Ancient and magnificent, Epping Forest is the largest open space in London at just over 6,000 acres, stretching from Manor Park in east London to just north of Epping in Essex. It’s a haven for people and wildlife, offering open grasslands, majestic woodlands, deep ponds and the sounds of birds and insects.
‘While giant London, known to all the world,
Was nothing but a guess among the trees,
Though only half a day from where we stood.’
— John Clare, ‘A Walk on High Beach, Loughton’, 1841
As one of the earliest publicly accessible and protected landscapes in England, Epping Forest pre-dates the UK’s National Parks by nearly 80 years. Entrusted to the City of London as Conservators by the Epping Forest Act of 1878, to maintain its natural aspect, the Forest was dedicated by Queen Victoria ‘for the enjoyment of my people forever’.
Much of the Forest is of national and international conservation importance with two-thirds of it being designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). These designations are due to its large numbers of ancient trees which support a wealth of wildlife, including wood-boring beetles and fungi, its ancient grasslands and heaths, as well as its many freshwater ponds.
Epping Forest is home to 55,000 ancient trees, more than any other single site in the country. Some are centuries old and may have been growing there since Anglo-Saxon times, representing some of the oldest living plants in Europe – irreplaceable and rare.
A Forest rich in biodiversity, heritage and culture, Epping Forest has probably been open heathland and woodland since trees returned after the last Ice Age, over 10,000 years ago. It is considered to be ‘ancient woodland’, but has been affected by human practices since early times. Once ancient wood pasture, common land largely cut for firewood, and hunting grounds of kings, it became a Royal Forest in the early 12th century under Henry I. Some common rights remain today, all of which came under the control of The Conservators of Epping Forest after the passing of the Epping Forest Act in 1878.
As well as animal, insect and bird life, ancient woodland, heaths, bogs and marshes, Epping Forest is also the site of two Iron Age earthworks, Ambresbury Banks (700BC) and Loughton Camp (500BC), the 16th-century Queen Elizabeth Hunting Lodge, the Greenwich Meridian line and hills with views to central London! It’s a very special place.
Follow the links below to discover more about Epping Forest
If you want to understand the landscape of Epping Forest, it’s helpful to know about some of the ancient customs and laws that shaped the vegetation and woodlands, and influenced how the Forest is managed today.
The very varied landscape of the Forest is determined by the geology and the changes that have occurred over thousands of years.
From royal lodges for viewing and supporting the hunt, to barns serving teas to day-trippers and shelters to nourish the wildlife in harsh winters, the architecture of Epping Forest blossomed as its predominant use moved away from grazing and lopping towards recreation and leisure.
Considered to be ancient woodland, Epping Forest is home to many thousands of ancient trees, some hundreds of years old. In this article, you will find dominant species in the Forest as well as some notable specimens.
Humans, animals and plants interact and coexist in a delicate balance, with shifts sometimes only revealing their impact many decades later. And understanding the value and complexity of these ecosystems helps us plan for the future.
Getting lost is a rare thing in the age of satellites and smartphones, but in some scenarios when you want to explore Epping Forest without relying on your phone, we have some essential tips to guide you.