‘Look closely at nature. Every species is a masterpiece, exquisitely adapted to the particular environment in which it has survived.’ – E.O Wilson
In 1330, Haddon’s Medieval Park was essentially enclosed to be a deer park for the enjoyment of hunting. But, a secondary, equally important benefit and consideration to its ‘emparkment’ was that the land could become a formal open woodland pasture which would provide the household and owner with essential firewood for cooking and heating, and timber for building.
A woodland pasture, or wood pasture, is land that is managed through grazing and the trees within it, managed for the production of wood. In Medieval times, the foresters would have garnered the timber from the trees, using a system called pollarding which involves the removal of the upper branches and boughs. Surprisingly, this does not damage the tree but instead rejuvenates it and the process can be repeated on a decade cycle. It is a system that is still used today and is why so many ancient trees in age-old parks have survived.
Sadly, Haddon’s Medieval Park does not have many truly ancient trees within it, with the majority being not much older than 300 years, but the trees within it have a continuous history and represent a continuity of habitat.
Luckily, the park’s landscape has retained the character of its Medieval past and it is now a good example of a working, open woodland pasture. The trees, all native, are widely spaced, providing shade and food for the Longhorns that graze lazily below and there are large patches of shrubs, particularly Hawthorn, and more closed spaced trees.
Open woodland pastures are a valuable element of England’s natural and historic environment and are classed as a priority habitat. The combination of veteran trees, open grassland, shrubs, grazing animals, fallen and regenerative trees, all create a specific and important ecosystem.
Haddon’s Medieval Park has a particular strength because of its ancient history which has allowed a continuity of habitat for the species and trees that have long lived within it. As the estate has always believed in allowing fallen wood to be left undisturbed by its tree, this has ensured the survival of a wide range of specialised fungi, invertebrates and lichen only found in ancient open woodland pastures.