Forest landscapes - grassland
There were large parts of the former Rockinham Forest where livestock grazed, particularly clustered around the settlements and close to the brooks and rivers. Even in the high forest there were areas of wood-pasture. There were also open areas that were used primarily for pasture, including enclosed "lawns" and unenclosed plains and greens.
A significant amount of grassland remains today - about a quarter of the RFV area, as the map shows. Some of this is intensively grazed with improved grassland, whereas in other places the grassland is unimproved with much lower levels of stocking density. Elsewhere again, grazing still takes place within areas of wood-pasture and, sometimes even as means to manage woodland. The pictures below show some contrasting types of grazed land that can be seen in Rockingham Forest today
Area south of King's Cliffe
The village of King's Cliffe nestles in the valley of the Willow Brook and there is a network of small fields which are still used mainly for pasture.
This picture looks across an area of 84 ha that has been in the Organic Higher Level Stewardship scheme since 2013.
Leading south from Morehay Lane in King's Cliffe there are three footpaths which pass through this historic patchwork of fields and which offer delightful walks.
The fields are lightly grazed and some are divided into paddocks where horses are kept.
Sheep-grazed areas at Fineshade
Around the Fineshade Abbey site there are several large fields used for grazing sheep. The Jurassic Way long-distance path crosses the fields leading walkers on and across the A43 towards Deene Park and Wakerley Great Woods.
At Fineshade Top Lodge, in front of the visitor centre, there is a meadow known to residents as the sheep field. The field has been the subject of several contentious unsuccessful planning applications to turn it into a static-caravan site. The meadows are now a Local Wildlife Site and will become a Local Green Space in the emerging Neighbourhood Plan.
One of the larger family-owned estates in the area of Rockingham Forest Vision is the Bulwick Estate. It stretches from Bulwick in the east as far as Gretton in the west, and right up to the River Welland in the north. The estate is justly proud of its environmental credentials and it is well worth reading the philosophy here: https://www.bulwick.com/conservation
There are over 200ha of poorly restored former quarried ground and, across this extensive area of grassland, the estate is creating a number of habitats. Some fields are lightly grazed by rare-breed cattle, particularly in the winter: in summer these fields have many hundreds of nesting Skylarks. Other areas are left ungrazed and cut on a three-year cycle to provide habitat for voles to encourage Barn Owls.
Another feature of the estate is the naturally restoring quarry areas. The cattle can often be found in those areas too.
This picture was taken further west, towards Gretton, where sheep graze the grassland.
There is access to the Bulwick estate by means of a network of permissive paths and farm tracks, as well as footpaths and bridleways with public rights of way.
Near Lower Benefield
There is a large area of grazed grassland just north of Lower Benefield. Here cattle graze on open fields and the minor road leading to Glapthorne has gates and cattle grids.
Further east towards Oundle there is an area of parkland where cattle graze. This is part of the Watts-Russell Estate and the picture was taken from the Public Bridleway to the north of Biggin Hall.
Both the Welland and the Nene River Valleys have lush pasture land where stock are grazed. This picture shows the Welland near Tixover where the farmer has 4500 ewes. When the river is in flood they all need to be moved away from the flood meadows onto higher land nearby.
Ring Haw/Old Sulehay
The Wildlife Trust have a flock of Hebridean sheep which are used to manage the old quarries on their nature reserve at Old Sulehay near Wansford.
To the west of the reserve is a very large stretch of grassland where cattle graze. This is part of the Rockingham Forest Park where holiday lodges have been built at Jack's Green,
Grazing in the woods
Not grazing but rootling
Grazing in the woods themselves was widespread through the historic forest. Forestry England manage a part of their Southwick Woods in this way with a flock of Highland Cattle. They seem to thrive in this habitat - as does the wood pasture itself. (Read the blog article here.)
It is not only cattle that can benefit woodland management. In the historic Rockingham Forest villagers were allowed to "pannage", that is to release pigs into the woods so that they could feed on acorns, beechmast and other nuts. While rootling around looking for nuts, the pigs also turned and broke the soil, stopping it from packing down and releasing nutrients for plant growth.
Until 2015 Fineshade residents were able to keep some Mangalitza pigs
in the wood. You can read more about their exploits here.
As far as we know there are no pigs pannaging in Rockingham Forest now - but perhaps in the future....?
Pig photos by Shenagh Hackett