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Continuously forested since the end of the Ice Age (as attested by pollen sampling cores), Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve today encompasses 423.2 hectares, (1,045 acres) surrounding the village of Edwinstowe, the site of Thoresby Hall.
The forest is a remnant of an older and much larger royal hunting forest, which derived its name from its status as the shire (or sher) wood of Nottinghamshire (in Domesday, the forest covered perhaps a quarter of Nottinghamshire, in woodland and heath subject to the forest laws) which in fact extended into several neighbouring counties (shires), bordered on the west along the River Erewash and the Forest of East Derbyshire.
The Forestry Commission manages most of the forest and provides walks and trails and a host of other activities. Part of the forest was opened as a country park to the public in 1969 by Nottinghamshire County Council, which manages a small part of the forest under lease from the Thoresby Estate. In 2002, a portion of Sherwood Forest was designated a National Nature Reserve by English Nature. In 2007, Natural England officially incorporated the Budby South Forest, Nottinghamshire's largest area of dry lowland heath, into the Nature Reserve, nearly doubling its size from 220 to 423 hectares (540 to 1,050 acres).
Some portions of the forest still retain many very old oaks, especially in the portion known as the Dukeries, south of the town of Worksop, which was so called because it used to contain five ducal residences in proximity to one another.
Sherwood attracts 500,000 tourists annually, including many from other countries. Visitor numbers have increased significantly since the launch of the BBC's Robin Hood television series in 2006.
Each northern summer, the park hosts the annual, week-long Robin Hood Festival. This event recreates a medieval atmosphere and features the major characters from the Robin Hood legend. The week's entertainment includes jousters and strolling players, dressed in medieval attire, in addition to a medieval encampment complete with jesters, musicians, rat-catchers, alchemists and fire eaters.
Throughout the year, visitors are attracted to the Sherwood Forest Art and Craft Centre, which is situated in the former Coach House and Stables of Edwinstowe Hall in the heart of the Forest. The centre contains art studios and a cafe, and hosts special events, including craft demonstrations and exhibitions.
Sherwood Forest is home to the famous Major Oak, which, according to local folklore, was Robin Hood's principal hideout. The oak tree is between 800 and 1,000 years old and, since the Victorian era, its massive limbs have been partially supported by an elaborate system of scaffolding. In February 1998, a local company took cuttings from the Major Oak and began cultivating clones of the famous tree with the intention of sending saplings to be planted in major cities around the world.
Thynghowe, an important Danelaw meeting place where people came to resolve disputes and settle issues, was lost to history until its rediscovery in 2005-06 by local history enthusiasts amidst the old oaks of an area known as the Birklands. Experts believe it may also yield clues as to the boundary of the ancient Anglo Saxon kingdoms of Mercia and Northumbria.
In early 2006 it was announced that major plans to transform the Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre had been drawn up and are now complete.
Nottinghamshire County Council led a partnership which put in an unsuccessful bid for £50 million from the Big Lottery Fund's Living Landmarks competition. The project was selected by Big Lottery Fund assessors as one of four finalists.
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