During the 12th century, King John's predecessors declared vast and ever increasing areas of the country to be royal forest, set aside for the king's hunt. Prior to 1215 the extent of the forest was controlled by the king and John increased its limits even further.
The royal forest was governed by a separate set of especially severe laws, enforced by special justices, sheriffs and wardens. All hunting was prohibited, as were bows and arrows, greyhounds, hawks and falcons, the cultivation of land and the felling of trees. Those living in the forest were unable to exploit the land's resources and were subject to fines for any breach of forest law.
The barons used Magna Carta to regulate the boundaries of the forest, investigate its officials and reform forest law. This was a profound attack on a significant area of royal power which was taken even further with the issuing of the comprehensive Charter of the Forest in 1217.