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Hawfinches make a rare visit to feed on Hatfield Forest's hornbeam trees

Helen Hooker and Elizabeth Reeve, from the Hatfield Forest Visitor Welcome Team, report on the first stirrings of spring at the National Trust landmark.

As the days gradually lengthen and we approach the spring equinox, Hatfield Forest is steadily coming back to life after its winter slumbers. Although it will be a while before the trees are in full leaf, there is still plenty of new life to be seen.

In 1956 Hatfield Forest was designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and as a National Nature Reserve in 1997. It is unique in being the best preserved medieval Royal forest in Europe and is home to more than 4,000 species of wildlife and trees, and a refuge for many rare insects, fungi and wildflowers.

Discover the rich flora and fauna at Hatfield Forest (30704852)
Discover the rich flora and fauna at Hatfield Forest (30704852)

A very recent and exciting discovery by Chris Swan, one of our coppice volunteers, was a 'coral fungus', Marchandiomyces corallinus, previously unrecorded here.

Another sighting this winter has caused a flutter among bird enthusiasts. Since late January a flock of hawfinches has been visiting Hatfield Forest. This species is on the UK

conservation Red List, as the resident breeding population has halved over the last 25 years. They are also globally threatened.

Discover the rich flora and fauna at Hatfield Forest (30704854)
Discover the rich flora and fauna at Hatfield Forest (30704854)

The Hatfield Forest hawfinches are almost certainly winter visitors from colder climates, lured to forage among our hornbeams, which are a favourite source of food.

With such a rich variety of species to look out for, why not get involved in some 'citizen science' and record your sightings? This is easy to do, and anyone can have a go. The first step is to identify what you have seen and the iSpot website is a fantastic resource for this. iSpot is a friendly and free community designed to help nature enthusiasts and can be found at www.ispotnature.org/.

Once you know what you have seen, you can log your sightings at iRecord. This website is aimed at making it easier for wildlife sightings and photographs to be shared, collated and checked by experts. This important information is used to support research and decision-making at local and national levels. You can find iRecord at www.brc.ac.uk/irecord/.

The Hatfield Forest sightings collated by our regional wildlife and countryside advisor have been logged on iRecord and show an impressive range of species.

Discover the rich flora and fauna at Hatfield Forest (30704856)
Discover the rich flora and fauna at Hatfield Forest (30704856)

Henry Bexley, forest operations manager, said, "Did you know that second to Wicken Fen (in Cambridgeshire), Hatfield Forest is the next most species-rich property in the whole of the National Trust's ownership?"

In this 125th year of the National Trust, we are again encouraging people to get more involved in helping us to safeguard and protect unique places for future generations. We have launched the 125 Challenge, inviting everyone to join in and become fundraising champions for the landscapes we all love. For more details about this project, visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/fundraise-for-us

Although the weather is improving, the heavy rain has taken its toll on Hatfield Forest this winter, leaving some of the pathways very boggy and compacted. This has left some of the pathways very boggy and compacted – a far from ideal habitat for our wildlife. Until the ground has recovered, we urge people to stay on our hardstanding paths or save their visits for the warmer summer months.

For more information about Hatfield Forest, visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hatfield-forest/

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