War and peace in Es­sex

Essex Life - - ESSEX WILDLIFE -

Mod­ern day na­ture reserves are both havens for wildlife and re­lax­ing des­ti­na­tions for the peo­ple that visit them. How­ever, for some of Es­sex Wildlife Trust’s na­ture reserves, they had very dif­fer­ent uses dur­ing the world wars. With the Lon­don sky­line within reach, the In­gre­bourne Val­ley acts as a green lung for the lo­cal com­mu­nity. There are 261 hectares of in­ter­con­nect­ing habi­tats and the marsh is recog­nised as an in­ter­na­tion­ally im­por­tant site for wildlife.

But dur­ing both world wars, Hornchurch Coun­try Park in the In­gre­bourne Val­ley was known as Sut­ton’s Farm Air­field, a renowned Spit­fire sta­tion that played a cru­cial role in the Bat­tle of Bri­tain.

In place of the air­field to­day is the EWT’s In­gre­bourne Val­ley Vis­i­tor Cen­tre, which opened in 2015 in part­ner­ship with Haver­ing Coun­cil. Within the cen­tre there is a mem­ory booth con­tain­ing arte­facts, film footage and in­ter­views with peo­ple that re­mem­ber the site as an air­field. The Spit­fires may be long gone, but keep your eyes to the skies – you might see a lap­wing tum­bling from the sky or the dart­ing blue flash of a king­fisher. Over in Shoe­bury­ness, Gun­ners Park and Shoe­bury Ranges na­ture re­serve looks out to­wards the mighty Thames Es­tu­ary. The re­serve is man­aged in con­junc­tion with Southend on Sea Bor­ough Coun­cil, but for 149 years it was owned by the Board of Ord­nance and the Royal Ar­tillery, where it was used as an ex­per­i­men­tal range and a train­ing school. Scores of struc­tures were built on the site and many re­main in place to­day. This na­ture re­serve is a hotspot for mi­grat­ing birds and the re­mains of the struc­tures now pro­vide an un­usual home for nest­ing birds such as barn swal­lows.

The largest area of low­land heath­land re­main­ing in Es­sex is found at Tip­tree Heath Na­ture Re­serve, but in the mid-20th cen­tury, com­mon land laws were sus­pended and it was ploughed as part of the Dig for Vic­tory cam­paign. The low nu­tri­ent soil is fan­tas­tic for heather but it only pro­duced poor crops, so in 1955 it was sown with grass seed and left to grow wild. To­day the re­serve is looked after jointly with the Friends of Tip­tree Heath and with the help of eight Ex­moor ponies. The re­serve is man­aged to help the heath­land and all three species of heather thrive.

Swal­low fledglings

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