Parks like Chillingham are key habitats in the UK. This is for two reasons – firstly, it is here that concentrations of ancient trees tend to be found and secondly, because as a habitat type it is vanishingly scarce worldwide.
Many parks are also artistic creations – harmonious and beautiful landscapes designed by globally significant artists such as Capability Brown. These designs used ancient trees as key features and herds of fallow deer gave romantic life to the scene.
Chillingham Park is a designed landscape. Before 1750 the cattle park was a typical deer park, with paddocks surrounding the ‘Great Wood of Chillingham.’ The wood was then felled along with almost all the other trees in Chillingham, except a few mainly near the Castle, and this gave the cattle and fallow deer more space. But before long the park was overstocked, with 48 cattle and 150 deer.
In the late 1700s the estate steward, John Bailey, swept away the clutter of ditches, walls, hedges and the stumps of the Great Wood, replacing it all with broad sweeps of pasture broken up by newly planted oak and beech woods on the sloping ground. He left the ash and alder trees on the wetter ground to regrow from the stumps. A few of the ancient trees marking the pre-1750 boundaries survived – and continue to do so. So today at Chillingham there are ash and alder trees which trace back for several hundred years even before 1750, oaks and beeches planted in Bailey’s time, Victorian conifers particularly around the Castle, and 20th century pine plantations round the edge of the park.
In our own time, the small woods planted by Bailey have been restocked, while commercial pines are being replaced by heather, juniper, oak and beech, and much work is going into regeneration of ash, alder and other trees.