After two days indoors, I decided it was time to venture out again to get some exercise, as well as take yet another opportunity to shoot whatever I saw in the frosty conditions that greeted us all in the early part of the week. Wherever I go I always try to make it somewhere different, even if it’s only on the other side of the road. I always hope for somewhere interesting but normally it’s just what I photograph that brings interest as Essex to be honest isn’t that interesting at all. After pondering where to go and driving around for some time, I decided on Hatfield Forest.
We’d been there before, but as I had no change, I avoided the car park and parked next to St John the Evangelist Church near Bush End. I’d check the forecast beforehand and it said : Hatfield Forest Lake, Over the next 7 days and the average daytime maximum temperature will be around 6°C, with a high for the week of 10°C expected on the afternoon of Tuesday 26th. The mean minimum temperature will be 2°C, dipping to its lowest on the morning of Tuesday 19th at -1°C. Typically I’d chosen the coldest day so I wrapped up put on three layers and a coat, as well as two pairs of gloves, a hat and my wellies. I jumped out the car and froze instantly and then headed off into the forest.
Given the wide range of unspoilt habitats in the Forest, it is not surprising that it has much wildlife, both plants and animals. Amongst mammals to be seen at the Forest are fallow deer, muntjac deer, fox, grey squirrel, rabbit, weasel, and hedgehog. There are badger setts, but badgers, being nocturnal are rarely seen. Two herds of Red Poll cattle graze the plains in the traditional manner and we caught sight of these the first time we visited in the pouring rain over 3 years ago. Sheep are used as ‘conservation grazers’ for areas that have been cleared of scrub. The breeds being used are Speckled Faced Beulah, Wiltshire Horn and Manx Loaghtan.
A count in May 2008 found 58 different species of birds, attracted by the various habitats. Woodland birds include jay, green woodpecker, great spotted woodpecker, carrion crow, blue tit, great tit, common chaffinch, nightingale, kestrel and bullfinch. Around the lake, depending on the time of year, are graylag geese, Canada geese, mute swan, great crested grebe, common tern, moorhen, coot, occasional kingfisher, cormorant, and grey heron, with swallows and house martins skimming the water. Buzzards can increasingly been seen above the Forest.
Unfortunately for the ducks, geese and other wildlife on the pond, it was so cold the water had frozen so most just had to stand miserably on top of the ice. I managed to get some good photos of some of the species of birds though and the ducks looking frozen.Hatfield Forest is especially important for its invertebrates, especially those associated with decaying wood. Of particular significance are the saproxylic beetles and the site is in the top 10 in the UK for this specialised fauna.
Trees are found in abundance, with the main species being oak, ash, hornbeam, hawthorn, hazel and field maple. There are over 800 ancient trees in the Wood Pasture areas, some of which are over 1,200 years old, and of especial note are the huge pollarded oaks and hornbeams. Mistletoe grows in profusion, especially on the old hawthorn scrub. The most famous tree in the Forest was the Doodle Oak, which was one of the largest trees ever to grow in England. It last bore green leaves in 1858 and its site is marked in the north of the Forest. After about an hour and a walk of about a mile I returned to the car and headed back towards Chelmsford for breakfast and a hot drink.