Around 20% of Hampshire’s land area is woodland, with the South East being the countries most heavily wooded region: see Regional Woodland Cover Statistics 16kb.
This rich woodland heritage is very much a reflection of historical land use and includes woodland landscapes of international importance such as the wooded 'hangers' of East Hampshire and the woodlands and wood pasture of the New Forest. During the middle ages Hampshire had more Royal Forests than any other county, 11 in all : the New Forest remains largely intact and remnants of the others are found across the county.
Hampshire's woodlands are greatly valued by those living and working in the county and provide many benefits including:
Much of Hampshire’s woodland is ancient semi-natural woodland or ASNW. Ancient woodlands have a continuous history of woodland cover since the year 1600. These sites are a link to the wildwood that covered much of the UK after the last Ice Age and are our richest habitats for woodland plants and animals.
Another important habitat very closely associated with woodland is wood pasture.
The Hampshire Biodiversity Partnership have produced habitat action plans for both Ancient Semi Natural Woodlands and Wood Pasture & Parkland
Woodlands, trees and forests are an integral part of the character and scenic quality of much of the Hampshire landscape. The different woodland types and the different pattern of woodland distribution contribute greatly towards the diversity of landscape throughout the county. The Hampshire Landscape Strategy describes the 11 landscape character areas found in Hampshire and details the role woodlands and trees play in each of these character areas.
Their presence helps the drainage of water by soils, preventing surface water run off, erosion and flooding. Wet woodlands in river valleys and floodplains also help to prevent flooding (see Forests and Flooding and Forests and Water).
In many areas of the UK these wet woodlands and other natural habitats associated with floodplains have been lost to agriculture and development. Restoration of these floodplain habitats is now seen as an important for both biodiversity and flood defence. The New forest Life3 Project hopes to restore more than 600 hectares of wetland habitat.
Woodlands can also provide screening and shelter from prevailing winds for animals and crops. They often act to visually screen developments, roads and railways but also filter noise and pollution as well as absorbing carbon dioxide.
Hampshire's woodlands and wood pastures contain a tremendous wealth of heritage. The types of trees present and their growth form ,whether coppiced, pollarded or standard trees,are in some part a reflection on past mangement. For centuries, if not millenia, Hampshire's woodlands provided the raw materials for use in the home,in agriculture and a host of industries. It is only since the middle of the 20th century that our dependacy on timber and other wood products from our local woods has waned. Direct physial evidence of this management remains in many woodlands in the form of woodbanks and other boundary features, saw pits and charcoal hearths.
Woodlands are also rich in archaeological evidence that has no direct relationship to the woodland in which they are found. They have provided an archaeological refuge from the impact of ploughing and can contain remarkably well preserved archaeological sites of all types and periods from burial mounds to Roman villas, abandoned field systems to abandoned chapels to name but a few. More information on woodland history and archaeology here.
In the past Hampshire's Royal Hunting Forests,owned by the Crown, or local lords, included open lands such as pasture and heathland. They acted as a supply of timber and wood products, but of equal importance to the King and his court were the ‘beasts of the forest’. The wild boar and the deer that the King and his noble men loved to hunt and feast upon. These hunting parties in the Royal Forest’s could be regarded as one of the earliest forms of recreation in the countryside.
Today woodlands provide plenty of recreational opportunities for everyone. From quiet relaxation, picnics and gentle strolls to orienteering,cycling, mountain biking,shooting and paintballing, woodlands provide a whole range of experiences that change with the seasons and allow us to recharge our batteries and get rid of the stress of everyday life.
These activities are not only available to those who live and work in Hampshire but also attract considerable tourism to the area. There are also tremendous health benefits from using the countyside even for the less strenuous of recreational activities such as a brisk stroll.
Woodlands are ideal locations for recreational activities. Due to their structure, the carrying capacity of woodlands, in terms of recreation, is often much higher than that of other habitats. For example, 5 people in a 1hectare field would all be aware of the other people visiting the field, whereas in a woodland they might be oblivious to the other visitors presence. Woodlands also provide the 'getting away from it all' experience as visitors are screened from roads,railways and other development once inside a woodland.
Woodlands provide a tremendous resource for education.and learning for all ages and levels. This does not only apply to biological, environmentaland historical studies, but to key subjects such as maths and english as well. You only have to see the joy on the faces of a primary class chasing falling leaves or shouting with mixtures of delight and disgust at the creatures found living under a log to see what a fun and memorable experience learning can be.
Using woodlands for education also promotes an understanding of woodlands and the countryside as a living, working environment and the problems facing those responsible for its management.
There are also a range of organisations and individuals providing education and training in woodland management and related themes.
Please see Links and Resources for more details on woodland education, course providers and teaching resources
Woodlands are the ultimate sustainable resource. If managed properly they can supply timber and other wood products for a wide variety of uses whilst still providing all the other benefits to society outlined on this page.Sadly woodland management and use of local timber and woodland products declined dramatically in the 20th century by the end of which, quite ironically, sustainable development had come the new buzz word with regard future development and our lifestyles. Acheiving sustainable community living, both globally and locally, is one of the great challenges for the 21st Century and one where woodlands could provide many of the solutions. For more on woodlands as a Sustainable Resource click here
Many of the benefits bestowed on the county by its extensive woodland cover, such as its rich biodiversity and recreational potential are a big draw for tourists and day trippers to Hampshire. This brings with it a range economic benefitsand rural employment opportunities. These same benefits also contribute to attracting inward investment into the county from business setting up orexpanding operations, as well as individuals moving into the county to live