Hartswood is a large semi-natural ancient woodland owned and managed by Brentwood Borough Council and written records of the site show it dating back to at least the 7th century when it was owned by Barking Abbey. It forms part of the Thorndon Park Site of Special Scientific Interest complex due to the unique habitats found there and the associated species. The woodland covers 30 hectares and adjoins other sites including Donkey Lane Plantation, Little Warley Common and King George's Playing Fields.
Responsible enjoyment of the site by the public is valued and encouraged as it is ideal for long walks, when linked up to the adjoining sites and further on to Thorndon Country Park, nature watching and short strolls.
The Access Trail - In 1994 an Access Trail was created so that more people could enjoy the woodland. Wide, surfaced paths take you through the woodland and were designed to be accessible for electric scooters, wheelchairs and pushchairs during the summer and dry weather. You can choose from several paths. There are very few slopes along the trails, with the steepest gradient being 1 in 12. Benches are provided along the routes and built into some drenches can be found resting places. For convenience, three colour-coded routes are suggested and waymarked. At a leisurely pace they should take:
- Purple - short route: 3/4km, 20mins
- Green - middle distance: 1 1/2km, 35mins
- Black - longest route: 1 3/4km, 45mins.
If you visit the site you may see some of the following:
- Insects - Wood ants: Look out for the large mound shaped nests made by the wood ants, they can reach several feet wide.
- Birds - Green Woodpecker: There are many green wood peckers at Hartswood as wood ants are one of their favourite foods. Listen for their loud, laughing call.
- Flowers - Bluebells: In May you are likely to come across a mass of bluebells. Lily of the Valley: In June you may find the even rarer woodland flower, Lily of the valley. This plant only grows wild in a few semi-natural ancient woodlands such as Hartswood.
- Trees - Sweet Chestnut: The Romans brought these trees with them for food, so follow in their footsteps and gather the nuts in October.