At 4,500 acres, Savernake Forest is the largest, indeed the only, privately owned ancient forest in Britain. At one point the forest was 40,000 acres - ten times its current size. The current custodian is the Earl of Cardigan; the forest having passed down through 31 generations. It is an ancient woodland, referred to in a Saxon charter of AD934 as "Safernoc", and a large proportion of it is leased to the Forestry Commission.
During WWII a contingent of the US Army used the forest as a base for D-day preparations. The officers were based at the then family home of Tottenham House. The forest itself was used extensively for munitions storage and some traces of the buildings used survive here and there. Through the forest runs the Grand Avenue: at just under 4 miles it is the longest tree-lined avenue in the country.
There is a wide variety of wildlife to be found: Roe, Fallow and Red Deer and increasing numbers of Muntjac Deer; many species of butterfly, including the nationally rare Purple Emperor; dragonflies such as Common and Ruddy Darters; and various other insect species. The area is of particular interest as well due to the many species of fungus and lichen present. Trees of many kinds, including Oak, Beech and Hazel are obviously in abundance, and, at over 1,000 years old, the famous "Big Belly Oak" is known to all who travel along the Marlborough to Burbage road. As well as this there are several other named Oak trees throughout the forest, such as the "Saddle Oak", "Amity Oak" and the appropriately named "King of Limbs".
All the usual woodland birds are in evidence at Savernake, along with rarer birds such as Hawfinch, Firecrest, Crossbill, Nightjar and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. The ever declining Willow Tit maintains a presence in the wood as well. As is normal with all scarce birds, patience and perseverance are often the only way of securing a sighting.
There are miles of tracks throughout the main and adjoining woodlands, and probably the best way to explore is simply to start walking and see where it takes you: Eight Walks, in the centre of the forest, would make a good starting point. With a map in hand, you should be able to find your way around fairly easily. As with many woodland areas, the route underfoot can be rough and muddy in parts, so good boots are recommended.
Access to the forest is permitted by the owners; please note, however, that there are no public footpaths or vehicular rights of way.