How many visits can Hatfield Forest carry?

An Every Step Counts ‘red’ route in winter

Hatfield Forest is showing 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. As part of Every Step Counts, we commissioned the ecological consultancy, Footprint Ecology, to carry out a Visitor Survey.

Surveys were undertaken of visitors to Hatfield Forest over the winter period of 2017-18 and Summer 2018. Interview data was gathered and analysed to provide evidence on visitor origins, attitudes and behaviour. Extrapolations were made, within the limits of the available data, to gauge how overall numbers of visits may compare with numbers of individual visitors. The 'Zone of Influence', from which Hatfield Forest is currently drawing 75% of its visitors was calculated as 14.6km, and then compared with future residential housing figures to gauge the likely impact of rising housing levels on visitor numbers. Based on these findings and observations of the Forest, guidance is offered on how the current severe impact of visitors may be managed in the future.

The survey was carried out across six survey points and a total of 208 survey hours. This was undertaken over 13 days between late December 2017 and mid-February 2018 and 104 hours Summer 2018 between August and September.

Some excerpts from the visitor survey

Purpose of and reasons for visits - 43% of interviewees were walking dogs. Closeness to home, rural/wild feel, and variety of scenery were the primary reasons for visits.

Frequency of visit - Overall, 40% were frequent users of the site. In winter, 50% of those interviewed were very frequent users of the site - 25% daily/most days & 25% up to three times per week.

Seasonality - 65% of interviewees stated they visited the Forest equally throughout the year.

Longevity of visiting - 54% of interviewees had been visiting for more than 10 years.

Perceptions of site value - 92% gave a maximum score for greenspace, then 86% for wildlife value and 64% for historical value. 

Origin of visitors - overall, of those who provided post code data, 75% of our visitors came from within 14.6km which gives us our Zone of Influence (which has been adopted by Natural England).

Housing development impact

Within 2km of Hatfield Forest, the number of houses solely within Uttlesford District increased by 35% between 2003 and 2017 (based on datasets held by Footprint Ecology). Within a 5km radius the increase has been 22%, and within 10km the increase has been 20%.

Allocated future housing development in the Regulation 18 Draft Local Plan for Uttlesford District (2017) alone will lead to an 18% increase in total housing within 5km of the Forest, and a 36% increase within 10km.

Spatial data for housing allocations in emerging Local Plans, was analysed against postcode data from this survey, to estimate how visitor numbers might be expected to change as a result of future housing being built. This showed that visitor numbers to Hatfield Forest originating from within a 15km radius of the site can be expected to increase by 22% once allocated housing is in place. While this figure should be regarded as very approximate, it demonstrates that a marked increase in access to Hatfield Forest is to be expected in the coming years.

What next?

We have shared this report with Uttlesford District Council and our neighbouring parish councils.

If you would like a copy of the full report please contact Sarah Barfoot, Project Manager here