This is a direct copypasta of a thread made by my buddy Rich Houck via his Twitter page (@heywildrich):

The thread was well written and illustrated with beautiful imagery, so I asked Rich if I could copy it over directly for this site. I think this is an important piece of environmental history and I’d certainly never heard of it. Hope fully you find it interesting as well.

R.H., quote start:

I came across something in an environmental law book I thought many of you would enjoy, it’s a bit of English & European history, along with early environmentalism. It’s the Charter of the Forest, from 1217 England – A thread.

The Forest law established by William the Conquerer and his heirs was very draconian and greatly limited access to the forest by peasants. Many of whom made their living gathering food or grazing animals in the king’s forest, were only able to do so under threat of punishment.

The Charter of the Forest sought to remedy this and re-establish free men the ability to use the forest and to open it to the commons, as well as care for the forest and its animals. A companion to Magna Carta, some call it the more important document.

“It was also the first environmental charter, the first to offer a defence of the commons in general and a fundamental part of the British Constitution that stayed on the statute books longer than any other piece of legislation.” Only 2 copies of the Charter are known to exist.

This Chapter operated outside the common law, meaning it was not judge made law, and is am example of early, perhaps the first, statutory environmental/animal law. It served to protect game animals and their forest habitat from destruction.

Sadly, over the years, by the Tudor era, due to over-hunting, and poor management, along with greed by using the royal forests as a source of income, many animals were hunted until they were gone, and many forests cut to nothing. Poor managers and poaching caused much harm.

Thankfully, many great forests survived through the eras until today, Sherwood Forests being one of the most famous that was once protected by the Charter of the Forest!

“The charter was unique in providing a degree of economic protection for free men who used the forest to forage for food and to graze their animals.” As so many peasants made their living and found all of their fuel to cook and food in the first, you can see how crucial this was.

Sir Blackstone once remarked, “There is no transaction in the antient part of our English history more interesting and important, than . . . the charters of liberties, emphatically stiled THE GREAT CHARTER and CHARTER OF THE FOREST.”

The Charter of the Forest is arguably one of the most important legal documents ever written, it not only established the rights of men over the aristocracy, but it pioneered environmental and stewardship laws. It also gave us legal framework to create man-nature harmony. /fin

R.H., quote end.

All in all, a very interesting piece of history.

I recommend that you follow Rich on Twitter, and check out his book “Liberalism Unmasked”, which is brilliantly sourced and a great summary of the history of ‘Neo-Liberalism’ (PDF online here).