Hainault Forest Website

Written and Designed by Brian Ecott


May - June 2001

   May-June  July-August  September-October  November-December  

It was good to get back to the Forest following closure due to Foot and Mouth precautions set up in order to protect the rare breeds of Cattle and Sheep at Foxburrows. During closure, work went ahead creating disabled access paths, and thinning of scrub in the Country Park, and the Woodland Trust continued with conservation work creating a path with disabled access through the woodland and passing Sheepwater. Seats are provided at intervals along the path, and glades are being opened up to restore the woodland to its former state as wood pasture.

Lady's Smock or Cuckoo flower

Heather and Petty Whin manage to survive in the glacial sand Heathland area near Chigwell Row Church. Petty Whin was recorded here in 1909 by The Essex Field Club, together with typical heathland grasses Mat grass Nardus stricta, Sheep's fescue Festuca ovina, Sweet vernal grass Anthoxanthum odoratum, and Yorkshire fog Holcus lanatus. Rank grasses such as Tufted hair-grass Deschampsia caespitosa now dominate the area.  The yellow pea-like flowers of Petty Whin are found in early May low in the grass, producing seed pods in June. 

Management of the wet grassland on the boulder clay on Cabin Plain has produced a fine crop of Cuckoo Flower or Lady's Smock for several years and this year is no exception.

Clearance of Sheepwater two years ago by the Woodland Trust has paid off. It is fed by a spring but was completely overgrown with vegetation. This year Tadpoles were abundant although someone has introduced goldfish! Common Blue and Large Red Damselflies have emerged  and in mid June there were several pairs of Broad-bodied Chaser Dragonflies egg laying. Flowers present included Pink Water Speedwell, Brooklime, Lesser Spearwort, Celery-leaved Crowfoot, Thread-leaved Water Crowfoot, Curled-leaved Pondweed and Frogbit. Frogbit is a floating plant which flowers in June, although rarely in Britain

Sheepwater - before clearance

 Sheepwater - after clearance

Butterflies observed during the period were Orange Tip, Red Admiral, Peacock, Comma, Holly Blue and Meadow Brown,  with Speckled Wood along the paths. Large numbers of insects in flight include in early May swarms of long-legged St. Marks Flies, later to be replaced by greenish metallic male Longhorn Moths Adela sp. dancing in the sunshine. The Longhorn Moth male's antennae are about six times the body length. On a warm day in June masses of green Tortrix Moths were flying amongst the Oaks. While searching for galls on an Oak in May several caterpillars of Purple Hairstreak butterfly were found.

Chiffchaff, Cuckoo, Great and Blue Tits, Chaffinch and Robin were heard early May and Magpie and Jay were active in the woodland. Canada Geese and goslings were on the lake along with Great Crested Grebes, Coot, Moorhen, Mallard and Swans.


July - August 2001

May-June  July-August  September-October  November-December  

Knopper galls are very abundant this year on English oak. They are caused by a tiny gall wasp Andricus quercuscalicis and affect the acorn and acorn cup.

Silk button galls) on English oak. Silk button galls are very abundant this year and are caused by a tiny gall wasp Neuroterus numismalis, and are found on the underside of leaves
Marble galls on English oak are green becoming brown when mature, and the tiny gall wasp Andricus kollari has emerged.

The Ramshorn gall on English oak.  It is caused by a tiny gall wasp Andricus aries. It is very uncommon in the forest and little is known about its life history.

The Robin's Pincushion or Bedeguar Gall on Dog rose is another gall caused by a gall wasp Diplolepis rosae.
The Spiral gall is found on Poplar and affects the leaf stalk or petiole, causing it to thicken and spiral. The gall causer is a tiny mite Pemphigus spyrothecae.

These red Pustule galls found on Field maple are also caused by mites Artacris cephalonea, and are found on the upper side of the leaf.
This gall causes the stem of the Creeping thistle to swell and is caused by a gall fly Urophora cardui.

During this period a large number of galls were found, mainly on trees and shrubs. Galls are abnormal growths of plant tissue caused in response to attacks by mites, insects, fungi and bacteria. The form and shape of each gall is specific to its causer and host, and they may affect different parts of the plant such as buds, stems, roots, leaves and flowers. Many galls especially those found on oak have alternating sexual and asexual generations. Illustrated are eight out of seventeen found during June and July. I first found the Ramshorn gall in the forest last year growing on English oak. It is relatively new to Essex having been first recorded in north London in 1998 and in Surrey and Kent in 1999. It will be interesting to see whether it spreads to other parts of the Country.

Butterflies seen during the period were Red Admiral, Gatekeeper, Large, Green-veined and Small Whites, Meadow Brown, both Essex and Small Skippers. The Purple Hairstreak caterpillars found in May will have pupated in June and were in flight around the Oak canopy in mid July. Common Blue butterflies and Six-spot Burnet Moths were seen nectaring on the Tufted Vetch on the heathland area. Many Burnet moth pupal cases were found attached to grass stems.

On Sheepwater, froglets were emerging. Ruddy Darter and Migrant Hawker dragonflies were in flight. Branched Bur-reed, Water Plantain, Lesser Spearwort, Brooklime and White Water lily were flowering. The main lake had Gypsywort, Indian Balsam, also known as Policeman's Helmet, Purple Loosestrife and Greater Willow herb in flower along the margins. A pair Great Crested Grebes with one young, many Canada Geese and Mallard and the ubiquitous Coots were present.

Elsewhere in the Forest  many plants were in flower including Common Centaury, Ragwort, Spear Thistle, Hogweed with the ever present Soldier beetles, Wood Woundwort, Common Knapweed, Burdock, Honeysuckle, Upright Hedge Parsley and Stone Parsley.

The Grey Squirrel is common in the wooded areas and on damp days the smell of Fox hangs in the air. There is much Rabbit activity and Molehills can be seen.

For a full list of plant galls found this year CLICK HERE

For more information on plant galls

and the British Plant Gall Society

go to the Links page.

September - October 2001

 May-June  July-August  September-October  November-December  

Peter Comber, a local expert (third from left), explains points of identification to Members of The British Naturalists Association, Epping Forest Branch, during an annual Fungus Foray.

Over 50 species of Fungi were identified during a two hour visit to the Forest.  Photo: Iris Newbery.

DOG STINKHORN Mutinus caninus. Found in the leaf litter. Very common this year.


EARTH BALL Scleroderma citrinum. Edges of paths and on banks.


JEW'S EAR FUNGUS Auricularia auricula-judae. Common on elder stems.


OYSTER MUSHROOM Pleurotus ostreatus on beech trunks.


PORCELAIN FUNGUS Oudemansiella mucida on beech trunk. Cap sticky.


COMMON PUFF BALL Lycoperdon perlatum. This is an old specimen having discharged its spores.


Peter Comber, a local expert on fungi, has made a lifetime study of them in Hainault Forest, leading many groups on Fungal Forays to the Forest and other local venues. The number of species varies according to weather conditions and no two years are the same and the timing of their appearances can vary so much. This year late September was a good time to look and  on one  occasion over 50 species were identified in a 2 hour foray.

Dog Stinkhorn was  common this year both in the Forest and other localities in Essex. Personally I don't remember seeing it in the Forest for about 20 years. Illustrated are eight of the varied species found this year.

Michaelmas daisies have invaded a large area of the scrubland alongside the Romford Road. They are a highly successful species increasing vegetatively and by seed. All other herb species being crowded out. This is a difficult plant to control or eradicate. Likewise Japanese knotweed has put in an appearance in the Forest. Wood Avens or Herb Bennet a perennial, is very common in the Forest and spreads by hooked seeds which catches in animal fur.

Although rainfall was heavy at times, October was the warmest since records began. Hedge and Large bindweed were still in flower as was Self-heal, Red clover and Cat's-ear.

At Sheepwater Bur marigold was in flower along the margin.

On the Heathland area Dwarf Gorse Ulex minor and Heather or Ling were flowering. Dwarf gorse is a rare species but abundant in the area. The coarse grasses and some of the scrub have been cut back.

The trees and shrubs are loaded with fruit providing supplies for the incoming Redwing and Fieldfares and for the resident birds, Grey Squirrels, mice and voles. The honeysuckle has many berries, and the occasional flower. Good crops of Haws, Hips, Elderberries, Sloes, Ash keys and Hornbeam seed. Hornbeam is a tree of Southern England and the seeds are a favourite of the Hawfinch.

On damp mornings orb webs of spiders are numerous and glisten, and on stalks of hogweed Banded snails are common.


Hypholoma fasciculare

growing on dead birch stump.


Amanita citrina.

Found among the leaf litter.

November - December 2001

May-June  July-August  September-October  November-December  

Lighthouse galls on Ground ivy

Galled ash keys

Field or Moor Club fungus

Foxburrows farm and grassland


Mid November and the Oaks and Beech are still in leaf. Unlike in Epping Forest the Beech is uncommon in Hainault Forest. Hornbeam is the dominant tree in the ancient woodland and the leaves have turned yellow. The slightest breeze brings a light flurry to the ground. Maple is also turning yellow and the Horse chestnuts have already shed their leaves. After leaf-fall the Ash keys stand out and this year many of them are galled by mites Aceria fraxinivorus which produce cauliflower-like growths up to 2cm across. When they are first formed in the summer they are green later turning brown and black which makes them very conspicuous. While on the subject of galls some leaves of Ground ivy Glechoma hederacea displayed the lighthouse gall caused by a midge Rondaniola bursaria which is normally shed in August - September leaving holes in the leaf.

Ivy is still in blossom providing a late supply of nectar for insects on warm days. White deadnettle is still in flower, and also Hogweed. With the herb layer dying down plants of Male fern Dryopteris filix-mas are more noticeable as they are semi-evergreen and often retain their leaves throughout the winter, unlike the Bracken which has died down.

Amongst the Mat grass on a plain on Cabin Hill numerous Field or Moor Club fungi Clavaria argillacea are present, and on the woodpiles are groups of Candle snuff fungus Xylaria hypoxylon.

A pair of Green woodpeckers had the vast area of grassland to themselves at Foxburrows where they were feeding on ants and other insects. Halfway across the grassland and some distance from the lake, the noise from a large flock of Canada geese could be heard, with some flying in to join them. On the Lake were Moorhen, many Coot, Mallard, Pochard and Tufted ducks. On the wing and standing around were Black-headed gulls and a few Common gulls were among them. A juvenile Great crested grebe and an "ugly duckling" swan was present.

Rabbits were plentiful in the scrub along the Romford Road with Jays and Magpies calling. The invasion of Michaelmas daisy in the scrubland kept a flock of Goldfinch busy feeding.