Thames Chase Community Forest has, from its inception, actively promoted access to the green environment through its network of green spaces. Whether that access is on foot, cycle or horse, the development of non motorised routes has been key in the creation or regeneration of the sites, now numbering over 48 across the Forest area. This has never been more important than during this year’s pandemic, when safe access to woodland, parks and open spaces has offered local communities a place for healthy exercise and enjoyment, whilst following medical advice and guidelines.
The Thames Chase Plan that guides the work of the Community Forest emphasises ‘The health benefits of the natural environment are well documented, extending beyond the tangible, physical benefits of exercise to improved mental well-being through stress relief. The Community Forest provides a freely accessible resource available to all elements of the community that has a role to play in reducing health inequalities across the area it serves.’
As Robert Stevenson, a Thames Chase volunteer commented: “I am regularly walking as a permitted exercise during the lockdown and trying out new routes from my home.”
Martin Barkwith, a trustee, reports “During these difficult times I’ve been looking forward to my one hour of daily exercise taken together with my wife Hilary and our two cocker spaniels. Walking in the local area, we know how lucky we are to have so many open spaces to enjoy, for example, Parklands, Bonnett’s Wood, Berwick Glades, and the River Ingrebourne. It is so uplifting to hear skylarks and blackcaps in full song, even the first cuckoo of Spring! On our walks, we meet other people commenting on how much they appreciate these places, some of which they have only discovered during the enforced restrictions! This is why it is so important that at present we not only take good care of ourselves but also the green environment around us.”
Apart from the path networks around new and restored green sites, the public rights of way network that provide connections between these sites are being surveyed, rejuvenated, mapped and lead walks by Thames Chase volunteer teams to help local people to explore, discover and enjoy the natural beauty of this unique historic area of East London and South West Essex. The Thames Chase Conservation Volunteers teams play a very important part in this work, clearing and cutting back overhanging bramble, branches and trees, repairing or replacing bridges, gates and signs, and sadly, also bagging up a great deal of litter, so the green space remains accessible to be enjoyed by all visitors.
But it doesn’t stop there. As one volunteer Bob comments, new paths are still being developed to link sites together. He says: “One great addition is the new footpath through the new Berwick Glades developed by Forestry England, linking Bonnetts Wood to the original Berwick Glades and on to Hornchurch Country Park. If you cross the Ingrebourne via the Hacton Lane bridge and take the footpath into the woods, there is a great bluebell section before it meets FP 216. These woods are not hugely well known, but this is a little gem. It is remarkably quiet and peaceful”.
One of the key focuses for the Land of the Fanns Landscape Partnership Scheme is access. Working in partnership with Thames Chase Trust, the Walking the Fanns project has allowed visitors to discover and explore green spaces in the local area. Volunteers have surveyed different routes to put together enjoyable, interesting and varied walks, showcased through guided walks for the public and leaflets of walks of varying lengths, for people to do in their own time. There are so many fantastic places to visit nearby, and many can be walked to from your doorstep.
The Land of the Fanns Partnership Scheme have also been working with local community and arts based organisation Kinetika on the Community Mapping project which celebrates the hidden gems in our landscape. Local communities across the Land of the Fanns have been engaged to write about their memories of favourite places they like to visit, and during the last few weeks, these stories have been interpreted into fantastic drawings which will be turned into silk flags. This will culminate in a celebration of all the stories in an arts and walking festival called Tales of the Fanns in 2021. People will be able to view the stories, their locations and the painted silk flags at the end of the summer on www.landofthefanns.org.
The Thames Chase Community Forest network of paths allows people to explore, discover and enjoy the natural beauty of this unique historic area of East London and South West Essex. Leaflets can be found on the website (www.thameschase.org.uk) with instructions and detailed items of interest for both circular and linear walks.
If you would like to support the work of Thames Chase Trust in regenerating landscapes for all to use, please make a donation to our Just Giving page at: https://www.justgiving.com/thames-chase-trust