Special Trees

Hatfield Forest is more than just a medieval Royal hunting area with ancient oaks and hornbeams. It is also home to a range of non-native, exotic specimen trees, such as Horse Chestnuts, Planes and Firs. These were mainly planted in the 18th and 19th centuries as the central area was developed into a pleasure ground and "landscaped". Once you start looking, you'll see more examples all over the Forest.

A medieval Forest

Hatfield is a medieval Forest, so you would expect to see native species such as oak and hornbeam.

Some of the trees are ancient.  In the lake area, the oldest oak, with a girth of 6.5 m, is on the edge of the grassy area north of the Shell House, set back from the edge of the lake.

Hatfield Forest 450-year old oak with Shell House in the background
Hatfield Forest 450-year old oak with Shell House in the background
Hatfield Forest 450-year old oak with Shell House in the background

18th and 19th century planting

In the 18th century, the new owners of the Forest, the Houblon family, developed the central area as a "pleasure ground", creating the lake and building the Shell House.

Following the current fashion, they also planted a range of exotic, non-native specimen trees which were then becoming available as the result of plant hunters working abroad.  Lancelot "Capability" Brown may also have given advice on tree planting, when he provided a plan in 1757 for altering the original lake.

There was a further wave of planting in the 19th century, probably associated with the Houblon family gaining complete control of the Forest.

What can you spot?

Look out for horse chestnuts, sweet chestnuts, yew trees, Scots pines, black pines, planes, cedars, and even an apple tree, mainly in the area close to the lake.

  • Horse chestnut - isolated examples around the lakeside area, plus a small group in the SW corner of Warren Coppice, by the eastern side of the main plain, magnificent in spring as the candles come out.
  • Sweet chestnut - a small plantation by Elgins car park, making a fine silhouette in winter.
  • Yew - can you find two on the south bank of the Decoy Lake?  The larger one looks as if it may have been planted as a "threesome" of young trees, probably dating from the 18th century
  • Plane -  the plane was a Brownian signature tree but these two are probably from the 19th rather than the 18th century.  There is a fine London Plane, by the edge of the lake, to the north of the Shell House and beyond the large oak.  The Plane at the far end of the Decoy Lake is an Oriental plane.
A London Plane in full leaf - a Brown favourite!
A London Plane by the lake at Hatfield Forest
A London Plane in full leaf - a Brown favourite!

  • Cedar - a lone Cedar stands at the eastern entrance to Cedar Ride.  This was originally lined with cedars planted in the 19th century, so is the last remaining tree.  Cedars were another Brownian favourite.
  • Scots Pine - there is a small group on the south bank of the Decoy Lake, probably dating from the late 19th century.
  • Black Pine - there is a fine clump of eight, visible across the lake from in front of the Shell House, probably dating from the 1860's.
  • Apple tree - You might also have noticed a gnarled old apple tree as you come through the gate from the main car park into the lakeside area, opposite the Visitor hub.  Not normally a Forest tree, this may have been a left over from when a caretakers cottage was attached to the rear of the Shell House and there may have been a kitchen garden / orchard.  Can you also spot the large clump of mistletoe?
A laden apple tree in early autumn
Apple tree at the entrance to the lakeside area
A laden apple tree in early autumn