870ac/352ha SSSI, SMI
Grid ref: TQ 552 792 (click for o/s map)
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In 2000 the RSPB acquired Aveley and Wennington Marshes, formerly used by the Ministry of Defence as a firing range and a substantial part of the Inner Thames Marshes SSSI, and has developed it into a superb nature reserve.
Habitat work has concentrated on water management. Some 20km of ditch have been restored and sluices have been installed to control water levels across the reserve. New scrapes – areas of shallow water – have been constructed and are managed to provide habitat for breeding waders and wintering waterfowl. The ditches also act as wet fences so that the grassland can be grazed by sheep and cattle without intrusive fencing.
Such a large area of grazing marsh adjacent to the Thames Estuary is very important in wildlife terms and particularly (but not only) for its birds. Large numbers of wildfowl winter here, with wigeon regularly reaching 1,000 and teal up to 3,500. The reserve also supports important numbers of breeding reed bunting, little grebe, meadow pipit and skylark, with stonechat, barn owl, grasshopper warbler and water rail also breeding. On the Thames nearby, large numbers of dunlin and black-tailed godwits winter, along with curlew, grey plover and turnstone.
The reserve also has a large population of water voles and many unusual plants and invertebrates. Its noisiest resident is the marsh frog, introduced into Kent from mainland Europe in the 1930s and now spreading across southern England.
The Environment and Education centre contains a cafe and shop and provides good views across the marshes and River Thames. It has been built to high environmental standards, with features such as solar panels, rainwater harvesting, natural light and ventilation and a ground source heat exchange system
From M25/A13 junction 30 head west along the A13 to its junction with the A1306 and follow the A1306 south towards Purfleet. At the traffic lights turn right on to New Tank Hill Road, signposted Purfleet and RSPB. The entrance is 300m on, on the right.
Nearest rail station is Purfleet (Fenchurch St line).
Open 9.30am to 4.30pm daily. Free access to RSPB members and residents of Havering and Thurrock; otherwise £2.50/adult, £1/child.
Something of interest at all times of the year: highlights are large movements of migrating birds in autumn and large flocks of wildfowl and waders in winter.
Paths and trails are suitable for wheelchairs.
Web www.rspb.org.uk or phone 01708 899840