Ashdown Forest

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Ashdown Forest is an ancient area of tranquil open heathland and woodland occupying the highest sandy ridge-top of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is situated some 30 miles (48 km) south of London in the county of East Sussex, England. Rising to an altitude of 223 metres (732 ft) above sea level, its heights provide expansive vistas across the heavily wooded hills of the Weald to the chalk escarpments of the North Downs and South Downs on the horizon.

Ashdown Forest's origins lie in Norman times as a royal forest set aside for deer-hunting. By 1283 the forest was fenced in by a 23 miles (37 km) pale enclosing a hunting park of some 20 square miles (5,200 ha). 34 gates and hatches in the pale, still remembered in place names, allowed local people to enter to graze their livestock, collect firewood and cut heather and bracken for animal bedding. The Forest continued to be used by the monarchy and nobility for hunting into Tudor times, including notably Henry VIII, who had a hunting lodge at Bolebroke Castle, Hartfield.

Ashdown Forest contains much evidence of prehistoric human activity, with the earliest evidence of human occupation dating back to 50,000 years ago. There are important Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman remains.

The forest was twice the centre of a nationally important iron industry, in Roman and Tudor times. One of England's first blast furnaces was built here in the 15th century.

In 1693 more than half the forest was taken into private hands, with the remainder set aside as common land. The latter today covers 9.5 square miles (2,500 ha) and is administered by a Board of Conservators; it is entirely open for public access (subject to various byelaws) and is the largest area of its kind in south-east England.

Ashdown Forest's ecological importance as a unique area of lowland heathland has been recognised by its designation by the UK government as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and by the European Union as a Special Protection Area for birds and a Special Area of Conservation for its heathland habitats, and by its membership of Natura 2000, which brings together Europe's most important and threatened wildlife areas.

Ashdown Forest is famous as the setting for the Winnie-the-Pooh stories written by A. A. Milne, who lived on the northern edge of the forest and took his son, Christopher Robin, walking here. The illustrator of the Pooh stories, EH Shepard, used the landscapes of Ashdown Forest as the backdrop for the drawings that he provided for Milne.

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