One of the best ways to get a better understanding of wildlife is to volunteer to help look after the nature reserves in the area. You can meet the people who already know the sites and who can introduce you to the species and habitats which can be seen there. You can also contribute to maintaining the reserves in good condition to protect those species and habitats.
It is a paradox that nature reserves cannot be simply, “left to nature”, they need annual management to keep them in good condition for the species that they support. Without this the wildflower meadows would soon be taken over by tall grassland and then by spiny Hawthorn. The local woodlands were all historically managed by coppicing, cutting areas to the ground in rotation to produce wood fuel, and that creates much more variety in a woodland than simply leaving it alone. So your help in this kind of management can make a big contribution.
There are two organisations in our area with work parties needing new volunteers. The Uttlesford Local Group of Essex Wildlife Trust runs a mobile work party that moves around the reserves, and another EWT group holds a regular Sunday work party at Shadwell Wood. See our Essex Wildlife Trust page for dates and details of the work parties.
The National Trust also run workparties at Hatfield Forest and please search the web for information about that.