Wyre Forest becomes largest protected woodland in England after 900-hectare extension

ITV Central Reporter Rosie Dowsing hears from foresters, dog walkers and nature lovers about why they love Wyre Forest

An extension the size of 900 hectares means Wyre Forest in Bewdley has become the largest woodland National Nature Reserve in England. 

The status of National Nature Reserve, designated by Natural England, recognises the forest as a precious area brimming with wildlife and diverse landscapes.

The forest which straddles Worcestershire and Shropshire dates back to as early as the year 900.

Now, it has an equivalent size of 1,700 football pitches (1,455 hectares), thanks to an extension merging it with other surrounding woodland areas.

The additional land gives the Wyre Forest its new status as the largest protected woodland in the country.

At least 58% of all the known butterfly species in the country live in the forest, which is about 34 species.

The landscapes are diverse too - from heathlands and ant hills to orchards and oak woodlands.

This forest which straddles Worcestershire and Herefordshire now spans the size of 1700 football pitches. Credit: ITV News Central

Natural England's area manager for the West Midlands, Emma Johnson, said the Natural Nature Reserve status recognises Wyre Forest's huge impact.

She said: "It's a fantastic badge for sites that are rare and precious. In England there are about 200 National Nature Reserves, so they are of national significance.

"About a third of the wildlife species we've got, can be found in those Nature Reserves."

The huge forest - which has nature trails, running trails, Go Ape, and other activities such as mountain biking and horse riding - saw an increase in visitors during the pandemic.

Ms Johnson adds: "Lockdown was pretty horrible, and I think being in nature and being among some of these huge old trees, it kind of restores your soul.

"It makes you feel good."

"It was a life saver in lockdown" - Visitors talk about what the Wyre Forest means to them

The forest is maintained by Natural England in partnership with Forestry England and the two organisations work together to keep the trees in good health.

By constantly planting new ones, the forest is renewed when other trees are felled, and the good condition of the trees mean they store carbon and clean the air.

Richard Boles from Forestry England said: "There are benefits we have brought to all the wildlife, and as a result of all the work we have done here, it has now been recognised in the designation of a National Nature Reserve.

"I have been here for the best part of 20 years, so I suppose it is part of me."

"I love just coming up here and seeing the variety of habitats and seasons, and people enjoying themselves as well."

The focus on sustainability at Wyre Forest, and the status of National Nature Reserve, means the huge beauty spot should last for generations to come.