FORESTS and ARBORETUM IN WILTSHIRE AND AROUND
Savernake Forest, Marlborough. Recorded as ‘Safernoc’ in a 934 AD charter, Savernake Forest must be at least 1000 years old. Covering about 4,500 acres of countryside near Marlborough.
It is the largest privately owned ancient hunting forest in England, and the only one not owned by the crown. Savernake is full of majestic veteran trees. But also important are the lichens growing on them with nearly 120 species characteristic of old forests recorded. Over 500 species of fungi have been recorded, and other important wildlife such as Purple Emperor and White-letter Hairstreak butterflies.
Originally, Savernake was wood-pasture grazed with livestock and from the 12th Century onwards it was a typical Royal Forest, a mix of woodland, coppice, common land and small farms. But the management of forests has changed, no longer grazing or coppicing woodlands at levels that maintain their diversity of wildlife. Without this management, large veteran trees are becoming crowded with overgrown canopies, saplings, shrubs and brambles.
There are around 2,600 ancient oaks and 2,400 ancient beech trees in the Forest.
The “Cathedral Oak”, at an estimated 1000 years old, is thought to be the second oldest in the forest and possibly in England and is in excellent condition for it’s age.
Some are famous, such as the ‘Saddle Oak’, so named due to its near-horizontal boughs
The ‘King of Limbs’, not the tallest or the largest tree in the forest, but it has the most dramatic profile, with a great “fan of limbs”, like many of the older oaks it is also hollow.
The ‘Big Bellied Oak’ beside the A346 south of Cadley, a 1000 year old oak tree. Legend has it that the devil can be summoned by anyone dancing naked round the tree. It is probable that Sir John Seymour, the forest's Tudor steward would have known this old tree - and it is said that it was in Savernake that Henry VIII met Seymour's daughter, Jane.
Many of the younger oaks, together with the broad avenues of beech trees were established by the great C18th landscaper 'Capability' Brown.
One of Brown's features is The Grand Avenue, which is three miles long, Eight Walks radiate from here into the surrounding forest.
Amongst the many stories associated with Savernake, many concern ghostly apparitions, often seen at dusk darting in and out of the shadows...................
Savernake is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Westonbirt Arboretum. The National Arboretum, step over the border into Gloucestershire, close to the town of Tetbury. Managed by Forestry England, it is the most important arboretum in the country.
Planted in the Victorian era of plant hunting in the mid-19th century as part of the Westonbirt House estate, the arboretum is part of a Grade I listed site on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens of special historic interest. There is evidence of coppicing at the site from 1292. First use of the name "Weston Birt" was in 1309. The arboretum was established in 1829 by Robert Stayner Holford and was later extended by his son George Lindsay Holford. In 1956 Westonbirt passed into Forestry Commission and onto Forestry England in 2019. Westonbirt House, became a girls' boarding school in 1927, when it was separated from the arboretum. The Arboretum backs onto the Highgrove Estate of Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales.
Westonbirt Arboretum comprises some 18,000 trees and shrubs, over an area of approximately 600 acres. It’s 17 miles of marked paths provide access to a wide variety of rare plants. There are two main areas to explore. The Old Arboretum is a carefully designed landscape offering beautiful vistas, stately avenues, and a host of rare and exotic trees from across the globe dating back to the 1850s. Silk Wood is a very different experience: although it also contains many exotic plantings, at its heart is a traditional working woodland, dating back to the 13th century. Throughout the arboretum, each specimen tree is labeled, either on the trunk or one of the low-hanging branches. Blue labels indicate Westonbirt's "champion trees", the tallest or largest of their kind in Britain; in 2011 there were 79 of these.
The arboretum is managed by Forestry England, and is supported by the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum charity.