A nature reserve that is providing residents with green space and restoring an ancient medieval marshland habitat close to the centre of London.
The 2006 opening of the RSPB Rainham Marshes gave local residents access to a natural landscape derelict for over 100 years and used as a test firing range by the Ministry of Defence. It is the largest area of wetland in the upper Thames Estuary.
The grazing marshland now has high biodiversity levels; is an important place for wildlife recognised through its designation as a Site of Special Scientific Interest; an outdoor education role, and an environmentally friendly visitor centre featuring solar panels, rainwater harvesting, natural light and ventilation systems and ground heat exchange system. The site educates visitors about the natural environment and includes sheltered viewing spots, hides and all-weather footpaths; raises awareness of environmental issues, and the opportunity to see wildlife close London.
Habitat management includes grazing cattle and managing water levels to create tussocky wet grassland, reedbeds and semi-permanent pools to support important plant species such as golden dock. Managing the ditch systems also benefits reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates, and has one of the country’s densest water vole populations. Specific improvement projects include the Veolia North Thames Trust gave £100,000 for a 2.6 mile long fence around Wennington Marsh to protect nesting lapwing chicks from foxes.
The reserve is free to access for residents of LB Havering and LB Thurrock and RSPB members and a small entry fee for members of the public.
RSPB, with Heritage Lottery Fund grant, acquired site in 2000 for ~£1m.
£931k ERDF grant used to transform into nature reserve, including building of £2m visitor centre.
Maintenance funded by entry fees/ café or activities, and supported by volunteers.
Other organisations have funded specific pro
Evidence of success
• The reserve attracts around 40,000 visitors per year
• The innovative visitor centre, designed by van Heyningen & Haward Architects, achieved BREEAM ‘Excellent’ standards, and is carbon neutral in operation
• Biodiversity levels have significantly increased. 270 species of bird have been recorded on the site, as well as 31 species of butterfly, 29 species of dragonfly and many other insects and water voles
• The site has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest
Potential for learning or transfer
The transferability element is that most major cities have derelict or contaminated land that is an eyesore and can bring down property values and create isolated communities. Rainham Marshes demonstrates that the multi-use of this redeveloped land is its transformation into a local asset, an education centre, tourist attraction and improved biodiversity of the marshes. This, in turn, improves the local economy via tourism and new jobs; creates a pleasing landscape which increases the competitiveness of the area and improves local identity and cohesiveness
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