heritage Site that has a lot more going for it than just trees! Not only is it a great place to spot red deer, but there are some other interesting characters you might see on your travels...
In 1977, the Grizedale Society started a project to fill the forest with sculptures that complement the area’s natural beauty. Today, there are around 90 sculptures in Grizedale Forest, many made from natural materials like stone or wood. Walking trails will take you past many of these examples of humans working in harmony with nature - but then there are also mountain biking routes and an aerial assault course to keep you occupied!
These 14 acres of ancient woodland in the heart of the Forest of Dean have a literary connection that most likely won’t surprise you based on the picture. JRR Tolkien was a frequent visitor to the Forest of Dean, and Puzzlewood is said to have inspired a number of Middle Earth locations.
The otherworldly landscape is filled with strange rock formations shaped by the erosion of the many secret caves hidden beneath the surface. The paths take on a maze-like complexity as the wind around the ancient trees, and - having been laid down in the early 1800s - are now engulfed in moss; more part of the environment than a man-made addition. A true walk on the wild side, Puzzlewood is the ultimate place to spark your imagination!
New Forest, Hampshire
The New Forest is - at 380km2 - quite literally a very big piece of history. It was declared a Royal Forest by William the Conqueror in 1079, after which it was used by royals for hunting deer.
This ancient protection afforded to the forest - as well as the pre-existing rights of pasture that allow the land to be used by grazing animals belonging to ‘commoners’ - have made the New Forest a haven for rare wildlife (including the only cicada native to Great Britain), as well as specialist heathland birds, ponies, pigs, deer and red squirrels. It’s even home to all three native species of British snake. Ssssssssspectactular!
Ashdown Forest, East Sussex
Poohsticks at the ready! Ashdown Forest served as the inspiration for A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard’s Hundred Acre Wood, where the fictional version of Milne’s son Christopher Robin would play with his friends Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, Tigger and Eeyore. In the words of the adult Christopher, "Anyone who has read the stories knows the forest and doesn't need me to describe it. Pooh’s Forest and Ashdown Forest are identical."
Many of Shepard’s illustrations for Milne’s books can be matched up to the landscape of Ashdown Forest, and today there is a plaque dedicated to the writer and artist on Gill’s Lap (which, in the Hundred Acre Wood, became Galleon’s Lap). You might not be surprised to learn there’s even a real-life, fully playable Poohsticks Bridge!
Heart of England Forest
The Heart of England Forest is actively growing trees in the Warwickshire Countryside, by planting a series of ‘joined-up’ forests that connect the ancient Forest of Arden to the Vale of Evesham. The project was the brainchild of the legendary publisher and landowner Felix Dennis, whose love for planting trees has since grown into over 3,750 acres of woodland - with 40,253 trees planted this season alone!
The Heart of England Forest has a goal of eventually increasing its size to 30,000 acres - which not only means more trees cleaning carbon dioxide out of the air, but more space to escape the hustle and bustle of city life and enjoy a lovely woodland walk in the wilderness!