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Red Poll cattle and buttercups return to Hatfield Forest

With spring in full swing, the team at Hatfield Forest are ready to welcome visitors after a winter of seclusion while the medieval hunting ground recovered from the ravages of thousands of footsteps. Here Helen Hooker and Elizabeth Reeve, from the visitor welcome team, describe the delights of May in the woodland.

May in Hatfield Forest (9321739)
May in Hatfield Forest (9321739)

It is early summer and the grassland of Hatfield Forest is carpeted with gold, as our spectacular display of buttercups come into bloom.

At last count there were an estimated 300 million flowers, coating everything they touch with a sprinkling of yellow pollen. The origin of the name comes from a belief that it gave butter its golden hue.

Over the centuries buttercups have also been known by a number of common names, including lantern leaves, old wife’s threads, goldweed and soldier buttons.

May in Hatfield Forest (9321742)
May in Hatfield Forest (9321742)

Roaming among the buttercups at this time of year, you will see our handsome herds of Red Poll cattle, now making a welcome return to the forest. The cattle help bring the forest to life, adding another dimension to this historic landscape.

The Red Poll breed was established in 1888, a cross between Norfolk Red and Suffolk Dun cattle, two breeds which are now extinct. They are known for their gentle nature, and are well suited to grazing historic wood pasture like ours.

This year we have around 200 cattle on the main plain and Takeley Hill, including Eddy the bull, cows and their calves. Calves are generally born in February and March, so they are a little older, and more confident when they arrive at the forest.

One, however, took everyone by surprise in 2018, being born within the forest boundaries. His mother carefully tucked him away in dense scrubland to keep him safe and away from prying eyes.

May in Hatfield Forest (9321735)
May in Hatfield Forest (9321735)

Cattle have a long history at Hatfield Forest and are a crucial part of our conservation work. By grazing the open plains and mature coppice, they prevent areas growing up into young woodland, keeping a balance of habitats. This maintains the forest as wood pasture, one of the rarest habitats in Europe.

Now the cattle have returned from their winter quarters to roam, it is particularly important to consider them when walking your dog. We want all visitors to enjoy themselves while ensuring the wildlife in this special place continues to flourish. When you are near the cattle, please keep your dog on a lead. Walk around them in a wide circle, rather than through the herd, which could separate mothers from their calves.

With the weather warming up, May is a perfect time for families to enjoy the natural world together. During our Magical Woodland Elves and Fairies events enter a secret world to explore the forest, looking for hidden fairy doors. You can even make your own woodland wand to take home.

For those wanting to discover the wider forest, 14 geocaches have now been hidden, ready to be found by adventurous treasure hunters. We also have scavenger hunt sheets, available from the entrance kiosk and lakeside hub. They will help you find and identify some of our resident birds, butterflies, plants and fungi. Once again you will be able to hire a rowing boat to enjoy our lake first hand from the end of this month.

For more details about all our events please visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hatfield-forest.

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