Our work at Hatfield Forest

 National Trust Warden rounding up sheep near Forest Lodge at Hatfield Forest, Essex.

Hatfield Forest is a managed landscape, created by centuries of human intervention. Learn how we continue the traditions and practices of those who've cared for our special place so we can ensure it lasts for ever, for everyone.

Kingfisher bank

Across the nation kingfisher numbers have been dropping and the rise in water levels has meant their habitats are being lost. To counteract this problem, our volunteer Rangers have built an artificial kingfisher bank. We have two resident kingfishers who can occasionally be spotted in the Marsh and on the Decoy Lake.

The Marsh

In 2010 we started a project to restore the marsh area between the lake and London Bridge.
The marsh had slowly been taken over by scrub (shrubby tree regrowth) and this was changing the habitat. To maintain the marsh and increase biodiversity we removed the scrub. A year later some dormant species returned.

Clearing scrub

Much like with the marsh, scrub had begun to take over the gravel pit.
Historically, gravel was extracted in the 18th-century and over the years the depressions have become valuable microclimates for free-draining soil. As with the marsh we hope that dormant seeds will bounce back next season.

Dealing with storm damage

The St Jude storm in October 2013 caused a significant amount of tree damage at Hatfield Forest. Unfortunately a 250 year old black walnut tree, believed to have been planted during the Houblon's ownership and the only one in the Forest, was lost. We try to leave the storm damaged trees and branches where they fall as they provide excellent habitats for a variety of species.

Forest Sheep

We have a flock of over 20 heritage breed sheep, mainly Wiltshire Horns and Manx, plus two Beulahs. These are used to graze areas of the Forest where we have previously cleared scrub, such as in Old Womans Weaver and near to Forest Lodge, to encourage the final phase of regeneration. Sheep are far less fussy than cattle, so will eat brambles and hawthorn. They are present all year round and cause less damage to the ground.

Our Red Polls

From early May to late October, the plains are grazed by our Red Poll cattle. They are natural lawnmowers, helping to keep down scrubby plants and so encouraging the growth of native wildflowers.
Learn more about this gentle cow

Woodland coppices

Our volunteers continue the ancient management technique of coppicing to encourage new growth. They work throughout the winter cutting coppice poles in Elgin Coppice and protecting the stumps.

Crayfish project

The lake has a population of signal crayfish. This is a non-native, invasive species. We are undertaking a wide ranging study to assess their ecological impact, including trapping, removal and study.


Over the last decade we have been carefully monitoring our deer population. Students work with our volunteers using a variety of different methods to estimate the deer populations.Thermal imaging cameras, dung counts along a transect and counting the number of paths leading into the coppices, all help us to determine how best we can manage the health of the herd.


Beetles are one of the many invertebrate species we monitor in the Forest.
We have a number of Red Data Book species which are internationally rare or endangered. By tracking changes in their numbers we can identify the effects of changes in climate, pollution and habitat robustness.


We have been carrying out butterfly surveys since 2005. Our volunteers learn to identify the different species and familiarise themselves with the survey routes. They walk these routes every day (weather-permitting) and record what they see. A recent arrival is the beautiful silver-washed fritillary.

Our amazing pollards

Hatfield Forest has over 850 veteran pollard trees, each with its own management plan. The aim is to keep the trees alive as long as possible. Once dead, we try to keep the trees standing by turning them into monoliths, by removing all the branches. Standing deadwood is a rarer and therefore more valuable habitat than fallen deadwood. Once fallen, deadwood rots quickly and so the habitat is lost.