Belhus Woods Country Park, in the London Borough of Havering, offers a diverse landscape of ancient woodland, grassland and lakes, situated within Thames Chase Community Forest and including newly planted areas of woodland owned by the Woodland Trust and Forestry Commission. Owned by Essex Country Council, the park regularly wins Green Flag awards.
Address: Belhus Woods Country Park, Romford Road, Aveley, South Ockendon RM15 4XJ (tel 01708 865628; email firstname.lastname@example.org) (Map:; OS grid reference TQ570824)
The main area of the park was once a deer park, part of the Belhus Estate, which was the home of the Barrett and Lennard families from the 15th to the 20th century. It was landscaped by Capability Brown in the mid-18trh century. The park has been extended by the addition of old flooded sand and gravel workings to the east and north. More land surrounding the park has been added recently, some of which has been planted with trees and some kept as hay meadows.
The country park includes varied ancient woodland, marsh, ponds, lakes and running water. Major tree species include Pedunculate Oak, Field Maple, Hornbeam and Wild Service-tree, plus Alder in an important area of wet woodland. In drier areas the ground flora is dominated by Bluebell, with the locally scarce Early Purple-orchid, Lily-of-the-valley, Butcher's-broom and, in wetter areas, Cyperus Sedge.
The margins of the smaller eastern lake, which lies between two blocks of ancient woodland, support a fringe of Common Reed, with the London rarity Fine-leaved Water-dropwort and both species of Reedmace (together with their hybrid). The southern lake supports a ruderal wetland community with many regionally uncommon species, including Golden and Marsh Docks, Common Water-crowfoot and Pink Water-speedwell. The banks and island of the northern lake support more woody vegetation, predominantly of willows.
The woodlands are managed by park rangers on a traditional coppice rotation, which brings extra light into sections of the woodland floor.
Breeding birds include typical woodland species, all three British woodpeckers, Little Ringed Plover, Shelduck, Pochard, Lapwing and Redshank. Small flocks of finches including Siskin and Redpoll winter, and smew can be seen on the larger lakes.
The Running Water Brook supports a population of water vole.
Various bee and wasp species can be found including several locally rare species. The Cely woods area has abundant grasshoppers and crickets.
The park is situated off the Romford Road, which connects Aveley to Upminster, and is about 3 miles north of Lakeside and the Dartford Tunnel. Pay-and-display parking costs £2 (no charge for tax exempt vehicles and motorcycles). To reach the park by public transport, take the train to Rainham (London, Tilbury and Southend Line) and then bus 372, or to Upminster Bridge (London Underground, District Line) and bus 373.
The park is open daily (except 25 December) from 8am until until dusk. Check entrance boards for daily closing times. The site is reasonably level with good access for wheelchair users. There are well-marked routes around the site, and the rangers run a programme of guided walks.
The park has a visitor centre (open 10am to 4pm), where light refreshments and information can be obtained. There are toilets, baby changing facilities and picnic and barbecue areas. Events run through the year include wildflower walks and bat walks.
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