One of the key missions of the Land of the Fanns has been to make the history of the area and the Fanns landscape more accessible to everyone so they can understand how places have become what they are today and how changes have taken place over the centuries. We have worked with organisations across the Land of the Fanns to interpret the past uses and purposes of both heritage properties and outdoor sites. At Chafford Gorges Nature Discovery Park in Thurrock, we have worked with Essex Wildlife Trust on the creation of four trails that offer routes around the Reserve, differing in length and difficulty, that connect its diverse habitats together and reveal the centuries of change, history and human activity in this very special place.
Chafford Gorges Nature Discovery Park is an Essex Wildlife Trust (EWT) site covering more than 200 acres and is one of the most varied and biodiverse nature reserves in Essex. The four new trails help guide visitors around the reserve revealing its hidden gems and the rich history of the site: the pink trail is 30 minutes long and is deemed easy or you might choose the blue trail which lasts for two hours and takes in almost the whole reserve.
Chafford Gorges Nature Park is close to Chafford Hundred and Lakeside Shopping Centre. The Reserve is made up of nine different sites. The last 150 million years are written in its geology: from the ice age permafrost which left a visible mark in the top layer of rock to the River Thames depositing Thames gravel as it meandered through the prehistoric landscape 30 metres above today’s ground level. The erosion of the Caledonian mountains 60 million years ago deposited Thanet sand on the area and chalk was created when, between 95 and 65 million years ago, the sea level was much higher. Below this chalk is a layer of Gault clays laid down in the early cretaceous period.
The tools of Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) have been found at Chafford Gorges. So too have the fossils of Mosasaurs, large marine reptiles from the Late Cretaceous period and other prehistoric ice age mammal fossils have been found here. As well as farming, the area has been heavily quarried for brickearth, gravel, chalk and flint. Clays from Chafford Hundred were used to create Portland Cement from 1874. Some archaeological features from this period survive around the reserve. This quarrying created much of Chafford Gorges Nature Park.
Having such a large range of different habitats, Chafford Gorges Nature Park is an extremely important reserve for the wider landscape and is a key site for many species that are to be found in Essex. Calcareous grassland and chalk waters are the most beneficial for biodiversity in the area. Reedbed; scrub; woodland; rank grassland and sand cliffs all contribute to the complexity of the reserve.
The Land of the Fanns celebrates the intricate landscape of the area which is full of surprises and ‘hidden gems’ and which rewards exploration. Chafford Gorges Nature Park really is one of those hidden gems being surrounded by the newly built estate of Chafford Hundred. The reserve can be easily overlooked and yet has areas of national importance and two Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The lime kiln is a fascinating find as are the concealed ponds and lakes.
The newly created trails enable new and returning visitors to explore Chafford Gorges Nature Park fully and discover the features, history and natural wonders that they may not have noticed before. They also lead visitors to explore parts of the reserve with different wildlife, geology and past uses.
Ned, the Neanderthal with his flint tools and animal skins is a character who features in the new site information boards, offering an insight into the reserve’s history, whilst Mo the Mosasaur highlights the environment aspect of Chafford Gorges and the battle between land and water. Working with EWT volunteers, boards depicting these characters have been installed around the site and the existing boards have had QR codes added to them to connect them with the new ones. Trail posts marking the way for each colour trail and showing Mo are also around the site to guide visitors.
Full details of all the trails can be found here.
So, get out and explore Chafford Gorges Nature Discovery Park and see millennia of history revealed before you.
Jules Easlea, Land of the Fanns Press and PR