The Thames Chase Community Forest was initially set up in response to decades of landscape fragmentation and damage due to major road building, settlement expansion and quarrying. The location of Thames Chase in one of the densest parts of the UK means that the area has significant strategic potential as accessible countryside within reach of over a million people. Furthermore, intense development pressure means that the natural spaces that do remain are even more important for wildlife. The landscape regeneration element of Thames Chase is therefore of utmost importance as a Forest-wide programme. Conserving and enhancing the Thames Chase landscape and the natural environment will improve its ability to serve both people and wildlife as a functioning working landscape. In addition, a restored landscape can support local adaptation to climate change by reducing flood risk through increased flood storage capacity and by reducing the impact of the urban ‘heat island’ effects. Enhancements to its visual appearance will also make the Thames Chase area more attractive, supporting the local economy by attracting businesses, visitors and increasing land values.
Close working with the land reclamation sector offers significant opportunities to realise landscape restoration. Many of the mineral extraction and landfill sites within Thames Chase can be restored appropriately into new natural environments that serve to reconnect the Thames Chase landscape. Closely aligned with the Forestry programme and the potential for woodland creation, these sites can also offer opportunities for social, environmental and economic benefit linked to non-woodland habitats such as meadows, new connections and recreation space.
The Thames Chase landscape also features three rivers: the Mardyke, Ingrebourne and Beam, whose valley systems characterise the landscape as it is today. Consequently, this Forest-wide programme includes riparian landscape restoration as a critical element of the wider landscape regeneration programme. The Water Framework Directive (WFD) and the governance surrounding this offer a sound statutory basis to drive this forward. As a European Union directive that seeks to achieve good qualitative and quantitative status of water bodies in relation to their biological quality, river bank structure and profile, and physical and chemical quality, there are two recognised River Catchment Partnerships with River Catchment Plans focussed on discharging the WFD locally. A combination of local authorities, NGOs and water companies have signed up to a rolling series of projects around community engagement, biodiversity, water quality, tackling invasive species and engineering enhancements, that are also represented within this Thames Chase Plan and which deliver against this programme.
Landscape restoration also entails the protection and reinstatement of natural habitats with consequent positive effects on ecology and wildlife. The enhancement of ecological value throughout Thames Chase can be achieved through improved management and understanding of nationally recognised sites such as the Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) at Ingrebourne Marshes and Thorndon and Harts Wood, and also through effective management of Local Wildlife Sites. Complex land ownership across Thames Chase means that the principles of environmental stewardship need to be embraced by landowners, some of whom may not fully appreciate the need for more effective environmental management. Increasing the number of recognised Environmental Stewardship schemes is a nationally recognised means of achieving this through financial incentive. At a landscape scale, encouraging connectivity of habitats across the landscape will also help enhance biodiversity and runs parallel to the needs of people in the ‘Access’ Forest-wide programme.
Summary of landscape regeneration programme
|Restoring landscapes||Enhancing Landscapes|
Landscape regeneration programme and strategic objectives 1-5
|Objectives||Fit with Programme|
|1. To protect, improve and expand the woodland character of the Community Forest||
|2. To maintain the natural integrity of the Community Forest’s air, land and water including wildlife||
|3. To develop a connected network of links and accessible, vibrant greenspaces throughout the Community Forest||
|4. To integrate climate change adaptation and mitigation responses into the developing Community Forest||
|5. To use the Community Forest to improve local health and well-being, volunteering, learning and employment||
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