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Visiting Hatfield Forest with your dog

Dog walking on the Holnicote Estate, Somerset
Visitors walking with their dogs | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Dogs are welcome at Hatfield Forest. Whether you're a regular local dog walker, or a visitor from further afield, please read this article to make your visit as enjoyable as possible, not only for you and your dog but also for the livestock and wildlife that call the forest home. Professional dog walkers need a license to walk their dogs in the Forest

Our pawprint rating system

We’ve been working on making it easier for you to find out how dog-friendly your visit will be before you and your four-legged friend arrive. To help with this, we've created a new pawprint rating system and given all the places in our care a rating. You can find this information in the National Trust members’ handbook.

Hatfield Forest is a two pawprint rated place.

These places have water bowls, dog bins and dog-friendly walks. You’ll be able to take your dog into some areas, but not everywhere. If there’s a food and beverage outlet, you can have a cup of tea with them, probably outside. Read on to discover exactly where you can take your dog.

What you can expect at Hatfield Forest

  • Water and drinking bowls in the lakeside area
  • Dog bins in all car parks, key gateways and along the internal road
  • A dog-friendly outdoor café
  • Cooler, wooded walks
  • Route maps

Where can I take my dog?

Dogs are allowed in all parts of the forest, except the fenced sheep enclosures and the dog-free zone between the Shell House and the Decoy Lake. These are all clearly signposted.

The Canine Code

We’ve worked with our partner Forthglade to come up with this Canine Code, which helps to make sure everyone can enjoy their day:

  • Keep them close: using a short lead helps to keep your dog from disturbing ground-nesting birds and farm animals. It's essential to use a short lead around sheep. But if cattle approach you, it's best to let your dog off the lead, and call them back when it's safe to do so.
  • Pick up the poo: please always clear up after your dog. If you can't find a bin nearby, take the poo bags home with you.
  • Watch the signs: keep an eye on local signs and notices wherever you're walking. They'll tell you if a beach has a dog ban, for instance, or if a path has been diverted, or if you're in an area where dogs can run off-lead.
  • Stay on the ball: remember that not everyone loves dogs, and some people fear them. So make sure your dog doesn't run up to other people, especially children.

Keeping control of your dog

Our definition of close or effective control is: ​

  • Being able to recall your dogs in any situation at the first call
  • Being able to clearly see your dog at all times (not just knowing they have gone into the undergrowth or over the crest of the hill). In practice, this means keeping them on a footpath if the surrounding vegetation is too dense for your dog to be visible
  • Not allowing them to approach other visitors without their consent
  • Having a lead with you to use if you encounter livestock or wildlife, or if you are asked to use one

Doggy do's and don'ts at Hatfield Forest

To help us ensure our visitors, dogs, livestock and wildlife get along together, we ask you to:

  • Keep close control of your dog while visiting the forest

  • Walk your dog on a short lead in the Lake Area, and around livestock – including near the fenced areas where sheep are grazing. Elsewhere, you can let your dog off the lead as long as you always keep it in sight and can recall it instantly whenever necessary

  • Make sure your dog doesn’t chase or disturb livestock or wildlife. Deer and nesting birds call the forest home, so if your dog has a strong chase instinct, always keep it on the lead

  • Walk around cattle, giving plenty of distance. If you get too close and cattle follow you, let your dog off the lead temporarily

  • Please bag your dog's mess and either place it in one of our dog bins or take it home. Dog bins are in all car parks, key gateways and along the internal road

  • Keep your dog beside you at the picnic tables and not on them, so that others can safely use them afterwards

  • Respect other forest users by not taking your dog into the dog-free zone in the lake area, even on a lead

The importance of close control at Hatfield Forest

Hatfield Forest is a National Nature Reserve and a Site of Special Scientific Interest. There are over 4,000 different species of wildlife that call this place home, including deer and songbirds. With increasing building development locally, there are fewer places for wildlife to live undisturbed by humans and dogs.

A danger to livestock

Hatfield Forest is a working environment, and if it were to lose the ability to graze livestock, it would risk losing over 1,000 years of history and the wildlife that has evolved with it. Help keep this tradition alive by walking your dog responsibly.

Dogs can also be very disruptive to birds and deer, as they will view any dog, whatever its size, as a predator.

Between 2016 and 2017, nine sheep were killed by out of control dogs, and it still continues. It's vitally important that dogs are always under control to prevent tragedies like this occurring.

The rangers and dog wardens will be happy to discuss any dog-related questions or issues with you. Please report emergency incidents on 0772 1818773.

Commercial Dog Walking

If you wish to use Hatfield Forest for commercial dog walking purposes you must be licensed.

Why license commercial dog walkers?

  • Businesses who use Hatfield Forest to make money should contribute financially to the upkeep and maintenance in which a commercial activity is taking place.
  • Effective management of commercial dog walking allows the Hatfield Forest management team to regulate this activity, ensuring an appropriate level of commercial use. and the Forest can be enjoyed by all who choose to visit.
  • Brings professional dog walking in line with commercial regulations and with other businesses such as yoga instructors, outdoor theatres and catering vendors - that are also licensed under the regulations.
  • Ensures that professional dog walkers have the appropriate insurance required to operate within the Forest. This will protect dog owners, other Forest users and the dog walkers themselves in the unlikely event of an incident.

It is an offence to operate a commercial enterprise in Hatfield Forest without permission through a licence or contract.

How to apply for a licence

You can apply for a licence by contacting the estate office at

A dog walking licence comes at a fee of £50 per annum, and alongside applying for the licence, we require to see proof of Public Liability Insurance to a minimum level of indemnity of £5,000,000.00 and confirmation of a home or business address for our records. This would then entitle your business to operate at Hatfield Forest, allowing a maximum of four dogs to be walked at a time, up to three times a day.

Person walking a dog in a field at Hatfield Forest, Essex

Discover more at Hatfield Forest

Find out when Hatfield Forest is open, how to get here, things to see and do and more.

Our partners


We've partnered with natural pet food maker Forthglade so that you and your dog can get even more out of the special places we care for.

Visit website 

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