Just like the ancient landscape itself, the management of the world-renowned Sherwood Forest Nature Reserve is constantly evolving.
The legend of Robin Hood means there will always be a steady flow of visitors from far and wide to the 450-acre country park situated within its boundaries.
Even so, the team who care for the reserve are constantly on the look-out for new ways to engage, educate and entertain adults and youngsters alike who have been inspired both by its natural beauty and the tales that have frequently graced our television screens.
And the innovative approach seems to be working, with Sherwood Forest recognised as the UK’s second best nature reserve in a poll of BBC Countryfile Magazine - an honour that has delighted those who work there.
Graeme Turner has been a Sherwood Forest ranger for almost a year and helps maintain the site on a day-to-day basis, managing the tree and heathland habitat as well as taking guided walks, ensuring health and safety policies are adhered to and keeping the site clean of litter.
He is passionate about protecting what is only a tiny area remaining of the original Sherwood Forest that once measured 24 miles long and eight miles wide, particularly as it boasts such a wide variety of habitats not, as is the common misconception, simply broadleaf trees.
He has quickly come to understand why it is so revered by people young and old, both locally and internationally and said: “Although from an international point of view it’s Robin Hood that is the most important factor in driving people here, more locally it a place that people love to come walking with their kids and it’s also a place that holds so much wildlife.
“It’s not just the big mammals like the deer, badgers and birds, but insects and plants as well. There are 200 species of spider and 500 type of beetles - it’s not all big and fluffy!
“We’ve had some parrot crossbills from Russia in the last few weeks too, and last week it was announced that the rare snow flea had been found in the Forest for the first time since records began.
“Walking up close to the big, ancient trees, it can put you in your place and it’s really beautiful to see the changing of the seasons.”
“We do our best to help people get maximum enjoyment and the fact that we have got this nomination shows we must be doing something right.
“People change, so we are aware we have to move with the times as well. Some of our ideas comes from customer feedback and others from what has worked well elsewhere, but we’re always willing to try new things.”
Of course, the Major Oak is the major attraction. The iconic tree dates back around 1,000 years although because the trunk is hollow, it is difficult to put a precise date on it.
Getting its name from pioneering archaeologist Major Haymen Rooke who live in Mansfield Woodhouse and picked it out as his favourite, the tree is the centre of several Robin Hood-based stories, most notably that he and his fellow outlaws hid from the Sheriff of Nottingham inside it.
In recent times the tree has been supported from beneath by a series of pylons to stop the huge weight of it splitting it apart. But, as is far more obvious in winter, that is nothing knew.
“It was the Victorians who first established Sherwood Forest and the Major Oak as a tourist attraction and with the Robin hood story becoming more and more famous and the trains links improving, there was a massive influx of people.
“That tourism has helped protect of the Forest. Without it, it may have been chopped down and cleared for farming.
We estimate ‘The Major’, as he’s known, is 1,100 to 1,400 years old,” added Graeme. “There have been supports in the branches since Victorian times, but you can’t really see them through the summer because of the leaf growth.
“It’s probably the spindly growth of the tree that has allowed it to grow so big. If it had been straighter, it would have probably been chopped down to use for wooden beams or something of that ilk.”
Among the events organised for the school February half term last week was Friar Tuck’s February Trail - a self-guided tour where answers to questions are found along the way - free bird nest box building workshops as part of National Nest Box week and the extracting of felled timber from the site by Nornay shire horses.
The latter demonstration was part of a 10-year project to help recreate the kind of wood pasture that used to be commonplace in Sherwood, much of which involves the clearing of younger birch and oak trees.
The scheme is designed to improve conditions for veteran oak trees - there are 900 in Sherwood - that are considered vitally important for invertebrate species.
Now carried out using modern machinery, the horses were brought in to show how the skilled craft was once performed.
Ted Wooddisse, forestry and land management officer for Nottinghamshire County Council, said: “We are six years into the project and it’s about making sure the light gets through in what is a much more open habitat.
“Although we don’t use horses now, because it would simply take too long, we held an active demonstration where the horses moved de-limbed tree lengths to the edge of the Forest where they were stacked.
“It’s was really well received and a big turnout - the kids can really relate to it and got to meet the horses up close.
“I think it’s really important that we can demonstrate how things have been done to keep the forest functioning - and how they still are today.”
Several others activities are planned in the months to come, with spoon carving and walking stick making just two of those on offer.
The 30th hosting of the popular Robin Hood Festival takes place in the August while the Woodland Festival follows in September - and all help Sherwood Forest Nature Reserve maintain its popularity.
Councillor John Knight, committee chairman for Culture at Nottinghamshire County Council, said: “We are delighted that Sherwood Forest was recognised in the Countryfile Magazine Awards 2013 and we would also like to extend our thanks to everyone who voted for us - it is a world famous forest and thoroughly deserves this recognition.”
“There are always a wide variety of free activities and events at our country parks, including Sherwood Forest, which offer many leisure ideas for children and their families and the recent visit of Shire Nornay horses agave an insight into the how the timber was once moved in the traditional manner, dating right back to the times of Robin Hood.”
To find out what is going on at Sherwood Forest nature Reserve in 2014, go to www.nottinghamshire.gov.uk/whatson
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