Ashdown Forest

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Ashdown Forest near Greenwood Gate Clump

Ashdown Forest is an ancient area of tranquil open heathland in northern Sussex, occupying the highest sandy ridge-top of the High Weald.

The forest rising to an altitude of 732 feet above sea level, its heights provide expansive vistas across the heavily wooded hills of the Weald to the chalk escarpments of the North Downs and South Downs on the horizon.

Ashdown Forest's origins lie as a mediæval hunting forest created soon after the Norman Conquest. By 1283 the forest was fenced in by a 23-mile pale enclosing an area of some 20 square miles. 34 gates and hatches in the pale, still remembered in place names such as Chuck Hatch and Chelwood Gate, allowed local people to enter to graze their livestock, collect firewood and cut heather and bracken for animal bedding. The forest continued to be used by the monarchy and nobility for hunting into Tudor times, including notably Henry VIII, who had a hunting lodge at Bolebroke Castle, Hartfield and who courted Anne Boleyn at nearby Hever Castle.

Ashdown Forest has a rich archaeological heritage. It contains much evidence of prehistoric human activity, with the earliest evidence of human occupation dating back to 50,000 years ago. There are important Bronze Age, Iron Age and Romano-British remains.

The forest was the centre of a nationally important iron industry on two occasions, during the Roman occupation of Britain and in the Tudor period when, in 1496, Britain's first blast furnace was built at Newbridge, near Coleman's Hatch, marking the beginning of Britain's modern iron and steel industry.

In 1693 more than half the forest was taken into private hands, with the remainder set aside as common land. The latter today covers 9½ square miles and is the largest area with open public access in Sussex.

Ashdown Forest is famous as the setting for the Winnie-the-Pooh stories written by A. A. Milne, who lived on the northern edge of the forest and took his son, Christopher Robin, walking there. The artist E. H. Shepard drew on the landscapes of Ashdown Forest as inspiration for many of the illustrations he provided for the Pooh books.


Ashdown Forest is not mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086: it seems to have been part of the Forest of Pevensel, a Norman creation that had been carved out of a much larger area of Wealden woodland. The first recorded reference to Ashdown Forest by name is in the period AD 1100-1130, when Henry I confirmed the right of monks to use a road across the forest of "Essessdone", a right which the monks claimed to have held since the Conquest.

The name of the forest is form the old English dun meaning "hill"; the 'Ash' element is more obscure, as ash trees do not grow here; the soil is not such as to favour them. It may instead be from a personal name.[1].

Ashdown is a 'forest' in the orifiginal sense of an open space once subject to forest law, rather than a continuous woodland, albeit that it is well wooded.

Shape and extent

Ashdown Forest is shaped, roughly speaking, a triangle, broad in the north, narrowing in the south, some seven miles from east to west and the same distance from north to south.[2]

The boundary of the forest can be defined in various ways, but the most important is that given by the line of the mediæval pale, which goes back to its origins as a hunting forest. The pale, first referred to in a document of 1283, consisted of a ditch and bank surmounted by an oak palisade. 23 miles in length, it enclosed an area of some 20½ square miles. The original embankment and ditch, albeit now rather degraded and overgrown, can still be discerned in places today.

In 1693 the forest assumed its present-day shape when just over half its then 13,991 acres was assigned for private enclosure and improvement, while the remainder, about 6,400 acres, was set aside as common land. Much of the latter was distributed in a rather fragmentary way around the periphery of the forest close to existing settlements and smallholdings. Many present-day references to Ashdown Forest, including those made by the conservators, treat the forest as synonymous and co-terminous with this residual common land but it is a wider area:

when people speak of Ashdown Forest, they may mean either a whole district of heaths and woodland that includes many private estates to which there is no public access, or they may be talking of the [common land] where the public are free to roam.[3]

Most of today's common land lies within the mediæval pale, although one tract, near Chelwood Beacon, acquired quite recently by the forest conservators, extends outside. The conservators have acquired other tracts in recent years as suitable opportunities have arisen, for example at Chelwood Vachery, as part of a policy to extend the amount of land that they regulate and protect within the pale. According to the definition used by the conservators, which relates to the land for which they have statutory responsibility, the area of Ashdown Forest is 6,108 acres.

Plants and wildlife

King's Standing, Ashdown Forest

Ashdown Forest is one of the largest single continuous blocks of lowland heath, semi-natural woodland and valley bog in south-eastern Britain. Its geology is a major influence on its biology and ecology. The underlying sandstone geology of the Ashdown Sands, when combined with a local climate that is generally wetter, cooler and windier than the surrounding area owing to the forest's elevation, which rises from 200 feet to over 700 feet above sea level, gives rise to sandy, largely podzolic soils that are characteristically acid, clay, and nutrient-poor.[4] On these poor, infertile soils have developed heathland, valley mires and damp woodland. These conditions have never favoured cultivation and have been a barrier to agricultural improvement.

The forest predominantly consists of lowland heathland. Of the 6,108 acres of forest common land, 55% is heathland while 40% is mixed woodland. Lowland heathland is a particularly valuable but increasingly threatened habitat harbouring rare plant and animal species, which lends the forest importance at a European level. The survival of the forest's extensive heathlands has become all the more important when set against the large-scale loss of lowland heathland over the last 200 years; most of what remains in Sussex is in Ashdown Forest.


Ashdown Forest is noted for its heathland plants and flowers, such as the marsh gentian, but it also provides other distinctive or unusual plant habitats.

The extensive areas of dry heath are dominated by ling Calluna vulgaris, bell heather Erica cinerea and dwarf gorse Ulex minor. Important lichen communities include Pycnothelia papillaria. Bracken Pteridium aquilinum is dominant over large areas. On the damper heath, cross-leaved heath Erica tetralix becomes dominant with deer-grass Trichophorum cespitosum. The heath and bracken communities form a mosaic with acid grassland dominated by purple moor-grass Molinia caerulea mingled with many specialised heathland plants such as petty whin Genista anglica, creeping willow sp. Salicaceae and heath spotted orchid Dactylorhiza maculata.

In the wet areas are found several species of sphagnum moss together with bog asphodel Narthecium ossifragum, common cotton-grass Eriophorum angustifolium and specialities such as marsh gentian Gentiana pneumonanthe, ivy-leaved bell flower Wahlenbergia hederacea, white-beaked sedge Rhynchospora alba and marsh club moss Lycopodiella inundata. The Marsh Gentian, noted for its bright blue trumpet-like flowers, has a flowering season lasting from July well into October and is found in about a dozen colonies.

Gorse Ulex europaeus, silver birch Betula pendula, pendunculate oak Quercus robur and scots pine Pinus sylvestris are scattered across the heath, in places forming extensive areas of secondary woodland and scrub. Older woodlands consist of beech Fagus sylvatica and sweet chestnut Castanea sativa. These contain bluebell Hyacinthinoides non-scripta, bilberry Vaccinium myrtillus, the hard fern Blechnum spicant and honeysuckle Lonicera periclymenum with birds-nest orchid Neottia nidus-avis and violet helleborine Epipactis purpurata found particularly under beech. In the woodlands can also be found wood anemone Anemone nemorosa and common wood sorrel Oxalis acetosella.

Friends Clump

Streams and ponds

Forest streams, often lined by alder trees Alnus glutinosa, grey sallow Salix cinerea, birch and oak, cut through the soft sandstone forming steep-sided valleys that are sheltered from winter frosts and remain humid in summer, creating conditions more familiar in the Atlantic-facing western coastal regions of Britain. Uncommon bryophytes such as the liverwort Nardia compressa and a range of ferns including the mountain fern Oreopteris limbosperma and the hay-scented buckler fern Dryopteris aemula thrive in this microclimate.

The damming of streams, digging for marl, and quarrying have produced several large ponds containing, particularly in former marl pits, localised rafts of broad-leaved pondweed Potamogeton natans, beds of bullrush Typha latifolia and water horsetail Equisetum fluviatile.


Woodland covers nearly 2,470 acres of the forest, 40% of the area administered by the Conservators. Most of the woodland on the common land of the forest is young and contains few older trees; there is little Ancient Woodland, defined as woodland that has been continuously wooded since 1600. Almost all the latter that exists within the mediæval Forest Pale is found on land that was set aside in the 1693 division of the forest for private ownership and exploitation.[5] Some wooded ghylls however do contain older trees and there are a few individual old trees, especially beech, that mark former boundaries.

The two most common forms of forest woodland are oak woods on acid brown earth soils, including hazel and chestnut coppice (62% of the total woodland area), and birch woods with oak in degenerating heathlands (27%). Alder trees growing in wet and waterlogged peaty soils account for about 1% of the woodland, while birch and willow trees growing in wet areas each account for less than 1%. Beechwoods growing on acid brown earth soils account for another 3%.[5]

The clumps of Scots pine that form such a distinctive, iconic hilltop feature of Ashdown Forest were first planted in 1816 by the Lord of the Manor to provide habitats for blackgame. 20th century plantings comprise Macmillan Clump near Chelwood Gate (commemorating former British prime-minister Harold Macmillan, who lived at Birch Grove, on the edge of the Forest at Chelwood Gate), Kennedy Clump (commemorating a visit to the area by John F. Kennedy, when he stayed with Macmillan), Millennium Clump and Friends Clump, planted in 1973 to mark the Year of the Tree.


Deer have been a major feature of Ashdown Forest at least since its days as a mediæval hunting forest. Red deer, an essential part of Wealden culture as long as 6-8,000 years ago, and fallow deer, already present in Sussex in the Romano-British era and particularly favoured by the Normans for hunting, were both hunted in the forest until the 17th century. By the end of the 17th century, however, the red deer had disappeared completely from the forest while fallow deer had declined to very low numbers. The depletion of the woodlands, which provided deer with cover, the deterioration of the forest pale, which allowed them to escape, and the depredations of poachers were all factors in their decline.

Fallow deer returned in the 20th century, probably as a result of escapes from the Sackville estate, Buckhurst Park. The population roaming the forest has grown sharply in the last three decades, in common with deer herds elsewhere in England, and they now number in their thousands. Also present are roe deer (the only native deer roaming the forest) and two recently introduced species, muntjac and sika deer.

Many deer are involved in collisions with motor vehicles on local roads as they move around the forest to feed at dawn and dusk, and many are killed. In 2009 the forest rangers dealt with 244 deer casualties compared with 266 the year before. However, this is likely to be a significant underestimate as the rangers do not deal with all the casualties that occur. The forest conservators have identified a need to reduce the deer population and has been working with major neighbouring private landowners on measures to cull them.[6]

The landscape of Ashdown Forest

The forest viewed from the gardens of Standen House
Ashdown Forest's landscape in the early 19th century was famously described by William Cobbett:[7]
"At about three miles from Grinstead you come to a pretty village, called Forest-Row, and then, on the road to Uckfield, you cross Ashurst (sic) Forest, which is a heath, with here and there a few birch scrubs upon it, verily the most villainously ugly spot I saw in England. This lasts you for five miles, getting, if possible, uglier and uglier all the way, till, at last, as if barren soil, nasty spewy gravel, heath and even that stunted, were not enough, you see some rising spots, which instead of trees, present you with black, ragged, hideous rocks."

The predominantly open, heathland landscape of Ashdown Forest described so vividly by Cobbett in 1822 and later immortalised by E.H. Shepard in his illustrations for the Winnie-the-Pooh stories is essentially man-made: in the absence of human intervention, heathlands such as Ashdown's are quickly taken over by scrub and trees. Ashdown's heathlands date back to mediæval times, and quite possibly earlier.[8] Two elements were important in shaping this landscape: the local population of commoners, who exploited the forest's resources over many centuries; and the iron industry of the forest, which flourished in the 16th century.

The commoners played an important role in maintaining the forest as a predominantly heathland area by exercising their rights of common to exploit its resources in a variety of ways: by grazing livestock such as pigs and cattle, which suppressed the growth of trees and scrub; by cutting trees for firewood and for other uses; by cutting dead bracken, fern and heather for use as bedding for their livestock in winter; by periodically burning areas of heathland to maintain pasture; and so on. At times, the numbers of livestock being grazed on the forest was very large: at the end of the 13th century the commoners were turning out 2,000-3,000 cattle, alongside the 1,000-2,000 deer that were also present,[5] while according to a 1293 record the forest was being grazed by more than 2,700 swine.[9]

A second important factor was the heavy depletion of the forest's woodlands by the local iron industry, which grew very rapidly in the late 15th and 16th centuries, following the introduction of the blast furnace in the 1490s, which led to a huge demand for charcoal. For example, large-scale tree cutting took place in the south of the forest to feed the iron works of the cannon maker Ralph Hogge. The loss of trees caused such concern for the Crown that as early as 1520 it was lamented that "much of the King's woods were cut down and coled [turned into charcoal] for the iron mills, and the forest digged for Irne [iron] by which man and beast be in jeopardy".[10] This ravaging of the forest's woodlands was later mitigated by the adoption of coppice management for the provision of sustainable supplies of charcoal. The impact of the industry on the forest, although significant, was however ultimately short-lived, as it died out in the 17th century.

Statutory designations

Ashdown Forest has attracted many a designation from passing bureaucrats and the whole or part of the forest, apart form its protection by the Conservators will find themselves as:

  • Site of Special Scientific Interest[11]
  • Special Protection Area[12]
  • Special Area of Conservation
  • Part of the European Union's Natura 2000 Network.
  • It lies too within the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Recreation and leisure

Cyclists crossing Ashdown Forest

Ashdown Forest is the largest public access space in the south-eastern counties, and the largest area of open, uncultivated countryside. A 2008 visitor survey estimated that at least 1.35 million visits are made each year. The most common reason given for visiting the forest was its "openness".

Despite such large numbers of visitors, the forest has retained its celebrated tranquillity and sense of openness. The commons are freely open to the public, who are attracted by the large, elevated expanse of unspoiled heaths and woodlands where they may walk, picnic or simply sit while taking in the glorious views. Various bye-laws passed by the Conservators help protect the forest environment for the public good, prohibiting such activities as, for example, mountain biking, off-road driving of motor vehicles, camping and the lighting of fires.

The Forest Pale

The Hatch Inn, Coleman's Hatch

Possibly as early as the 13th century, Ashdown Forest was enclosed as a hunting park, mainly for deer, by a 24-mile long pale. This consisted of an earthen bank 4–5 feet high surmounted by an oaken paling fence with a deep ditch on the forest side that allowed deer to enter but not to leave. It enclosed an area of over 20½ square miles.[13] Entry was by 34 gates and hatches, gates being used for access by wheeled vehicles, commoners' animals and mounted groups, hatches by pedestrians. These names survive in local place-names such as Chuck Hatch and Chelwood Gate. Some of these entrances were, and still are, marked by pubs, for example the 18th century Hatch Inn[14] at Coleman's Hatch, which occupies three former cottages believed to date to 1430 that later may have housed ironworkers from the nearby blast furnace at Newbridge.

It is not known precisely when the pale was built. Forest management accounts of 1283 refer to the cost of repairing the pale and building new lengths.[15] However, the granting of the "Free-chase of Ashdon" to John of Gaunt in 1372 and its renaming as Lancaster Great Park (see below) implies that the forest may only have been recently enclosed (chase denoted an open hunting ground, park an enclosed one).

The condition of the forest pale seems to have deteriorated significantly during the Tudor period. This coincided with, and may be partly linked to, the rapid growth under the Tudors of the local iron-making industry with its huge demand for raw materials in and around Ashdown Forest, such as charcoal and ironstone. This ultimately led to an appeal to King James, soon after his accession to the throne, for Ashdown's forest fences to be repaired in order to preserve the king's game. However, the pale seems to have fallen into almost complete disrepair by the end of the 17th century.

The bank and ditch associated with the pale are still visible in places around Ashdown Forest today, for example at Legsheath and adjacent to the car-park for Pooh Sticks Bridge on Chuck Hatch Lane.


Early history

Ancient remains are found in the forest, but when the forest was named or taken to be a distinct area is not known. It is today the largest remaining part of an ancient, sparsely populated, and in places dense and impenetrable woodland known to the Anglo-Saxons as Andredes weald ("the forest of Andred"). The Weald of old stretched for 30 miles between the chalk escarpments of the North and South Downs and for over 90 miles from east to west from Kent into Hampshire.[16]

Ashdown Forest is not named in the Domesday Book but soon afterwards it became a royal hunting forest.

The 1693 division of Ashdown Forest

During the 17th century, under both the Stuart period and during the Interregnum, there were repeated proposals to inclose and develop the forest. Under James I and Charles I parcels of land were sold off piecemeal. During the Interregnum the condition of the forest deteriorated so much that by the time of the Restoration, in 1660, it was in a state where "the whole forest [is] laid open and made waste".[17] Attempts to enclose and improve the forest (for example, by introducing rabbit farming, or sowing crops) were however strongly opposed throughout by the local commoners, who claimed rights of common on the forest, having exercised them "from time out of mind", as well as by neighbouring estates who claimed right of pasture there.

In 1662 the forest was granted to one of Charles II's closest allies, George Digby, Earl of Bristol, and it was formally disafforested to allow Bristol a free hand to improve it. His attempts to do so were however frustrated "by the crossness of the neighbourhood";[18] the fences he erected were thrown down and the crops he sowed were trampled by cattle. He defaulted on his rental payments to the Crown and left. Subsequent Lords of the Manor suffered similar opposition from the commoners. Compromise proposals were made to divide up the forest that would leave sufficient common land to meet the needs of commoners, while giving the rest up for improvement.

These unresolved tensions came to a head when, in 1689, a major landowner and 'Master of the Forest', Charles Sackville, 6th Earl of Dorset, brought a legal suit against 133 commoners in the court of the Duchy of Lancaster. The court decided to appoint commissioners to divide up Ashdown Forest's 13,991 acres in a way that would meet the needs of both defendants and plaintiffs. The commissioners made their award on 9 July 1693. They set aside 6,400 acres, mostly in the vicinity of farms and villages, as common land, where the commoners were granted sole right of pasturage and the right to cut birch, alder and willow (but no other trees). The commoners were however excluded forever from the rest of the forest, about 55 per cent of its area, which was assigned for "inclosure and improvement" (though it should be noted that substantial areas had already been enclosed by then, so in such cases the decree was merely confirming the status quo).

The land award of 1693 is largely responsible for shaping the map of Ashdown Forest today. The common land is highly fragmented and irregular in shape, broken up by many private enclosures, large and small. It tends to lie on the periphery of the forest near existing settlements. Some of the largest enclosures, such as Hindleap Warren, Prestridge Warren, Broadstone Warren and Crowborough Warren, mostly lying towards the centre of the forest, were used for a time for intensive rabbit farming. Some of these enclosures have today acquired interesting uses: Pippingford Park, in the very centre of the forest, occupied by the army in 1939 as a defence against a threatened German invasion, remains an important military training area,[19] Broadstone Warren is a scout camp and activity centre,[20] while Hindleap Warren is an outdoor education centre[21]

Although the 1693 land award envisaged enclosure and improvement for profitable gain, the land it allotted to private exploitation has in fact largely remained uncultivated; this has helped Ashdown Forest to retain the appearance of being an extensive area of wild country that is so valued today.[22] That said, there is nevertheless a visible contrast between the areas of common land, maintained by the Conservators, which are predominantly heathland, and the extensive privately held lands, which are generally either quite heavily wooded or cleared for pasture.

The Great Ashdown Forest Case

In 1876-82 a renewed challenge to commoners' rights became known as the Great Ashdown Forest Case, one of the most famous legal disputes of Victorian England.

On 13 October 1877 John Miles was seen on the forest cutting litter (heather and bracken for livestock bedding and other uses) on behalf of Bernard Hale, his employer and the owner of a local estate, by a keeper, George Edwards. Edwards was a well-known and unpopular local man who was acting as the representative of the Lord of the Manor of Duddleswell, the seventh Earl De La Warr, who owned the land on which the forest stood. In a test case,[23][24] the Earl challenged the right of Hale to cut litter. Hale, who claimed ownership of his estate made him a commoner of the forest, argued that he was entitled to send his men onto the forest to cut and remove bracken, fern, heather and other plants. The Earl maintained that the commoners' rights of pasturage and herbage granted under the 1693 decree only entitled them to graze their animals on the commons.[25] At the end of a protracted and complicated legal case, the court ruled against the commoners, who included some of the wealthiest landowners in Sussex. They appealed, and their appeal was upheld in 1881, but only on one ground, that it had been a long-standing practice for commoners to cut and take away litter from the forest, and they were therefore entitled to continue to do so under the Prescription Act 1832.

Resolution of the case in favour of the commoners led directly to today's framework of forest governance, with the passing of the first Ashdown Forest Act in 1885 and the establishment of a Board of Conservators for the forest.

Formation of the Board of Conservators

Following the conclusion of the Ashdown Forest case, a Board of Conservators was established by Act of Parliament in 1885 to oversee the Forest bye-laws, including the protection of Commoner's rights. More Acts of Parliament followed, which further refined the governance of the forest, culminating in the Ashdown Forest Act 1974.

The iron industry of Ashdown Forest

Ashdown Forest's iron industry flourished in the two eras when the Weald was the main iron-producing region of Britain, namely in the first 200 years of the Roman period (1st to 3rd centuries AD) and in the Tudor period (late 15th and 16th centuries). Ashdown was favoured by the widespread presence of iron-ore, extensive woodlands for the production of charcoal, and deep, steep-sided valleys (locally known as ghylls) that could be dammed to provide water power for furnaces and forges.

The forest was the site of Britain's first blast furnace, at Newbridge, which began operation in 1496.[26] It was constructed at the commission of Henry VII for the production of heavy metalwork for gun carriages for his war against the Scots. The furnace was designed and operated by French immigrants who brought the technology over from Northern France.[27]

Spurred by the development of blast furnaces, the iron industry grew very rapidly during the 16th century and became noted for the casting of cannons and cannonballs for the English navy. The celebrated ironmaster and gunfounder Ralph Hogge, who in 1543 made the first one-piece, cast-iron cannon in Britain at nearby Buxted, drew his raw materials from the southern part of the forest. However, the huge demand for raw materials and fuel, particularly charcoal, heavily depleted Ashdown Forest's woodlands, causing much concern and prompting commissions of enquiry by the king. In due course coppice management was used to ensure a more sustainable supply.

In the 17th century the industry declined and eventually died out as a result of competition from lower-cost iron-producing areas.

Ownership and administration

The freehold of Ashdown Forest, which essentially consists of the common land set aside in 1693, when the ancient forest was divided up by decree of the Duchy of Lancaster, plus a number of later land acquisitions, is owned by the Ashdown Forest Trust, a registered charity. Ownership was vested in the trust after the council bought the freehold from the executors of the Lord of the Manor, the 10th Earl de la Warr, in November 1988. This purchase was the culmination of a high-profile and passionate fund-raising campaign by members of the public, which included an endorsement by Christopher Robin Milne (son of A A Milne, whose Pooh Bear stories were inspired by the forest), who were concerned that the earl's stated intention, in the absence of a purchase of the forest by the county council, was to sell it piecemeal into private hands, a possibility which seemed to become more likely when the earl died before the contract could be completed. Over £1 million form the campaign and the council bought the forest, and it was placed in the newly created Ashdown Forest Trust.

The forest is regulated and protected by an independent Board of Conservators established under the Ashdown Forest Act 1885. The creation of the board followed the resolution of the protracted 19th century dispute between the commoners and the 7th earl de la Warr over rights of common on the forest. The structure of the board, originally composed entirely of commoners, altered significantly during the 20th century. Currently, of its sixteen members, nine are appointed by East Sussex County Council (one of whom represents the Lord of the Manor, the Ashdown Forest Trust), two by Wealden District Council, and the remaining five are elected by the commoners, of whom four must be commoners. The day-to-day management of the forest is the responsibility of a Director, Mrs Pat Buesnel, the Clerk to the Conservators, Mrs Ros Marriott, and a number of supporting staff, including a team of forest rangers.

"It shall be the duty of the Conservators at all times as far possible to regulate and manage the forest as an amenity and place of resort subject to the existing rights of common upon the forest and to protect such rights of common, to protect the forest from encroachments, and to conserve it as a quiet and natural area of outstanding beauty."[28]

Large numbers of volunteers support the work of the conservators by undertaking conservation work in the forest. Many of these are recruited by the Friends of the Ashdown Forest,[29] which has almost 1000 members. Fundraising by the Friends has helped towards the purchase of capital equipment for forest management such as motor vehicles and enabled the conservators to buy back parcels of land within the ancient pale for re-incorporation into the forest.

In 1994 the Board of Conservators purchased 69 acres of woodland at Chelwood Vachery (an estate that dates back to at least 1229), including an early 20th-century garden and lake system, after the estate was divided up and offered for sale by its owner. The land is now undergoing restoration as a forest garden and is open to the public.

Ashdown Forest's common land and its commoners

A gate into Ashdown Forest at sunset

The common land of Ashdown Forest, amounting to some 6,400 acres, consists of specific areas of the forest, in which certain ancient rights belong to the commoners; these common rights are attached to certain landholdings around the forest.

On Ashdown Forest the rights of common have varied over time. Those that remain today, which are subject to local byelaws and are under the control of the conservators, are[30] 'pasturage' (grazing rights), 'estovers' (the right to cut birch, willow or alder for use in the "ancestral hearth", 'brakes and litter' (the right to cut brake (bracken) and heather and to collect litter for the principal purpose of bedding down livestock in winter on the land-holding).

Today, to a varying degree, every property possessing common rights has some or all of these rights over the registered common land of the forest.

To become a commoner a person must acquire commonable land; conversely, a person selling a commonable property ceases to be a commoner. Where a commonable property is sold off in smaller portions, the commonable rights are apportioned in accordance with the area of each portion.[31] All commoners are obliged to pay a Forest Rate (based on the area of commonable land held) to contribute towards the administration of the forest by the Board of Conservators, and they are entitled to elect five commoners' representatives to the Board.

A sharp decline in commoning after the end of the Second World War resulted in a rapid loss of the forest's open heathland to scrub and trees, threatening the many specialised and rare plants and animals that depend on the heathland and jeopardising the forests's famous open landscape with its magnificent vistas, so well captured in EH Shepard's Winnie-the-Pooh illustrations. The Board of Conservators has responded by moving beyond its original administrative and regulatory functions to play a more active, interventionist role in combating the invasion of scrub and trees with the aim of restoring the heathland to a favourable condition.

Television and films

Various locations in and around Ashdown Forest have been used as settings for television and film productions including:

  • Colditz
  • The Four Feathers (2002 version)
  • Under Suspicion (1991 film)
  • Flyboys
  • Band of Brothers miniseries

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Ashdown Forest)


  1. A. Mawer & F.M. Stenton, The Place Names of Sussex (1929), 1,1,2.
  2. Straker(1940), p.121.
  3. Christian (1967), p. 28.
  4. Leslie and Short (1999), pp. 4-5.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Strategic Forest Plan of the Board of Conservators of Ashdown Forest 2008-2016, p.2.
  6. Annual Report of the Board of Conservators of Ashdown Forest 2009/2010, p.4.
  7. William Cobbett, Sussex Journal entry of 8 January 1822, in Rural Rides. Constable, London. 1982. ISBN 0-09-464060-2
  8. Indeed, according to Oliver Rackham, the beginnings of Wealden heathland, including Ashdown's, which he calls a heathland forest, can be traced back to before the Norman Conquest. See Rackham (1997), p.134.
  9. A History of the County of Sussex - Volume : {{{2}}} (Victoria County History) p.314
  10. Straker (1940), p. 123.
  11. SSSI listing and designation for Ashdown Forest
  12. Ashdown Forest Special Protection Area
  13. Ashdown Forest, home of the Conservators and Pooh Bear.
  14. The Hatch Inn
  16. Brandon (2003), Chapters 2 and 6
  17. Straker (1940), p. 124.
  18. Christian (1967), p.2.
  19. "History | Pippingford Park". Retrieved 23 September 2012. 
  20. "Broadstone Warren Scout Site & Activity Centre". Retrieved 23 September 2012. 
  21. London Youth - Hindleap Warren Outdoor Education Centre.
  22. Hinde (1987), p. 66.
  23. Short (1997)
  24. Testimonies of Forest residents
  25. Hinde (1987), p. 66
  26. According to recent research, another blast furnace, at Queenstock near Buxted, may have come into operation slightly earlier than the one at Newbridge, in 1490.
  27. Hodgkinson (2008) p.63 et seq.
  28. [Section 16, Ashdown Forest Act 1974]
  29. The Friends of Ashdown Forest
  30. See the website of the Conservators of Ashdown Forest: Rights of Common
  31. Ashdown Forest website: Commoners Today


  • Brandon, Peter (2003). The Kent & Sussex Weald. Chichester: Phillimore & Co Ltd. ISBN 1-86077-241-2. 
  • Brandon, Peter; Short, Brian (1990). The South East from AD 1000. London: Longman. ISBN 0-582-49245-9. 
  • Christian, Garth (1967). Ashdown Forest. The Society of Friends of Ashdown Forest. 
  • Cleere, Henry (1978). Roman Sussex—The Weald. In Drewett (1978), pp. 59–63.
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