More about Hainault Forest
Once a hunting forest providing venison for the King’s table, this beautiful ancient woodland is home to a wealth of wildlife and plant species. Adjoining Hainault Forest Country Park, with its lake, petting zoo and café, it’s a destination with something to interest every family member. And it’s easily accessible from London.
This former royal hunting forest is one of the best examples of medieval woodland still in existence. Since the 11th century, generations of monarchs have galloped through its glades in search of game. Nowadays, it is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to its rich mosaic of habitats – ancient broadleaf woodland and pasture, grassland, heath and wetland – which support an incredible diversity of wildlife and plants.
The forest is a birdwatcher’s dream, with 158 species recorded. As you wander among the stately oaks and hornbeams, watch out for the colourful little firecrest with a flash of orange on its head, and the yellow-throated wood warbler. Visit in early summer, and you may be lucky enough to hear the melodic trill of the nightingale or the gentle purring sound of the increasingly rare turtle dove. Summer is also a good time to spot butterflies, such as the purple hairstreak, peacock and painted lady, as they flutter over the sunny grasslands and patches of heath.
In spring, the woodland floor is a tapestry of bluebell, forget-me-not, red campion, and the small and delicate herb Robert; while in autumn it sprouts an amazing array of colourful fungi, including the bright red fly agaric, the vivid jade-green elf cup, and the luminous white angel’s bonnet.
Despite being right on the edge of London, the forest feels a world away from the city. And its position adjoining Hainault Forest Country Park, which has a lake, petting zoo and orienteering course, makes it the perfect destination for a family day out.
Hainault Forest near Romford in Essex consists of 113 hectares (280 acres) of mainly ancient woodland pasture which is owned by Essex County Council and leased to the Woodland Trust; and 54 hectares (134 acres) of arable land (known as Havering Park Farm) which was purchased by the Trust in 2006. Of these new fields one has been allowed to naturally regenerate and is immediately adjacent to Hainault Forest, two partially boarder the forest and as they were once part of a royal deer park have been maintained as grazing land with patches of scrub and occasional trees (less than 20% canopy cover) and the final field although once within the original footprint of Hainault Forest is now separated by a privately owned field and with limited/low natural regeneration was planed with 55,000 trees and shrubs to create a new native woodland reflecting both the local tree species of Hainault Forest and those within the surrounding hedgerows. This field will help to protect, buffer and ultimately extend the ancient woodland/wood pasture habitat.
Hainault Forest together with the land owned by the London Borough of Redbridge makes up the larger whole known as Hainault Forest Country Park.
Hainault Forest is in an urban environment with residential areas adjoining the site to the west and a municipal golf course to the east and south. It is eight miles inside the M25 and four miles (6.4km) from the M11.
Grid reference: TQ473936, OS 1:50,000 Sheet No. 177
Access and walks
The site has 10 pedestrian entrances (kissing gates and squeeze gaps) and four permissive bridleway entrances. In the section managed by the Woodland Trust, there are three surfaced multi-user paths extending to 4.5 miles, with several circular surfaced networks of varying lengths. Details of the routes are on the information boards in Common Car Park (opposite Chigwell Row Infants School) and on the general information leaflet available from the Country Park.
Surfaced paths are either flat or gently sloping. Puddles can form on the stone paths in wet weather and the unsurfaced paths can become very muddy so it’s advisable to wear sturdy footwear.
Cyclists and horse riders are asked to keep to the surfaced paths.
The Redbridge section of Hainault Forest Country Park has a number of attractions, including a boating and fishing lake, farm/zoo, orienteering course and interactive nature and sculpture trails.
There are toilets, including disabled facilities, in Redbridge section of Hainault Forest Country Park.
There is a café in the Redbridge section of the country park and plenty of eating places of all kinds in nearby Romford and Havering. Visit TripAdvisor for details.
For tourist information and accommodation visit the Essex Tourist Guide and TripAdvisor websites.
From Romford Road (A112), turn into Fox Burrow Road, where there are two fee paying car parks owned by the London Borough of Redbridge. There are also two free car parks managed by the Woodland Trust along Manor Road on the northern edge of the site. All car parks are open during daylight hours only.
By public transport
Take the London underground Central Line to Hainault station, and then bus 247 (to Romford).
You can plan your journey by public transport at traveline.