Grid ref: TQ 833 924 (click for o/s map)
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If you only had time to visit one ancient coppiced woodland then Hockley Woods might be the place to choose. It is the largest continuous (unlike Epping Forest, which is divided by roads) native woodland not only in Essex, but in the whole of eastern England. It consists of a group of half-a-dozen ancient woods, mostly owned by Rochford Council and virtually intact except for a few bits lost around the fringes. It is not as rich in wild flowers as some of the northern Essex woods, but has a wide variety of woodland types all on one site and many ancient woodland plants.
The ground falls steeply from the car park with a variety of trees on the upper slopes including oak, sweet chestnut, ash and rowan. These give way to hornbeam on the heavier and wetter soils lower down.
The woods are criss-crossed by woodbanks, the earliest dating from the Middle Ages. Woodbanks were used both to keep grazing animals out of coppice woods and to show where ownership changed. The earliest banks show boundaries between manors and later ones those between farms as well. (The map shows only the main banks.)
Large patches of common cow-wheat are scattered through the woods. This is not a striking plant, having small yellow flowers similar to snapdragon, but it is very important as the only foodplant (in eastern England) of the heath fritillary butterfly. This butterfly is now very rare throughout Britain and had died out in Essex until it was reintroduced to these and several other woods, including Hadleigh Great Wood (Belfairs Park, p. 245) and Thrift Wood (p. 144). The best time to see it is from mid-June to early July.
South of the B1013 Rayleigh-to-Rochford road, just west of Hockley. The Bull Inn is right next to the entrance road. You can also reach the woods from the south, by walking through farmland and several small woods starting from the car park on Grove Road.
Hockley rail station is about 20 minutes' walk. Bus services from Rayleigh and Southend run past the main entrance.
Accessible at all times.
May for early flowers; July for butterflies; October for fungi.
Call Rochford Council on 01702 546366.