Basildon Natural History Society
Marks Hill Wood

The Society runs this 43-acre nature reserve, on an entirely voluntary basis. The terrain varies, and includes sections of ancient coppice woodland, more recent woodland, former plotland, hay meadow and ponds.  It is located to the west of Staneway, Langdon Hills, and in due season is particularly beautiful, especially in spring and autumn.  Walking access can be secured from Staneway via the gated entrance, and via the Delmores entrance, off the High Road.  There is a car-park besides Delmores, from the car-park follow the footpath up the slope and bear right at the junction with the bridleway, the south entrance to the reserve is approximately 100 yards on the left.

SAT NAV - use postcode SS16 6LR for Delmores car-park.

The north and west entrances can be accessed from the bridleway that passes through the reserve.

Map from the Basildon Nature Trail showing the location of Marks Hill Wood Nature reserve.

History of the site, as a nature reserve

The reserve was set up in 1975, to be run by the Basildon Natural History Society. It was formally opened in May 1981. At that time the site was owned by the Basildon Development Corporation, which had acquired it along with a great deal of other land, in the course of planning to develop the South-west Area of the designated New Town.  A public enquiry into the Corporation’s proposals in 1975 had the result that significant parts of the proposed development were refused, not least in the Willow Park area and on Dunton Ridge.  Discussions had already been going on concerning the possibility of setting up a nature reserve on some of the woodland and plotland on Marks Hill, and this became more feasible once it was clear that much of the adjacent land would be free of development.

Virtually from the outset, the nature reserve at Marks Hill enjoyed Development Corporation support, perceived as an integral part of the planned New Town.  Material help was forthcoming in getting some of the area fenced, and the BNHS was entrusted with the management of the reserve, with the support of the Corporation.

When, in 1986, the Corporation was in the process of winding up its operations, the EWT was granted a long lease on the reserve, sub-leasing it to the BNHS.  Then in 1989 the actual ownership of the site passed to the Essex Wildlife Trust, when the 460 acre Langdon Nature Reserve was purchased and set up.  Since that date, the BNHS has continued to manage the wood, via a formal arrangement with the EWT.

Features

The reserve is remarkably varied, situated partly on the sands and gravels of the Bagshot Sands and Claygate Beds, and partly on the London Clay.  As a result, there is a well-developed spring-line, which is probably one of the factors making for a greater level of humidity, giving rise to a vigorous lichen flora on the trees as well as terrestrial fern cover in places.  The woodland is correspondingly varied, some of it consisting of ancient primary woodland while other sections were arable land in 1840, subsequently falling via scrub and plotland to mature secondary woodland.  It is management policy to recoppice the old and long-neglected primary woodland – a substantial undertaking – while also bringing much of the secondary woodland into a similar coppice regime, thereby maximising the diversity of the entire site.

Mature hornbeam coppice that has reached the stage for cutting.

Snow-covered Hornbeam coppice shortly after cutting.

After a couple of seasons Bluebells and Red Campion carpet the once bare woodland floor. The bush-like plants are the regenerating hornbeam coppice stools.

It is also policy to gradually widen the network of former unmade roads in a manner that will create sunny and floristically-rich woodland rides, augmented in places with glades. The burning of felled material is kept to a strict minimum. Cordwood is stacked and sold on for fuel, while the brashings are laid into dead hedges around newly-coppiced sections, in part to recycle nutrients, in part to create habitat niches for more organisms, and in part to protect the newly-exposed woodland floor from excessive trampling.

Primroses flourish in the woodland glade in Gladstone Road.  Either side of the glade the regenerating coppice woodland is protected by a dead hedge.

The reserve occupies a hilltop and hillside overlooking the Crouch Valley, and the natural drainage flows in that direction.  A pond was excavated in the late 1970s on a former plotland site, located just below the springline, and was subsequently named Peck’s Pond, in honour of one of the founder Society members, Harry Peck, who had been impressively knowledgeable on pond life.  Other, smaller, ponds also exist.

Pecks Pond supports a diverse range of species, from newts to water scorpions and dragonflies.

The reserve also includes some interesting meadow land, some of which is located within the wood (the Dornier Clearing, located close to where a German bomber crashed during World War II), while other sections, managed for hay but also sheep-grazed in some years, constitute the south-eastern section of the reserve.

The names of the original network of unmade roads, dating from the plotland era, have been retained for management and historical purposes (Gladstone Road, Albemarle Crescent, etc).

A map from 1887 showing how the area had been divided into affordable plots for development.  Many of the residents purchased multiple plots that provided ample room for a dwelling and sizeable garden.

Many favourable comments have been made on the way in which the reserve is managed, and the Society likes to see it as an exemplar of how similar sites could be managed elsewhere.  It is anticipated that the reserve will be in existence for many decades to come, constituting an important part of the Basildon and Langdon landscape – and to that end, volunteers are strongly encouraged to come forward to help maintain and develop it.

The warden is Peter Furze.

Work parties

There is always work to be done, particularly during the autumn and winter months, when further coppicing is undertaken to gradually bring the woodland complex into peak condition as coppice woodland, for as such it will sustain a remarkable diversity of wildlife.

We always need volunteers!  Particularly cheerful folk, keen to get out into the fresh air for some exercise, purposeful work and stimulating company.  Work parties are enjoyable.  We are still exploring the hidden dimensions of the woodlands and former plotlands, and there is fascination to be had. 

Those who seek vigorous exercise will find plenty of scope here, while others wishing for physically less demanding duties can also be gainfully employed.  There is that very fine feeling that in volunteering one is helping to maintain part of Basildon’s wooded backdrop for generations to come.

Making a log seat for the pond area.

Volunteers enjoying a coffee break.

Work parties are held twice a week:

Tuesdays (usually) 9am to lunchtime.

Sundays  9am to lunchtime.

Tools are provided.

Beverages and biscuits are provided on Sundays.  The less formal arrangements on Tuesdays mean that there is no refreshment available.

Parties usually meet at the green gate off Staneway, unless prior arrangement elsewhere has been made.  Cars are parked inside the wood (through the green gate, which is otherwise kept locked).

Please note that parking is prohibited on the Staneway verge.

Contact the warden, Peter Furze, on 01268 523882 to find out what is currently being undertaken.

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