FOREST & PARKLAND
A BRIEF HISTORY
Stansted Forest today is a remnant of the most westerly part of the ancient forest of Arundel and a hunting lodge was probably built for Roger de Montgomery, first Earl of Arundel during the 11th Century. In 1181 the first recorded dwellings on the site of the present chapel were built for Henry II. The buildings were restored in 1480 by the 12th Earl of Arundel but these castellated structures were largely destroyed by the Parliamentary General, Sir William Waller in 1644 during the Civil War. In 1686 Richard Lumley built the first house on the present site, employing architect William Talman, who is understood to have designed Uppark in the same year.
In 1781 the estate was sold to Richard Barwell who summoned Capability Brown to redesign the park and gardens. The estate changed ownership several more times including a period of ownership by the eccentric Lewis Way before fire destroyed the house in 1900. The house was rebuilt in 1903 and in 1924 the estate was bought by Vere, 9th Earl of Bessborough. In 1983 the 10th Earl of Bessborough set up the Stansted Park Foundation to which the estate was gifted with its remit of the preservation of the estate for the benefit of the Nation. He lived as a tenant of the charitable trust until he died in 1993.
THE WOODLANDS IN GENERAL
The woodlands on the estate now total 476.27hectares (1176.86acres) split into two major blocks with smaller woods scattered around the park and the 33.70ha (83.27ac) of Lordington Copse which is separated from the main part of the estate. The forest is managed under a long term management plan approved by the Forestry Commission which ensures work is sympathetic with the landscape and environment alongside timber production.
Heavy frost on Japanese larch
The parkland is managed under Natural England’s Higher Level Stewardship Scheme. Virtually all of the woodland is within the Historic Parks boundary and is part of the designed landscape.
Mixed broadleaved woodland in winter
There is an approximate three way split between conifer, broadleaf and coppice woodland, the last type including 109.26ha (269.98ac) of sweet chestnut coppice. The woodlands are very varied, often within individual compartments and this is being further enhanced with some early experiments at converting suitable areas to Continuous Cover Forestry where group or single tree felling is preferred to major clear-cutting and re-stocking is mostly achieved using natural seeding with some additional planting of desired species. The main broadleaved species are pedunculate oak, beech, sweet chestnut, ash, sycamore and birch with smaller numbers of field maple, whitebeam, rowan, aspen, and cherry. The main conifer species are Douglas fir, Japanese larch and Scots pine with smaller volumes of Norway spruce, western red cedar and Corsican pine. Large yews are scattered throughout the majority of the woods and especially along the escarpment. Over 80% of timber used in this country is imported and the UK is second in the world after China for timber and wood product importation. It is essential that we continue to plant productive species and when used in conjunction with wide rides and glades, broadleaved edges and multiple species planting create not only productive but beautiful landscapes rich in wildlife.
Old oaks retained amongst productive conifer plantations
PERSONNEL AND PRODUCTION
The Woods Department staff comprise of a working Head Forester, one full time Forester and contractors as necessary. A full range of woodland products are marketed. Quality hardwood and softwood saw-logs are sold to commercial sawmills with a proportion converted to sawn products through the estate’s own mill. A full range of cleft and round chestnut products are produced, predominantly cleft fencing stakes and rails. Stansted House and its ancillary buildings are now heated with a state of the art bio-fuel system burning woodchip produced from the estate’s woodlands creating a truly sustainable green energy system.
High quality Douglas fir timber mixed with beech
The woodlands are rich in wildlife and with a wealth of veteran trees scattered throughout, deadwood habitat is a major feature and supports many specialist insects such as the tanner beetle and a host of fungi which includes several red data book species one of which, Phylotopsis nidulans is only found in a few other sites nationally.
Cavities and dead-wood habitats in an old beech
Plant-life is diverse and abundant with six species of orchid that occur in the woodlands out of twelve found across the estate. Moths and butterflies are well represented with the scarce mervielle du jour and purple emperor being notable species. Nightjars breed when suitable, large open areas are created by coppicing or felling, there is a breeding population of woodlark and hobby has bred in recent years.
Wind-snapped beech retained as a habitat
Fallow and roe deer are present in varying numbers across the estate and surrounding countryside and muntjac are being recorded more regularly. Culling of deer on the estate is carried out to seek a balance between a healthy deer herd and the minimum amount of damage to the wildlife habitats, trees and agricultural crops.
Due to the varied woodland with many large seeded, broadleaves the habitat is ideal for grey squirrels and the population can be high in favourable years with associated damage to vulnerable tree species such as oak, beech and maples. Squirrel numbers are controlled on an on-going basis to prevent the destruction of young trees by bark stripping and their effect on woodland birds by the taking of eggs and chicks.
Permitted access to the tracks and paths throughout a large proportion of the forest have been formalised for over twenty years and total approximately twenty miles in length. The forest is popular with local people and a destination for those from further afield for walking, jogging, exercising dogs and wildlife study. It has been estimated that some 100,000 visits are made to the forest per annum, many individuals visiting daily.
Educating and informing the visiting public about sustainable woodland management is very important to the Foundation and encapsulated information notices used regularly around the estate to explain the reasons behind management operations and pass on facts about interesting trees and wildlife. It is gratifying to see so many people enjoying the forest and its many benefits. Unfortunately, unmanaged dogs are an ongoing problem, disturbing ground nesting birds and causing problems for the deer of the forest. Please note that there are areas where access is not permitted for varying management reasons; please respect these areas, which are signposted.
Regulars enjoying an early morning stroll
Early works on landscaping the park began in the early 1680’s by Lord Scarbrough when it appears the Main Avenue was cut. The Shooting Ride and south-west vista were executed in the 1720’s to complete the Patte d’oie or Goosefoot, a major landscape feature centred on the mansion.
A glimpse of Stansted House from one of the landscape vistas
Further major landscaping was carried out by Lord Halifax between 1766 and 1777. The double rows of trees of the Main Avenue are known to have extended up to the house in 1781. At this time Capability Brown was commissioned to remodel the park, gardens and house and visited with his surveyor Spyers. These trees were removed by 1785 and this is the sort of remodelling that Brown would have suggested. Brown died soon after and it is not known if all of his recommendations were executed. Further major works were completed between 1804 and 1820 under the ownership of Lewis Way, when the main Avenue was replanted along with much of the forest and parkland. In recent times Dutch elm disease and changes in agricultural practices have eroded the designed landscape and the storms of 1987 and 1990 added to this decline. Early restoration work involved returning the arable land in front of the mansion to grass parkland under the ESA scheme in 1995.
The first parkland survey was undertaken by Chris Blandford Associates in 1997 and this informed a ten years Historic Parks Restoration Plan and entry into the Countryside Stewardship Scheme. In 2006 a resurvey of the parkland was carried out by ACTA leading to a successful entry into the Higher Level Scheme. Work has centred on the restoration or recreation of desired features such as the replanting and re-alignment of the avenues, the re-setting of Stansted House back in a grass park and biodiversity work for species such as dormouse, farmland birds and the barn owl, of which several pairs now breed regularly.
SWEET CHESTNUT COPPICE PRODUCTS
Stansted Park Estate cuts 8 -10 acres of coppice annually to sustain the ancient coppice system. The installation of a bio-fuel heating system for the mansion and ancillary buildings, using wood chips as a renewable fuel, has kick-started this process. This truly sustainable product can be used split or in the round for many garden applications such as pergolas and fruit frames. For an enclosed stove it makes an excellent source of fuel.
To buy Stansted Forest chestnut products please contact the Head Forester on 023 92 41 2265.
PLANT A TREE
Stansted Park Forestry Team are currently undertaking the enormous task of replanting thousands of trees lost to Ash Dieback disease. If you would like to help restore the forest to it's former state please visit our Tree Fund Project page here: Tree Fund Project