Epping Forest IPA
Location: The IPA stretches 12 miles west of the M11 from Manor Park in East London to just north of Epping in Essex.
Grid Reference: TQ 419 973
Epping Forest is the largest public open space in the London area, at almost 6,000 acres. A former royal hunting forest, it was saved from destruction in the 19th century by the Corporation of London and an act of parliament entrusted the ownership and care of Epping Forest to the City.
The age of the forest and the range of habitats it contains make it a valuable area for wildlife and it is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Its former status as a working or pasture forest has had a great effect on its ecology. This is particularly evident with the pollarded trees, which, as they have not been cut since the 19th century have now grown massive crowns of thick, trunk-like branches. Often the weight of the branches cannot be supported by the parent tree, and the large amount of dead wood in the forest sustains numerous rare species of fungi.
There are over 80 'ponds' marked on OS maps of the forest, probably none of which is natural, having been man-made for purposes such as gravel extraction, stock-grazing or land drainage.
The predominant tree species are pedunculate oak, european beech, european hornbeam and silver birch. In the woodland areas the ground flora is very sparse due to the dense shade and deep leaf litter: a consequence of the cessation of pollarding. In areas where light penetration is greater, purple moor grass, creeping soft-grass, soft rush, bracken, scattered ling and bramble are present.
Owing to the wide variety of semi-natural habitats present, the forest supports an outstanding bryophyte flora, with 177 species in evidence. A number of these mosses are now extinct elsewhere in Essex and the London area. One rarity, the moss Zygodon forsteri, is found on beech pollards, and is the reason why the IPA was identified.
Areas of acidic grassland transitional with heathland are generally dominated by a mixture of fine leaved grasses including red fescue, mat-grass, wavy hair-grass and common bent. In marshier areas purple moor grass dominates with petty whin, slender rush, tormentil and ling.
Sunshine Plain supports one of only very few examples of wet dwarf-shrub heath remaining in Essex and the London area. This contains ling and cross-leaved heath as well as sharp flowered rush, bulbous rush, heath rush, common cotton grass and oblong and round-leaved sundew (the last three plants do not grow in Essex outside Epping Forest).
Several of the ponds contain the water violet, a species which has become uncommon in Essex and the London area. Goldings Hill Ponds are botanically among the most diverse ponds in the forest with sweet flag, lesser marshwort, flowering rush, bogbean and the liverwort which is rare and decreasing in Essex. Bogbean also grows in Strawberry Hill Pond. Another Essex rarity which grows only in the forest, in Wake Valley Pond, is marsh st John's wort. Bladderwort occurs in half a dozen ponds in and just outside Great Monk Wood.