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Woolmer Forest, straddling the border between east Hampshire and West Sussexmarker in Englandmarker, is a royal forest in the Western Weald, that is both a Special Area of Conservation and a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Woolmermarker village lies within the confines of the forest, which covers 1293.9 ha (3197.4 acres).

The Forest was traditionally managed, like other royal hunting forest, as "wood pasture" in which deer and commoners' stock were permitted to graze; hence, not entirely forested, it consists of both dry and humid lowland heath, the largest such expanse in Hampshire aside from the New Forestmarker. The heathland habitat on sandy soil is the only site in Englandmarker that supports all twelve known native species of reptile and amphibian.

Character

Woolmer Forest straddles two upland watersheds, that of the River Weymarker and that of the River Rother. In its sandy soil, streams have cut wide valleys into the gently undulating terrain. On upland sites, dry heath predominates, characterzed by heather Calluna vulgaris and bell heather Erica cinerea. The driest sandy patches support some well-adapted (xeric) uncommon plants. Humid heath, which requires less free-draining subsoils, is characterized by cross-leaved heath Erica tetralix and purple moor-grass Molinia caerulea, which are joined in the wettest valley bottoms by sphagnum moss and carnivorous sundews. These moisture-retaining habitats grade into complex acidic boggy wetlands of hummocks and pools, locally called "mires". Here are the largest populations in England of the trailing bog cranberry Vaccinium oxycoccus.

Centuries of forest management have shaped the surrounding belts of woodland, composed notably of beech Fagus sylvatica and pedunculate oak Quercus robur. Repeated pollarding has shaped the growth patterns of centuries-old trees. The discontinuous canopy favors a diverse understory, dominated by holly Ilex aquifolium, whitebeam Sorbus aria and rowan S. aucuparia with birches.

The absence of chemicals in the environment is one aspect that has encouraged an unusual diversity of insects and other invertebrates.

History

Deforestation during the local Bronze Age stripped the natural woodland that had replaced tundra following the retreat of glaciation, and on this light soil the forest cover was replaced with heath. With the settled Roman occupation, the Roman road that was constructed between Chichestermarker and Silchestermarker passed through Woolmer. Traces of Roman villas have been discovered at Blackmoormarker, Kingsleymarker and Lissmarker, though ordinary people continued to live in roundhouses. Kilns for a pottery industry that apparently supplied Londinium with its cookware must have continued the deforestation to fire the kilns. An extraordinary find, the Blackmoor hoard, consisted of 29,773 coins whose minting dated the hoard to ca 296 CE; in a battle in that year the troops under Emperor Constantius Chlorus defeated the army of the usurper Allectus to retake control of Britain. The hoard may have been the paychest for Allectus's troops secreted and inadvertently abandoned after their defeat.

Following the Roman withdrawal and the collapse of Romano-British culture, the first mention of the present toponym, as Wulfamere, the "wolves' pool", is a token either of reforestation of the landscape or a translation of a previous pre-Roman name.

In the eighteenth century Woolmer often appears in Gilbert White's The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne (1789), as it was included with Selborne parish.

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