Abbot’s Wood is part of an ancient woodland that once stretched across the whole of south-east England to west Hampshire.
In addition to its natural beauty and important wildlife habitat, it offers visitors way marked forest trails, an adventure play area, barbecues and picnic sites. There is also a network of bridle paths for keen horseriders.
Abbot’s Wood is home to nightingales, dormice, deer, pheasants and squirrels. In the spring the bluebells, primroses and wood anenomies provide a beautiful splash of colour to the woodland walks.
Ditches and banks within the trees give clues to ancient times. A mixture of tree species can be found, each with a different use. Recent conifer plantations are harvested for timber needed in paper and chipboard manufacture.
Coppicing hazel and hornbeam for firewood enables rarer species like dormice and pearl bordered fritillaries to live in the wood.
For visitor information, Discovery Passes, Horse Riding Permits, Walking Trails and Bookable Barbecues, please go to: www.forestry.gov.uk/abbotswood
The wood was once part of the great Saxon forest of Andredesweald, which stretched across the whole of the south-east of England as far west as Hampshire. The woods were also known as Lindhersse at the time of Henry I, who presented them to Battle Abbey. The Abbot oversaw them, hence the present name. This lasted until the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII. Evidence of monastic care can be seen in the 13th century embankments and ditches, while the lake is one of three ponds believed to have been built in this period to produce fish. (The other two are Upper and Lower Fishponds at Primrose Farm). It fell into disrepair after the Dissolution, but was finally restored by the Commission in 1964.
James Eglington Anderson Gwynne settled at Folkington in Sussex in 1876, purchasing land and property in considerable quantity, including Abbots Wood, Michelham Priory and farm land.
TheGwynnes of Folkington Manor owned the land for a considerable time. Squire Gwynne, who would ride on horseback through the wood, was remembered by locals as a very unpleasant character, particularly with trespassers. He is said to have tipped up a basket of blackberries collected by children.
There are references in the Parish Council Records to effect that Squire Gwynne would remove bridges and was ‘required’ to reinstate them.
War and storms
Before WW2, the whole forest was standing oak trees with coppice growing under them. The forest was completely cleared of trees and coppice over a period of two years. The first two dozen or so were cut down with a cumbersome 2-man chain saw, but when the saw broke, no one could fix it as it was German made. Nearly 1000 acres were cleared using a cross-cut two-man saw and axes.
It is understood that all this wood was taken to Shoreham, where it was rolled into tin smelting furnaces. All the branches and the coppice were cut up with axes and burnt in square steel moveable kilns for munitions factories.
Once the wood was cleared, what remained showed up small boundary banks marking the fields (and probably the lake banks) as used, presumably, by the monks at Michelham Priory, before it was planted with oaks and allowed to grow into forest naturally.
With the forest cleared, one could stand where the car park now is and see right the way to the gasometers by Common Pond in Hailsham. The cleared forest allowed the return of bright yellow broom and foxgloves. Conditions were also right for migrating nightjars who stayed and nested.
Thousands of soldiers camped here to prepare for the D-Day landings in Normandy. Huts and an emergency aircraft landing strip were constructed.
The land was bought by the Forestry Commission in 1953 and eventually established as a public recreation area with nature trails, car parks and picnic facilities.
The wood suffered enormous damage in the Great Storm of 16th October 1987. The recent Storm Katie has taken its toll as well, felling numerous pine trees, as Abbots Wood continues to evolve and change.