On a frosty January morning, I was privileged to visit Hainault Forest. Inside the M25 and just 15 miles from the centre of London, this urban oasis has a long and important history. As well as providing wood to fire the bread ovens of the capital and venison for the king’s table, it’s where the British conservation movement began.

We join the Trust’s Jonathan Jukes and George Lewis for a tour of this special ancient woodland. Hainault is one of the finest remnants of the Forest of Essex which covered most of the county in the 12th century and was protected by the crown as a royal hunting forest. Among thousands of stately hornbeams and oaks, you can feel a link with the past and almost imagine the highwaymen charging through, Roman legions marching, local people burning charcoal, pollarding trees and grazing cattle. It’s magical.

Although Hainault feels vast at 280 acres, it’s just a tenth of what once stood here - and this was almost lost too. In the 19th century, the local community was furious at the prospect of Hainault being ripped up to make room for food production. They stood up for what was important to them and the site was saved, preserved for us to keep enjoying today over 100 years later.

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Help protect ancient woodland

Explore why ancient woodland like Hainault Forest is so important, what we're doing to protect it and how you can help.

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Don’t miss our previous episodes, including:

  • England’s largest new native wood at Heartwood
  • Loch Arkaig, an ancient Scotland pine forest
  • how trees are making a difference on a Nottinghamshire farm
  • Ben Shieldaig, a great example of Scotland’s rainforest
  • the urban woods and trees of Leeds
  • Joyden’s Wood, a tranquil ancient wood close to London
  • the Trust’s largest site in England – Smithills Estate
  • the ambitious Northern Forest planting project 
  • the new young people’s forest at Mead
  • fascinating staff stories
  • a tour of our president Clive Anderson's garden
  • special tree-themed interviews with celebrities including Steph McGovern, Tracy Chevalier, Dan Snow, Kathy Clugston, Alastair Campbell, Adrian Chiles and Cressida Cowell.

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Please subscribe to the podcast if you want to hear more woodland adventures and don’t forget to rate us or leave a review!

I am keen to hear from you as well – so if you have a favourite woodland walk, do tell me about it in a short email. If you can, make a 5 minute or so recording of your own walk and we may feature your woodland walk in a future podcast.

I’ll be off on another woodland walk soon. Hope you can join me.

Visiting woods

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Primordial landscapes, tangled branches, breathtaking wildlife and miles of woodland trails. From the countryside to cities, we care for thousands of woods throughout the UK, all free to visit.

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