This month, I was delighted to open our first natural play area for children under 12 in Wanstead Park. 

The play area was brought to fruition by a partnership between the City of London Corporation, the Friends of Wanstead Parklands and the Aldersbrook Residents Association with support from the National Lottery Community Fund.

For many of us, the whole of Epping Forest is a natural play area, but having a safe space for children to reconnect with nature is so important and I hope it will help encourage the next generation of conservators!

We have just revealed the results of our visitor survey, which examines footfall across the Forest using anonymous mobile phone tracking data.

The survey captured visitor movements from 2019, showing that in the first quarter of 2023 the Forest received close to 2.7 million visits. This figure is the highest level of footfall of any quarter on record – indicating visits this year are on track to surpass 10 million.

While visitors are predominantly local, visiting from East London and Essex on average 7.5 times per month, the survey indicates that Epping Forest is growing in national importance with people travelling from within a 160-mile radius.

Epping Forest Guardian: Ben Murphy has been playing around in Wanstead ParklandsBen Murphy has been playing around in Wanstead Parklands (Image: City of London Corporation)

As conservators and charity trustees, it is our job at the City Corporation to balance the needs of visitors with our responsibility to protect this internationally important landscape and to generate income to help pay for services.

Using data to measure visitor movements will allow us to better allocate our resources and manage future risks. It will also allow us to track the impact of increasing residential development around the Forest.

One of the benefits the City Corporation brings to Epping Forest is through its relationships with the Square Mile’s 111 livery companies – London’s ancient trade associations and guilds. The first livery company, the Mercers (dealer in fine textiles), was established in 1394 and today almost every livery company has a charitable arm which supports good causes across the nation.

This month we have been delighted to welcome the Worshipful Company of Educators who have been celebrating the benefits of outdoor learning in Epping Forest, with visits to the Hive in Waltham Forest, the Field Studies Centre in High Beach, and Copped Hall Education Trust.

We have also hosted the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers (leather shoemakers) who held their family day at Giffords Wood. The Cordwainers have generously funded new benches and signage along a new walking trail at Warlies Park.

And the celebrations don’t end there. I am sure that many of you have been charmed by the discrete beauty of the Church of Holy Innocents at High Beach or by their famous tea and cakes. On June 25, I was delighted to join the Lord Bishop of Chelmsford to celebrate the Church’s 150th anniversary.

It is such an honour to lead this wonderfully varied Epping Forest charity, and I am grateful to the many people who work alongside us to ensure it remains so for many years to come.

  • Ben Murphy is chairman of the City Corporation’s Epping Forest and Commons Committee.