Howe Park is probably the woodland mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086. Parts of it may be rare surviving fragments of the 'wildwood' that covered the whole of lowland Britain after the last ice Age, 6-11,000 years ago.
In medieval times Howe Park would have been a vital local source of wood for the villagers of nearby Tattenhoe.
When Milton Keynes Development Corporation bought the wood in 1968 it was a dark, wet impenetrable thicket. The shady conditions prevented the growth of woodland flowers and therefore insects, and birds and other wildlife which depend on them. Active management of the wood has transformed that picture and these days Howe Park Wood is one of the city’s jewels, a tranquil oasis, humming with wildlife and colour.
We completed our new environmental education and visitor centre at Howe Park Wood in December 2014. Read more about it here.
If you are around at dusk or early morning you may be lucky enough to see a badger or fox, or hear the strange barking of a muntjac deer. Don' forget to glance upwards to catch sight of the bats hunting for insects along the open rides.
There is an impressive list of breeding birds in the wood. Look out for the green woodpecker, greater spotted woodpecker, tree creeper, willow tit, willow warbler and the sparrowhawk and tawny owl. Come out early on a spring morning to hear the fantastic dawn chorus.
From late June you may see some of the 30 different butterfly species that abound in the sunny glades and along the open paths and rides. Unusual among these are the white admiral, the wood white, purple hairstreak and the extremely rare black hairstreak.
The ponds in the wood are important for wildlife, especially dragonflies and amphibians. New ponds were created near the car park off H7 Chaffron Way and these have also now matured to support a good variety of wildlife.
As well as being home to a wide variety of wildlife, Howe Park boasts more than 200 plant species, some so rare that English Nature has designated it a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its wildlife value. Howe Park Wood has also been awarded a green flag: the parkland equivalent to blue flags for bathing beaches.
A visit to Howe Park Wood is an opportunity to understand the lifecycle of a wood. To restore the variety of wildlife habitats typical of traditionally managed woodlands, the paths, rides and glades have all been opened up. In some areas, trees were removed to allow others room to grow, and young oaks and ash were planted to provide large woodland trees trees for the future.
Coppicing is the process of cutting back woody plants to about 4-6 inches above ground level and allowing the stump to regrow. Most coppicing is carried out in the dormant season and plants quickly regrow in the spring. The coppicing cycle varied from 3-15 years depending on the tree or shrub species.
The technique is a traditional one with many benefits. The process rejuvenates shrubberies which have become dense; eliminates pests and disease; and gets rid of dead, dying and weak material. In a woodland the system creates a diverse and healthy landscape with widely spaced trees of varying age and height with a shrub or coppice layer of varierty and colour underneath.
There are two very fine old crab apple trees in the wood, a grand old oak tree and some hornbeams. the tallest ash trees are found in the north west of the wood, close to the car park.
For details of events in this area see the What's on in Howe Park Wood pages.
Howe Park Wood lies between Chaffron Way H7 and Tattenhoe street V2.
The wood is open at all times with no charge for entry or parking.
The main car park at the wood’s main entrance, off the H7, opposite the Westcroft Centre.
There are no public toilets in the wood.
There is a Howe Park Wood Cafe serving cakes, drinks and cold foods.
There are both hard surface footpaths suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs and grass and woodchip paths for those who prefer to venture deeper into the wood.