Hainault Forest Website
Written and Designed by © Brian Ecott
JANUARY - FEBRUARY 2002
With the vegetation at a minimum at this time of year, and the ground, off track, very muddy it is a good time to turn nature detective and look for tracks, trails and signs of animals, particularly mammals.
Tracks of a Muntjac deer were seen on a path leading from the lake. Muntjac deer are solitary, and are often mistaken for a medium sized dog disappearing into the undergrowth. Although some escaped from a collection in Woburn in Bedfordshire in the 1900's they spread rapidly in the 1960's and are now widespread in Southern England. Apart from mud, should snowfall occur, that too is a good place to look for Fox, Rabbit, Hare, Grey squirrel and Wood mouse tracks. February 1969 was such a year for tracks in the snow. Under the exposed roots of trees large caches of nibbled
Hornbeam seeds can be seen, and at the foot of Dog rose bushes small piles of eaten and nibbled rosehips and seeds are the work of mice and voles. The scent of Fox is often noticed crossing paths on damp mornings. Scratches of three or more parallel lines on the smooth bark of Hornbeam or Beech are caused by the Grey squirrel climbing the tree. Molehills are numerous this year in the open areas. On the old leaves of blackberry the mines of a micro moth can be found.
A large number of noisy Canada geese were ever-present on the lake during the period, with gulls - Common and Black headed flying overhead. A pair of Shoveler ducks were circling on the lake in January as was a solitary Cormorant. Other inhabitants included Mute swans, Mallard, Pochard, Tufted ducks Coot, Moorhen and Great crested grebe. On the island in the lake many of the trees are covered in Ivy and the berries are a source of food for migrant Blackcaps although this year most have already been eaten by Redwings and other members of the thrush family.
Many birds were active especially during February. The "teacher, teacher" call of the Great tit could be heard, Robins, Blackbirds and Song thrush and the drumming of Green and Great spotted woodpeckers was frequent especially around the Ash trees at Sheepwater.
European gorse is in flower, and is particularly splendid at this time of year. It is in flower for much of the year with the exception of a couple of months in the summer, when the Dwarf gorse on the heathland takes over.
Hidden and overlooked by many visitors to the forest are Lambourne Well, Roe's Well and a bomb crater on Cabin Hill. The scrub and debris have been cleared out of Roe's Well and many Birches felled during the winter by The Woodland Trust. The well contains plenty of water and surrounding mud but its transformation over the coming months is eagerly awaited. The area around the bomb crater has also been cleared.
Working against the ideals of The Woodland Trust are individuals who throw logs back into the ponds, and well meaning people introducing goldfish and alien aquatic plants into the ponds. Garden rubbish thrown from houses bordering the woodland often means the introduction of quick colonizers such as Variegated nettle Lamiastrum galeobdolon ssp argentium, Michaelmas daisy, Spanish bluebell, Cherry laurel and various Ivy cultivars. Spanish bluebell freely hybridizes with the English bluebell. The dumping of cars, fridges and rubbish in the woodland costs the Woodland Trust - a charity unnecessary expense in clearance which would otherwise be put to better use in conservation.
All is not gloom. Spring is on its way and White deadnettle and Lesser celandine are beginning to flower. Cuckoo pint, and Bluebells are appearing. Blackthorn buds are bursting. Hawthorn and Hornbeam are coming into leaf and the catkins of Hornbeam, Hazel and Grey poplar can be found.
MARCH - APRIL 2002
At the beginning of March the forest was very muddy off the paths, but by mid April after 4 weeks of drought the terrain had dried and hardened, the first heavy rain coming on the 26th. I first heard the Cuckoo on the 22nd April from a plain on Cabin Hill, where I watched a Green woodpecker feeding amongst the Mat grass. Around the periphery large swarms of black/gold metallic male Long horned moths were flying in the sunshine, resting on the bushes during the slightest breeze. The antennae of male Long horned moths are six times the length of their body.
On the lake are a pair of Great crested grebes, and have been seen performing the weed courtship ceremony. The lone cygnet is still being attacked by the breeding pair of Mute swans, and several pairs of Tufted ducks are still resident. A large flock of Canada geese is ever present, awaiting bread from passing visitors, many are nesting on the island and their calls can be heard throughout the forest. During the winter months a lone Barnacle goose has remained with the flock. It is smaller than the Canada goose and has an all white face. A hybrid Chinese goose and a pair of white Domestic ducks have also been seen. On the lake margin Coltsfoot has been in flower throughout March to be followed by Cuckoo flower or Lady's smock.
Lesser celandine has been in flower during the period and thrives in the damper areas of the woodland. The violet flowers of Ground ivy can be seen along path edges, where the white flowers of Cow parsley, White deadnettle and Greater stitchwort are striking. Patches of Bluebell can be found but there is danger of hybridization with the broader leaved Spanish bluebells which are garden escapes. Where the woodland is being opened up there is a possibility of an increase in the numbers of spring flowers many of which are very scarce, but still holding on. Plants such as Wood speedwell, Wood sorrel, Early dog violet, Common dog violet and Bugle are infrequent now. I haven't come across Wood spurge for several years.
Warm days in April have seen the return of the butterflies. The Peacock, Green veined white and Speckled wood were early sightings, and later Orange tip butterflies were egg laying on Garlic mustard and Cuckoo flower, and the Holly blue butterfly was noted. The spring generation lay eggs on the flower buds of holly, and the second generation on Ivy. The 7 spot ladybird is coming out of hibernation and there appears to be a large number around. The tiny 10 spot and the Orange ladybird have also been noted.
Ivy is an important source of nectar late in the year and in spring the berries are sought after by Blackcap one of the first warblers to return to this country. These are now singing along with Chiffchaff, Garden warblers and Whitethroats. The whole woodland is full of song.
Hornbeam, Oak and Birch are in leaf with the Ash being the last to break its buds this year. Blackthorn was out in March and its white flowers stood out. Now in April it's the Hawthorn's turn to flower. Although much of the scrub is Hawthorn or May, there are a few examples of Midland hawthorn in the ancient woodland. This is a woodland species and its fruit contain two stones as opposed to the one stone in the May bush. Its leaves are also less indented.
On Sunday 14th April a few adults and children helped Eleanor Yoxall, Countryside Warden, sow some wildflower meadows. Now the rain has come there will, hopefully, be some cornfield annuals flowering later in the summer, together with some perennial plants which will flower next year. The annuals are Corn poppy, Corn marigold, Corncockle and Cornflower, Perennial plants include Oxeye daisy, Self heal, Ribwort plantain, Meadow cranesbill, Betony, Devils bit scabious, Yarrow, Yellow rattle, Lady's bedstraw, Knapweed, Wild carrot, White campion, Wild carrot, Meadow buttercup, Agrimony and Salad burnet.
MAY - JUNE 2002
One of the highlights of the last two months was on 3rd May when I found a new gall record for the forest, in fact the second record for the UK. In May 2000 Brian Wurzell from Tottenham, London discovered a Silver Maple whose leaves were covered by tiny red pimple-like galls caused by a mite Vasates quadripedes at Waltham Abbey, Essex. The first record in the UK. The site was on an abandoned tree nursery once used by the defunct Greater London Council to supply trees to the London Boroughs for planting in streets and parks. One such area for planting was Hainault Forest then managed by the GLC. The trees were planted in the fields bordering the Romford Road. After many years the site became impenetrable due to scrub, and during the foot and mouth crisis last year the area was opened up by Redbridge Council with pathways. Many interesting trees are to be found there, including a dozen or so Silver Maples all exhibiting the gall which Brian Wurzell confirmed as the second record of Vasates quadripedes. It is certain that the trees and galls originated at Waltham Abbey as the trees are of similar size and age and planted about 20-25 years ago, with the gall having gone unnoticed during this period. There may be other sites in London exhibiting this gall. For more information about plant galls why not visit the British Plant Gall Society website to be found on the Links page.
I have been trying to visit the forest once or twice a week, weather permitting, to record flowers, trees and ferns. So far I have recorded over 250 species, and the number grows with each visit. There are some interesting finds which will be mentioned at a later date.
At Roe's well, following its clearance, wildlife is returning. Tadpoles and Great diving beetles were seen. Celery leaved buttercup and Brooklime are flowering as are two crowfoots, Ivy-leaved crowfoot Ranunculus hederacea on the margin and Thread-leaved crowfoot R. trichophyllus with threadlike submerged leaves. A pair of mallards were seen. Recently on Sheepwater, when the sun shone dragonflies and damselflies were abroad. Pairs of Common blue and Large red damselflies were egg laying. Broad bodied chaser dragonflies were patrolling. A small pond closeby on the wood pasture has Lesser spearwort in flower. On the Lake Mallard ducklings were first seen on 3rd May, but it was not until the beginning of June that large numbers of Canada goslings had hatched. A Mute swan is still nesting in the reeds. Swallows swoop over the water and are known to be nesting in the Farm buildings.
In the Plantation an area has been cleared and Hazel planted. This is a very uncommon tree in the forest. No rabbit proofing tubes have been used, and with the large number of rabbits present, problems may arise. A Broad-leaved cockspur thorn Crataegus prunifolia which is closely related to the Hawthorn was found in flower. The seed planting in the Grassland appears successful with many plants coming up. Some will flower this year, others not until next year, but will increase the diversity not only of the flora, but the fauna also. In one meadow Grass-leaved vetchling Lathyrus nissolia is in flower. On the Heathland pupae of the Six-spot burnet moth are attached to Rush and Grass stems and will emerge shortly. The Petty whin Genista anglica continues to decline with only two plants and two seedlings in flower.
On the edge of Lambourne wood a Nightingale was heard singing in late May. The Tortrix moth caterpillars which were hanging from trees by gossamer threads on 15th May were flying as adult green moths around the Oaks on the 20th June.
Speckled woods are plentiful this year, and during the period Common blue males, Holly blue, Orange tip, and Green veined white butterflies has been recorded. A painted lady was first seen on 3rd June and lately the Meadow browns are putting in an appearance.
JULY - AUGUST 2002
August saw the retirement of the Head Countryside Warden, John Lebeau, after working at Hainault Forest Country Park since 1965. In June, John led a walk from the Country Park to Abridge and back, stopping for lunch at The Blue Boar. The going was very muddy along Featherbed Lane - a bridleway, but the return on the footpaths by Dews Hall farm was more comfortable. The picture is taken from the stile on the farm with Lambourne Church in the background. John is second from the left.
July saw several new arrivals at the Rare Breeds Farm at Foxburrows - Dexter cattle, Tamworth piglets and Torddu or badger face sheep. Torddu means black belly in Welsh. They are a Welsh Hill breed and the black starts under the chin, continuing under the chest and belly to the tail. The thick eye-stripes give it a badger-like appearance.
The wild flower meadows sown in April this year, have been very successful, with annuals such as Corncockle, Corn marigold and Cornflower and Corn Chamomile giving a blaze of colour. These plants have not been seen in this area for a very long time. The annuals will eventually die out and be replaced by perennials. Some perennials are already flowering this year - Wild carrot, Musk mallow, Ox-eye daisy, Self heal and White campion - and should create an interesting area of grassland next year, adding to the seed bank. Many insects will have benefited from the wild flowers. Large numbers of bumble bees and honey bees have been gathering nectar along with Small skipper butterflies.
There have been a good number of butterflies seen in the forest during the period. Gatekeepers and Commas on the bramble, Meadow brown and Common blues and Green-veined whites in the meadows and Speckled wood in the woodland glades. Painted Lady and Peacock are common this year, and there has been an occasional sighting of Small tortoiseshell and Red admiral. Purple hairstreaks have been seen flying around the tops of oak trees on warm days. They are small butterflies and generally pupate among leaves or moss on the ground. I was leading a walk for the NHS Retirement Fellowship in the forest in mid July when we found one that had just emerged and was drying out on the grass by the path that runs at the back of the houses in Woolhampton Way, Chigwell On the Heathland I found a Large emerald moth. A night flyer, it was resting among the heather and allowed me to pick it up for a photograph!
On the lake the Mute swans failed to breed, the Great crested grebe pair had two chicks and the Canada goose population increased, with many goslings present in crèches. Late in August there were about 100 Canada geese present from time to time and the lone Barnacle goose had returned after being absent for a couple of months. During very hot weather the Canada geese spent much of the time bathing and on several occasions they would dive, remaining under water for up to ten seconds and appearing in a different place. I had not observed this behaviour before.
Flocks of Goldfinch were seen feeding on the thistle heads, and families of Long - tailed tits, and Blue tits searched the woodland for insects. Swallows nested in the farm buildings and were constantly flying over the grassland and lake gathering insects, to be replaced by bats after nightfall. On a Bat evening organized by Havering Bat Rescue on behalf of the Country Park, Glen Stimpson showed us Serotine, Noctule and Pipistrelle bats flying over and around the trees bordering the lake, using a powerful torch. Their various inaudible calls could be heard using a bat detector, with which the frequency could also be determined.
SEPTEMBER - OCTOBER 2002
During the period there has been much work on farm improvements. The Highland cattle have returned with Alison and her calf Bambi and a young heifer Dolly. These roam in the large field behind the visitors centre. Buff Orpington and Welsummer chickens have been introduced and there are some Runner ducks. The young Tamworth pigs are now quite large. New paths are being laid and some fencing work is being carried out. A large area of hawthorn and blackberry scrub has been cleared near the lake.
Since February I have been recording plant and tree species in different areas of the whole forest and my list is over 300 different species. Creeping Jenny, Wood sorrel, Wood spurge and Bugle are still to be found in the woodland areas, and it was particularly delightful to find a few spikes of Broad-leaved helleborine during the year.
Plant gall species reached 68 which is more than double last year. Galls are induced on the host plant by various gall forming insects, mites and fungi and can be found on a large range of trees, shrubs and plants. Gall shapes are specific to each causer and consist of plant tissue, with the causer developing inside. Sputnik galls were found on the undersides of Dog rose leaflets, and a white swelling of the leaf stem of nettle was found in October.
The dry summer and with rain coming only in the last weeks of October meant a scarcity of fungi. There was an almost total absence of ground fungi. During two hour forays an average of about 30 species were found, mostly insignificant and occurring on on dead timber and branches. It is only the fruiting bodies which appear. The fungal plants are microscopic and continue unseen providing nourishment to the roots of plants and trees, and breaking down dead tissues, leaves etc into simple molecules. Fungi are the natural recyclers of the world. The gales on 27th October tore branches off some of the oak and hornbeam pollards and there was much leaf-fall carpeting the ground.
Flocks of Goldfinch were seen feeding on thistle and Michaelmas daisy seeds, and in the woodland were family groups of Long-tailed tits and Blue tits. In the grassy areas Green woodpecker were often seen feeding, and Pied wagtails were common. The abundant acorns will provide food for Jays and Grey squirrels. Towards the end of September, Swallows and House martins were seen gathering for their flights to tropical and southern Africa. Swallows nested in the large barn at Foxburrows.
Many butterflies were seen during September and October and the Painted lady and Red admiral were a welcome sight being migrant butterflies. The Speckled wood was seen flying late in October on a sunny day.
Roe's well is recovering after being cleaned out last winter. A Stonewort is growing in much of the pond. Stoneworts are freshwater algae, superficially resembling horsetails in structure and are known colonizers of newly created ponds which are low in nutrients. Sheepwater has shoals of small carp and goldfish and is a favourite venue for young fishermen.
NOVEMBER - DECEMBER
The Woodland Trust have started restoration of the Heathland area alongside the Romford Road. Trees and scrub have been cut down. Heathland is uncommon in Essex and its associated plants are rare. Petty whin Genista anglica was down to three plants when the area was mown and these plants lost, Lousewort Pedicularis sylvatica has disappeared in the past four years, Heather Calluna vulgaris and Dwarf Gorse Ulex minor are holding on. Unfortunately scrub invasion, Aspen regeneration, inappropriate plantings, and tall tufted grasses had taken over and restoration has become a number one priority. The heathland is on a small band of fine sand, which crosses the Romford Road and into the Chigwell Row Recreation Ground Nature Reserve, where restoration work is already underway. The sand occurs as a result of glacial and river deposits from the last ice age in this area, and is found on the edge of the Chalky Boulder clay which occurs in the Forest and covers much of North Essex.
The gales on Sunday October 27th brought down some weakened branches from pollards, and leaf fall was two weeks earlier than last year. Wet weather also set in and there has been a late flush of larger fungi - Sulphur tufts, Fly agarics, Lawyers wig, Common puffball and Shaggy parasol mushroom were recorded and there were many Clouded agarics forming large fairy rings in the woodland. Some of these rings are so ancient that the rings are many metres in radius. There has been much Mole activity on the grassy areas with the waterlogged soil bringing earthworms nearer the surface. With the mild temperatures for November and December, squirrel are very active searching out acorns and other fruits for their winter stores.
Improvements to the farm including fencing and paths is ongoing and the farm was closed for a short spell. Bambi the Highland calf has been weaned and is now with the Dexter cattle.
One surprise encounter was a Kingfisher seen flying from the reed bed to the island on the Lake on the 29th November. The Lake also sported Tufted ducks, Pochard, a lone Cormorant, and several pairs of Shoveller duck along with Coot, Moorhen and Mallard. A large flock of Canada geese were daily grazing the grassland and many Black-headed gulls in winter plumage were present. Redwings and Fieldfares were seen feeding on berries on the hedgerow and in the scrub areas.
During the year I recorded over 300 species of plants and trees growing in the Forest and I recorded and photographed some 68 species of plant galls. The photographs were presented at a meeting of the Essex Field Club at Chelmsford in December and it is hoped to show them in the Hainault Forest Visitors Centre in the New Year. Species records are important and all Forest data and Redbridge records are transmitted to a National Database for future reference.