Roding Valley Meadows Local Nature Reserve is a mosaic of flower-rich water-meadows and ancient hedgerows sandwiched between the M11 motorway and the River Roding as it flows through Buckhurst Hill in Essex on its way to join the Thames at Barking Creek. It is the largest surviving area of traditionally managed flood-plain hay meadow and marsh in South East England and also includes veteran trees, scrub, secondary woodland, tree plantations and a lake. The reserve covers some 65 hectares (161 acres), and within the site are four fields, totalling 19 hectares (47 acres), that are designated as a biological Site of Special Scientific Interest because of their biodiversity. The LNR is owned by Epping Forest District Council and Grange Farm Trust, and is managed by Essex Wildlife Trust. Edit
Address: Roding Valley Meadows Nature Reserve, Grange Farm, Chigwell, Essex IG7 6DP.
The Roding Valley flood plain and meadows are the legacy of an ancient and conservative system of management, and some of the meadows have almost certainly existed virtually unaltered for many hundreds of years. One meadow is mentioned in a 16th century document as a “mead” (a flood meadow) and there is every reason to believe that most of the remaining meadows have been in existence since medieval times.
Traditionally, the flood meadows were grazed by cattle and to a lesser extent by horses, with the higher meadows cut for hay. The meadows were often flooded in winter when the Roding overflowed its banks. The valley's long and stable management history has allowed a rich and characteristic flora to develop, and with it a distinctive fauna.
The meadows form one of the largest areas of grassland in Essex to be still traditionally managed as hay meadows, flood meadows and marshland. The meadows have never been subjected to artificial fertilisers, herbicides or pesticides.
Records of the valley’s flowering plants since the 1980s have revealed the presence of some 250 species. This rich variety of plants includes the largest beds in Essex of the rare Brown Sedge (Carex disticha). The flood meadows alone account for some 150 species, including uncommon plants such as Carnation Sedge (Carex panicea) and Kingcup (Caltha palustris). Individual meadows support between 40 and 50 species. Many of them, such as the Southern Marsh Orchid, Kingcup, Ragged Robin, Pepper Saxifrage and Tufted Sedge, are characteristic of ancient grassland and are becoming scarce in a county that is intensively farmed and increasingly urbanised.
Management of the reserve is mainly undertaken by Essex Wildlife Trust staff and volunteers. In early summer they carry out a traditional haycut, and this is followed in the autumn and winter by aftermath grazing by Longhorn cattle, a rare breed supplied by a local farmer. The10 miles of hedgerows that enclose the meadows are managed through an annual programme of laying and coppicing.
The reserve and recreation areas are enjoyed by many people and their pets. Inevitably this leads to pressure on habitat particularly on ground-nesting birds such as the skylark which is no longer on the reserve. Since the 1980’s the number of moths,butterflies, grasshoppers and insects has crashed. There are far fewer hedgehogs, moles, snakes and lizards. Water voles have disappeared. Cuckoos are heard no more. Owls are infrequent. As compensation there are more woodpeckers, ring-necked parakeets, corvids, collared doves and little egrets.
The area was declared a nature reserve in 1986. From 1938 to 1964 part of the area east of the Roding formed RAF Chigwell, a training camp and barrage balloon centre. Some of the concrete paths which linked the camp are now used to get around the reserve. Although each year their presence diminishes, there is still evidence of shrubs and garden flowers such as lupins and yellow loosestrife which bordered the RAF buildings.
In recent years more than 90 species of bird have been recorded in the Roding Valley. In late spring and summer Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Skylark, Reed Bunting and Whitethroat can be found about the river and meadows. Late summer sees flocks of finches and other seed-eating birds on the dying heads of thistle and teasel, and cold late autumn weather can bring uncommon migrant ducks to the gravel pit lake. In September 2017 a juvenile Red-necked Grebe spent several days on the site’s lake.
It’s worth a walk round at any time of year. The habitat is varied. Rarer birds do occasionally turn up. The hum of the M11 becomes a roar at times.
The lake on the nearby recreation ground on the Loughton/Buckhurst Hill side usually has Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Mallard, Great Crested Grebe, Moorhen and Coot. Little Egret, Grey Heron are often present and Greylag Goose and Egyptian Goose are becoming regular. Cormorant visit throughout the year and Kingfisher can be seen most months.
On the reserve throughout the year can be found Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Ring-necked Parakeet, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Blackbird; Goldcrest, Long-tailed Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Jay, Magpie, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch and Goldfinch.
Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Kestrel and Little Owl can be seen most times the year.
The lake varies from year to year depending on the build-up of water weed. Most years small numbers of Little Grebe, Gadwall, Shoveler, Tufted Duck which join the regulars. Colder weather brings Wigeon and the occasional Goosander. Snipe can be found in the marshy areas. The occasional Green Sandpiper can be found.
On the reserve large flocks of Fieldfare and Redwing can often be found. Waxwings visit during eruption years.
Hundreds of gulls pass over the reserve. When the River Roding bursts its banks as happens most years, the number of gulls can be in the thousands, particularly Black-headed, Lesser Black-backed and Common Gulls.
Most years there are winter roosts of magpies, carrion crows and jackdaws.
Although the overall effect is compromised by the tyre noise from the M11, the volume of bird song is considerable for so small a reserve. The number of singing wrens, blackbirds, song thrushes, blackcaps, whitethroats, chiffchaffs and chaffinches reward an early walk. Reed buntings can be heard in the northern part of the reserve and reed warblers around the recreation lake. Grey Wagtail can be seen in the Roding tributaries.
Swift and swallow are common above the lake and river.
The breeding birds are busy with their young and generally birdwatching is uneventful. Common Tern visit the lake. Hobby are occasionally seen.
Although not a hotspot compared with nearby Wanstead Flats or the Lea Valley, Meadow Pipit, Redstart, Whinchat, Stonechat, Wheatear and Spotted Flycatcher are regularly seen on passage.
Finches are attracted by the thistles and seed heads, particularly in the northern part of the reserve. These include Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Siskin, Linnet, Lesser Redpoll.
Some unusual sightings since 2007
· Brent Goose at recreation ground lake (November 2013)
· Cockatiel (August 2010)
· Grasshopper Warbler along the River (May 2015)
· Quail in meadows by the river
· Red-crested Pochard on Lake
· Red-necked Grebe from September – December 2017
· Rough-legged Buzzard over (November 2010)
· Water Rail (December 2017)
· Woodcock (Further Six Acres) (May 2014)
· Yellow-legged Gull on Lake (several dates)
Other vertebrates Edit
Larger mammals present include Foxes, Grey Squirrels, the occasional Muntjac Deer and Mink. Smaller mammals include rats, mice, voles and bats.
Chub, Perch, Dace and the odd Roach can be found in the River Roding along with shoals of Minnows and Sticklebacks. There are Stone Loaches in the adjoining brooks. Up to 10lb Pike have been caught and there are large carp in the lake on the recreation ground.
The meadows provide a home for the more common butterflies, dragonflies, grasshoppers and insects.
Car — The main car park is next to the David Lloyd Tennis Centre off Roding Lane. Parking is also available at Grange Farm Centre (which is the headquarters of Essex Wildlife Trust).
Public transport — The site is not easy to reach by public transport. The nearest railway station is Buckhurst Hill on the London Underground’s Central Line, but it is a 25-minute walk from here to the reserve. The best bet is probably a Central Line train to Chigwell Station, a 167 bus to Guru Gobind Singh College and then a short walk from there.
The reserve is open all year round, day and night. It has numerous paths, both hard-surfaced and grass. The gradients over the reserve are mainly gentle. There are no stiles, but there are numerous gates. After heavy rain and through the winter the meadows can be uneven and are prone to flooding. Cattle graze on the fields at certain times of the year.
Access to the area west of the Roding for wheelchairs and buggies is best from where Bradwell Road leads into Greensted Road. Access to the area east of the Roding is from the car park next to the David Lloyd Centre off Roding Lane. There are two foot-bridges which cross the River Roding.
Toilets, etc, are available at Grange Farm Centre.
This information has been cobbled together from various internet sources by Andrew Haynes, who has never visited the site but thinks that it deserves a detailed description on the London Bird Club Wiki. If you are familiar with Roding Valley Meadows, feel free to correct, expand and/or update this information.