Grid ref: TQ 833 924 (click for o/s map)
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If you only have time to visit one ancient woodland then Hockley Woods is the best choice. It is the largest continuous native woodland in the whole of eastern England, consisting of a group of half-a-dozen ancient woods, 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 typical ancient woodland plants. It is criss-crossed by woodbanks, some dating from the Middle Ages.
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 oak, hornbeam and hazel on the heavier and wetter soils lower down, where the trees are being coppiced in patches and along the broad rides.
The heath fritillary butterfly has been reintroduced here and large patches of its foodplant, common cow-wheat, grow alongside the rides and among the recently coppiced trees. The best place to see the butterflies is along the broad rides across the southern section in the south and east, which are kept open by regular coppicing and lined with common cow-wheat and wood ant mounds. Silver-washed fritillary can also be seen.
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. SatNav: SS5 4RQ.
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 and birdsong; mid-June to mid-July for heath fritillaries, and later in summer for flying insects and wild flowers along the rides