Vulnerable hornbeams in Hatfield Forest

ancient hornbeams by the approach road

We have a trio of ancient hornbeams in the forest that are being impacted by a lot of feet on their roots. Together, we can look after these special trees for future generations to enjoy.

Protecting the trees at Hatfield Forest

For around 400 years, the hornbeam trees have been a special part of the landscape here at Hatfield Forest. We’ve recently noticed that a trio of ancient hornbeams near the main entrance of the forest are showing signs of root damage, compaction and soil erosion.

To help protect them, we’re fencing off the areas around the base of these trees while we carry out our conservation work.  These have had to be heavy duty, to keep out the red poll cattle who otherwise would take shelter under the trees.  The barriers were made specially for us by local craftsmen Jake and Amy from locally sourced sweet chestnut.

cows keep out!
protective barrier around hornbeam
cows keep out!

How we can all care for our ancient trees

You may notice some route diversions in place around the base of three hornbeam trees and small, protective barriers. By following the short diversions, you’re helping to protect the vulnerable root base of these ancient trees.

To aid their recovery, we’ll be placing mulch at the base of trees, a practice pioneered at Kew Gardens.

We need to act now to ensure their survival, so we need your help to make sure future generations can enjoy these magnificent trees.

More about these special hornbeams

These hornbeams are over 400 years old, dating back to the reign of James I. Ancient hornbeams like these provide a mixture of live and dead wood habitat which help support a nationally important collection of fungi, insects and even 10 species of bat. There are a total of 130 ancient hornbeams in the forest and we care for each one as an individual.

These particular hornbeams have been pollarded. This means they have been cut above the browse line of animals so they cannot reach the regrowth, for wood and winter forage. This is a traditional type of managment, used for trees in woodland pasture. The alternative method of coppicing is used for trees in enclosed wooded compartments.  

Pollarding and coppicing can double the lifespan of a tree, which is why we have so many ancient trees in the forest. The tree species pollarded on the forest are: hawthorn, hornbeam, ash, field maple, pedunculate oak, sessile oak, blackthorn, buckthorn, crab apple and elm. We have also found that pollarding elm appears to increase their resistance to dutch elm disease. The number of species in one place being managed in this way is rare for the UK.

vulnerable hornbeams
the vulnerable hornbeams by the access road
vulnerable hornbeams

The access road which passes by these trees was constructed during World War II, when Elgins Coppice was used as an ammuntion dump.  The trees have coped with this since then - the current concern has only recently arisen.