Ingrebourne Valley Visitor Centre

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Listed in Nature Reserves & Woods, Parks, Wildlife and Nature, Places to Go

Essex Wildlife Trust in Partnership with Havering Council has started to build a visitor centre at Hornchurch Country Park overlooking the fantastic marshland and reed beds of the River Ingrebourne.

The visitor centre will open to the public in October 2015 and will greet visitors seven days a week and will provide much-needed community facilities and education opportunities to Hornchurch Country Park –a well-used and much-loved open space, of great importance to people and wildlife. The centre will offer a shop, café, toilets, education/community room, displays and a wide range of events to engage the whole community with the fascinating wildlife and heritage of the park and the surrounding Ingrebourne Valley landscape.

Hornchurch Country Park is owned and managed by Havering Council and comprises of 97 hectares of green open space, of great wildlife importance and hugely valued by the local community, who use it for walking, running, cycling, dog walking, playing, family visits and much more. The park is used by approximately 150,000 visitors a year. Thechildren’s’ play area includes a model Spitfire and a variety of play equipment for a range of ages and abilities. The park also offers an outdoor gym and ‘trim-trail’ which extends throughout the park.

Hornchurch Country Park is the former site of Sutton’s Farm airfield, from which biplanes of the Royal Flying Corps took off to defend London in World War One; Lieutenant Leefe-Robinson took off from RAF Hornchurch on the night he brought down the first Zeppelin that was terrorising London, for which he received the Victoria Cross. The airfield later became RAF Hornchurch; fighter squadrons from Hornchurch were prominent in the Battle of Britain and the Battle of France and it became the most renowned Spitfire station in Fighter Command. The Spitfire squadrons based here were flown by many famous airmen, including Stanford Tuck and ‘Sailor’ Malan. Various artefacts and relics of the site’s RAF history, such as pill boxes, Tett turrets and a Spitfire dispersal point are still visible within the park.

The Ingrebourne Valley, in which the Hornchurch Country Park sits, comprises of 261 hectares of interconnecting habitats, including river, open water, marsh, grassland, reed bed, ancient and secondary woodland, scrub and hedgerows and is home to London’s largest remaining continuous freshwater reed bed, designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Local Nature Reserve. The site is not only unique but incredibly important for the 61 species of birds that regularly breed in the area, including Redshank, Lapwing and Pochard, in addition to 16 nationally scarce beetle species, dragonflies, crickets and other insects. The Ingrebourne Valley is a true haven for wildlife. Visitors may also get the chance to enjoy the wonderful but all-too-rare ‘plop’ as a Water Vole enters the water or the flash of blue as a Kingfisher dashes downstream.

Funding for the £1.4 million Ingrebourne Valley Visitor Centre project has been provided by Veolia North Thames Trust, Heritage Lottery Fund, City Bridge Trust and UK Power Networks. Essex Wildlife Trust also led a successful fundraising appeal to Trust members and the public, to complete the required funds.

Constructors, Coleman & James, started setting up on site 13 October 2014 and there was a ground-breaking ceremony held on 22 October for our funders. The Ingrebourne Valley Visitor Centre has been designed by TimRonalds Architects.

The visitor centre will be a gateway to the Ingrebourne Valley, promoting the excellent network of footpaths, cycle-paths and bridle-paths and providing panoramic views over valley and its wildlife. The location has been chosen for its accessibility and close proximity to the popular play area and the car park. The visitor centre has been designed to a modest budget, providing a sustainable build which has a standard of BREEAM Excellent. BREEAM is the world’s foremost environmental assessment method and rating system for buildings. Great emphasis is being placed on the requirement to have a building that sits well with its environment.

The main entrance and car park to the park is on Squadrons Approach (RM12 6TS) from Suttons Lane with an additional car park and entrance of South End Road (RM13 7YD). The park is accessible by following the IngrebourneWay foot and cycle path along the river at Hornchurch Stadium and other access points along the river course including Gaynes and Hacton Parkways, Berwick Glades, Berwick Woods, and Ingrebourne Hill.

Hornchurch Country Park is served by several bus routes, including the 256 which passes Hornchurch underground station (District Line) and terminates at St George’s Hospital on Suttons Lane – a short walk away from the park’s main car park at Squadrons Approach. Route 252 towards Hornchurch town centre also stops here, or you can access the park using the 165, 365 or 372 which stop on South End Road. From here it’s just a short walk back to the AlbynsFarm entrance to the park.

If you would like further information or would like to register your interest in volunteering at the centre please contact Becky Gibson, Ingrebourne Development Manager, on 07742 512610 or at [email protected]

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