The Forest of Dean.





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Forestry & the Forestry Commission

Historical Background

Napoleonic Oaks
The Forest of Dean, in SW England, is Britain's premier oak forest. The Dean has been important to man for' millennia - its trees, principally sessile oak (Q.petraea), supplied charcoal to smelt the iron already being exploited there over 2000 years ago.

The Dean acquired its status as a Royal Forest when it was designated as a hunting forest following the Norman conquest in the 11th Century. Timber felling for charcoal production continued and armour for the Crusades was crafted from Dean iron. In addition, large oaks were in demand for building cathedrals, castles and large houses.

But it was the supply of timber for building wooden fighting ships that brought the Forest its reputation. These demands, coupled with grazing by stock, caused the Forest to be severely depleted by the early 17th Century. Steps were then taken to improve regeneration of the trees, including the appointment of the first Deputy-Surveyor in 1633, but the industrial revolution and increasing demand for ship building timber impeded progress. It is estimated that each mid-18th Century warship required 3700 trees (i.e. the felling of ca 32 hectares) for its construction.

During the Napoleonic wars between Britain and France, Admiral Lord Nelson visited the area in 1802 and expressed his concern about future supplies of timber for ships. By that time, the Forest was similar to its present size of 10,700 hectares. In the following decades major steps were taken to replant areas, predominantly with pedunculate oak (Q.robur), and to protect these plantations from unauthorised grazing.

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