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Ashdown Forest

Location:Ashdown Forest

Habitats:Woodland, Heathland

Livestock:Various breeds and types of livestock

In brief:Includes shepherding grazing and commoners grazing to restore lowland heathland in Ashdown Forest

Contact:Chris Marrable

Tel:01342 823583

The most famous inhabitant of Ashdown Forest is undoubtedly Winnie the Pooh, but nowadays you’ll find other animals in the forest, and eating herbage rather than honey.

Ashdown Forest (2500 ha) is the remains of the Lancaster Great Park deer hunting forest, originally enclosed by a pale in 1296. Centuries of grazing and cutting by farming commoners have prevented extensive reforestation and have maintained the open heathland on the ‘forest’. The familiar story of the decline of the farming commoner since the WWII has led to an increase in woodland cover, from less than 10% in 1947 to 40% in 2000 and a subsequent decline of the internationally important heathland habitats.

Conservation work under the guidance of the Ashdown Forest Conservators aims to restore the heathland. Carried out in more or less traditional ways, with a small number of stock per hectare, grazing is the most cost-effective way of managing large heathland areas like Ashdown Forest. A commoner already grazes 500 ha of heathland in Ashdown Forest with cattle and sheep. The Ashdown Forest Conservators are experienced with all aspects of commons management, such as fencing.

Natural England are funding a three year project (within a Higher Level Stewardship scheme) which aims to trial the close-shepherding model found on the continent in countries such as Holland, where shepherded flocks on heathlands are a common sight. This type of management relies on using a full-time shepherd and dogs to manage a sheep flock which will graze the heathland thus eliminating the need for stock-fencing. The flock will be carefully managed in order that the flock does not curtail use of the forest for leisure activities. It is hoped that this will also mark a return to traditional management practices within the forest.

The Ashdown Forest Conservators are undertaking a major public consultation exercise, using professional facilitators and mediators, prior to writing a new management plan.