Hatfield Forest - Winter opening
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. 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 is being worn away and the clay soils are heavily 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 a Site of Specific Scientific Interest, so there are steps we must all take to look after it and keep it special for everyone.
Vehicles in the Forest
To help care for the Forest, we limit visitors cars to the hard standing in the car parks in late autumn, winter and early spring. This means that during the week there are 60 spaces in the main entrance car park and, at weekends, there are an additional 60 spaces in the lake car park. We have taken the difficult decision to limit opening of the lake car park to weekends only, to reduce the amount of footfall during our most vulnerable months.
When planning your visit, please check our website for our opening times and be prepared to queue on bright winter days as once car parks are full, we have to operate a 'one-in, one-out' policy.
Our heavier estate vehicles are fitted with low pressure tyres and restricted to the roads whenever possible. We've had to change our working practices in winter to limit the impact we have across the site.
Paths Health Check
Check out the current health of the forest paths by downloading the health check map:
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, recover 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 our diversions map.
In the depths of winter, if you come across a very muddy path, please retrace your steps and find another way round, rather than walk along the edges and widen the muddy area. If you walk at the edges of the path, you will be trampling on some of the rarer plants which call this place home.
Restoration of the historic lakeside parkland landscape
This autumn, having discovered that the lake and surrounding area were actually designed by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown for the Houblon family in the 1750's, we set about an exciting restoration programme of works to recover some of the historic views which had been lost.
Find out more here.
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 last summer by Miles Water Engineering Ltd, a leading East Anglian specialist drainage company, 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 about events?
We are no longer running any large scale events during late autumn, winter and early spring. We have also changed the format of some events and have had to make difficult decisions about others throughout the year, to help the Forest recover.
Once the ground conditions are better, we host some of our more popular events, but monitor the impact of these with the support of Natural England. We'll continue to keep you updated on all our events.
But how do we continue our vital conservation work?
It is important that our conservation team continue working all year round. During winter, you may have seen the team busy working on wood pasture restoration, path widening to aid the ground drying out and coppicing, as well as sheep husbandry to care for our conservation grazers.
To carry out this work, our team use an 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.
One of our 'conservation in action' success stories is that thirteen years ago the team coppiced an area south of Forest Lodge in the hope it would provide habitat suitable for nightingales. This May, you may have been lucky enough to have heard them singing their hearts out!
Understanding the bigger picture
As part of Every Step Counts, Footprint Ecology, an ecological consultancy were commissioned by us to undertake a condition survey, as the Forest was continuing to show severe signs in winter of being over-capacity in terms of visitor traffic.
Unfortunately, the forest is currently registered as ‘Unfavourable, Recovering’ by Natural England after the survey. Find out more about their findings in this article.
Play your part by calling for more green space in the local area
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 in the Local Plans, and find out why it's so important in new developments and the surrounding countryside, you can read more about the benefits of urban green spaces here.
Playing your part in shaping Hatfield Forest's future
At the start of Every Step Counts, we wanted to know what the Forest meant to you and how we could better balance access for all our visitors, whilst still 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 have produced two newsletter to update you on progress:
A big thank you
We’re committed to caring for Hatfield Forest and thank you all for your support. Together, we can find a way to secure a healthier future for the Forest and make sure it can be enjoyed by everyone, forever.