Hunting Landscapes

Medieval manuscript The modern perception of Medieval hunting forests is of great swathes of trees, however from a Medieval perspective both the terms 'Forest' and 'Chase' meant hunting grounds.

Within the AONB there were three areas recognised as Medieval Hunting Forests - Selwood Forest in the northwest, Grovely in the northeast and Badbury in the far southeast. There is also one large hunting chase, the Cranborne Chase, a geographical name still in modern usage. These 'hunting rights' have had a lasting impact on the character of the landscape seen today.

Forests and chases in the AONB

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The landscape has also been affected by the history of ownership over Chase rights. This was in Crown hands in the Medieval period, but was transferred to the nobility in the Post Medieval period. This period saw five main families vie to control these rights. The changing political fortunes of these families can be read not only in the way the landscape was managed but in the grand houses and parks these families constructed.

The inner Chase bounds centred on Tollard Royal, form an area in which these restrictions were most rigorously enforced and were split into a series of five walks. Outside of this main area both Chettered Walk and Alderholt Walk were also important foci within the overall Chase bounds. These walks coincide with surviving areas of ancient semi-natural woodland and lodges.

Post disenfranchisement fox hunting became the focus of hunting activity in the 19th century. This legacy is still visible in the landscape through place name evidence, the places where coverts were created and the location of kennels.

Today the hunting legacy continues but the emphasis is on the shooting of peasants and partridge. This activity plays a major part in the rural economy and has had a landscape scale impact with the planting of game cover crops, the creation of game farms and the retention of management of woodland for game.

More information on the hunting landscapes of the AONB can be accessed by clicking here: Theme 5: Hunting Landscapes.

This document forms part of the wider AONB Historic Environment Action Plans.