Forestry Commission logo

Discovery Pass

Discover the
freedom of
the forest…
every day of the year…

Get free parking, discounts on events and much more with an annual Discovery Pass


The ultimate free guide to our forests

Forest Xplorer running on iPhone and Android devices

Explore St Helen's
(Average user rating: 4 unrated 4/5)


The Little Ouse Valley between Brandon and Thetford has been designated a Forest Nature Reserve by the Forestry Commission in recognition of its importance to wildlife.

Along the valley, wetland areas of alder carr and fen, poplars, damp grazing meadows and reedbeds support a rich variety of plants, insects and birds. St Helen's picnic site, next to the river, is a good base from which to explore.

Following the Orange Walk you will pass a number of informative panels, some of general interest and some with more historical and ecological interest. An impressive display of snowdrops can be seen at Santon Downham in the early spring in the woodland opposite the village shop. 

St Helen's Picnic Site Consultation Report

St Helen's has seen a steady increase in visitors over the last few years which is resulting in rising costs to maintain the site.  To ensure facilities and heritage are managed to a good standard the Forestry Commission need to look at how we can sustainably care for St Helen's through either reducing expenditure by removing facilities or bringing in income to sustain them.

Before making any decisions the Forestry Commission are hosting a second online discussion forum  to give summer visitors an opportunity to feedback.  This will run until the 17th of September 2017. 

The Consultation Report and next steps from the first consultation in Autumn 2016 is still available to read. The final Consultation Report considering all feedback from both consultation will be published on the 29th of September 2017.


What do other visitors say?

4 Stars 4 Stars

We come 20 miles every morning to give our old dogs hydrotherapy, it keeps them going and they love it.

we love the tranquility and safe bathing/paddling for our young grandchildren in the little beach areas.

Gary and sue Boyce, 26/Aug/2017

We're glad you like St Helen's and the river. However, it is a popular spot and erosion on the river bank is starting to encroach on the scheduled monument that is located on site. (The moat area)We will need to do work on the bank next year and we ask that you help us by obeying any safety signage that is put up.

Forestry Commission Response

Hi have never visited the forest or surrounding area before but am keen to do so. I have a very energetic cocker spaniel would she be allowed off the lead when walking? thanks

jane, 7/Aug/2017

Well behaved dogs kept under control are welcome in the forest. Visit the Forestry Commission web page on dog walking and obey the dog code.

Forestry Commission Response
5 Stars 5 Stars

We visited the forest today and parked at St Helens picnic site. We had a fabulous day, it's a beautiful place. We have a Canadian canoe and the river looked like a really good place to canoe on. We are members of British Canoing but would like to know if any launch charges apply.

I have been reading the comments about car park charges and I'm sure people would be willing to pay to park and to launch so that this lovely forest and it's facilities can continue to be enjoyed.

Sue Hunt, 4/Aug/2017

You are welcome to launch a canoe at St Helen's without charge. However, the slip way on site has been recently inspected and needs repairs. This means the slip way will be closed until next year.

Forestry Commission Response
More user comments

Please tell us about your visit

Please email us at if you have an enquiry, a complaint or would like a personal reply to your comments.

Email addresses will not be shown

Last updated: 25th September 2017

Help us take care of your forest

What's Here?

  • Dogs on lead
  • Easy Access
  • Toliets
  • Horse riding
  • The Forestry Commission has a Open Access policy for horse riding. As a consequence there are very few way-marked trails in the forest. O.S.Explorer map 229 shows areas owned by the Forestry Commission and open to the public to ride. Deboxing areas can be found at the east end of the Harling Drove (FR23) and north of the railway line at Santon Downham. The areas north of the railway line are best suited to horse riding as this is away from the concentration of visitors using High Lodge and the cycling trails. Please observe all signs especially those relating to 'Forest Operation'.
  • Parking
  • Off of the A134
  • Picnic
  • You are welcome to picnic here but please do not BBQ.
  • Walking
  • The 5 mile Orange walk (short cut available) can also be accessed from Santon Downham. It has interpretation around the walk on some of the fascinating history and wildlife of the area. A map of the walk around St Helens and Santon Downham is available from Forest Office (office hours only), or you could dowload a copy before you visit.
More about what's here


OS Grid ref: TL820880
Postcode: IP27 0TJ

Get directions


Nicky Russell

0300 067 4546

Opening & Parking

Opening Times:
Dawn to Dusk
Off of the A134

PDF Downloads

Useful sites

Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification certifiedForest Stewardship Council certified

England's Woods and Forests are cared for by Forest Enterprise England, an agency of the Forestry Commission.