The owl and the pussycat statue at the Garden of Heroes and Villains

Visitors and Friends: Then and now

25 July 2023
Heart of England Forest

Connecting humans and nature is one of the main aims of the charity. For us the Forest is more than just trees; it is home to an incredible array of habitats, including new tree planting, mature and ancient woodland, grassland, and wetland. These habitats enable animals and plants to thrive and provide a sanctuary for people. Continuing to create more opportunities for visitors to benefit from time spent in nature, for both their physical health and mental wellbeing, is vital.

The early days

The original vision for the Heart of England Forest came from local landowner Felix Dennis. He wanted to bring trees back to the local landscape with a native forest – to plant a ‘joined-up’ woodland that would provide vital green corridors for wildlife, as well as a light and airy place for everyone to walk and enjoy.  
Back in 1996, Felix planted his first small wood near his home in Dorsington, Warwickshire, for locals to enjoy. In addition, once a year, Felix used to open the Garden of Heroes and Villains as part of Dorsington Open Gardens - the National Garden Scheme raising money for the NGS charities. This allowed people from all over the country to come and view the spectacular plants and bronze statues in this special area of the Forest. 

Fast forward to 2003, and the Heart of England Forest charity was born. And now, 20 years on, the charity hosts a variety of events such as guided walks, workshops, and fundraising open days in the Garden of Heroes and Villains, on a regular basis for people to enjoy.  

Head Forester Stephen leading a guided walk at the Garden of Heroes and Villains fundraising open day


Our events programme began in 2015, with the first-ever guided walk, led by Head Forester Stephen. This has grown over the past eight years, with 28 events held last year attracting 2,300 attendees. 
2015 also saw the first year that the Garden of Heroes and Villains was opened to the public. Over the years, we have expanded the number of times per year the Garden is open, giving the people a chance to marvel at the incredible bronze sculptures of history’s greats whilst raising funds to help grow the Forest. There is still time to book for the last Fundraising Open Day of the year on Saturday 19th August here: Garden of Heroes and Villains Fundraiser for the Heart of England Forest Tickets, Sat 19 Aug 2023 at 10:00 | Eventbrite
Another highlight in attracting people to come and enjoy this neck of the woods was a participation 24-hour event to record as many species as possible. In 2021, the Heart of England Forest held our first Forest BioBlitz, a series of citizen science surveys for people to participate in and learn about the biodiversity and the importance of monitoring species in the Forest.  A total of 363 animal and plant species were recorded in Alne Wood and Middle Spernal over 24 hours by local experts and members of the public. All the visitors and supporters that got involved played a huge part in recording some rare and key species in the Forest, and due to the success of this event, we have run a BioBlitz in different areas of the Forest every year since.  
Our events now cover an array of interests from family days in the bluebell woods, to surveys, right through to adult learning –there is something here for everyone.

Leigh from the Birmingham University Bird ringing group holding a bird at an exclusive Friends of the Forest Event

Permissive footpaths and accessibility

There are now over 100 miles of permissive footpaths and Public Rights of Way for people to explore the Forest and spend time in nature, with all the benefits that brings for physical health and mental wellbeing. In the last three years alone, the charity has developed the ways that people can enjoy the Forest, to make sure everyone feels welcome: 
The accessible trail in Morgrove Coppice was created in 2020 and has enabled those with mobility challenges, as well as families bringing pushchairs, the opportunity to enjoy the woodlands and grassy rides throughout the seasons. 
In 2021, we developed and delivered our first ever audio trails in the Forest, enabling visitors to choose from three themed trails to hear about the habitats, wildlife, and history of the Forest as they walk in the woodlands.  The Forest Trails app has been downloaded over 100 times.  Visitors can download the GPS-assisted app here - Audio trails | Heart of England Forest 

Audio trial sign post in Dorothy's Wood surrounded by wildflowers in the tree dedication area

Thanks to funding from the Green Recovery Challenge Fund (GRCF) the permissive footpaths at College Wood in Studley were expanded in 2022, making permissive access routes available around two wetland areas and through the beautiful mature woodland of Studley Thorns for the public to enjoy. 
Last year we were also able to improve access from our nearest car park at Haydon Way Wood with a new footpath linking the Arden Way (Public Right of Way) with College Wood. We truly believe the Forest is for everyone and we are working to make it accessible for all.

A family walking along a footpath in the Forest with Phoebe from the Forestry team

Visit the Forest for a longer stay

The Heart of England Forest is ideally placed for visitors to extend their stay and reconnect with nature. Currently the Forest stretches up the Warwickshire / Worcestershire border, from the present-day borders of Shakespeare’s Forest of Arden, across the ancient Forest of Feckenham, and down to the edge of the Vale of Evesham. It is a beautiful and very special part of the world, and we understand that for those further afield a base to stay is needed.  
In 2021 we opened our two new eco-friendly holiday cottages which are situated in the Dorsington area of the Forest, close to Stratford-upon-Avon. 

By converting a redundant agricultural barn as sustainably as possible whilst using local companies to design, project manage and build the cottages, we diversified our visitors, allowing nature lovers from all over the world to visit the Forest for more than a day or two. If you prefer something a little less luxurious and would prefer a night under the stars, take a look at the other options we have for longer term visits: Stay in the Forest | Heart of England Forest.

The holiday cottages in Dorsington


Friends of the Forest

All of the work we do around encouraging people to enjoy the Forest, whether it be delivering events or enhancing pathways, walks and areas to explore in the Forest, would not be possible without support from generous people such as yourselves and we are incredibly grateful. 
2015 was the year that the charity provided a way for people to support our work on an ongoing basis by becoming a Friend of the Forest. Eight years later, we now have over 1,000 Friends helping us grow the Forest and ensure it is protected and maintained for generations to come.

“I want to continue the forestry work, giving the public some magical places to wander in. Giving to a charity that pays their knowledgeable staff to manage the environment is wonderful” - Friend of the Forest

“The benefit is in watching the fruits of your labour grow and benefit everyone and everything in the community. It’s a lovely feeling being a (very) small part of something so special.” - Friend of the Forest survey respondent (anonymous) 
If you would like to find out more about becoming a Friend of the Forest and leaving a green legacy for future generations, visit: Become a Friend of the Forest | Heart of England Forest

Come and see for yourself

As we celebrate our 20th year, it is a good time to visit us and reflect on just how far we have come, growing a Forest for the benefit of the environment, wildlife, and people. This work sets the foundations for the next 20, 50, 100 years to come to create and maintain a significant national asset for future generations. Come and see this beautiful part of the world for yourself, whether it is for a short walk around Morgrove Coppice or a woodland break: Visit the forest | Heart of England Forest

The 20th year anniversary logo