Wyre Forest


Wyre Forest

Wyre Forest is a large, semi-natural woodland and forest which straddles the borders of Worcestershire and Shropshire, England.

Wyre Forest district takes its name from this forest, despite the fact that much of this woodland does not lie within the district's boundaries, but rather in Shropshire.

Natural History

The forest covers an area of 2,634 hectares (6,509 acres), and is noted for its variety of wildlife. Although now the Wyre Forest has been much deforested, it still extends from east of the A442 at Shatterford, north of Kidderminster in the east, almost to Cleobury Mortimer in the west and from Upper Arley in the north to Areley Kings, near Stourport in the south. It is one of the largest remaining ancient woodlands in Britain. The Forestry Commission looks after around half of today's forest. Around two thirds of the forest has been designated as SSSI, while a further fifth is listed as a National Nature Reserve. The Dowles Brook flows through the heart of the forest, and the A456 road also runs through the southern edge of the woodland.

It is one of the largest areas of semi-natural woodland in the UK. Wildlife species to be found in the forest include Hawfinch, Fallow Deer, Dipper, Common Crossbill, Pied Flycatcher, Redstart, and Long-eared Owl among many other woodland birds and plants.

History

This historic extent of the Wyre Forest is debatable. Leaflets distributed in recent times have included Eymore Wood, in Kidderminster Foreign on the opposite bank of the River Severn, but that was merely a tract of woodland belonging to the Worcester Cathedral. Another view is that once it stretched from Worcester to Bridgnorth but the west bank, but that is almost certainly too great. Strictly Wyre Forest was not a forest at all, but a chase of the Mortimer family, who had the title Earl of March from 1328. It belonged to their manor and liberty of Cleobury Mortimer. Legally, only the crown can have a forest, a subject could only have chases.

How far north the Mortimer family's hunting rights extended is debatable, but it may have included the whole area in south east Shropshire of which they were overlords at the time of Domesday Book. While they may have had hunting rights there, much of the woodland in fact belonged to other manors, such as Upper Arley and Kinlet. A large tract of woodland on the north side of the Dowles Brook was Kingswood, a detached township of the parish of Stottesdon. The town of Bewdley, a Mortimer foundation, may have been cut out of the forest. Far Forest was until recent times part of the borough of Bewdley, though separated from the rest of it by New Parks, which were in Rock parish. Most rights to land in the forest belonged to these medieval manors.

The rights of the Mortimer family passed to the crown as a result of the accession of Edward IV, who was (amongst other things) previously Earl of March to the crown. Its description as 'forest' probably dates from that period.

The extent of woodland two to three centuries ago was probably similar to that today. The manor of Cleobury Mortimer was alienated in the 16th century, leaving the crown only with the manor of Bewdley and Far Forest. Historical references to the Wyre Forest in this period seem to relate to this rather smaller area owned by the crown. In fact the crown's involvement was slight as its rights were leased to local gentlemen. One series of leases related to the manor of Bewdley, but another concerned something called the 'Wyre Forest'. This may have related to Far Forest, but that is not clear.

In the 17th century and 18th century, the forest was intensively managed as coppice to provide cordwood for the production of charcoal. The charcoal was used to fuel iron forges at Cleobury Mortimer, and at Wilden and elsewhere in the Stour valley. These supplied iron from manufacture into finished iron goods mainly in the Black Country. Charcoal burning continued into the 20th century.

A branch off the Severn Valley Railway known as the "Tenbury Line" once ran through the Wyre Forest. It broke off the main line north of Bewdley and crossed the River Severn at Dowles Bridge, the piers of which still remain. The main track has long been dismantled but survives in the form of a well known walking route through the forest on the level trackbed.

External links

* [http://www.forestry.gov.uk/website/wildwoods.nsf/LUWebDocsByKey/EnglandWorcestershireNoForestWyreForest Wild Woods at Wyre Forest]
* [http://www.wyreforest.net/ Wyre Forest Visitor Centre]
* [http://www.multimap.com/map/photo.cgi?client=public&X=375000&Y=275000&width=700&height=400&gride=375499.999999475&gridn=275499.89462663&srec=0&coordsys=gb&db=grid&pc=&zm=0&scale=100000&multimap.x=317&multimap.y=118 Aerial Photo]
* [http://www.geograph.org.uk/search.php?i=3098896 www.geograph.co.uk : photos in and around the Wyre Forest today]

Further reading

Norman E. Hickin, "The Natural History of an English Forest: The Wild Life of Wyre" (Hutchinson, London 1971).


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