Hatfield Forest - Every Step Counts
Wet weather takes its toll on Hatfield Forest, especially in the late autumn, winter and early spring. As the ground conditions deteriorate, we ask you to please be patient. Together, we can take every step to care for the Forest at this time of year.
Why does Every Step Count?
Hatfield Forest dates back to medieval times and today it welcomes half a million visits every year and growing – that’s twice as many as ten years ago and a lot of footsteps on muddy paths.
The grass on the historic paths wears away and the clay soil becomes compacted and waterlogged, resulting in some areas becoming a muddy mess. This has a serious impact for our much loved, ancient Forest.
A very special place
While Hatfield Forest may look like other forests or woods you’ve visited, it’s actually a National Nature Reserve and Site of Specific Scientific Interest, so there are steps we must all take to look after it and keep it special for everyone.
Winter ways of working
To help care for the Forest during winter, we limit visitors cars to the hard standing in the car parks and our heavier estate vehicles to the roads whenever possible. We have taken the difficult decision to only open the lake car park at the weekends to reduce the amount of footfall during our most vulnerable months.
What steps can we all take?
To help manage the most vulnerable paths, we will need to let some rest and recover. We’re already seeing good signs of recovery, but there is still more to do and nature needs time to rest and rejunvenate. This year our diversions will continue to give the most vulnerable paths a rest. There will be diversion signs in place, but you can also plan your walk by downloading this map.
Drainage work in the lake area
Over the past few years we have noticed that with wetter winters, the drainage network was not working as intended, becoming silted up and ineffective. The restoration and repair work undertaken by Miles Water Engineering Ltd, a leading East Anglian specialist drainage company in the summer focussed on improving the historic (and more recently added) drains around the Shell House building cluster and the most used area near the lake.
Improvements to the historic drainage networks, and altering some of the more recent additions should make them more effective and make the lake area more robust.
What will the outcome be?
We haven't had a lot of rain yet this winter to test the work, but we hope that these works will enable the grassy areas to be dryer for more of the year, helping to prevent the water level around the historic Shell House from rising any further.
Hopefully, you should notice less muddy puddles near the lake edge as well as less intrusive drainage ground works.
Collins test path
A popular short cut from the corner of the Shell House car park to the main plain through Collins Coppice had lost all its vegetation and become very muddy due to over-use and erosion at wet times of the year.
The new path is testing four different types of surface: soil mixed with gravel, rolled gravel with timber edging, rolled gravel without edging and some non-slip recycled plastice boardwalk. This 150m stretch of path will help the forest flora by protecting some rare plants and allowing orchids to re-establish in the grassy edges along the path.
We are still monitoring the regrowth in the middle of the test path and it has now had its first cut. We will open it up when it is robust enough to test how footfall impacts the regrowth.
Play your part in shaping Hatfield Forest's future
We want to know what the Forest means to you and how we can better balance access for all our visitors with caring for this very special place.
We started our Stakeholder Dialogue proccess by working with Dialogue Matters and held two community workshops, a drop in event at the Forest and an online survey - thank you to all those who took part.
The output of this work was:
The outcome of the workshops was the forming of a Stakeholder Working Group, made up of people representing different areas of interest and user groups. These people are working with us to progress the ideas and solutions which came out of the Stakeholder workshops. This is only the beginning, and we greatly value the time you have all taken to help us try and find a sustainable future where there is a balance between nature and access.
We will now be producing a newsletter to update on progress:
Playing your part by calling for more green space in the local area
In October 2018, Uttlesford District Council ran an 'open spaces survey'. Some of the challenges the Forest is facing are down to lack of green space in the surrounding area. If you'd like to influence the future green space provision, and find out why it's so important both in new developments and the surrounding countryside you can read more about the benefits of urban green spaces here.
Understanding the bigger picture
As part of Every Step Counts, Footprint Ecology, an ecological consultancy were commissioned by us last winter as the Forest was continuing to show severe signs in winter of being over-capacity in terms of visitor traffic, and is currently registered as ‘Unfavourable, Recovering’ by Natural England after their condition survey. Find out more about their findings in the article below.
What about events?
We are not running any large scale events in during late autumn, winter and early spring. We are also changing the format of some events and having to make difficult decisions about others throughout the year to help the Forest recover.
Once the ground conditions are better we will be hosting some of our more popular events but will be monitoring the impact of these with the support of Natural England. We'll continue to keep you updated on all our events.
But how did we continue our vital conservation work?
It is important that our conservation team continue working all year round. During winter you would have seen the team busy working on wood pasture restoration, path widening to aid the ground drying out; coppicing and sheep husbandry to care for our conservation grazers.
To carry out this work, our team use the All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) which is designed to be driven in all conditions, whilst limiting impact and erosion of the ground. Wherever possible we use hard surfaced roads in and out of the Forest or we walk. Sometimes we need heavier equipment taken out to site so we use routes which have been carefully chosen to reduce impact to the Forest.
Last spring our 'conservation in action' success story continued...Twelve years ago the team coppiced an area south of Forest Lodge in the hopes it would provide habitat suitable for nightingales. This May you should hear them singing their hearts out!
A big thank you
We’re committed to caring for Hatfield Forest and thank you for your support. Together, we can find a way to secure a healthier future for the Forest and sure it can be enjoyed by everyone.