Hadleigh Country Park
Grid ref: TQ 799 870 (click for o/s map)
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This country park is hillside running down, steeply in places, to grazing marsh, seawall and a narrow strip of saltmarsh alongside Benfleet Creek. The hillside is a mosaic of grassland, scrub and light woodland, with views of industrial Canvey on the other side of Benfleet Creek.
The hay meadows and rides are full of flowering plants such as restharrow, birdsfoot trefoil and self-heal. On a sunny summer day butterflies such as comma, speckled wood and skippers flutter along the rides, and adders slither out to sun themselves. The grassland also supports some unusual plants, including deptford pink, bithynian vetch and wild catmint.
At the foot of the hill you emerge into a pastoral landscape where cattle graze the marshland behind the seawall. In summer pipits and skylarks nest in the grazing marsh and it is alive with insects, including the scarce emerald damselfly, once thought to be extinct in Essex, and the shrill carder bee, a rare species selected for priority conservation action. Little grebes and reed warblers breed among the dykes and ponds. Unusual migrant birds are often seen here, and merlins occasionally come to hunt in winter.
The main entrance is via Chapel Lane, which leaves the A13 by the Morrison's supermarket in Hadleigh. It can also be reached from the footpath running along the seawall between Benfleet and Leigh.
Benfleet station (Fenchurch St– Southend line) is a short walk from the western arm of the park. A number of bus services run along the A13 through Hadleigh and to Benfleet station.
Open from 8 am until dusk all year round.
Mid-summer for wild flowers, butterflies and other insects; winter (for the hardy) for birds, ideally at high tide when they are closest.
Unsuitable because of the steep terrain.
Three waymarked trails of different lengths start from the Chapel Lane car park. Call the Rangers on 01702 551072 for more information.