Hammer Wood consists of 144 acres (60 hectares) of woodland and heath that surround a 5 acre pond and stream – a resource unmatched by any other monasteries of this tradition in Europe. An essential part of the monastery, it was the gift of this woodland that first brought the Sangha to the area. The Wood provides a suitable environment for tranquillity and for being with nature - both key features of the Forest Tradition of Theravada Buddhism.
There are a few paths through the woods that visitors and guests may walk along. However, the guiding principle behind the Sangha’s use and stewardship of the Wood is to maintain it as a place for solitude and an environment where wildlife can live free from threat or disturbance. Therefore it is vital to the welfare of this precious resource that visitors do not bring dogs into the woods, and that they also respect the silence and purity of the environment in every way.
The uplands of Hammer Wood were originally heath and sessile oak forest, with the valley around the stream being lusher in its vegetation. Much of the original land was cleared and planted with sweet chestnut after the First World War in order to provide timber. However, as sweet chestnut is not a tree native to Britain, it doesn’t support insect life. Its leaves are also toxic and acidic, and as a consequence, Hammer Wood became depleted of wildlife. Therefore, one of the requests made by the donor of the Wood was that it be restored to a more ecologically compatible condition; complying with this request, the monastery is actively involved in an ongoing project to replace areas of sweet chestnut with native trees.
Already there is a great improvement in the wildlife situation in the Wood, and many insects, birds and mammals are returning. The trees that have been planted so far are coming into maturity. Nevertheless, the Wood requires continual maintenance, and there are periodic ‘Forest Days,’ and even a ‘Forest Work Month’ every autumn, to help with this. Although the work is simple, it requires the help of lay volunteers as the bhikkhus are prevented by their monastic rules from undertaking work such as clearing paths and removing invasive species. Most of the bhikkhus’ work is that of collecting firewood from felled sweet chestnut in order to heat the monastery.
If you are interested in participating in forest work, please have a look a Forest & Garden Work.
For a PDF file of the forest map and guide please click here.