History of the park and woodland
Haigh Woodland Park and its impressive grounds and woodland has a rich history.
The origins of Haigh and the owner of the original manor is not known. The earliest recorded date of title is 1295 when William de Bradshaigh married Mabel le Norreys, the natural heir to the estates of Haigh and Blackrod.
The first hall was probably Norman, and a relic of this was enlarged in the 16th and 17th centuries with an Elizabethan south facade. A descendant of William, Roger Bradshaigh, lived at the Hall in the 1600s. He was MP for Haigh and made a baronet in 1679. The Bradshaigh line died out in 1787 and title passed to Alexander Lindsay, 6th Earl of Balcarres after marrying Elizabeth Dalrymple who had inherited the estate from her maternal family, the Bradshaighs.
The present Hall was built between 1827 and 1840 using stone from Parbold, wood from Jamaica (the Earl’s own plantations) and furniture from France. The Hall was designed and planned by the 24th Earl of Crawford.
Cannel coal mining, first introduced to the estate in 16th Century, continued, as did iron production (the Laxey Wheel on the Isle of Man was cast here). The plantations were laid out in the 1860s to hide the condition of the landscape after being damaged by the mining activity. This provided work for Wiganers made unemployed by the cotton famine caused by the American Civil War.
In 1945 the Hall and Plantations were purchased by Wigan Council, known as the Wigan Corporation at the time, and opened to public access in 1947.
Between 1975 and 1988 the woodlands were managed under a Forestry Commission Dedication Scheme that provided a woodland management and planting grant. The main aim of this work was to regenerate areas of woodland where little natural regeneration was taking place largely due to rhododendron colonisation.
During this period around 24 acres of planting were completed, large areas of rhododendron removed and areas thinned. Between 2012 and 2015, a programme of rhododendron removal was undertaken using a Woodland Improvement Grant fund to support the work. A total of 26ha of rhododendron was removed during this time.
Why are the woodlands important?
The history of our native woodland in the UK begins after the last Ice Age about 12000 years ago. After the ice sheets retracted, trees slowly started recolonising the land.
Today, only around two per cent of the UK has woodland that has existed since at least the Middle Ages. This is ancient woodland and we are very proud to have some of our Haigh Woodland Park on the Ancient Woodland Register.
Ancient woodland is one of our richest wildlife habitats. They provide a very special habitat for many rare and vulnerable species and, as their name suggests, if we lose them they are irreplaceable. This doesn't mean that the woodland that surrounds our ancient woodland, the majority of which was planted during the 1860s, is without value.
There is great diversity to our woodland structure and type - one of the most important is our wet woodland, which supports a wide variety of wildlife and areas of younger woodland provide habitat for wildlife as they grow and develop. The trees outside our woodland in fields, hedgerows, gardens and even in urban areas make it easier for wildlife to move and adapt in response to change.
These trees also help to connect important neighbouring woodland habitats such as Borsdane Wood Local Nature Reserve (external link) and several recently planted Woodland Trust sites.
Flora and fauna
The extensive plantations consist primarily of beech trees with a proportion of oak, horse chestnut, sycamore, ash and lime and Scots pine. As you walk along the forty miles of paths, you will find a variety of woodland plants such as wood anemone and lesser celandine, and fungi including fly agaric and puff balls.
The woodland provides an ideal habitat for species of birds, mammals, amphibians and insects. Listen out for lesser spotted and greater spotted woodpeckers, and in spring the cuckoo. If you're lucky you may even see a glimpse of roe deer or fox cubs.