Following not long after his aunt’s visit to the area, not two weeks before, Prince Harry undertook a brief visit to Epping Forest to observe the local Wood Pasture Restoration Project, which forms part of The Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy (QCC). The QCC is a charity dedicated to preserving forests within the Commonwealth, thus ensuring their critical ecosystems, resources and natural beauty are preserved for future generations to enjoy. It works in partnership with the Royal Commonwealth Society.
Forests covered under the QCC are protected in perpetuity in honour of The Queen and her lifetime of service to the Commonwealth and its people.
His Royal Highness has already undertaken a number of visits to QCC sites during his visit to the Caribbean, where he inspected other conservation efforts in threatened regions on many of the islands in the region.
While in Epping Forest, Prince Harry was shown the various efforts that were undertaken to ensure that the forest in the area is preserved. Park rangers also demonstrated to the Prince different methods of more environmentally friendly farming, such as fenceless grazing for cows.
Epping Forest is one of the largest open spaces in the Greater London area, encompassing some 2,468 hectares of ancient woodland, stretching north into Essex. Its thin gravelly soil made the region unsuited to agriculture, and so the forest was left remarkably untouched over the course of British history, surviving where many other forests were cut down by local inhabitants. For much of its medieval history, it was a royal woodland and thus reserved solely for use by the King and his vassals. Dick Turpin, the famed 18th-century outlaw, was also thought to have had a hideout within Epping Forest.
In 1882, Queen Victoria opened the forest as a public space to be enjoyed by all, and as a result, it came to be known as the People’s Forest. The tree under which she stood while issuing the proclamation declaring it as such was since called “The Queen’s Oak,” and it still stands to this day.
Many ancient laws regarding the land and its use by the local community still apply today. For instance, people are still permitted to let their cattle graze within the forest grounds; however, their movements have become more restricted of late after BSE outbreaks and increase in motorised traffic. Likewise, local residents are still permitted a (rarely used) right to collect firewood from the forest. However, they are restricted to just one bundle of dead or driftwood a day per adult resident.
Epping Forest was made a part of the QCC project in 2016.
While in the area, Prince Harry met children from a local school who frequently conduct a number of activities within the forest, many of which are orientated around forestry work and plant conservation. They helped His Royal Highness in learning how to identify common plant problems, as well as demonstrating pond-dipping and its role in the study and preservation of the forest’s biodiversity.
Afterwards, Prince Harry and the children planted a tree under the Queen’s Oak to mark the forest’s inclusion in the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy.