The 150 hectare estate is classed as an Ancient Semi Natural Woodland with evidence of the forest dating back to the Doomesday Book. Pre 20th Century the forest would have been a mixture of oak and ash woodland managed for deer hunting, firewood production and almost certainly some timber. In 1947 the estate was cleared of 90% of the trees in order to feed the desperate post-war shortage of timber and was replanted in the early 1950s with a mixture of Beech (fagus sylvetica) and Norway Spruce (picea abies) with some oak and remnant fragments of alder, willow and hazel. Beech was an important commercial species feeding the large volume UK furniture manufacturers of the time whilst Norway spruce is the leading structural and general use timber throughout Europe.
Today our management of the estate has a number of priorities. Most importantly we are the custodians of an ancient forest and have a responsibility to deliver Hooke Park to future generations in a robust and healthy state. We need to produce timber for our own architectural needs and to sell into the wider construction market, we have been using our timber to heat the campus from 2016 and we are strengthening the place of Hooke Park as an ecological resource and as a part of the Dorset landscape. The forest is certified as sustainably managed through the Forest Stewardship Council and our future plans are to becoming an increasingly diverse resource .
The forest is an increasingly diverse mixture of tree species and the beech & Norway spruce is complemented by western red cedar, Douglas fir, Corsican pine and of combined oak and spruce. In addition to the densely planted forest is a rich variety of woodland landscape, including recently felled clearings, hidden river valleys, an ancient willow coppice and a broadleaf groves of ash, hazel, alder and poplar. The forest can be explored digitally here and a network of paths and tracks radiate through the forest and are open throughout the year for visitors to walk through.
We are pleased that Hooke park has been certified as part of the Grown in Britain Scheme, supporting the use of locally grown materials in local architectural applications.
As the beech and Norway spruce reach maturity we are transforming Hooke Park’s forest to cope with the needs of future timber markets, future climate, future opportunities and threats. What we plant to replace harvested timber will have most impact in two generations time when the timber reaches maturity and between now and then we must ensure new planting survives a changing climate, new pests and diseases, environmental threats. Our new forest strategy is about diversity of the forest.
As we undertake harvesting of maturing crops we will replant with a mixture of conifer and broadleaf species that will provide a good mix of strong, durable and aesthetic timber to meet construction needs and will increase the ecological diversity of the forest. We will have a more diverse age structure in the forest that will give a steady annual flow of timber and will provide resilience against storms. In fifty year’s time Hooke Park will be a forest of diverse habitats producing a diverse range of timbers with a mixture of tree species that we know well as traditional forest species of the UK and of new more experimental species that we expect to cope well with a changing climate and have the potential to be valuable timber trees.