As spring slowly pushes through the recent showers, which seem to have started back in winter and not really let up. Although the evenings get lighter many will be waiting in anticipation of drier weather to start spending more time outdoors. That said the winter months and the weather they brought were of no consequence to the dog walkers, dedicated birdwatchers and ramblers to name a few who are about all year. Hatfield Forest, an ancient forest in Essex, managed by the National Trust is a popular destination at any time of year. The popularity of the forest in winter brings challenges for the team who are dedicated in managing the forest for all to enjoy whilst securing the historic integrity and biodiversity for the forest.
We highlighted a few months ago the conflict between the popularity of outdoor healthy lifestyles vs the wear and tear on parks, open spaces and this is also true for significant landscapes such Hatfield Forest. As Britain’s best example of a medieval Forest, the level of risk to this landscape is much more significant. The soils are heavy clay and renowned for being boggy underfoot in wet weather and so the ground becomes uneven; paths get wider as people walk over woodland edge plants whilst trying to avoid large muddy areas. I’m sure most of us who have visited in winter or a wet summer have had a ‘booty’ and been shin deep in a puddle or had their dog coated from paws to tail in mud, Its part of the fun I’m sure.
The continued popularity of the forest, increase in surrounding population, and therefore the increase use of the rides (grass paths) in these conditions are causing the soil to become compacted thereby reducing or completely destroying the quality of the soil structure required for trees, plants, grass to grow.
The national trust is experimenting with various ways to control, prevent and at least mitigate against damage to these historic rides. Drainage strategies, alternate ways to repair routes, reviewing walking routes with short to medium term closures to allow rides to recover are all being considered. The goal is to ensure the forest remains opens year round whilst preserving the historic site. The growth of the surrounding area north of the forest has put extra pressure on winter visitor numbers due to the forest being considered as local green space in developers plans. With the support of Natural England future developments are likely to required Environmental Impact assessments that will hopefully create more localised provisions for quality external spaces.