The chairman of the City of London Corporation’s Epping Forest and Commons Committee discusses the historical and ongoing importance of cattle to the forest in his latest Guardian column.

As we transition from late spring into summer, there is lots to enjoy when out visiting Epping Forest.

The trees are now in full leaf, the wildlife is happily exploring their now abundant habitats and once again the longhorn cattle are busy munching their way across much of the ancient woodland, helping to improve the biodiversity of this unique green space.

The role of the cows grazing happily throughout the warmer months is an important part of the historic story of Epping Forest and how London’s Great Forest came to be acquired and ultimately saved by the City of London Corporation.

The historic commoner’s rights to graze Epping Forest were fundamental to the legal case the City of London Corporation won in the 1870s to stop the woodland from the ‘enclosure movement’.

In 1851 almost 3,000 acres of nearby Hainault Forest was lost in a period of just six weeks due to this destructive practice.

In fact, seven million acres of English countryside that was shared common land became privately enclosed for profit during this movement.

Fortunately for Epping Forest, and all of us who still enjoy this wonderful green space today, the City of London Corporation successfully protected the woodland with the Act of 1878 and has been funding the conservation of Epping Forest almost entirely from private reserves for the last 143 years.

The Epping Forest Act of 1878 led the way for other important protections to be established to prevent the loss of more forests and open spaces across the UK.

Epping Forest Guardian:

Graeme Doshi-Smith

The grazing of cattle at Epping Forest, as well as being historically important, has in more recent years helped to break new ground using cutting edge invisible fencing technology.

The success of trials at Epping Forest has helped other sites around the world adopt these practices to help to continue grazing ‘free range’ in more urbanised areas without venturing on to busy roads.

The cows also play an important role in improving biodiversity.

The cattle create a range of grass heights and structures that are wonderful microhabitats for insects and less competitive vegetation.

The cows convert this vegetation to dung which is fed on by a variety of beetles, flies and microbiology which helps to distribute nutrients back into the soil.

It is more environmentally friendly to manage habitats in Epping Forest with grazing cattle rather than using large machinery.

The important work the cattle in Epping Forest are happily engaged in enables a wide diversity of life to flourish which in turn produces a rich and healthy ecology for the ancient woodland.

When you see the cows whilst visiting the Forest, please remember to be respectful to these gentle creatures and do not allow dogs to disturb them.

When visiting we also ask you to continue to be vigilant against the threat of Covid-19 and be mindful to keep socially distant from others.

Help to protect one another against the spread of the virus in this local area.

And finally, as we move into the summer months please remember that barbecues and fires are not permitted anywhere in Epping Forest.

Please always respect these rules and help us to keep Epping Forest free from the very real threat of wildfires during the warmest months of the year.

Discover more about Epping Forest at or on Twitter @CoLEppingForest, Facebook @Epping Forest City of London or Instagram @coleppingforest.

Graeme Doshi-Smith

Chairman, City of London Corporation’s Epping Forest and Commons Committee