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Hatfield Forest

1049ac/425ha  SSSI, NNR

Grid ref: TL 547 202 (click for o/s map)

Updated 04/11/2019


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Hatfield Forest is a compartmented forest, with open grazed areas separated from the wooded areas by ditches and banks designed to keep out grazing animals. Trees scattered across the plains are pollarded, in other words cut above head height where grazing animals cannot reach, while the wooded compartments are managed by coppicing.

Ancient pollard trees are what make Hatfield Forest so special. It has about 600 pollards in total, including not only oak and hornbeam, which can be seen elsewhere in Essex, but also many maple and hawthorn, which are rare as pollards, and just a handful of beech, lineage elm and crab apple. Nowhere else can you see such a variety of species and form. It is also the stronghold in Essex of mistletoe, which is widespread on the ancient hawthorns and maples on the plains.

The woods consist mainly of ash, hazel, and an unusually large number of maple. There are also some gigantic coppice stools of oak, particularly in Lodge Coppice to the west, while the west end of Street Coppice has four acres of alder on a plateau – alder is a plant of wet, flushed ground, in other words where water is moving through the soil, picking up oxygen as it goes.

The predominant woodland plant is dog's mercury but the coppice woodlands also support a wide range of other flowers including indicators of ancient woodland such as oxlips (mainly in or near Hamptons Coppice) and herb paris (in Long Coppice).

Shermore Brook runs through the Forest from north to south, feeding into a chalky fen above the lake, around which are a number of rare plants, including marsh willowherb and marsh pennywort. Water rail are usually present here also.

Marshy areas around the fen, and another to the north called Old Woman's Weaver, are full of wetland plants and alive with insects in summer.

A range of woodland birds breed in the Forest, including nightingale, plus the odd woodcock and hawfinch. Feeding flocks of hawfinches, redwings and fieldfares can sometimes be seen in winter

Visiting

Turn south off the B1256 (Bishop's Stortford–Takeley) in Takely Street, about 3 miles east of M11 junction 8. Limited car parking in the winter months. SatNav: CM22 6LH.

Buses run to Takeley Street from Bishop's Stortford and Braintree/Dunmow: get off at Green Man PH.

Open dawn to dusk daily. Cafˇ open daily 9am–5pm, April to end October, otherwise 9am–3pm.

March to see the golden mistletoe stems on the trees in the plains; May for birdsong and spring flowers; July for butterflies in the open areas and along the rides.

Dogs on leads near livestock and around lake. Dog-free area near lake.

Call 01279 870678 or 01279 874040 (Infoline) or 01279 870447 (Learning).


Photo © David Corke