The team of five in the Forestry Department at Holkham are responsible for 827 hectares (2,044 acres) of woodland. Approximately 500 hectares (1,200 acres) of woodland is contained within Holkham park. A further 145hectares (360 acres) is within the Holkham National Nature Reserve (NNR) and the balance is dispersed across the estate.
The majority of the woodland on the NNR is coniferous and comprises predominantly Corsican Pine, Pinus nigra, stands of varying ages. The broadleaved woodlands are comprised of a mixture of species including native (pedunculate oak Quercus robur, beech Fagus sylvatica and ash Fraxinus excelsior) as well as exotic species (Sweet Chestnut Castanea sativa, sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus and Holm Oak Quercus ilex). The woodland is certified under the UK Woodland Assurance Standard (UKWAS) and the estate is able to manage it to sustainably support its biomass energy projects.
The forestry team carry out silvicultural practices on all the woods. This covers planting, plantation maintenance, pruning young trees, thinning, fencing work, ride management and felling mature trees. The thinning policy on the estate is to favour best hardwoods and softwoods wherever they occur and the management system chosen to preserve and enhance the historic landscape, and to provide multiple benefits to the estate, is guided by the principles of Continuous Cover Forestry (see ccfg.org.uk for more information).
The coastal pinewoods are within the boundary of the North Norfolk Special Protection Area, Site of Special Scientific Interest and the National Nature Reserve. They were originally planted as a coastal defence against dune erosion from the sea and, as such, are an important landscape feature within the designated coastal sites with important wildlife and cultural associations. Other woodlands have developed in the agricultural landscape surrounding the parkland in order to maintain the quality of the shooting and as shelter belts, thereby contributing to the characteristic north Norfolk landscape of open arable land interspersed with small linear woodlands.
Holkham Hall and park are recorded as Grade I in the ‘Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England’. Within the Park are a number of Champion Trees registered on the Tree Register of the British Isles. The work of successive generations of the Coke family, assisted by eminent landscape architects, has resulted in majestic avenues and formal clumps of Holm Oak, Sweet Chestnut, lime and Corsican Pines, adding a dramatic impact to the architectural grandeur of the hall and the monuments set within the park.
Over the course of 300 years the Earls of Leicester have created the present woodlands:
- Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester (by the 1st creation) and the builder of Holkham Hall, had many trees planted even before he could afford to start work on the house itself.
- Coke of Norfolk, 1st Earl of Leicester (by the 2nd creation) was renowned for his involvement in the Agricultural Revolution and had more than 2 million trees planted in clumps between 1781 and 1804. The layout and design of the woodland in Holkham park, as the visitor sees it now, is largely the creation of John Sandys, Holkham’s Head Gardener, in consultation with Coke of Norfolk.
- The 2nd Earl of Leicester reclaimed areas of marsh and planted the belt of Corsican Pines on the sand dunes of Holkham Beach in order to protect the land from the sea.
Holkham is particularly famous for its Holm Oaks which are Mediterranean in origin. It is believed that the trees were introduced to the estate thanks to the acorns which were used to pack the cases containing the 1st Earl’s collection of Roman and Greek statuary on its long journey from Italy. Each year Holkham supplies young Ilex branches to London Zoo for the giraffes to browse on.