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Belfairs Park

447ac/181ha  LNR, SSSI (part)

Grid ref: TQ 834 876 (click for o/s map)

Updated 25/08/2014


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Belfairs Park contains two large areas of ancient woodland that were part of a large stretch of woodland in the southern part of Rayleigh Hills, like Hockley Woods to the north. In the 1930s Hadleigh Great Wood was saved from destruction for housing following a campaign led by South Essex Natural History Society. Belfairs Wood to the east was not so fortunate, because in 1938 fairways were bulldozed through it to construct a golf course.

Hadleigh Great Wood (also known as Belfairs Nature Reserve) has a history of many centuries of uninterrupted coppicing. As a result a wide range of flowers and shrubs grow amongst the trees, including sheets of wood anemones, and it attracts a wide range of birds and butterflies. The canopy trees in the wood are mainly oak and sweet chestnut. It also has significant numbers of wild service trees and alder buckthorn, foodplant of the brimstone butterfly. Here and there you can see patches of ling heather.

In 1997 it was chosen as a reintroduction site for the heath fritillary butterfly, which had become extinct in Essex. This butterfly depends on open glades within woodland where the food plant for its caterpillars, common cow-wheat, can be found. With the ending of coppicing in the 1940s many woodlands became unsuitable and as a result it disappeared. The reintroduction has been a great success and large numbers of heath fritillaries can normally be seen in flight in late June and early July. Earlier in June you can see marbled whites.

Belfairs Wood has not had the same level of management and the effects of this are obvious. While still an attractive woodland, it is more heavily shaded and its populations of plants and birds are much poorer. It is a good place to see nuthatch and also has many woodpeckers. You have to be careful to dodge golf balls when crossing the fairways but it has many paths and small clearings and is well worth exploring

Visiting

The main entrance is in Eastwood Road North, which can be reached from the A13 via Eastwood Road and from the A127 westbound via The Fairway.

Regular bus services between Basildon and Southend run along the A13 to the south. Leigh-on-Sea station is about 30 minutes' walk via Belton Hills, Salisbury Road and Eastwood Road.

Accessible at all times. Car park open dawn to dusk. Belfairs Woodland Centre (run by Essex Wildlife Trust) open daily 10am–4pm; phone 01702 477647.

Something of interest at all times of the year, but especially May for woodland flowers and birdsong; mid-June to mid-July for heath fritillary butterflies.

Dogs permitted in Belfairs Park but not inside the Woodland Centre.


Photo © Tony Gunton