An Oasis on the Doorstep of London
Stretching across 167 hectares (414 acres)
The landscape of Hainault Forest stretches across 167 hectares (414 acres). The magnificent ancient woodland is at the heart of the forest; its calming canopy and inspiring ancient trees provide homes for all kinds of plants, animals and fungi, and are a welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life. But there’s much more to discover.
Areas of wood pasture provide another glimpse of the forest’s long relationship with people; young woodland planted over recent years is creating the ancient trees of the future, the grasslands provide space for stretching legs and soaring wings, and wetlands like the lake and ponds complete the picture.
The UK’s most diverse and valuable habitat, ancient woodlands are irreplaceable and make up just 2.5% of our land area. The ancient woodland of Hainault Forest was once part of a much larger forest block stretching to Epping and Hatfield, and we’re lucky that we’re able to protect what remains to ensure it continues to be a haven for people and wildlife long into the future.
Historically, much of Hainault Forest would have been managed as wood pasture – a habitat that’s made up of open grassland with areas of scrub and denser woodland and grazed with animals – often cattle; think more parkland than dense forest. We’re working to restore areas of wood pasture within Hainault Forest, including reintroducing cattle to parts of the woodland.
20,000 new trees have been planted in recent years at Hainault Forest, along with areas of natural regeneration where nature is left to do its own thing – saplings appear over time from the seed source of the surrounding wood. These thriving young trees provide an important habitat for wildlife, but they’re also buffering and protecting the ancient woodland; a win-win combination.
Alive with colour and sound in the summer months, the grasslands at Hainault Forest are an important place for wildlife as well as people. Look and listen for skylarks hovering high above the open meadows, singing a seemingly endless song. Watch out for ant hills – and where there are ants there’s likely to be a green woodpecker or two, on the lookout for an easy feast.
The main wetland feature of Hainault Forest is the lake, which attracts a range of water birds including moorhen, mallard, tufted duck and great crested grebe. In winter look out for seasonal visitors like pochard and shoveler. Across the forest there are also streams, drainage ditches and woodland ponds – these quieter wetland areas provide important homes for aquatic invertebrates, and provide water sources for birds and mammals. Look out for the leaky dams created by our volunteers as you explore the forest – there’s over 20 to spot! They’re an important feature that helps to regulate the flow of water and avoid flooding.
Masters of disguise, woodcocks are excellently camouflaged to their woodland surroundings. Their nocturnal lifestyle makes them even trickier to spot, and they’re now also considered highly threatened as a result of habitat fragmentation.
The biggest of all our finches, the Hawfinch has an impressive bill that can make light work of splitting open cherry stones. It’s numbers are declining in many areas, so we’re proud that Hainault Forest is one of the key locations to spot them in the London area.
Measuring a miniscule 2.5mm, you’ll need pin-sharp eyesight to glimpse this tiny money spider. One of Hainault’s smallest residents, the Midas spider is nationally endangered so we’re thrilled to share the forest with them.
There are 18 species of bat in the UK; and 11 of these are found at Hainault Forest. The most impressive is the barbastelle bat. Incredibly rare and with a characteristic pug-like face, Hainault Forest is the only place within the M25 that these furry flying mammals call home.
The quintessential British woodland flower. Blooming in April and May these blue beauties brighten up the forest floor and provide an excellent early nectar source for insects.
Hainault forest is home to over 6000 veteran hornbeam pollards! Look out for their twisted trunks, springtime catkins, and leaves that hang on throughout winter.
The undisputed king of the forest, oak trees support more life than any other native species. Hainault’s ancient and veteran oaks make an impressive sight, with knobbly bark and nooks, crannies and crevices galore.
How we look after
We’re working hard to ensure Hainault Forest has a long and bright future. Find out more about the work our site managers and ranger team are doing to restore and protect the forest by taking a look at our management plan.
Alternatively, pop into the visitor centre and have a chat, or join one of our regular guided walks where you can hear first-hand about the latest happenings at Hainault – check our events page to see what’s coming up.