Rockingham Forest Landscapes,
In the 21st century we tend to think of forests as wall-to-wall trees, but it is clear that, even in its heyday, Rockingham Forest was not like that. Like other royal hunting forests, it was actually a patchwork of habitats, which included grazing land as well as small arable areas. These were particularly clustered around the settlements close to the brooks and rivers. Even in the high forest there were areas of wood-pasture where livestock were grazed. There were also open areas that were used primarily for pasture, including enclosed lawns and unenclosed plains and greens.
A significant amount of grazed land remains. About 25% of the RFV area is grassland, as the map shows. Some of this is intensively grazed with improved grassland, whereas in other places the grassland is unimproved with much lower levels of stocking density. Elsewhere again, grazing still takes place within areas of wood-pasture and, sometimes even as means to manage woodland. The pictures below show some contrasting types of grazed land that can be seen in Rockingham Forest today.
If you are interested in the historic landscapes of Rockingham Forest there is some excellent reading that can be downloaded here:
Area south of Kings Cliffe
King's Cliffe nestles in the valley of the Willow Brook and there is a network of small fields which are still used mainly for pasture.
This picture looks across an area of 84 ha. that has been in the Organic Higher Level Stewardship scheme since 2013.
Leading south from Morehay Lane in Kings Cliffe there are three footpaths which pass through this historic patchwork of fields and which offer delightful walks.
The flelds are lightly grazed and some are divided into paddocks where horses are kept.
Sheep-grazed areas at Fineshade
Around the Fineshade Abbey site there are several large fields used for grazing sheep. The Jurassic Way long-distance path crosses the fields leading walkers on and across the A43 towards Deene Park and Wakerley Great Woods.
At Fineshade Top Lodge, in front of the visitor centre, there is a pasture known to residents as the sheep field.
The field has been the subject of several contentious unsuccessful planning applications. The last would have turned it into a static-caravan site, Since then the field has been declared a Local Wildlife Site and it will become a Local Green Space in the emerging Neighbourhood Plan.
One of the larger family-owned estates in the area of Rockingham Forest Vision is the Bulwick Estate. It stretches from Bulwick in the east as far as Gretton in the west, and right up to the River Welland in the north. The estate is justly proud of its environmental credentials and it is well worth reading the philosophy here: http://bulwick.com/environment-2/
There are over 200ha of poorly restored former quarried ground and, across this extensive area of grassland, the estate is creating a number of habitats. Some fields are lightly grazed by Longhorn cattle, but only in the winter: in summer these fields have many hundreds of nesting Skylarks. Other areas are left ungrazed and cut on a three-year cycle to provide habitat for voles to encourage Barn Owls.
Another feature of the estate is the naturally restoring quarry areas - see here. The cattle can often be found in those areas too.
This picture was taken further east, towards Gretton, where sheep graze the grassland.
There is access to the Bulwick estate by means of a network of permissive paths and farm tracks, as well as footpaths and bridleways with public rights of way
Near Lower Benefield
There is a large area of grazed grassland just north of Lower Benefield. Here cattle graze on open fields and the minor road leading to Glapthorne has gates and cattle grids.
Further east towards Oundle there is and area of parkland where cattle graze. This is part of the Watts-Russell Estate and the picture was taken from the Public Bridleway to the north of Biggin Hall
Both River Valleys have lush pasture land where stock are grazed. This picture shows the Welland near Tixover where the farmer has 4500 ewes. When the river is in flood they all need to be moved away from the flood meadows onto higher land nearby.
Ring Haw/Old Sulehay
The Wildlife Trust have a flock of Hebridean sheep which are used to manage the old quarries on their nature reserve at Old Sulehay near Wansford.
To the west of the reserve is a very large stretch of grassland where cattle graze. This is part of the Rockingham Forest Park where holiday lodges are being built at Jack's Green,
Grazing in the woods
Grazing in the woods themselves was widespread throughout the historic Rockingham Forest. Forestry England manage a large part of their Southwick Woods in this way with a flock of Highland Cattle. They seem to thrive in this habitat - as does the wood pasture itself.
Some of the cattle spent the first part of 2020 in Fineshade Wood as reported here.
Not grazing but rootling
It's not just cattle that can benefit woodland management. In the historic Rockingham Forest villagers were allowed to "pannage",
that is to release pigs into the woods so that they could feed on acorns, beechmast and other nuts. While rootling around around looking for nuts, the pigs also turned the soil and broke it, stopping the soil packing down and releasing nutrients for plant growth.
Until 2015 Fineshade residents were able to keep some Mangalitza pigs
in the wood. You can read more about their exploits here www.fineshade.org.uk/fineshade-pigs
As far as we know there are no pigs pannaging in Rockingham Forest now - but perhaps in the future....?
Pig photos by Shenagh Hackett
Use the boxes below to see other important landscapes and habitats in Rockingham Forest
Rockingham Forest Vision:
landscapes for the future, inspired by the past