Themes: Environment

Forest, woodland and trees in East Anglia

 

Prehistoric and medieval woodlands

In prehistoric times, except in the fens, East Anglia would have been covered with wildwood vegetation.  Sea Henge demonstrates how oak in particular was highly prized by our ancestors.  By the Iron Age, however, most of the trees had been cleared to make way for farmland or heath.  Medieval woods, mainly on the eastern edge of East Anglia, were used not only for harvesting timber but also for keeping swine, fed on acorns (known as ‘pannage’). 

 

Forest plantations

The largest forested area in East Anglia, Thetford Forest, was created after the First World War, mainly using Scots Pine native to the North of Britain.  The forest’s principle function was to grow much needed timber, after the loss of native species that went to the war effort.  As soon as the forest was established, it also attracted a wide diversity of animal, bird and insect life, including populations of deer that, before the ban, were hunted for sport and for venison.  Today the forest also hosts modern cultural and sporting activities, from music festivals to mountain biking, and is a popular destination for holiday retreats.

 

Trees and legend

Oaks feature strongly in folk legends and rural customs.  When walking the bounds, it was customary to read from the Bible under particularly remarkable oaks, giving rise to the name Gospel Oak.  Other native timbers include: alder, ash, beech, hornbeam, horse chestnut, lime, birch, willow and yew.  All of these species have rich associations with the cultural landscape, often featuring in stories and songs.