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RSPB Rainham Marshes

Natural Trend Setters

It is one thing to be excitedly writing about things to come at RSPB Rainham Marshes nature reserve. It is another entirely to have the pleasure of writing about those that are happening now. For many years now, we have extolled the virtues of bringing the marshes to people using great visitor experience events and high quality facilities.

Purfleet Education CentrePond Dipping
left: Purfleet Education Centre (© Kate Grinter),     right: Pond Dipping (© David Levinson)

When the nature reserve and new Purfleet Environment & Education Centre open fully to the public this autumn, I don't consider it an exaggeration to suggest that it is one of the biggest events in the RSPB calendar. It is also a significant occasion within the history of Europe's biggest growth area. With the Thames Gateway and Olympic developments set to dominate the area for some time to come, it is apt that the RSPB can play such a vital role in ensuring that a high quality natural environment is at the heart of that regeneration. A healthy and accessible environment is crucial to quality of life, and we believe that places such as Rainham Marshes can offer countless benefits to people, as well as to the wildlife that call the marshes home.

left: Avocet,     right: Lapwing,   both © RSPB

It is therefore with some pride that upon opening the reserve, not only are we offering a valuable resource within the Thames Gateway, but we are also setting a high standard from which to follow. The Purfleet Environment & Education Centre, which was amongst the first major projects funded within the Thames Gateway, is an exemplar of high quality design, a friendly multi-use space that adheres to the highest environmental standards. The building has been designed to reach the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) 'Excellent' rating and we aspire for it to be a carbon neutral operation; that is, having no requirements for energy from fossil fuels (coal, oil or gas). We hope that if these standards can be set across the whole of the growth area, then we will be making a big step towards improving quality of life without damaging the planet.

RedshankSociable Plover
left: Redshank you can expect to see (© RSPB ), while right: this Sociable Plover was a rare visitor in Dec 2005 (© Barry Wright)

One simple thing you can do to improve your quality of life is to get out there and enjoy the outdoors and all that it has to offer. Whether that be in your garden, a local park or by visiting a nature reserve, nothing could be more healthy than a stroll to the sound of nature. Many people will think of Rainham Marshes as being an inhospitable, uninviting environment. Nothing could in fact be further from the truth; the marshes hold interest on so many different levels.

There are only a few ancient landscapes left in London and this RSPB reserve is one of them. Bought from the Ministry of Defence in July 2000, its former use as shooting ranges has preserved much of the original medieval land-form and marshland wildlife and is now the largest remaining expanse of wetland bordering the upper reaches of the Thames Estuary.

Averley Marsh
Aveley Marshes ( © Howard Vaughan)

The sweeping panoramic views across the river and marshes are both breathtaking and evocative of a landscape long since commonplace, when the whole of the Thames was bordered by wetlands rich with life. Last year, over 170 different bird species were seen on the reserve. Some of these birds may have travelled as far away as the Antarctic, with remarkable stories to their name. Take a closer look at the marsh and you will see a place brimming with smaller life too - butterflies, dragonflies, grasshoppers, spiders - the abundance of which is difficult to match anywhere else. Then as winter draws in, the real spectacle begins as thousands of ducks and wading birds descend on the marshland haven over the colder months. Wildlife aside, man's influence on the marshes is clear to see as well, from Neolithic tree remains to outstanding military structures inherited over the last centuries.

Let us not forget that without this human influence, the marshes would not be here today. The role of mankind in safeguarded these precious natural resources is as crucial as ever and I hope that by visiting us soon you will appreciate just what a magnificent place this is for all to enjoy.

By Nick Bruce-White, Site Manager & Kate Grinter, Visitor and Publicity Officer
Rainham, Wennington and Aveley Marshes Nature Reserve.