Thames Chase Community Forest Today
Agriculture: Much of the land in Thames Chase is of good quality. Of this, most is under cereal production but with market gardening on lighter soils, plus smaller areas of soft fruit, beef and sheep. Agriculture is highly diversified, with farm shops, livery units and other forms of outdoor recreation, including fishing and clay pigeon shooting. Some farmers have converted premises to commercial or light industrial uses.
Forestry: Woodland existing prior to the establishment of Thames Chase covers about 800 hectares (8%) of the Forest area. A further 160 hectares (2%) comprises emerging woodland of new plantation, scrub and developing secondary stands. Most of the woodland is native broad leaved much of this is ancient or semi-natural. Mixed plantations with pine and larch, or pure stands of pine occur south of Brentwood, largely within Thorndon Park. Local authorities own most of the existing woodland with very small areas within farms.
Minerals: The extraction of sand, gravel and clays from the Thames Terraces has had a degrading impact on the landscape of Thames Chase and some 16% of the Forest area has been affected since the turn of the century.
The earliest pits lie in the Dagenham corridor and tend to be poorly restored. Over the years extraction has generally moved eastwards into Essex, with the standard of restoration improving, but with little land returning to productive agriculture. Some restored land produced a hay crop or provides informal grazing. Where biodegradable waste was tipped into former landfill sites, uncontrolled methane often seeps to the surface. Hazardous waste has in the past presented problems within the forest area, including when further restoration to more beneficial use is being contemplated. Elsewhere inert construction materials have been tipped at a number of former mineral sites and since the inception of Thames Chase this has often created an opportunity for new woodland and open habitat creation.
Few consents for further extraction remaining to be taken up within the forest area and the local authorities have policies which make it unlikely that new permissions will be granted. However mineral companies continue to hold land in case planning policy changes.
Recreation: There is significant provision for countryside sport and recreation within Thames Chase. Major facilities include country parks at Belhus Woods, Thorndon, Hornchurch and Broadfields Farm, and outdoor recreation centres at Belhus Park, Bretons, Grangewaters and Stubbers. The sites at Belhus Woods, Eastbrookend, Grangewaters and Stubbers are good examples of how old mineral workings can be used for recreation.
Further provision includes a privately owned multi-use centre, established golf courses and other facilities for activities such as horse-riding, fishing, archery, and orienteering. Informal access to the forest is largely via a footpath network of varying quality. The area has few bridleways and there is little formal provision for cycling, meaning that cyclists and horse riders often have to deal with the hazards presented by heavily trafficked roads.
Wildlife: Prior to the creation of the community forest, which has had a dramatic impact on the area’s ecology over the past 20 years, most of the habitat of value to wildlife in Thames Chase had been eroded by development or inappropriate land management over the past 50 years. Many of the richest habitats had developed by default rather than by design, the exceptions being the three nature reserves in the community forest managed with nature conservation in mind – at The Chase, in the Dagenham Corridor, Cranham Marsh and Warley Place. The default habitats are shaped by the three underlying geological areas within Thames Chase, which have an impact on the natural and planted vegetation. Habitats are further influenced by imported soil types linked with quarry restoration.
Two Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) fall within Thames Chase – the River Ingrebourne Marshes SSSI at Rainham and Thorndon and Harts Wood SSSI, south of Brentwood. At the landscape scale, the southern third of Thames Chase provides the richest area for wildlife due to the proximity of the Inner Thames Marshes SSSI and the open habitats created by mineral workings. The Dagenham Corridor and the Ingrebourne and Mardyke Valleys are important migratory routes for birds heading to and from the marshes.
Transport and access: Thames Chase is greatly affected by roads and their users. Congestion, noise, visual intrusion and air pollution all have a detrimental effect on the quality of the area, and the speed of traffic threatens public safety. Many roads carry very heavy traffic, including large numbers of lorries, at peak times. To avoid congested areas, by-roads and narrow lanes are used as alternative routes, sometimes destroying their character.
Mainline railway stations link Thames Chase with Liverpool Street and Fenchurch Street and there is ready access at Upminster, Harold Wood, West Horndon, South Ockendon and Rainham. London Underground District Line stations are located at Dagenham East, Elm Park and Upminster. Bus services are regular throughout the urban area, but connections serving the Forest tend to be poor particularly at weekends.
Thames Chase and the community: Large centres of population surround Thames Chase, but few fall within the forest with South ockendon and Aveley the only substantial towns. West Horndon, Bulphan, North Ockendon, North Stifford, Great and Little Warley are the only villages in the area and many of the scattered farmsteads no longer serve agriculture.
About 650,000 live locally, but the number living in the Forest’s wider catchment runs into many millions. Within the Thames Chase area strong social links exist between East London and Essex, as increasing affluence has seen families progressing from Dagenham to Upminster to Billericay. Some families have had less choice, having been relocated from London by local authorities to new overspill estates in places such as Aveley and South Ockendon.
Although agriculture is the principal land use, it employs relatively few people in the area. Industrial and commercial businesses, mineral companies and the local authorities are other employers. Around the Forest, the importance of major national and international companies, such as Ford and Rhone Poulenc Rorer has declined as major plant has closed down. Romford hosts the regional headquarters of many national companies, particularly in the financial services sector, and in Thurrock, the Port of Tilbury and the new London Gateway Port and associated logistics parks provide significant employment as well as retail centred around Lakeside Shopping Centre.
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