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Trees and plants at Fordham Hall

There are ancient semi-natural woodlands close to the estate, including neighbouring Rectory Wood, Fiddlers Wood and Hillhouse Wood. Hillhouse Wood and Hoe Wood, which is 1.2 miles (2km) away, are both owned by the Trust.

Since the Trust acquired the estate around 120ha (300 acres) of new native woodland have been planted. The mix of species includes ash, hazel, hornbeam, plateau alderwood, and oak.
Another 60ha (150 acres) have been converted to grassland, which is grazed by Soay sheep in the late summer. Grazing controls the vegetation and stimulates new growth.

The estate has a total of nine miles (14.5km) of hedgerow with occasional trees. The hedgerows vary from close-clipped to rambling, with some comprising of no fewer than 41 different species of woody shrub and climber.

Semi-natural woodland

A number of Fordham’s hedges are ancient. One is the remnant of an ancient semi-natural woodland that has been reduced to a hedge over the last two centuries.

There are also two groups of ancient cricket bat willows, one close to the Colne and the other next to a stream. Both are thought to be around 200 years old and are the estate’s only mature woodland.

As part of an interpretation trail, the new planting includes a number of pure species stands of trees that represent aspects of post and pre-Ice Age woodland. They include:
• Hazel, birch and Scots pine
• Alder, oak, small-leaved lime
• Hornbeam, yew and beech
• Monkey puzzle, gingko and dawn redwood.

In summer Fordham's meadows are awash with wild flowers (Photo: WTML/Dominic Nicholls)

The wild flower meadows at Fordham Hall Estate support a range of grass and herb species that create a splash of colour when in flower. A few species are dominant, including red fescue, cock’s-foot, smooth meadow-grass, perennial rye-grass, red and white clover, Timothy grass, common knapweed, oxeye daisy, lesser trefoil and common bird’s-foot-trefoil.

Other species of particular interest include bulbous buttercup, spotted medick and crested dog’s-tail, as well as the early flowering cowslip and grass vetchling – an inconspicuous annual herb that looks like a grass when not in flower.

Two species that are characteristic of old grassland in Essex are sweet vernal-grass and yellow oat-grass. They occur in the estate’s meadows, but are rare.

Prominent herbs

Yellow rattle is another of the most prominent herbs found in these meadows, especially away from areas dominated by taller growing plants. Yellow rattle is an annual, semi-parasitic herb that is mainly found in grassland habitats on soils of moderate or low fertility. It is most typical of hay meadows where it needs to shed seed before the hay harvest. It has a wide range of host species, particularly grasses.

Wild flowers have flourished in the meadows, making Fordham one of the most impressive sites for hay meadows in eastern England. More than 50 different flower species have been counted in just one field.

Contrasting with the areas of dry grassland is an area of marshy grassland that is dominated by reed and rush at the north-eastern end of the meadow. To the east of this marshy grassland is a small area of young trees.

In the floodplain of the Colne there is a small area of marsh called Fordham Bridge Meadow, a designated Local Wildlife Site. This former marshland has helped attract uncommon birds and plants – 13 grass species and 45 herb species have been recorded, including yellow wort, common broomrape and southern marsh orchid.

Fordham Bridge Meadow also provides valuable habitat for many invertebrate species, including dragonflies and damselflies.
In 2009, lesser calamint was introduced to a number of areas of the estate, a plant that is locally common in Essex but nationally scarce.