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Apply for grants to protect the historic and natural 'gems' of the Essex border

PUBLISHED: 10:11 23 May 2019

The view from Langdon Hills over the area designated for restoration with the help of projects supported by Land of the Fanns community grants.   Pictures: Land of the Fanns

The view from Langdon Hills over the area designated for restoration with the help of projects supported by Land of the Fanns community grants. Pictures: Land of the Fanns

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Here's why we should preserve and restore the historic and natural landscape and how you could help with one of Land of the Fanns' community project grants, of up to £5,000.

The Land of the Fanns conservation project area includes parkland on the Essex-London borderThe Land of the Fanns conservation project area includes parkland on the Essex-London border

From its riverside communities to its historic parkland, the area straddling the London - Essex border contains numerous treasures amongst its wildlife and heritage. Land of the Fanns is a partnership supported by the National Lottery Fund, working to engage communities with this wealth of nature and history. We speak to its scheme manager, Benjamin Sanderson, about the importance of working to maintain the landscape around us and how to apply for their community grants for conservation projects.

Natural and historical treasures

"If you scratch under the surface, you see we are living in a landscape of hidden gems," says Benjamin. He is referring to both the rich history and ecological diversity of the area, something of which not everyone is aware.

Land of the Fanns community grants are offered to wildlife coservation and education projects such as this dipping pond at Drapers Maylands primary schoolLand of the Fanns community grants are offered to wildlife coservation and education projects such as this dipping pond at Drapers Maylands primary school

One of these important landmarks, a Roman Road, linking London to Colchester, tells of the ancient military forces that would have once marched through the land during the invasions of 43 - 410 AD. This would later have served as a trade route, encouraging industrial growth.

To the north, around Havering, the designed landscapes of Bedfords Park and Weald Country Park were previously offered as gifts to those who won royal favour throughout the 13th to 18th centuries. Today these offer visitors a chance to explore special sites of natural interest, to watch in silent awe a herd of captive red deer, or to admire the open wildflower meadows and woods of exotic trees. "The legacy of the country estates is ever present," says Benjamin, "and it offers a goldmine of wildlife".

To the south, Rainham marshes hosts a variety of wading bird species, many of which are becoming increasingly rare. So count yourself lucky if you spot a lapwing, distinguishable by the wispy black crest on its head, or a woodcock, with its plump, broad body and long beak; both severely threatened species.

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Why preserve and restore the land

Sadly, the area's nature and history face increasing risks. "As London expands, the ecology faces more threats," warns Benjamin. Large pits pockmark the landscape from where gravel was extracted for construction materials, to build our homes. For centuries the marshlands, once hospitable to wildlife, were drained to make way for agricultural land for our food. "We've chipped away at the natural landscape till only fragments remain," he laments, adding: "People see this area without stopping to think about how it was created. But we need to recognise how important it is ecologically and as part of our heritage."

Today new threats have emerged and old ones continue to threaten the biodiversity. Benjamin explains that plans for the Third Thames Crossing at Tilbury, while providing another transport link between Essex and Kent, will impact wildlife of the river estuary. Another threat is the American mink, brought over for its fur in the 1920s, which menaces the declining population of water voles in Rainham Marshes and disrupts the breeding process of birds like marsh harriers and wintering bitterns.

Land of the FannsLand of the Fanns

How to get funding for a community project via Land of the Fanns

Charity grants and funding offers a means by which you can help prevent the loss of wildlife and the decline of a historic landscape. If you have ideas for an environmental or historical community project, you can apply for a Community Action Fund from Land of the Fanns. They offer community project grants of up to £5,000 for proposals aimed at conserving the landscape and educating people about it. Benjamin says: "We'd really like to offer the community grants to people or groups with ideas that could benefit our environment and heritage." For help formulating ideas, Benjamin recommends looking at previous conservation projects funded by the Land of the Fanns. These have included information posts about local nature, help with transport for environmental or historical field trips, river restoration and more.They have supported groups to plant new trees, rebuild habitats, and introduce more sustainable land management, including environmentally-friendly farming. They also provide various education and training opportunities encouraging residents to learn about the area's history and wildlife. Land of the Fanns regularly seeks volunteers to help out on existing projects.

"Local people, community groups and organisations have an important part to play in protecting this for the future," says Benjamin.

For more information, including details on how to apply for funding, visit landofthefanns.org

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