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The Woodlab Project at Hooke Park

Cat, our Forest Researcher, is leading on an exciting project based at Hooke Park. The 150ha forest campus is the Architectural Association’s (AA) School of Architecture based in Dorset. Cat will be their 2023 Woodlab Fellow exploring future strategies for the woodland there. We’ll let Cat talk you through what all this means from here.

What happens at Hooke?

Hooke Park is both completely normal and globally unique.  It is a very normal piece of English mixed forest that was developed by John Makepeace in the 1980’s as a school of furniture making to prove the use of low-grade timber in high-value design.

Hooke Park now hosts the AA’s Design and Make masters courses. In the campus set in the middle of the forest, students design through making and exploring the natural materials available. Through integrating the latest technologies, including LIDAR scanning, and robotics, the work produced by the students is at the forefront of experimental timber technology.

The woodland provides materials for the fundamental requirements of shelter and warmth to AA’s students and local community. It is an ecologically important part of the landscape, connecting up neighbouring wooded areas. It is both a learning environment and a place for health and vitality of those that use it. These resources need to be accessed and managed in a balanced way, that promotes sustainable usage in years to come.  It’s also a place for innovation and experimentation. The decisions made now will influence the forest ecosystem and its users for the next 100 years.


As this year’s Woodlab Fellow I’m leading  the Woodlab Project to explore future strategies for the long term management of the forest. We’ll be devising a strategy that will simultaneously increase the woodland’s diversity and resilience; grow quality timber; further integrate the students and the local community and act as a platform for silvicultural experimentation.

What is so exciting about the Woodlab project, is that it offers an opportunity to develop the forestry at Hooke Park alongside the architectural work. The plan is for Hooke to become an ecologically resilient forest that is also a laboratory for both architectural and forestry. 

Experimental forestry

Walking around Hooke, it’s immediately clear there is variety in the woodland, especially across the range of compartments. This offers a range of sample plots that can be used to explore different silvicultural techniques, and their effects on both ecology and wood products. We want the forest to be increasingly resilient to environmental change. This can be achieved through increasing diversity, in terms of species and structure. We also want the forest to offer a range of materials to be used locally, by the students as well as becoming integrated into a local timber supply chain.

Where to begin?

Before we think about the future of the trees, we need to understand what’s in the forest now. We’ve started off the project by trialling new ways of carrying out a woodland inventory. We’ve been testing the use of the forest inventory app – Arboreal Forest, to help traditional inventory techniques catch up with 21st century sampling methods. We are working with with Chris Saad, Hooke’s very own Forester, who knows the woodland more intimately than anyone, to carry out a full inventory. Alongside standard inventory measurements, I’m incorporating elements of a Woodland Condition Assessment. This means noting important features such as veteran trees, deadwood, and natural regeneration. The baseline data will inform the next woodland management plan, and an ongoing monitoring plan. It also allows us to begin identifying areas suitable for transformation to a continuous cover forestry system.

Where next?

I’m also excited to explore different ways of measuring the ecological health of the woodland. I want to test new technologies that can make data collection more efficient, repeatable and accessible. Some ideas so far include acoustic monitoring and drones to scan the forest. In May we are going to collaborate with Arup ecologists to do an intensive weekend of ecological surveying, including setting up camera traps and acoustic monitors. I’m looking into working with local ecologists and the Dorset Wildlife Trust to carry out further specific assessments. 

Alongside the scientific data collection, I want to document Hooke more creatively. I’m interested to explore recording the Hooke soundscape. This might mean creating a library of sounds at Hooke, and maybe some compositions. My plan here is to use soundscapes as an immersive experience that will connect listeners to Hooke and its environment.

I’ll leave it there for now but stay tuned for more updates as we begin to trial our methods, and monitor what the woodland has to offer!


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