Site Unseen: Rainham Marshes

Every month CabbieBlog hopes to show you a little gem of a building, or place, that you might have passed without noticing, in the past, they have ranged from a modernist car park; a penguin pool; to a Hanoverian gatehouse.

Whoever would have guessed?

[Y]ou approach Rainham Marshes through a dystopian world with dozens of large lorries thundering past decrepit industrial units complete with power lines overhead. This must be one of the grimiest areas of London, the dust and fumes pervade everywhere.

Turning into the Reserve one wonders if the journey was worth it.

Then everything changes described as a vital green lung for the Thames corridor, suddenly all you can hear is birdsong. This was a day spent with my grandson recently. With a cloudless blue sky, it was the first indication of an early spring.

This ancient medieval grazing marsh bordering the mighty River Thames on the Essex borders was a Ministry of Defence firing range for nearly 100 years up until 1996 which inadvertently saved it from development. The RSPB have spent since 2000 restoring this vital green lung for the Thames corridor to its former glory. It now holds the biggest flocks of wintering dabbling duck, godwits, and curlew, of which we saw hundreds, along with buzzards and thanks to a friendly twitcher, a peregrine falcon perched high up on the electricity pylon. For the London area and is one of the easiest places to catch up with some of London’s scarcer birds.

The visitors’ centre is manned by friendly volunteers offering advice and refreshments with plenty of activities for little ones. While views through the huge picture windows offer a landscape of huge skies and the panoramic sight of the Marsh with its abundant wildlife as the Thames at this point, wide and slow-moving, drifts by with large dredger boats, with Queen Elizabeth II Crossing in the distance.

Wheelchair access and clean well-built hides gave my grandson an opportunity to see nature up close: waterfowl, water vole, and grazing cattle. With the Thames estuary along its southern flank giving a glimpse seabirds.

This is the last stretch of ancient riverside marshland inside the M25. Little has changed on this medieval freshwater march since its original reclamation from the salty Thames. A perfect day out from the hustle and bustle of London.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 7th August 2015

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