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Storm Dennis: Hatfield Forest shut and Birchanger Wood users urged not to throw caution to the wind

The Bishop's Stortford area is expected to escape the worst effects of Storm Dennis on Sunday (Feb 16) – but Hatfield Forest remains shut and a warning has been issued to users of Birchanger Wood.

The Met Office forecast for the region is windy, especially at first with widespread gales, and rain, often heavy, will gradually clear away east through the afternoon. There is a 'low impact' yellow warning for wind in force until 12 noon on Sunday. The impacts will be much less than during Storm Ciara last weekend.

The Essex Weather Centre says that the strongest winds will be between 5am and 9am, with gusts of 55-60mph. Heavy rain is likely to cause surface-water flooding in places overnight, and river flooding in the usual prone locations is expected late Sunday into Monday.

A fallen sweet chestnut in Birchanger Woods (29316026)
A fallen sweet chestnut in Birchanger Woods (29316026)

Storm Ciara brought down several large trees in Birchanger Wood, the 69-acre ancient coppiced woodland which straddles the A120 and Hertfordshire-Essex border on the north-eastern edge of Bishop's Stortford.

Its volunteers, trustees and warden have checked the safety of the paths but have yet to assess the damage to trees away from the paths.

They said: "Therefore, we advise all users of the wood to stick to the paths and not wander from them. There may be heavy boughs caught in adjoining trees that could come down at any time and therefore represent a danger to all who stray from the paths."

A silver birch (29316046)
A silver birch (29316046)

Trees that have been brought down will be chainsawed and either left on the forest floor to improve the biodiversity of the wood or be chopped for firewood and stored at the compound under the water tower. This wood can be bought for £12 a barrow on Saturday mornings, when volunteers are on hand to help load buyers' vehicles. All proceeds go back to preserving and conserving the ancient habitat.

Hatfield Forest was shut from dawn on Saturday (Feb 15) and remains closed until further notice. Its policy is to close when wind speeds reach gusts of 45mph.

The National Trust attraction's website says: "After a storm has passed through, we need to carry out a post-storm survey to determine that the forest is safe to enter.

"High winds can cause damage to trees at high level, causing limbs and branches to fall with little or no warning. They can also damage the structure, so a whole tree will fall some time later. So, please do not enter the forest until the [closed] signs at the gates have been removed.

A silver birch propped up (29316044)
A silver birch propped up (29316044)

"Because the forest is so large we concentrate on ensuring the most-used areas are safe first. If you spot tree damage without red and white tape on it, please keep away and let us know where it is by calling 01279 870678 so we can make it safe."

The Gardens of Easton Lodge has cancelled its first snowdrop open day of the season on Sunday (Feb 16). An ancient lime tree at the gardens, near Great Dunmow, was brought down in Storm Ciara’s winds last Sunday (Feb 9).

The Gibberd Garden just outside Old Harlow has also called off its Snowdrop Sunday but will be open for visitors to view the spring flowers on Wednesday (Feb 19) from 2pm to 4.30pm.

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