529ac/214ha SSSI (part)
Grid ref: TQ 605 915 (click for o/s map)
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Thorndon Country Park is in two parts, the northern section on a gravel ridge and the southern part on clay soil lower down. The two parts are now linked by Old Thorndon Pastures, which is farmland that has been restored to a traditional farming landscape with small hedged fields, grazed by cattle.
The park has ancient woodland and parkland, ponds, a marsh and meadow. Ancient trees are an outstanding feature. Giant oak and hornbeam pollards with towering canopies remind us that this was once a deer park. Parts of it used to be heathland, now a scarce habitat in Essex, and to restore it parts of the park, both north and south, are being grazed on rotation by rare breed goats.
The park attracts a large number of woodland birds and sees more than its fair share of passage migrants and winter visitors. For example, large flocks of siskins and redpolls often gather in the birches, and bramblings can be seen near to the centre feeding on beech mast.
It also hosts an unusually wide variety of butterflies, including the uncommon purple and white-letter hairstreaks.
The park is managed by Essex County Council's Ranger Service. Conifer plantations are being returned to grassland or broadleaved woodland as mature trees are harvested. The storms of 1987 and 1990 have lent a powerful hand here – where windblown conifers have been cleared a new woodland of native trees is regenerating naturally, while in other areas new native trees have been planted.
The Countryside Centre in Thorndon Park North is managed by Essex Wildlife Trust in a joint venture with Essex County Council. It was built just after the 1987 hurricane and some of the storm-fallen timber was used in its construction. It is the Trust's most popular centre with over 100,000 visitors per year, and provides refreshments, a gift shop, displays and interpretation. In spring and early summer you can watch blue tits raising their young via a nestbox camera
South of Brentwood, just west of the A128, which runs from Ongar through Brentwood to join the A127. The main entrance to Thorndon North is off The Avenue, which links the A128 and the B186 (Brentwood–South Ockendon).
Brentwood railway station is about 2km (via Hartswood and Little Warley Common) from Thorndon North. Buses from Brentwood Town Centre run to Eagle Way, Warley.
Thorndon Park is open all year from 8 am to dusk. The Countryside Centre (tel. 01277 232944) is open every day except Christmas and Boxing Days from 9.30 am to 5 pm in summer, dusk in winter. Car park charges (by Essex CC) are £2.20/day.
May for spring flowers and birdsong in the woods; July for butterflies in the open grassland; October for fungi.
The Centre has wheelchair access and a disabled person's toilet. A battery-powered scooter can be provided on request.
For more information about the park or about events and activities call the Rangers on 01277 211250 or the Countryside Centre on 01277 232944.