Woodland history

How old is Buckenham Ancient Woodland?

Buckenham Wood is designated as Ancient Woodland because it’s been here since at least 1600. 

In fact, the wood is the  remnant of a much larger area of prehistoric woodland which was used by local people as a source of fuel, building materials, and food for livestock over many centuries. The old parish boundaries of Strumpshaw, Lingwood, Buckenham, Hassingham and Burlingham St Edmund all extended into the wood, to make sure villagers had access to these precious resources.

Over time, human activity in the wood changed its character. Large areas were cleared for growing crops, or became heathland as increasing numbers of livestock grazed off new saplings and prevented tree regeneration. Faden’s Map of 1797 shows large areas of heathland in the parishes surrounding Buckenham Wood. 

The wood we know today survived because it was enclosed with an earth bank on the orders of the lord of the manor, probably in the centuries after the Norman conquest of 1066. The remains of this ancient bank can still be seen running along the northern boundary of the wood, next to the main footpath.

Faden’s Map 1797. The wood is in the centre, shown in green.
Heath and common land are shown in yellow.
Credit: http://www.fadensmapofnorfolk.co.uk  2005 - 2023 redrawn by Andrew Macnair.

How did people use the wood in the past?

Before the wood was enclosed, it was probably managed as wood-pasture. Grass and shrubs were allowed to seed under the trees but were prevented from becoming over-grown by the livestock that grazed there, including pigs, cattle, horses, goats, and sheep. This created an open wooded landscape. 

After the wood was enclosed, it was managed by coppicing. This is a traditional method in which trees are regularly cut down to their base to provide a source of firewood and building materials, and to stimulate new growth. Woods are divided into sections and cut in rotation, about every 5-10 years. 

Native trees suitable for coppicing include ash, field maple, and hazel. In Buckenham Wood you can still see ancient hornbeam coppices. This very hard wood was used to make the teeth on large wooden cogs in windmills, as well as piano keys. Oak was left to grow into full-sized trees and then selected and felled when it was the desirable size for use in building. 

From the beginning of the 20th century, sand and gravel were dug out of the wood,  forming the big pit in the eastern end. This was dug by hand with picks and shovels. Later in the century, further pits were dug in the middle portion creating the dells you can see today. The gravel was used for road making. 

Between the wars, Mrs Patterson, who lived in one half of what is now 'Squirrel View', employed a dozen or more young women to make Norfolk rush matting, which was supplied to Heals of London. Some of her employees travelled daily across the river on the Buckenham Ferry with their bikes. The wooden hut which housed the rush matting business was taken over during the Second World War by soldiers who ran the search light unit on Strumpshaw Hill - which later became Strumpshaw tip. 

The OS 1st edition map (1879-1886) shows Sunny Cottage, built in 1840, and The Loke running north from Wood Lane, as it does now. The footpath along the north boundary is also shown. In the 1880s, the only gravel pit was at the far west end of the wood by Mill Hill crossroads. Ten acres of woodland can be seen planted on the south side of Wood Lane.
Credit: http://www.historic-maps.norfolk.gov.uk/mapexplorer/

Who owned Buckenham Wood in the past?

For many centuries the wood was under the control of the lord of the manor, although local villagers would have had some rights of access to collect wood for fuel and to graze animals before the area was enclosed. 

By the 19th century, the wood was part of the Langley Estate, which spanned both sides of the river. In the mid-1970s the Estate sold the wood. Under new private ownership the western part was planted with beech, oak, and conifers and, after the 1987 storm, the central section was replanted with oak. 

Today Strumpshaw Parish Council owns the eastern portion, acquired in 2000 with a grant from Broadland District Council. The west end remains in private ownership. 

The Buckenham Ancient Woodland Trust are currently fundraising to purchase the central section.