The name "Forest" derives comes from medieval times when the land that is now a recreation ground was part of the Sherwood Forest that once extended from the city of Nottingham to the north of Nottinghamshire. The Forest was the southern most part of Sherwood Forest and was part of the open area known formerly as "The Lings" which, largely covered by gorse and scrub, extended into the parishes of Lenton, Radford and Basford.
The site of The Forest was one of the original areas to be protected in perpetuity by the 1845 Nottingham Inclosure Act, which set aside some eighty acres (324,000 m²) of Sherwood Forest for public recreational use. In commemoration, the Mayor of Nottingham planted the "Inclosure Oak" which can still be seen at the Mansfield Road entrance to The Forest.
Leading gardener and architect of the Nineteenth Century, Joseph Paxton, was responsible for the criss-cross formation of walkways. Today, these form part of a city-wide network of walks that link various recreation areas, parks and open spaces preserved by the Inclosure Act.
Nottingham Forest played on the Forest Ground from 1865 to 1879, during which period they were known as "Forest Football Club". The Forest was also home to Nottingham's racecourse before it moved to its present location at Colwick, south east of Nottingham. Cricket was also played on the Forest, long before the land was enclosed and either side of the two World Wars.
Standing at the Mansfield Road entrance is Forest Lodge, built in 1857. This Grade 2 listed building was originally used as a Police or Keeper's Lodge and a police cell can still be seen at basement level. A red granite monument stands at the Monument Gate on Forest Road East, commemorating the fallen of the Boer War.
Each October, the Forest hosts the annual Nottingham Goose Fair. Other smaller travelling fairs and circuses take place on the recreation ground throughout the year, usually coinciding with local school holidays.
The Forest Recreation Ground boasts floodlit hard surface courts and grass pitches for ball games, and a traditional bowling lawn. There is also an enclosed children's playground. These facilities are maintained by Nottingham City Council.
The Forest Recreation Ground supports many important habitats and species. Mature trees include Turkey, English Elm, Common Oak, Sessile Oak, Rowan, Silver Birch, Common Lime and Horse Chestnut. Additionally, there have been more recent plantings of London Plane, Beech, various Maples and Silver Lime. Perennials include Autumn Crocus, Spring Crocus, Bluebell, Ransom, Primrose, Wild Privet, Hazel and Guilder Rose.
Certain parts of the Forest play host to relic meadow flora such as Meadow Foxtail, Smooth-stalked Meadowgrass, Yorkshire Fog, Red Clover, White Clover, Oxeye Daisy, Germander Speedwell and Meadow Saxifrage.
With such an abundance of habitat, the Forest attracts many birds such as Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Mistle Thrush, Tawny Owl, Song Thrush, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Chaffinch.
The caves of the Rock Cemetery are a Geological County Wildlife Site. The thin turf here supports Early and Silver Hair Grass, Harebells, Birdsfoot and Prickly Sedge. Conspicuous insects include Holy Blue and Clouded Yellow butterflies, Hornets and Cock Chafer beetles.
As with much urban parkland, The Forest has been threatened by development. Proposals for a recreation centre, to be built on the eastern fringes of The Forest, were rejected following public opposition to loss of green space. However, mature trees and greenery at the northwest corner of the ground have been been sacrificed to provide 989 parking spaces for the Park & Ride that serves the "Forest" stop for Nottingham Express Transit.
As at summer 2008, The Forest is the subject of a public consultation to decide on regeneration priorities, to be funded by an expected Heritage Lottery Fund award. For the last four years, Nottingham City Council and Nottingham's Partnership Council have worked on plans to restore the parkland to its former glory and to better serve the needs of today's park users. The project is also backed by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) and by local organisations such as Friends of the Forest.
Plans currently include restoring the lodge and the pavilion, repairing footpaths, improving access to sporting facilities, improving lighting and security, more planting and better activity areas for young people.
"Friends of the Forest" is a not-for-profit organisation, funded by donations and public subscription. It supports efforts to maintain The Forest as an accessible, open, green space which has historic importance for the City of Nottingham. Friends of the Forest has worked with Nottingham City Council to prioritize refurbishment and replanting, and to organise voluntary activities that benefit The Forest and increase local awareness of green issues.