How many visits can Hatfield Forest carry?

An Every Step Counts ‘red’ route in winter

As part of Every Step Counts, Footprint Ecology, an ecological consultancy were commissioned by the National Trust as 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.

A survey was undertaken of visitors to Hatfield Forest over the winter period of 2017-18. Interview data was gathered and analysed to provide evidence on visitor origins, attitudes and behaviour. Extrapolations were made, within the limits of the available winter-only 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 most of its visitors was calculated (based solely on winter-derived data), and 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 five survey points and a total of 104 survey hours over 13 days between late December 2017 and mid-February 2018.

Some excerpts from the visitor survey

Purpose of and reasons for visits - Nearly 50% of interviewees were walking dogs. Closeness to home, rural/wild feel, and variety of scenery were the primary reasons for visits.

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

Seasonality - 70% of interviewees stated they visited the Forest equally throughout the year.

Longevity of visiting - 55% of interviewees had been visiting for more than 10 years.

Perceptions of site value - 91% gave a maximum score for greenspace, then wildlife and historical value were of lesser importance. 

Origin of visitors - of those who provided post code data, in winter 75% of our visitors came from within 10.4km.

Housing development impact

Within 2km of Hatfield Forest, the number of houses solely within Uttlesford District increased by 33% between 2003 and 2017 (based on datasets held by Footprint Ecology). Within a 5km radius the increase has been 21%, 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 26% 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.

Having recieved the report, we have decided to replicate the visitor survey this summer to establish the bigger picture and further understand what our overall zone of influence is. 

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