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Hatfield Forest staff start 2020 with regeneration projects

As 2020 begins, Hatfield Forest welcome team members Helen Hooker and Elizabeth Reeve continue their monthly updates for Indie readers with a look at how the woodland is being regenerated over the winter...

As we start a new year, Hatfield Forest is at rest, building its reserves for regeneration in the spring. Staff and volunteers, however, are hard at work on winter projects designed to help and protect this unique environment.

On the western and southern boundaries of the forest, our teams have been busy in recent weeks clearing scrub and cutting back the tree canopy. This allows more light to reach the forest floor and will help with regrowth when the weather starts to warm up.

Winter hornbeam at Hatfield Forest (25724029)
Winter hornbeam at Hatfield Forest (25724029)

Elsewhere, Kim Goodall, one of our countryside rangers, and her volunteers have worked hard to repair and refurbish the sensory boardwalk. This takes our visitors from the entrance road through to the Elgins parking area.

The boardwalk features engraved wooden signs to help people identify some of our wildlife. These engravings also enable those with limited sight to feel the outlines.

Our restoration of the lake area continues. Now the large piles of scrub and timber have been chipped and taken away, fresh views are visible, allowing people to see the lake and its waterfowl. For more information about this project, see http://bit.ly/HatfieldLakeRestoration2019

Waterlogged ground at Hatfield Forest (25724035)
Waterlogged ground at Hatfield Forest (25724035)

This time last year we wrote about a research project in the forest's northern coppices, trialling different ways to decompact and aerate badly compacted paths. We are now at the end of the project's second year and studies show some good results.

Three different techniques have been used to aerate the soil. The first and most effective is air spading, which breaks up the surface instantly. However, this cannot be used close to ancient trees because of the risk to roots close to the surface.

The other methods involve drilling holes into the earth, filling them with either inert charcoal or woodchip mulch to assist drainage and stop them from closing up again. Operations manager Henry Bexley explained that these processes take time to show results on badly compacted soil.

He said: "However, once there is a critical mass whereby the soil structure opens up enough for organic matter to mix in with it, earthworms to help aerate and turn it over, tree roots to begin penetrating again, the process speeds up."

Black headed gull at Hatfield Forest (25724043)
Black headed gull at Hatfield Forest (25724043)

To learn more about our living laboratory please visit https://bit.ly/2XKl5C5.

Once again, we are asking winter visitors to Hatfield Forest to walk on the hardstanding paths and open plains to protect the forest by minimising footfall on already delicate surfaces. Our heavy clay soil means the ground becomes waterlogged and quickly turns to mud.

With this in mind, we have roped off the area immediately around the entrance kiosk. If you are heading for Takeley Hill please take a few seconds to walk around this roped area rather than through it.

When visiting, be aware that during the winter months parking is severely limited, with just 60 spaces by the entrance and another 60 near the lake. You may wish to consider this when planning activities for the half-term holiday.

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

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