Epping Forest visitors urged to help protect skylarks on Wanstead Flats

Visitors to Epping Forest are being asked to stay out of cordoned off areas and keep dogs under control to help protect some of the UK’s rarest and most fascinating birds.

Temporary rope cordons and information signs have been installed in sections of Wanstead Flats, a particular site where skylarks are known to make their nests between February and September.

The news comes at the start of the ground-nesting bird season, when other species such as nightjars and Dartford warblers can also be spotted across Epping Forest on the ground or in low-growing bushes.

Wanstead Flats is a Special Area of Conservation and forms part of Epping Forest – Essex’s and London’s largest green space – which is managed by the City of London Corporation.

The Forest stretches from Manor Park in the south, through to Epping in the north, covering an area of around 8,000 acres and attracts over 10 million visitors every year.

Chairman of the City of London Corporation’s Epping Forest and Commons Committee, Ben Murphy, said:

“Some people may think these measures go too far – but the reality is that these birds play a critical role in protecting the Forest and maintaining a balanced ecosystem. They are pest controllers, pollinators and seed dispersers.

“Even in east London’s most urban areas, Epping Forest offers pockets of sanctuary for so much wildlife. The skylarks on Wanstead Flats are the closest returning population of ground-nesting birds to central London we know of, however this does mean that they are vulnerable to disturbance.

“We want everyone to enjoy the abundance of nature found in ‘the green lungs of London’, which is why we are urging visitors to respect these birds by staying out of clearly cordoned-off areas and having dogs under effective control to keep them out too.

“Loose dogs can scare adult birds from nests, leaving chicks vulnerable, or worse, accidental trampling can destroy these habitats in just one step.

“The protective measures we put in place last year resulted in at least four young larks fledging. There were 11 skylarks there at the end of last season and we have seen seven individuals so far, which is incredibly promising.”

A recent report into the site’s Natural Capital value found that Epping Forest is worth around £64.4 million a year in public benefits, with a present value of £1.9 billion over 50 years.

The City Corporation protects a total of 11,000 acres of green space in London and south east England – including places like Hampstead Heath, Burnham Beeches  and over 180 smaller sites within the Square Mile, investing more than £38m a year. Most of these are charitable trusts, running at little or no cost to the communities that they serve, and are protected from being built on by special legislation.


Notes to editors

The City of London Corporation is the governing body of the Square Mile, dedicated to a vibrant and thriving City, supporting a diverse and sustainable London within a globally-successful UK – www.cityoflondon.gov.uk.

Wanstead Flats is a large area of open grassland in the south of the forest and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). For more information visit www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/epping-forest/where-to-go-in-epping-forest/wanstead-flats.

Photo credit: Neil Bowman