Special Projects


Usually there’s at least one special project being undertaken by Countrycare in the community, possibly being led by volunteers or Tree Wardens.  These projects are designed to involve both adults and children, inform our knowledge of habitats and landscape features, and raise awareness of nature conservation and biodiversity issues. 

Click on the following to read more about the current projects in the area.

Nature’s Calendar

Nature’s Calendar is the name for the survey co-ordinated by the Woodland Trust which looks at how the seasons are changing. 

Volunteer recorders look at the time each year when various events occur in nature. In the springtime the first appearance of birds and insects is recorded and also when trees and shrubs first come into leaf and when the first flowers appear. 

Countrycare - Nature Calender

The science of recording natural regularly occurring events is known as Phenology.  The records that already exist provide some of the longest written biological records in Britain.

By recording this information over a large number of years you can view seasonal events that show the impact of climate change on our wildlife.
If you’d like to know when bluebells are blooming, song thrushes are singing or the trees are about to give an explosion of colour, Nature’s Calendar gives a good idea when things happen and how nature is changing.

From spotting the first snowdrop in spring, through to looking for the autumnal colours in leaves, Nature’s Calendar volunteers record the signs of the seasons where they live. These records add to the longest written dataset of its kind.  Beginning in 1736, the results are helping us to understand how nature is responding to a changing climate.

The usefulness of this kind of recording was shown in a recent paper published in California (Koenig et al 2015). The paper suggested that mast years of an Oak species were associated with synchronised flowering in spring.

Putting this theory to use in a UK context, the Woodland Trust surveyed the two Oak species Pendunculate Oak, Quercus robur and Sessile Oak Quercus petraea. Recorders were asked to note first flowering dates on Oak trees in their area and then later in the year estimate how many acorns had been produced on the same tree and give it a score.  Both Oak species showed a similar correlation. 

The preliminary results suggest that in years when both species of Oak trees synchronise flowering  across the UK this provides plenty of opportunity for wind pollination resulting in more fertilisation and ultimately more acorns.

Synchronised years are those where the weather is cooler in spring meaning a later flowering date which suggests that warmer springs mean less acorn production. 

 Scientists have found a similar correlation in some insect pollinated tree species Mountain Ash Sorbus ancuparia for example. 

If warmer springs in the future lead to reduced fruiting in our trees will there be a knock on effect on other species as a consequence. 

The Epping Forest District Tree Wardens record when buds on the trees in their location first burst and when the trees come into leaf as well as the first flowering.  In the autumn they look for when trees produce fruit or berries, when they first begin to change colour and when leaves begin to fall. 

The trees may be in their own garden or the street where they live.  Recording is very easy and over the years the data builds into a very valuable record. 

By continuing and increasing the collection of valuable information on seasonal occurrences in the natural world we will be able to monitor the effects of a changing world on our wildlife habitats and plan for the future accordingly. 

You don’t have to be an expert to take part

Lots of help is given on the web site, including a free downloadable nature identification booklet.

This kind of recording has moved from being a leisure hobby to a crucial source of evidence as to how our wildlife is responding to climate change.


OPAL Tree Health Survey

OPAL Tree Health Survey

Horse Chestnut TreeThe Council’s Tree Wardens have started undertaking the OPAL (OPen Air Laboratories) survey into the health of the trees in the District.  The survey is being co-ordinated by Imperial College London together with Forest Research and the Food and Environment Research Agency.

With guidance from Tree Warden Co-ordinator Kevin Mason a member of the Countrycare team, nine Tree Wardens attended a training session on 12th June 2013 in Roughtalley’s Wood, North Weald.

By taking part in the national survey and submitting the results the Tree Wardens are helping to discover more about the general health of our trees and give vital information on some of the pests and diseases that affect Oak, Ash and Horse Chestnut trees. Instruction was also given on identifying other potential pests and diseases which whilst not present yet, or at least not widespread, could have a serious impact on our trees.  Tree Wardens are part of an important surveillance network of people across the country protecting our trees.

The recordings are used by Forest Research – the Forestry Commission’s research agency.  The results from the survey will show the condition and health of the trees in parks, streets and woodlands across the UK and provide important information about the possible presence of certain key tree pests and diseases.

A national survey like this has not been undertaken before and it is likely that the trees surveyed by the Tree Wardens will not have been surveyed before.

The survey covers the location and species of the tree, its characteristics in relation to the trees around it and its condition; this gives a general picture about the health of the tree. Also covered was up to date information of pests and diseases on three of the most recognisable tree species: Ash, Oak and Horse Chestnut.

One of the Horse Chestnuts surveyed by the Tree Wardens was discovered to have Bleeding Canker.  This is a disease caused by a pathogen, Pseudomonas syringae pv aesculi, which infects and disfigures the tree.  If the disease is severe it can kill the tree so it needs to be regularly checked.  Fortunately none of the Ash trees in the wood were found to have.
The Tree Wardens were also shown an unusual Cappadocian Maple (Acer cappadocicum) which is growing in the wood and there is a fine display of Common Spotted Orchids (Dactylorhiza fuchsii)growing in the wet grassland area.
To help with the survey please go to http://www.opalexplorenature.org/TreeSurvey for the full instructions or alternatively contact Epping Forest Countrycare on 01992 564224, or by email at contactCountrycare@eppingforestdc.gov.uk

Epping Forest veteran tree hunt

Epping Forest veteran tree hunt

Across the Epping Forest District we are blessed with the remnants of the great forests of Essex, which now survives as Epping and Hainault Forests. Together these two areas form a collection of veteran trees of European importance. Epping Forest alone has over 50,000 veteran trees.

Veteran tree huntBut veteran trees are by no means confined to the forests. The widespread practice of pollarding (the successive cutting of trees above the browsing height of deer and cattle) has left us with a legacy of many old 'worked' trees across the whole of the District. For many people these trees ignite a sense of wonder at their size, staying power and resilience, but are we really paying this great legacy enough attention?

An oak tree is said to grow for 300 years, rest for 300 years, then take some 300 years gracefully retiring” - Anon

For centuries trees have been celebrated in art, folklore and legend. They may have stood beside an ancient trackway, on a village green or beside an ancient church. They may have served as a parish boundary marker or as a backdrop to a grand house in a landscaped park. They have also come to symbolise great events in our history.  But despite all this our oldest and most important trees still have little if any protection.  The normal tree protection measures do not fit and far too often old trees are seen as dangerous or an inconvenience. Surely these living 'green' monuments deserve better?

The term veteran tree is one that is not capable of precise definition but encompasses trees defined by three guiding principles.  Firstly, they are of interest biologically, aesthetically or culturally because of their age.  Secondly, they are in the ancient stage of their life and lastly that they are old relative to others of the same species.” - Helen Read, Veteran Tree Initiative 1999

It is this background that inspired the Epping Forest Veteran Tree Hunt.  We are working with Tree Wardens and volunteers to help us search and record all our old trees. By recording this great tree legacy across the district and demonstrating their worth we know we can protect them better. It is a huge task, but hopefully it is one that you may be inspired to join us in.

We are making excellent progress with trees recorded in all parishes across the district. 14 parishes are finished.  As of August 2013 we have recorded 49 ancient trees, 869 notables and 2,886 veterans.

You can visit the trees at www.favouritetrees.com

Get involved and join the tree hunt

From time to time we run a training day in the form of a guided walk so people can learn how to record veteran trees and get involved.  Keep an eye on our events pages for the next one.  Alternatively, you can simply go hunting on your own and tell us where the special trees are. You could download a recording form (see below) and send it to us.  Or call on 01992 788203.

Follow the links below to start you tree hunt! 

Save the conker

Tree wardens looking for leaf miner moth in Horse Chestnut

In order to assess what is happening to the Horse Chestnut trees in the District, the Council’s Tree Wardens have registered with the Conker Tree Science project to undertake a survey of the trees in their area.

The project looks into the effects of an alien leaf mining moth (Cameraria ohridella) which turns the leaves brown by the middle of summer and causes significant damage to the appearance of the trees.  The moth’s caterpillars eat the leaves from the inside.  Infected trees are weakened and produce smaller conkers.

Many of the invading moths are killed by natural pest controllers in the form of other tiny insects.  These insects lay their eggs inside the caterpillars of the leaf-mining moths, and when the eggs hatch, the larvae slowly eat the caterpillars, eventually killing them.

The research is looking into the effects of the moths on Horse Chestnut trees and if there is any long term damage to the trees.

During 2012 the Tree Wardens began surveying a sample of the District’s Horse Chestnut trees reaching the conclusion that those trees with closely mown grass or no vegetation at all beneath them were less damaged than those with uncut grass or leaf litter around them. This is because the moths hibernate over winter in the long grass or leaf litter.

In 2013 the same trees plus some new ones are being surveyed to inspect for leaf damage

The science project proper started on 15th June, but because of the wet, cold winter and late spring the leaves this year are showing less sign of damage than previous years.  By the end of June the leaves were only just beginning to show signs of damage.  The recordings noting the extent of the damage to the leaves were delayed by about three weeks.  The same scenario as last year was happening:  trees on closely mown grassland or street trees with little vegetation around them have less damage than those where the grass is not cut.

The follow up during the week commencing 22nd July collecting a leaflet from each tree to see if any of the pest controllers are active in the leaves and if the moths are hatching. This was seen to be the case at the end of July when the trees were covered in tiny moths.

The project has an additional challenge to be carried out at the end of August. It is believed that Great Tits and Blue Tits feed on the caterpillars of the moths and will peck through the leaves to get at the caterpillars. Surveys will take place to look for evidence of this.

Or contact the Countrycare Office below.

Phone Contact us....

Telephone: 01992 564224
Email: contactCountrycare@eppingforestdc.gov.uk

Or you can write to us at:
Countrycare, Epping Forest District Council, Civic Offices, High Street, Epping, Essex CM16 4BZ


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Find out how to volunteer with Countrycare: The Countrycare Volunteer Group

Find out about The Tree Warden Scheme and how to become one