Sewage Works

Sewage Works Site (Aldersbrook Exchange Lands) - Birds

The site (together with the adjacent River Roding) provides a habitat for a good range of birds, including a very healthy population of Common Whitethroats. In the list that follows, those in ordinary font are thought to be usually present (in their season), those in italics rare or visitors, and those in bold may breed.

Common Name
Cormorant May be seen flying over, occasionally feeds in Roding
Grey Heron May be seen flying over, occasionally feeds in Roding
Canada Goose May be seen flying over, rarely feeds on "Redbridge Field"
Mute Swan May be seen flying over, rarely in Roding
Mallard Occasionally in Roding
Sparrowhawk Fairly Common
Kestrel Common
Hobby Occasional
Pheasant One seen on January 1st 197; one on 5th April 2010
Lapwing Sometimes seen flying over
Black-headed Gull A few, mostly in early mornings on "Redbridge Field"
Common Gull A few, mostly in early mornings on "Redbridge Field"
Common Tern Occasional along Roding
Wood Pigeon Common
Feral Pigeon Uncommon
Collared Dove Fairly Common
Barn Owl One found dead, presumably having hit overhead cables
Tawny Owl Uncommon
Swift Common
Kingfisher Occasional along Roding
Green Woodpecker Sometimes seen and heard
Greater Spotted Woodpecker Sometimes seen and heard
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Uncommon
Skylark Rare
Sand Martin Passage in Spring and Autumn
Swallow Passage in Spring and Autumn with some during the Summer
House Martin Much less common now
Meadow Pipit Uncommon
Yellow Wagtail Uncommon
Grey Wagtail Occasional by Roding
Pied Wagtail Uncommon
Wren Common
Dunnock Common
Sedge Warbler Occasionally heard singing from edge of Roding
Blackcap Fairly common
Whitethroat Very common - many pairs
Willow Warbler Common
Chiffchaff Fairly Common
Goldcrest Uncommon
Spotted Flycatcher Rare
Robin Common
Fieldfare Sometimes seen in Winter
Blackbird Common
Redwing Sometimes seen in Winter
Song Thrush Often seen and heard
Mistle Thrush Fairly Common
Long-tailed Tit Common
Coal Tit Uncommon
Blue Tit Common
Great Tit Common
Chaffinch Uncommon now
Greenfinch Less common now
Goldfinch Less common now
Linnet Uncommon
Redpoll Uncommon
Bullfinch Less common now, though up to six females seen during early 2005
House Sparrow Uncommon, but feeds in stables and allotments adjacent
Starling Common
Jay Common
Magpie Common
Carrion Crow Common




Sewage Works - other wildlife - Insects, Spiders, Reptiles and Mammals


About 20 species of Butterfly have been seen here, and many moths. Other insects include an expanding population of the Banded Demoiselle Damselfly Agrion splendens, and a variety of Grasshoppers and Crickets including Roesel's Bush Cricket Metrioptera roeselii. Some of the insects recorded are listed below


Large Skipper Ochlodes venatus
Essex Skipper Thymelicus lineola
Gatekeeper Pyronia tithonus First record is from 25/07/2001
Common Blue Polyommatus icarus Common; first recorded 1st August 1999
Brown Argus Aricia agestis Only identified in Exchange Lands on 10/07/2011
Large White Pieris brassicae
Common; first recorded 13/08/2000
Green-veined White Pieris napi A commonly seen species
Meadow Brown Maniola jurtina
Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta
Small Copper Lycaena phlaeas First recorded 30/09/2000
Small Heath Coenonympha pamhilus
Small Tortoiseshell Aglais urticae
Small White Artogeia rapae Common; first recorded 13/08/2000
Speckled Wood Pararge aegeria
Common; first recorded 23/5/2000
Peacock Inachis io Common; first recorded 6th May 2000
Clouded Yellow Colias croceus Seen only once on 13th September 2000
Comma Polygonia c-album First record is from 12/04/2001


a micro moth (148) Nemophora degeerella First record is from 09/06/2001
Six-spot Burnet (169) Zygaena filipendulae 25/06/2006
a micro moth (385) Anthophila fabriciana 02/06/2006
Cocksfoot Moth (391) Glyphipterix simpliciella Only record is from 19/07/2011
a micro moth (610) Elachista argentella 02/06/2006
a micro moth (974) Argyrotaenia ljungiana 02/06/2006
a grass moth (1293) Chrysoteuchia culmella 25/06/2006
Thistle Ermine (1458) Myelois circumvoluta 26/06/2005
a plume moth (1504) Platyptilia pallidactyla 13/06/2008
Orange Underwing (1661) Archiearis parthenias 28/03/2002
Yellow Shell (1742) Camptogramma bilineata Only record is 11/06/2007
Willow Beauty (1937) Peribatodes rhomboidaria 28/06/2006
Cinnabar (2069) Tyria jacobaeae First record is from 13/06/2008
Silver Y (2441) Autographa gamma First record is from 23/05/2006
Mother Shipton (2462) Callistege mi First record is from 13/06/2002
Burnet Companion (2463) Euclidia gliphica First record is from 02/06/2000


Emperor Anax imperator
First record 13/08/2000 - seen on Roding
Common Darter Sympetrum striolatum First record 13/08/2000
Banded Demoiselle Agrion splendens First record 24/06/2011. There is a good population of these in the River Roding adjacent to the Exchange Lands
Blue-tailed Damselfly Ischnura elegans
First record 31/08/2004
Common Blue Damselfly Enallagma cyathigerum First record 26/06/2005
Azure Damselfly Coenagrion puella First record 22/06/2001


Roesel's Bush-cricket Metrioptera roeselii First recorded on 13th August 2000
Meadow Grasshopper Chorthippus parallelus First recorded
Common Green Grasshopper Omocestulus viridulus First recorded 
Common Field Grasshopper Chorthippus brunneus First recorded
Long-winged Conehead Conocephalus dorsalis First recorded
Stripe-winged Grasshopper Stenobothrus lineatus Newly discovered on 19/07/2011


Hoverfly Chrysotoxum verralli 22 June 2007
a Tachinid Fly unknown species 26 June 2005
a Mirid Bug 23 May 2006
Bishop's Mitre Aelia acuminata 2 June 2006
a beetle Malachius bipustulatus 23 May 2006
Wasp Beetle Clytus arietis 2 June 2006



Wasp Spider  Argiope bruennichi First record for the area in the Sewage Works on 13th August 2000



Grass Snake  Natrix natrix Up to five individuals at one time seen during 2013



Hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus
Mole Talpa europaea
Shrew Sorex araneus
Fox Vulpes vulpes
Weasel Mustela nivalis
Squirrel Sciuris caroliensis
Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus No sign seen in recent years
Water Vole Arvicola amphibius In the Roding during 1999 and 2000

Plants of the Aldersbrook Exchange Lands

When the survey of plant life of the old Sewage Works Site was undertaken and the results published in the 1996/97, a total of 237 of flowering plants were listed. Here is an updated list.

"(CP)"  : species recorded by Colin Plant in his survey of 1980.
"Stace" : page number of the plant in Stace 2nd Edition
For a map, click here

Stace Species Common Name Location
11 Equisetum arvense Common Horsetail Area 3a
33 Dryopteris filix-mas Male Fern Area 1, M6, a plant just inside the park boundary 1992 - 30/07/96; 2008
51 Taxus baccata Yew N6, in the Wood, a single seedling in wood early 1994; 2009
82 Consolida spp. (ajacis?) Forking Larkspur Area 5, O6, a single plant on newly pebble-gravelled soil, June 1995
88 Ranunculus acris Meadow Buttercup (1992)
88 Ranunculus repens Creeping Buttercup Area 2, N5 & N6 (1992); Redbridge Field, N6, common in 1997
88 Ranunculus bulbosus Bulbous Buttercup N6 (1992)
90 Ranunculus sceleratus Celery-leaved Crowfoot Near stable entrance north edge of track 31/08/04
91 Ranunculus ficaria Lesser Celandine (CP) O5 (1992); Area 1, M6, a few patches in wooded area in 1995; Area 2, N6, a small patch just in grass at the west edge of gravel track, 04/04/94.
94 Ranunculus fluitans River Water Crowfoot Known for years in the Roding, between the sewage works and the golf course
102 Papaver somniferum Opium Poppy O5 (1992); Area 5, N6/O6 newly landscaped area particularly along north boundary, some large plants in May 1995; Area 6, O5, near pylon, large plants in May/June 1996
103 Papaver rhoeas Common Poppy (CP) N6 1992; Area 6, O5,newly landscaped gravel soil, May 1995; Area 5, O6, newly landscaped area in May 1995. Was still present in both areas in 1997
110 Fumaria officinalis Common Fumitory Area 3, N6, a few plants by side of track in 1995; Area 3 N6 in recently burnt area 31/08/04
112 Ulmus glabra Wych Elm N6, a small tree at  top of Roding embankment, by track
116 Humulus lupulus Hop At extreme east end of site, intruding from land outside Epping Forest boundary
117 Urtica dioica Nettle N5 N6 O5 O6
120 Castanea sativa Sweet Chestnut  
122 Quercus cerris Turkey Oak N6, Area 3, on embankment, 2010
122 Quercus ilex Holm Oak N5 Area 2, a small tree near east end of Wood, 28/12/04; N6 a small tree near break in embankment 18/04/06
123 Quercus robur English Oak N5 O5 O6
124 Betula pendula Silver Birch N5 O5
140 Chenopodium album Fat Hen 21/08/08
144 Atriplex prostrata Spear-leaved Orache O5, Roding bank 9/9/91
146 Atriplex patula Common Orache N6 Area 3a
156 Claytonia perfoliata Spring Beauty M5 near Riding School and O6 along river bund - not found recently
162 Stellaria media Common Chickweed N5 N6 O6 1992-2009
165 Cerastium fontanum subsp. Holosteoides Common Mouse-ear N6 (1992); 2009
166 Myosoton aquaticum Water Chickweed O5, mud bank in Roding 09/09/91; by fresh-water outflow, 28/08/2010
176 Silene latifolia White Campion N5 N6 O5 O6 (1992)
177 Silene dioica Red Campion N5 N6 O6 (1992)
183 Persicaria maculosa Redshank O5 Roding, new island 10/08/96
184 Persicaria hydropiper Water-Pepper O5 bank of Roding 09/09/91; O5 new island 10/08/96
186 Polygonum aviculare Knotgrass N6 by east fence opening 08/07/92
186 Fallopia japonica Japanese Knotweed N5. A long established patch at the east end of the Wood, just above Redbridge Field. Not present 2010. A patch in N6, Area 4 was poisoned in 2010.
187 Fallopia convolvulus Black Bindweed 26/08/2008
190 Rumex acetosella subsp. Acetosella Sheep's Sorrel N6 O5
192 Rumex cristatus
Greek Dock N6 13/07/2012
194 Rumex crispus Curled Dock O5 in five acres
194 Rumex conglomeratus Clustered Dock (CP) O6
195 Rumex obtusifolius Broad-Leaved Dock O5 at north end of 5 acres 27/06/96
207 Hypericum perforatum Perforate St. John's Wort N6 (1992 - 2016)
208 Hypericum maculatum Imperforate St. John's Wort  
210 Tilia x europaea (vulgaris) Common Lime N6, a large tree near Dell bridge entrance.1992-2008
212 Malva moschata
Musk-mallow N6, area 3, a plant found on 13 July 2012
212 Malva sylvestris Mallow N6 O5 (1992); O5 and O6, scattered plants on new gravel soil Area 6, 12/06/95 - 1996
220 Viola odorata Sweet Violet O6, a patch beneath trees at southern end of wood by Two Acres, March 1995
223 Bryonia dioica White Bryony N5; O5, top of embankment above Roding, near south end, 09/08/96
226 Populus x canescens Grey Poplar M6, a stand of trees at NW corner of works near boundary (May 1996)
226 Populus alba 'Pyramidalis' White (Bolle's) Poplar N6, a line (E.-W.) of four trees in middle of old "Redbridge Field". Noticed about 2014. Presumably seede from those nearby in City of London Cemetery. This area was subsequently made into paddocks for horses, and by 2018 the trees were being destroyed.
227 Populus nigra agg. Black Poplar N6, Three 2m saplings (May 2015)
234 Salix fragilis Crack Willow M6, a stand of trees near gates; O6 by river-side
237 Salix caprea subsp. Caprea Great Sallow N6
250 Sisymbrium officinale Hedge Mustard O5 (1992); O6 1996
250 Alliaria petiolata Garlic Mustard N5 O5 06 from 1992-2009
250 Arabidopsis thaliana   Thale Cress N6, Area 2, 19/04/2011
255 Barbarea vulgaris Winter-Cress N6 (1992); Area 5, N6, and Area 6, O5 - scattered plants growing on new gravel soil 12/06/95
256 Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum Watercress (CP) O5, in mud bank of Roding 09/09/91; O5/6 near outfall, plentiful in August 1996.
257 Rorippa amphibia Greater Yellow-cress O5, in mud at bottom of Roding bank 12/06/95, O5, O6 along Roding (both sides of river) June 1996
258 Armoracia rusticana Horse Radish Redbridge Field, N5, on embankment from 1992-97; Particularly at south end of Area 6, O5, 1996 -2009
259 Cardamine pratensis Cuckoo Flower N6, Area 3 to east of access path from Dell Bridge, 30/3/2002, 28/03/2012
259 Cardamine hirsuta Hairy Bitter-cress N6 edge of tarmac road in March 1992
264 Erophila verna Whitlow Grass N6 on tarmac road
267 Capsella bursa-pastoris Shepherd's Purse Quite common, particularly at top of Roding embankment (O5) 1992-2009
268 Thlaspi arvense Field Pennycress N6 by side of track in Redbridge Field, 12//06/2010
272 Lepidium draba Hoary Cress N6, O5,(1992); Area 2, N6, - increasing alongside track to field at east edge of area in May 1995 though to 1997; Area 4, N6, in 1997; Area 5, O6, in 1995
273 Coronopus didymus Lesser Swine-cress Area 5, O6, on new gravel soil in 1995; Area 6, O5, on new gravel soil, some good patches
274 Diplotaxis tenuifolia Perennial Wall Rocket Particularly common in N6, Area 3
275 Brassica rapa subsp. campestris Wild Turnip (var. sylvestris) Roding banks O5 O6, common from 1992 - 1996
276 Brassica nigra
Black Mustard M/N6 area 1, July 2012
279 Hirshfeldia incana Hoary Mustard N6 at edge of tarmac road
281 Reseda luteola Weld O5 N5 N6 (1992); Widely distributed, particularly by side of tracks; Many plants on new gravel soil in Area 6, O5 and O6 in June 1995
313 Sedum acre Wall Pepper N6 on tarmac road
329 Filipendula ulmaria Meadow-sweet (CP) O6; east bank of Roding July 1998
335 Rubus fruticosus L. agg. Bramble N6 O5 O6 1992-2009
340 Rubus caesius L. Dewberry O5, Area 6, by path above Roding
344 Potentilla reptans Creeping Cinquefoil N6 O5 1992-96
346 Geum urbanum Herb Bennet N6 by gravel path
361 Rosa canina Dog Rose N6 O5
365 Prunus spinosa Blackthorn O6, linear hedge 1992; N5, two shrubs by bridle path fence on grassed area, 22/03/93 - 1996
365 Prunus domestica Wild Plum N5, a few trees in south-east corner of Redbridge field 04/08/96
365 Prunus avium Wild Cherry N6; O6 some trees by bank along Roding (in flower 22/03/97)
367 Prunus laurocerasus Cherry-laurel N6, a shrub near old basement area (near the east edge of Redbridge field) next to dogwood, in flower late May 1993
369 Malus sp. Apple N6, two small trees
370 Sorbus aucuparia Rowan (CP) N5
371 Sorbus intermedia agg. Swedish Whitebeam O5
374 Sorbus aria Whitebeam N5 N6
395 Pyracantha coccinea Firethorn N6 at north end of Area 5 - a single plant 19/11/08
397 Crataegus monogyna Hawthorn N6 O5 O6
397 Crataegus monogyna x C.
laevigata  C. x media
Hybrid Hawthorn N6 in Area 2, a few trees
401 Robinia pseudoacacia Locust Tree N6, near Dell Bridge entrance 1992-2009
402 Galega officinalis Goat's-rue O5 O6, bank of Roding 09/09/91; O5, gravel area June 1996
406 Lotus corniculatus Birdsfoot-trefoil N6
407 Lotus pedunculatus Large Birdsfoot-trefoil O5
411 Vicia tetrasperma Smooth Tare N6; O5 and O6, scattered on newly gravel soiled area 12/06/95
411 Vicia cracca Tufted Vetch (CP) N6, one plant amongst other vegetation May 92; O5 east edge of gravel area and some plants among grass on river bank in 1995; In 1995 both these locations had lots more plants.
411 Vicia hirsuta Hairy Tare N6 O5; O5 and O6 scattered on newly gravel soiled area 12/06/95
411 Vicia sativa Common Vetch N6
414 Lathyrus pratensis Meadow Vetchling O5, river embankment
415 Lathyrus nissolia Grass Vetchling N6 north edge of Area 2
415 Lathyrus latifolius Broad-Leaved Pea N6, west edge of works 8/91; O5 banks of Roding 29/06/96
417 Melilotus albus White Melilot N6
420 Medicago lupulina Black Medick O5 and in Redbridge field N6 in May 96
421 Medicago sativa subsp. Sativa Lucerne N6 O5
423 Medicago arabica Spotted Medick 05, along gravel path at top of river bank 18/04/93; N6 Field June 1996-2008
425 Trifolium repens White Clover N6 O5
427 Trifolium campestre Hop Trefoil N6 in Area 2, 13/06/08; M/N6 Area 1, July 2012
427 Trifolium pratense Red Clover N6 O5
430 Trifolium arvense Hare's-foot Clover N6 O6
432 Laburnum anagyroides Laburnum Area 2 , N6 a single tree, 1995-2008
435 Cytisus scoparius subsp. scoparius Broom M/N6, a small amount in wooded area 1995-1996
436 Genista tinctoria Dyer's Greenweed M6/N6 One patch in Area 1; not seen in 2007/2008
440 Lythrum salicaria Purple Loosestrife O5, Roding banks 09/09/91; 09/08/96
444 Epilobium hirsutum Great Willowherb (CP) O5, bank of Roding 09/08/96
448 Chamerion angustifolium Rosebay Willowherb N6, O5, Roding bank 09/09/91 & 06/96
451 Oenothera sp. Evening Primrose  
453 Cornus sp. Dogwood N6 a large shrub at edge of basement area, N6 in full flower on 06/06/93; O5 afew plants along track east of pylon 0410
456 Ilex aquifolium Holly N5, some in wood. O6
461 Euphorbia helioscopia Sun Spurge Area 3 N6 by right angle corner of main track in recently burnt area 31/08/04
470 Acer pseudoplatanus Sycamore N6 O6 1992-96
480 Geranium dissectum Cut-leaved Cranesbill N5 O5 O6
482 Geranium molle Dove's-Foot Cranesbill N6 O5
482 Geranium lucidum Shining Cranesbill N5 N6, plentiful around south facing concrete edges of settling beds in May 1992; Much less common in May 1995 after removal of concrete, and only persisted in vicinity of previous "basement" area
482 Geranium robertianum Herb Robert N5 N6, settling beds, May 1992; O5 O6
489 Impatiens glandulifera Himalayan Balsam O5, along Roding bank 31/8/92; O5 a small amount in sewage works 04/08/96. More plentiful furthur south outside of the sewage works
490 Hedera helix subsp. helix Ivy N6; O5, along south-west boundary fence; O6
497 Hydrocotyle ranunculoides Floating Pennywort O5, in still water between bank and new island 09/08/96. This did not persist, presumably having floated down the river from further north, and subsequently washed on.
501 Anthriscus sylvestris Cow Parsley N6, 06, Roding bank 09/09/91
504 Aegopodium podagraria Ground Elder N6
506 Foeniculum vulgare Fennel N6, particularly at south edge of field
507 Conium maculatum Hemlock N5 N6, particularly near allotments prior to 1994; O5 O6 abundant in 1991; less in 1992 when there were many nettles
512 Sison amomum Stone Parsley O5, a number of plants in established vegetation at south end nearer to bridle path boundary, 14/08/96
515 Heracleum sphondylium Hogweed N6 along north border bank
517 Heracleum mantegazzianum Giant Hogweed O6 along east edge of Area 5 in 2006. This has been treated for removal several times, the last being in 2018.
518 Daucus carota Wild Carrot N6
528 Lycopersicon esculentum Tomato N6, by access track between Area 5 and Roding
531 Solanum nigrum Black Nightshade N6
531 Solanum dulcamara Bittersweet N6
532 Solanum tuberosum Potato N5, near allotments, flowering Sept. 1996, still present 1997
532 Datura stramonium Thorn Apple on a soil heap in Redbridge Field 28/08/08
534 Convolvulus arvensis Field Bindweed N6
535 Calystegia silvatica Great Bindweed N6
535 Calystegia sepium Hedge Bindweed O5, bank of Roding near new island 10/08/96
545 Symphytum officinale Common Comfrey N5 O5 O6
545 Symphytum x uplandicum Russian Comfrey O6 area 5 29/4/09
546 Symphytum orientale White Comfrey N6
548 Pentaglottis sempervirens Green Alkanet M6, just inside gates adjacent to stables, in flower 27/08/96
551 Myosotis sylvatica Wood Forget-me-not N6 30/03/02
551 Myosotis arvensis Common Forget-me-not O6, three plants on newly pebble-gravelled soil in two acre site June 1995
554 Verbena officinalis Vervain N6 Area 3, a single plant 12/07/07; still present with a few flowers 16/19/10
559 Stachys sylvatica Hedge Woundwort (CP) N6, south edge of square, at north edge of path by east end of The Wood 14/07/98
559 Ballota nigra Black Horehound N6 O5
559 Stachys palustris Marsh Woundwort O5, by Roding 12/7/92; O5 many plants alongside the Roding 04/08/96
560 Lamium album White Dead-nettle N6 O5
562 Lamium amplexicaule Henbit N6
562 Lamium purpureum Red Dead-nettle N6 O5
563 Galeopsis tetrahit agg. Common Hemp-nettle N5,N6
566 Glechoma hederacea Ground Ivy N5,N6
569 Origanum vulgare  Marjoram N6, a single patch near lilac 19/07/2011; still present 07/07/2016
571 Lycopus europaeus Gipsywort O5, by Roding 09/08/96
574 Solanum nigrum Black Nightshade N6, Redbridge Field, disturbed soil, 30/08/08
583 Plantago major Greater Plantain O5, by Roding near gate 12/7/92
584 Plantago lanceolata Ribwort Plantain N6 O6; O5 and O6, many scattered plants on newly gravelled soil on 5 acre site 12/06/95; similarly on 2 acre site.
585 Buddleja davidii Buddleia N6, a small tree at edge of road (area 4); O5 seedling in new gravel at north-west edge of square (Area 6), October 1995; O5, a sapling in new gravel near south end of path, 09/08/96
586 Fraxinus excelsior Ash N6; O5, a tree near pylon, O6, a tree east side of track
587 Syringa vulgaris Lilac N6 a large shrub at SW corner of Area 3
587 Ligustrum vulgare Common Privet N6, Area 5. A small shrub flowering in July 2016
592 Verbascum thapsus Great Mullein O5 by side of track adjacent to Area 6; N6 Area 3 two plants in July 2012
592 Verbascum nigrum Dark Mullein N6, by western edge of Redbridge field boundary fence 08/07/92, 3 plants in July 1995; 3 plants on 31/08/04; N7, several plants at west edge of sewage works towards stables, 08/91; N6 Area 3 several plants in July 2012
599 Linaria vulgaris Common Toadflax N6, west part of Area 3 08/91; Area 3 N6 east side of path south of Dell entrance 09/08/96; N6 Area 5 just east of hedge 31/08/04
599 Linaria purpurea Purple Toadflax N6, a group on foundations of buildings by entrance track from Aldersbrook, 05/08/93
600 Digitalis purpurea Foxglove N6, on bank under trees, May 92
602 Veronica chamaedrys Germander Speedwell N6 by path at NW cnr. of Area 5, 29/4/09
605 Veronica hederifolia Ivy Speedwell N6
605 Veronica persica Common Field Speedwell N6
639 Campanula medium Canterbury Bell N6 Area 3
647 Galium verum Lady's Bedstraw N6
649 Galium aparine Cleavers N6 O5, O6, scattered on new gravel soil Area 6 12/06/95
651 Sambucus nigra Elder N6 O5 O6
652 Viburnum tinus Lauristinus M6, a single small shrub in Area 1, 18/4/09
656 Lonicera periclymenum Honeysuckle  
661 Dipsacus fullonum Wild Teasel N5 N6; O5 in new gravel area 09/08/06
674 Arctium minus Lesser Burdock N6; O5, a number of plants in gravelled area 04/08/96
676 Cirsium vulgare Spear Thistle N6 O5
678 Cirsium arvense Creeping Thistle N6 O5
681 Centaurea montana Perennial Cornflower N5
683 Centaurea nigra Black Knapweed N6 west side of N-S track
686 Hypochaeris radicata Common Cat's-ear (CP) 05 gravelled area 31/10/95 and June 1996
688 Picris hieracioides Hawkweed Ox-tongue N6 09/09/91
688 Picris echioides Bristly Ox-tongue (CP) 05, gravelled area 31/10/95
688 Tragopogon pratensis Goat's-beard M6 N5 N6 Area 2
689 Tragopogon porrifolius Salsify N5 N6 Area 2
690 Sonchus oleraceus Smooth Sow-thistle N6
690 Sonchus asper Prickly Sow-thistle (CP) N5 N6
690 Lactuca serriola Prickly Lettuce N5, N6 09/09/91; O5, a few plants on new gravel soil 12/06/95
698 Taraxacum sect. Ruderalia Dandelion (CP) N6
699 Crepis vesicaria Beaked Hawk's-beard N6
702 Pilosella officinarum (Hieracium pilosella) Mouse-ear Hawkweed N6, Area 3, 17/09/10
705 Hieracium umbellatum subsp. Umbellatum Leafy Hawkweed N6, O5, O6, plentiful 31/10/95
719 Solidago canadensis Canadian Golden Rod N6
720 Aster sp. Michaelmas Daisy N6, west edge of Area 4 (13/08/98), O5 Roding bank, 09/09/81; N6 Area 2, large patch in grassland 24/10/04
725 Conyza canadensis Canadian Fleabane N6
728 Bellis perennis Daisy N6
728 Tanacetum parthenium Feverfew N6, "basement area" 08/07/92 (check to see if any remains after area is filled in in 1994)
729 Artemisia vulgaris Mugwort N6 O5
732 Achillea millefolium Yarrow N6 O5 O6
735 Leucanthemum vulgare Ox-eye Daisy N6
735 Leucanthemum x superbum Shasta Daisy  
736 Tripleurospermum inodorum Scentless Mayweed N6; O5, many plants on new gravel area 6, July 1995
736 Matricaria discoidea Pineapple Mayweed N6 O5; O5, a few plants on new gravel soil area 6, 12/6/95, O6, more plants on main track in July
736 Matricaria recutita Scented Mayweed N6 O5; O5, many plants in flower all over new gravel soil area 6, 12/06/95; O6, similarly on two acre site
739 Senecio inaequidens Narrow-leaved Ragwort N6 in Redbridge Field after pipe-laying. 13/10/09
740 Senecio jacobaea Common Ragwort N6
740 Senecio squalidus Oxford Ragwort O6
740 Senecio vulgaris Groundsel N6
746 Tussilago farfara Colt's-foot (CP) N6 O5 (including a group of plants in new gravel area 31/10/95) ; O5, one plant found growing on new gravel soil in Area 6, July 1995.
754 Bidens tripartita Trifid Bur-marigold O5, on new island in Roding 19/08/96
759 Sagittaria sagittifolia Arrow-head O5, Ilford bank of Roding 04/08/96
760 Alisma plantago-aquatica Common Water Plantain O5, a luxuriant clump at edge of Roding river bank at water level 12/06/95
778 Arum maculatum Cuckoo-pint N6, a patch at bottom of boundary bank 1995
785 Juncus bufonius Toad Rush M6 and N6, both sides of access track from stables, plentiful on12/10/04
800 Schoenoplectus sp. Club-rush O5, in the River Roding; also O6, just below concrete bridge and apparently spreading and increasing (July 2018)
845 Festuca rubra Red Fescue O5
852 Lolium perenne Perennial Rye-Grass N6, O5 on 29/06/96
858 Poa pratensis Smooth Meadow-grass  
858 Poa annua Annual Meadow-grass M6, close to riding school
858 Poa trivialis Rough Meadow-grass ?
859 Dactylis glomerata Cock's-Foot N6 O6
864 Arrhenatherum elatius Tall or False Oat-grass O5 29/06/96
868 Holcus lanatus Yorkshire Fog O5, on 29/06/96
869 Aira praecox Early Hair Grass N5
872 Phalaris arundinacea Reed Canary Grass O5, new island in Roding 09/08/96; O6, edge of Roding at south end of square, 09/08/96
874 Agrostis capillaris Common or Fine Bent O5 29/06/96
880 Alopecurus pratensis Meadow Foxtail  
883 Phleum pratense Timothy O5 on 29/06/96
883 Phleum bertolonii Smaller Cat's-tail  
885 Bromus hordeaceus subsp. Hordeaceus Soft Brome N5 N6; O5 on 29/6/96
888 Anisantha sterilis Barren Brome O5 29/06/96
892 Elytrigia repens subsp. Repens Couch O5 29/06/96
895 Hordeum murinum Wall Barley N6, O5, Roding bank 09/09/91, O6
919 Sparganium sp. Bur-reed species O6, Roding, 28/10/2010
921 Typha latifolia Great Reedmace O6, Roding north of outfall 10/08/96; scattered along Roding on both banks
931 Ornithogalum sp. Star-of-Bethlehem N6, Area 3, some flowers near the lilac at the S. corner of Area 3, 12/05/08
934 Hyacinthoides non-scripta Bluebell (CP) N6
940 Allium vineale Crow Garlic O6, at north end of newly pebble/gravelled area of two acre site April 1995; A few stems in 1997; One found in Area 6, N6 in 1997; plentiful in Area 5, N6 subsequently
945 Narcissus spp. Hybrid Daffodils M/N5, east side of concrete filter beds, 22/03/93; O6, at north end of newly pebble-gravelled soil on 2 Acre site in April 1995
971 Anacamptis pyramidalis Pyramidal Orchid N6 a single plant 18/05/2012
982 Ophrys apifera Bee Orchid N6 Area 2 some plants in grass on 23/06/2001; still present 11/06/2011; N6 Area 5 in 2010

Introduction to the Flora of the Exchange Lands at Aldersbrook

A survey of the plant life of the old Sewage Works Site was undertaken and the results published in the 1996/97 issue of The Essex Naturalist *. A total of 237 of flowering plant species were listed in the report. Part of that report is reproduced here, slightly updated, looking at the various areas that comprise the site and the plants that were found.

For an updated list of plants, click here

For a map showing the recording grid and areas referred to, click here

(* FERRIS, P.R. 1997. The Flora of the old Redbridge (Southern) Sewage Works. Essex Nat 14: 59-78.)


The Plants of the Sewage Works

One of the main approaches to the site is via Empress Avenue, off Aldersbrook Road in the Aldersbrook area of Manor Park. (photo) As the last of the houses in Empress Avenue is passed, the road becomes more of a track - although well surfaced these days since it became part of the London Cycle Network (LCN). The track winds between allotments and the land used by the local riding school, downhill towards the Roding. Near the entrance to the riding school is the original vehicle entrance to the sewage works. (click here for map)


The 8.5 Acre Site (Areas 1, 2, 3, 3a)

The 8.5 acre site, comprising areas 1, 2, 3, 3a on the map of the area, is the western part of the original sewage works, separated from the rest by the a "field" which was believed to be owned by the London Borough of Redbridge but is, apparently, owned by Thames Water Authority.

The original vehicle access point to the works from Empress Avenue was a large locked gate, but is now just a locked single bar barrier but with access for pedestrians, cyclists and - if permitted - horses.

Area 1. Turning left through the gate from Empress Avenue, towards nearby Wanstead Park, the western boundary of the site is a concrete fence behind which is a riding school and stables.This north-west corner of the site has been designated Area 1 and has much great sallow Salix caprea caprea developing beside the more mature trees. The mature trees here are nearer the fence and include pedunculate (common or English) oak Quercus robur and sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus. There are some grassy mounds on which grow some large hawthorn Crataegus monogyna, annual meadow grass Poa annua, and foxglove Digitalis purpurea. A small amount of spring beauty Montia perfoliata did grow here, but has not been seen in recent years. Broom Sarothamnus scoparius also occurs, and a small amount of lesser celandine Ranunculus ficaria. There is a patch of grassland here too, at the edge of which was some dyer's greenweed Genista tinctoria, a plant which is not known in the Forest nearer than Pole Hill at Chingford; unfortunately encroaching vegetation seems to have overtaken this plant as it has not been found in the last few years. In the grassland was also found sickle medick Medicago falcata, and spotted medick Medicago arabica. The willow and thicker shrub layer that has encroached includes bramble Rubus fruticosus and Japanese knotweed Polygonum cuspidatum .

The boundary between the Area - and indeed the whole of the site - and Wanstead Park to the north is an earth bank of some 2 or 3 metres height surmounted until late 1993 by a high wire fence. The fence has now been removed, and the bank has become something of a footpath. Trees grow both on and either side of much of the bank, forming a shelter between the open aspect of the sewage works and the more wooded nature of the Park.  Many of these trees are either mature or more commonly sapling sycamore, and also hawthorn. There are some pedunculate oaks, large and small specimens of wild cherry Prunus avium, some elm Ulmus sp. suckers, and much elder Sambucus nigra. There are one or two seedling horse chestnuts Aesculus hippocastanum at the eastern end, probably from a mature tree by the Ornamental Waters in the Park. Just on the sewage works side of the bank can be found bluebells Endymion non-scriptus, ground ivy Glechoma hederacea, hogweed Heracleum sphondylium, cleavers Galium aparine, red dead-nettle Lamium purpureum, white dead nettle Lamium album, and a small patch of cuckoo pint Arum maculatum.

Area 2 comprises the area south of the access track that runs through the site and is bordered to the west by the concrete fence that continues southwards from the access gate towards the City of London Cemetery. Behind the fence are the Aldersbrook Allotments belonging to the London Borough of Redbridge. A line of shrubs including blackthorn Prunus spinosa were planted here in April 1994 to act as a more natural and pleasing boundary. Near the main entrance gate is a large crack willow Salix fragilis and plants such as bramble forming a scrub area. Beyond this to the east of the fence, the greater part of Area 2 is quite an open aspect. In the early stages of the site's development, there was masses of hemlock Conium maculatum here, with large patches of nettle Urtica dioica. In 2007, there are various members of the pea family - medics and trefoils - and also both goat's-beard Tragopogan pratensis and salsify T. porrifolius. It may well be that the latter originated from the nearby allotments, and probably hybrids occur.

Towards the centre of Area 2 was a system of eight rectangular concrete enclosed drying pans. Though a slightly different flora had developed in each of these, generally they included prickly lettuce Lactuca serriola and great lettuce L. virosa, and the smooth and the prickly sow-thistles Sonchus oleraceus and S. asper growing in the rough materials that made up the base of the beds. In 1992 some shining cranesbill Geranium lucidum was noted sheltered close against the concrete edge of a drying pan; in 1993 there was masses of this species, which is almost unknown elsewhere locally. When the concrete was removed, the shining cranesbill disappeared from here. The concrete walls also had a selection of lichens adding to the interest, but the expertise was not available to identify these.

Immediately to the north of the drying pans, open grassland graded into the compacted foundations of buildings or road. The grassland has become almost meadow-like, with a colourful display of plants including clovers Trifolium spp., vetches Vicia spp.; yarrow Achillea millefolium as well as some hybrid daffodils Narcissus spp., teasel Dipsacus fullonum, mugwort Artemisia vulgaris and wormwood Artemisia absinthum. Of particular interest is a colony of grass vetchling Lathyrus nissolia. It was plants such as this that it was hoped might be retained when the site was to be made suitable to become part of Epping Forest. It has been decided to refer to this area as "Ted's Meadow" in memory of the late Ted Godden, who helped with recording the wildflowers and particularly liked this area. Closer to the access track, a single specimen of bladder senna Colutea arborescens was present for many years - favoured by the cattle that occasionally found there way into the site - but after the area was used for storage of materials being used for re-surfacing in adjacent Wanstead Park, the plant has been destroyed. Also present is a small but good specimen of Midland hawthorn Crataegus oxyacanthoides. Most other hawthorns in the surroundings are C. monogyna. There is also apple Malus sp., a laburnum Laburnum anagyroides, dog rose Rosa canina and some large patches of bramble. In 1998, a colony of bee orchids Ophrys apifera was was found near here, but in 2007 only two plants (photo) could be found amongst the rank grassland that is developing.

Returning to the west boundary fence of the site, there is a locked access gate from the allotments where the southern boundary is met. Though the City of London Cemetery is just a few feet away, it is separated from the old sewage works by a public footpath known as "the Bridle Path", either side of which iron railings form the boundary of both the cemetery and the sewage works, which also has a hawthorn hedge. The path is also the boundary between the London Boroughs of Newham and Redbridge.

A wooded embankment accompanies much of the length of these railings with something of the remains of an old track from the allotments still in evidence, though almost impassable due mainly to bramble. It was felt that calling this area "Sadie's Wood" might be appropriate; in memory of Jennifer Charter's little whippet Sadie who liked to follow me through part of this wood! The trees are a mixture of mature and seedling sycamore, some oak, some silver birch Betula pendula and also hawthorn, holly and elder. A single seedling yew Taxus baccata was found - about one foot high in early 1994. Much of this wood has suffers from having been used apparently as a rubbish tip in the past, and this continues to accumulate in the form of litter being blown in from the Cemetery. This is a problem around the cemetery, particularly here and on the eastern edge where what could otherwise be a very pleasant path is to some extent spoilt in this way. In recent years, the cemetery authorities have put up some chicken-wire - particularly at the N.E. corner of the cemetery - which does alleviate the problem to some extent. However, possibly also originating from the cemetery, the wood has a number of hybrid daffodils Narcissus spp. to brighten things up in the spring. Bramble and nettle constitute much of the undergrowth with lesser celandine, ivy speedwell Veronica hederifolia, a patch of broom Sarothamnus scoparius, a small amount of ivy Hedera helix, and annual meadow grass Poa annua.

The boundary graded for some years into the Redbridge (or Thames Water Authority) Field by a four metre wide strip of un-mown grass requested of the London Borough of Redbridge, who maintained it, by the Wren Group. However, the grass-cutting regime on the field eventually reverted to cutting too close to the hawthorn patches which had developed along the boundary which, together with bramble, could allow nesting sites for birds including long-tailed tit Aegithalos caudatus. After 2008, this cutting regime ceased and the area is now developing a very different plant community. (see "Redbridge Field", below)

At the northern end of the field, the western edge of Area 3 is wooded, and as such has much in common with the adjacent part of Wanstead Park. Near to the entrance to the sewage works from Wanstead Park there is a specimen of locust tree Robinia pseudoacacia. The next nearest known tree of this species occurs by the Dell Bridge, nearby in Wanstead Park. It may also be remarked that something of an avenue of limes Tilia vulgaris lead from the adjacent Park into the sewage works site, suggesting an historic landscaping link between the two areas. At the southern edge of the wooded area is a large specimen of lilac Syringa vulgaris. Between the wooded area and the field were the remains of clinker beds. Little plant growth had obtained a footing on this, though bramble was spreading and specimens of whitebeam Sorbus aria existed. In 2007 a single specimen of vervain Verbena officinalis was found. On the grassy verge between here and the Redbridge Field dark mullein Verbascum nigrum and great mullein or Aaron's rod Verbascum thapsus was present, although this area was severely affected in 2008/9 by works which involved digging a borehole and then boring a water-pipeline into Wanstead Park. In 2010 about nine spikes of the dark mullein were evident, comprising of two or three separate plants.

Area 3a, south of the clinker beds, was an area comprising both the foundation of buildings and what appeared to be an old basement in the form of a large walled pit. A number of plants associated with gardens were found here, such as snow-in-summer Cerastium tomentosum and balm Melissa officinalis, as well as trees and shrubs which were to be retained after the development works. These included a dogwood Thelycrania sp., cherry-laurel Prunus laurocerasus, buddleia Buddleja davidii, and a wild cherry. A quantity of common horsetail Equisetum arvense grew along the edge of the pit, but is now declining, and some shining cranesbill Geranium lucidum became established in 1993. Associated with the trackway nearby are such plants as whitlow grass Erophila draba, hairy bitter-cress Cardamine hirsuta, creeping cinquefoil Potentilla reptans, tall melilot Melilotus altissima, white melilot Melilotus alba and wall pepper Sedum acre, as well as mosses and lichens.

In the grassland between here and the filter beds are two patches of lesser celandine, weld Reseda luteola and much hoary cress Cardaria draba.


Redbridge Field

The plant life here is that commonly associated with a rough lawn, such as daisy Bellis perennis, greater plantain Plantago major, ribwort plantain P. lanceolata and dandelion Taraxacum officinale. There is a strong population of spotted medick Medicago arabica. On the bank separating it from the bridle path the vegetation is less disturbed and here may be found fennel Foeniculum vulgare, ox-eye daisy Chrysanthemum leucanthemum, meadow vetchling Lathyrus pratensis and hairy tare Vicia hirsuta.

A now well established hawthorn edge on the eastern edge of the field separates this part of the Sewage Works Site from the 11 acre or Wilderness area. During 2008, much of this land was disturbed by Thames Water Authority to establish a bore-hole intended to carry water to the Redbridge Water Treatment works. In doing so, some plants of dark mullein Verbascum nigrum which grew along the boundary of the Epping Forest part of the site were destroyed. By September, the work had temporarily ceased although much of the area was still enclosed by a metal fence and a variety of equipment, pipes, hard-surfacing etc. was scatttered around. On the disturbed soils a variety of plants had appeared. These included a lot of common fumitory Fumaria officinalis and - on an earth-mound - a specimen of thorn-apple Datura stramonium. In early 2009 work re-commenced, with considerable heavy equipment on-site to install a pipeline from the borehole northwards into Wanstead Park. This was undertaken by using a machine called the "Longbore" (photo).

After the pipeline work was completed, the Redbridge Field had changed considerably. There was now a fenced area with two large containers within it, and outside of the enclosure to the east a hard surface had been put down.  Some of the area - as well as having the grass stripped away - had also accumulated chippings from surfaces used for temporary buildings and vehicles. The grass had no longer been cut, and much disturbance had taken place, so that a variety of plants had been allowed to grow or had possibly been accidentaly introduced. By the Spring of 2010 the spontaneous growth of plants gave the area a feel of what much of the Sewage Works site had soon after it was seeded in the early 1990s. A colourful display of wild-flowers were to be enjoyed throughout the summer, with particular emphasis perhaps on the weld Reseda luteola which was much enjoyed by insects.


The 11 Acre or "Wilderness" area (Areas 4, 5, 6)

Areas 4, 5 and 6 are also known as the 11 acre or "Wilderness" area and are separated from the Park on the north by a similar bank to that described earlier. Its western edge, from this bank southward to the bridle path, was originally a wire fence with stiles as at the other side of Redbridge's field, but by 2000 was a substantial hawthorn hedge. The northern edge was again a wire fence, but with a metal access gate from their roadway. Both the wire fence and the metal gate had almost disappeared by 2000.

Sewage Works site: the wilderness area in 1994The wilderness area in 1994. Leaning on the gate are Ted Godden and Paul Ferris. (Photo by Jennifer Charter)

As on the other side of the field, the difference between the mown grass of Redbridge Field and that which has developed in the works is extreme. A track serves to differentiate Areas 4 and 5: west of the track has been designated Area 4 and east of the track Area 5. Area 4 is mostly rank grassland with some patches of bramble, elder and increasingly crack willow. Until the hardcore track was laid to facilitate work on the overhead power-lines here in early 1994, there was a very attractive grassy track. In 2000 the track still had not regained the appearance it had, and some of the hardcore was treacherous. Only by 2005 had it returned to something like its original aspect, and it wasn't until about 2008 that the rubble that had been used had become naturally infilled enough for comfortable walking.

Area 5. The track is bounded on its eastern side by an old hedge which now consists mainly of elder running from the park end of the works, separating the grass from an old sludge lagoon which has become Area 5. The lower parts of the area - which was the sludge lagoon proper - particularly in its southern half, is quite rank vegetation The northern end has been graded downwards from the level of the track which passes the site here by use of an infertile topsoil of sandy gravel. This has given rise to a relatively sparse and less rank vegetation than the southern half of the lagoon There is grass interspersed with flowering plants and these have included bee orchid Ophrys apifera and pyramidal orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis. In 2008 a single plant of firethorn Pyracantha coccinea was noted. Well established, this may be another case of a plant that has been there for some time - but not noticed! Butterflies and other insects favour this area, and it can be quite attractive in Summer. The rank vegetation of the southern end includes cleavers Galium aparine, nettle Urtica dioica, cow parsley Anthriscus sylvestris and hemlock, with a number of patches of elder. Giant hogweed Heracleum mantegazzianum was noted in 1998. This is the largest of the European herbaceous plants - the stem can be up to 4m tall - and both the stem and the leaf contain chemicals that can cause painful blistering. It is a very invasive species, typically found near riversides. Its presence here - although impressive - is unwelcome. The spread of this plant was noted during the following years in a pattern that has been seen so many times elsewhere. In this case the tendency was to follow the eastern boundary of Area 5, and increasingly move west. In 2010 a serious effort was made by the City of London to try to deal with it, although the exact methods used are not known.

Area 6 is bounded to the east by the River Roding while the western edge consists of an old concrete fence which acted as a barrier between the works and the bridle path by the City of London Cemetery, though the fence is now in a very poor state as is the bridle path. Where the sewage works area narrows to its southern-most end there is just a short length of fence and a large metal gate - now left open - and then the River Roding which forms the entire eastern boundary. A large part of the area adjacent to the concrete fence was another sludge lagoon, again with much hemlock. Whilst the works was in use it was common to see many brown rats Ratus norvegicus hereabouts, but also more attractive visitors such as whinchat Saxicola rubetra and stonechat Saxicola torquata might pass through on migration. Similarly, kestrels were often seen, but not so often now (2011). However, the area is much used by a variety of smaller birds including common whitethroat Sylvia communis. Common comfrey Symphytum officinale is a common plant here, as is hare's-foot clover Trifolium arvense.Another plant which has gained a hold here since the renovation is crow garlic Allium vineale.

The remains of a tarmac track served to separate Area 6 from the grassy banks leading down to a grass track by the river. The tarmac track and the soil that grades into it provide a habitat for a variety of low plants such as wall pepper creeping cinquefoil, and whitlow grass Erophila draba. Also growing alongside are a variety of bushes and shrubs including bramble Rubus fruticosus agg., dewberry Rubus caesius, cut-leaved bramble Rubus laciniatus and elder, as well as hawthorns and silver birch. One or two plants of great mullein Verbascum thapsus also occur beside this track and just away from the track, in the grassy areas, white campion Silene alba.

The grass covered embankment forms part of the river defences of the Roding. Here is found squirrel tail fescue Vulpia bromoides, not otherwise known locally, as well as barren brome Anisantha sterilis, soft brome Bromus mollis, meadow foxtail Alopecurus pratensis, and Yorkshire fog Holcus lanatus.

 The River Roding by the Sewage WorksThe River Roding between Aldersbrook Exchange lands and Ilford Golf Course, in 2000

The River Roding

The River Roding - with its source near Molehill Green in Essex and its confluence with the Thames at Barking - forms the entire eastern boundary of the sewage works, and as such its plant life needs to be included in this survey.

From the new bridge across the river at the work's north eastern corner (from which, it may be noted, flounders Platichthys flesus may be seen), a tree covered embankment winds alongside the river, separating it from what was a sludge lagoon to the west. This provides a very pleasant wooded walk, with views of the nearby river. The tree and shrub cover consists of much hawthorn, though their are some large crack willow Salix fragilis, and bramble and ivy tend to invade so as to hinder passage. While the works was in use, tree sparrows Passer montanus were often seen here, but no longer.

The river itself - although not easy of access - does have some mud and shingle banks, depending on the depth of the river. A plant that does get established here is water figwort Scrophularia aquaticum. Where the tree covered bank ends about midway along the riverside boundary of the works, a grass track continues with a much more open aspect of the river. At about this point, bulrush Schoenoplectus lacustris is present in the river and further south, a small muddy island had formed by the mid 90's and had developed a plant community which has included brooklime Veronica beccabunga and, increasingly, great reedmace Typha latifolia. Increasingly over the years the island was colonised by more dominant species, the narrow channel on the west side became shallower, until by 2010 it was only an island at all at times of particularly high water-levels. From various viewpoints along the length of the Roding between Manor Park and Redbridge, some significant meanders may be seen, and this sequence over something like ten years was a good example of how a river changes its course as new "land" is developed after a shingle or mud bank becomes colonised. An example of this can be seen by comparing the following photograph - taken in 2011 - with the one above which was taken in 2000; a tree has grown on what was little more than a shingle bank.

The River Roding, Al;dersbrook Exchange LandsThe River Roding in 2011

In Spring coltsfoot Tussilago farfara is common, and in early summer much of the river bank is brightened by masses of wild turnip or bargeman's cabbage Brassica rapa ssp. campestris. Later lucerne Medicago sativa is much in evidence. Himalayan balsam Impatiens glandulifera is another invasive plant that is increasing in this location - in 2008 just a small amount was present actually within the sewage works site - much more being outside to the south, but by 2010 it was evident that the plant had gained a strong foothold on stretches of the river-bank in the sewage works. At the southern end of the sewage works a metal gate - which now remains permanently open - gives access to and from a riverside walk that continues to join the Alders Brook as far as the railway lines from Liverpool Street station.

In 2007, a tarmac track was created as part of the Roding Valley Cycle Route, from the railway bridge through to this point. It is regrettable that this track has been routed to end exactly at this entrance to Epping Forest, when a perfectly good alternative was available using the nearby bridle-path. This will only encourage unnecessary disturbance of the Exchange lands site, where - as can be seen - such a wealth of wildlife exists. The view from the river bank from just beyond the gate, particularly looking north towards Wanstead Park, is surprisingly rural for east London, and spoilt only by the overhead power-lines. Finally, from this viewpoint and looking across to the opposite bank of the river with the golf course beyond, there are one or two examples of water dock Rumex hydrolapathum growing on the bank by the river, a plant not recorded elsewhere hereabouts.

Paul Ferris, August 2009

A History of the development of Aldersbrook Exchange Lands from the old Redbridge Southern Sewage Works

From Sewage Works to Epping Forest

In 1982, the first mention was made in Corporation of London Epping Forest and Open Spaces Committee reports of the possibility of what was referred to as the Empress Sewage Works as being suitable for exchange land, i.e. land given to Epping Forest in exchange for that lost, in this case, to road-building projects. From 1986, discussions with the London Borough of Redbridge and the Department of Transport took place. These discussions related to two areas of land - the 3.44 ha (8.5 acres) lying between Wanstead Park and the Cemetery, and the 4.64 ha (11.5 acres) by the River Roding known as the "wilderness" - as well as the parcel of land of approximately 2 ha (5 acres) separating these two and already owned by the Borough. The road schemes which required Epping Forest land were the Hackney to M11 Link Road, the South Woodford to Barking Relief Road, and the A406 improvement Scheme.

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A number of different proposals were discussed, until by July 1993 the D.o.T. was prepared to offer the two areas of land amounting to 20 acres to Epping Forest, and for Redbridge apparently to retain management of the 2ha parcel of land separating the two.

Concern had been raised about the suitability of using old sewage works land for Epping Forest, and included references to the possibility of contamination by heavy metals. An independent survey was undertaken by the Environmental Safety Centre at Harwell, and the conclusion was that the land was suitable for the intended use, subject to some remedial work. The recommendations were that roads and clinker beds be covered with at least 1.5 feet of topsoil; the side walls of the filter beds be removed and the tanks levelled to the ground and covered with topsoil; areas of decomposed sewage sludge be covered with at least 1.5 feet of clean topsoil; any areas of tarmac be covered with 1.5 feet of topsoil if required.

These recommendations were accepted, with the proviso that the D.o.T. finance this remedial work and also landscape the area as required by Epping Forest. Various discussions took place as to what landscaping was required and local advise was sought in relation to the value of the area to wild-life, including birds and plants. It was acknowledged that the area had already developed into a diverse, interesting and even attractive area, with some species of wild-flowers which - though they might not be particularly rare - should be preserved if possible. It was decided not to remove the kerb-stones nor to put topsoil onto the road and trackways, because even these had their distinctive flora, including mosses and lichens.

In late September 1993, work started on the 8.5 acre site (Areas 1,2,3,3a) with much earth moving machinery in use during the operation. However, a significant amount of care was taken by all concerned that as little damage be done to the site other than was necessary to comply with the final recommendations. The material used for the landscaping as both subsoil and topsoil was a slightly acidic sandy gravel.

The work was completed in late October, and those areas where the soil had been disturbed or new soil laid were sown with grass seed which consisted of Festuca tenuifolia, Festuca ovina, Festuca rubra rubra, Cynosurus cristatus, Agrostis tenuis and Agrostis canina. Though the old fence between the area and Wanstead Park was removed, the associated embankment was maintained, and chestnut paling fences were temporarily erected to protect the newly grassed areas. (see photos of site in 1993) Also retained was a wire fence with three stiles which had been erected some years previously to delineate the field. On 1 November 1993 this western part of the sewage works site was aquired as exchange land in compensation for loss of Forest land with the building of the Hackney Link road.

Aldersbrook Exchange Lands, Wilderness construction works in 1994Development of the Wilderness area in 1994It was intended to start similar work on the "wilderness" - the 11.5 acre site (Areas 4,5,6) - early in 1994, but access was required for vehicles and personnel to work on the National Grid power-lines that cross the area. Access was obtained by way of Redbridge's tarmac road, but as a lot of vehicular movement of heavy material was required, a lovely almost country-like grass track was widened and had hard-core laid down. The compacted track at the top of the river bank on which grew an attractive and interesting variety of plants was similarly dealt with, and even what seems some quite unnecessary use was made of grassland areas for vehicles. Near the southern end of the old sewage works, by a pylon, a number of silver birch Betula pendula were either cut down or lopped, so that even before the proposed work for the Forest was carried out, some quite drastic and unpleasant changes were made. Pylon work was still continuing in June 1994, when the paling fences were taken down on the 8 acre site, and an access route was laid across the field so that renovation work could begin on the rest of the site. (see photos of site in 1994)

The wilderness area was acquired by the City of London Corporation as exchange land for Forest land lost to the M11 link road. It was evident that as this newly formed addition to Epping Forest developed, changes would occur in the species of plants to be found there. A survey of the plant life was undertaken and the results published in the 1996/97 issue of The Essex Naturalist as "The Flora of the old Redbridge (Southern) Sewage Works". It was hoped that in future this record of what was there could be compared to that which develops. Much of the information contained in these pages is based on that survey.

The site was allowed to settle down. The chestnut paling fences erected to protect newly-seeded areas were all removed, as were the wire fences and stiles that delineated the Redbridge Field. In 2002 just a short length of wire fence - much of it obscured by brambles - plus the remains of gate posts were still visible alongside the tarmac track at the north edge of Area 5 (the northern part of "The Wilderness").  The track that runs south from here towards the river took many years to recover from the brick rubble that was deposited as a support for the vehicles used for the pylon work. Despite numerous mentions to the Conservators of Epping Forest over the years about its poor state it remained hazerdous and uncomfortable to walk upon. Only by about 2008 had it recovered sufficiently to be walked upon reasonably comfortably. The introductory photograph shows the track in 2009. The concrete fence separating the site from the bridle path by the City of London Cemetery is in a very poor state, though because of its position is not unduly intrusive or an immediate danger.

Some paths developed on the site, some disappeared - mostly the site was left to do its own thing and to be enjoyed by those that know it. However by 2000 there had been for some time a problem with overflowing water from drains near the entrance to the site near the Riding School. This appeared to be only surface water drainage, but caused the track into the site and across it (now part of the London Cycle Network) to be an almost permanent muddy stream. In the latter part of 2001, the hard standing - part of he original access roads - was used to store material for use on the re-embanking works taking place around the nearby Ornamental Water. The contractors who did the work were not monitored closely enough to prevent unnecessary damage to the site, making use of and driving over wildlife habitats. This together with the long-term problem with the blocked drains and an outpouring of water from a damaged water-supply point near the stables - for which it seems no-one would accept responsibility - gave rise to damage to at least two species of plants rare in the area and months of untidiness, mess and difficulty for people walking or cycling through the site.

Early in 2002, many of the kerb-stones that were part of the original site - lining the aforementioned access roads - were removed. It had originally been agreed that these would be retained as they provided a habitat for mosses and lichens as well as providing a link to the historical design of the place. Some kerb-stones were simply moved, and in 2004 were still on-site, but just in something of a heap, although later that year they were eventually removed. A thinning of the trees and undergrowth particularly near to the Dell Bridge access to the site also took place in 2002. This meant that now - from the park - the sewage works was no longer such a separate entity. The pleasure of going from one area to a different one was diminished. Since then, as is often the case with work carried out in Wanstead Park, the vegetation has been allowed to return.

Redbridge Field in Aldersbrook Exchange Lands, 2001Redbridge Field in Aldersbrook Exchange Lands in 2001In 2007, a works-site was set up in on the Redbridge Field by the company Barhale on behalf of the Thames Water Authority. The plan was to drill a borehole to tap into the aquifer some 80 metres below the surface. This was described in notices "to meet the challenges of increased demand, population growth and climate change" Work started on 16th July, and involved as well as the borehole the construction of a pipeline from the borehole to the Redbridge Treatment Works near the Redbridge Roundabout. By late 2007, much of Redbridge Field was being used as a site camp, with heavy vehicles having brought the machinery and pipe work in via Empress Avenue.

Initially water from the new borehole was flushed directly into the nearby sewage system that runs below the site, to carry away the chemicals used in the drilling process, and whilst the water was being tested for suitability. Subsequently, the water was diverted into the nearby Ornamental Waters, which had been getting desperately short of water. Millions of gallons were used in this operation, and very effectively re-filled the lake in a time of crisis. However, it must be said that in preparing a route for the proposed pipeline, a number of trees were destroyed at the north end of Wanstead Park, near to the Redbridge Treatment Works. As well, a significant area of Wanstead Park had barriers erected to prohibit people walking into construction areas considerably prior to any work being undertaken. This seems to me to be an example of contract work being undertaken on Epping Forest without any significant overseeing by the Conservators of Epping Forest.

By August 2008, work within the Sewage Works had ceased, although much material including pipes, hard-standings and fencing remained. On the plus side, the long-term problem with the leaking water-supply point near the Riding School entrance had been dealt with. Some new metal covers had been laid to protect the water-point, these being marked with Thames Water Authority markings. It is understood that the bore-hole has not produced the amount or possibly the quality of water that was hoped for. By 2010, most of the fencing, pipes and other material had been removed, and the land was allowed to settle down. However, the aspect was considerably different than before. A structure containing pumping equipment had been built to the north of the cycle-route that crosses the field, surrounded by a metal fence. Nearby, the ground surface had been changed from grass-covered soil to a hard standing system that is honeycombed in such a way as to allow vegetation to grow through. It does present something of a natural appearance as well as allowing for water permeability.  

During 2007 another threat to the area became apparent. This was the laying of a cycle path (part of the Roding Valley Way) from the pedestrian underpass near Little Ilford, alongside the eastern boundary of the City of London Cemetery, to eventually join up with the existing London Cycle Network route that runs east/west across the Exchange Lands. Although this could easily have been routed to continue immediately alongside the Cemetery fence, to exit into the east edge of Redbridge Field and thence along that edge to join the existing route, instead the hard-surface of the track was routed to finish exactly at the access to Epping Forest land - the Exchange Land! This was, presumably, before negotiations had been completed, or possibly even undertaken, with the City of London Corporation on the advisability of running a hard-surface cycle-route over Forest land. If this were to happen then I could foresee a significant disturbance to both the wildlife and the tranquillity and access to the Exchange Lands by pedestrians. (See also "The Alders Brook" on this website)

On 20 August 2008 it was heard that a horse-ride had been created through the site. This was seen to originate at the main access to the site by the riding school. Through the gate, the route went southwards parallel to the allotments boundary fence, turned east at the corner alongside the meadow area, snaked across to "Redbridge Field" and around the south edge of that, and across the south Wilderness area to the boundary gate near the Roding. In addition, the lower (riverside) bank of the river defence had been mowed, allowing a horse-ride north along the river to the fresh water outlet.

Apparently, this had been done to accommodate - albeit temporarily - the horse-riders who had lost some of their ride over nearby parts of Epping Forest (Wanstead and Leyton Flats?) due to the works on the Beckton to Walthamstow water-pipeline. Now, whilst this is understandable from the point of view of the horse-riders, no apparent thought had been given to the effect on the wildlife of the Exchange Lands, nor - I would say - on the impact to pedestrians.

Having been consulted in early 1993 on how best to create an environment that would enhance the wildlife and access to this part of Epping Forest, I was disturbed that in the creation of this horse-ride, lack of consultation might result in some of the best habitat being disturbed and - by the addition of inevitable horse-droppings - the potential for unwelcome changes occurring to the wildlife. In addition, when the route was walked on 22nd August, considerable pugging or poaching (damage to the surface caused by the impact of the horses hooves) had occurred along the Roding bank, making walking by pedestrians difficult. Plants that may be affected include a variety of clovers (including Hare's-foot) and vetches, Salsify, Goat's-beard and hybrids of those, Grass Vetchling, Sedum Acre, Shining Cranesbill, and even Orchids. As well, significant numbers of insects including Common Blue, Holly Blue and Brown Argus butterflies, Cinnabar, Mother Shipton and Burnet Companion moths and mining bees and/or wasps are present on this site.

Horse riding in Aldersbrook Exchange LandsConsiderate horse-riding in Aldersbrook Exchange Lands in 2008Subsequently, it was agreed to open the area for use as a trail for horses from the riding school. Still no detailed discussion seems to have taken place, although formal permission was eventually given from 1st May 2010. During 2010, the area was used by horses mainly in the form of occasional slow riding  around the main track-ways. However, some grazing was seen to take place outside of these areas, and some use was made by youngsters exercising a Shetland Pony. It was certainly noticeable after a period of about 24 hours continuous rain in January 2011 that an amount of poaching had taken place enough to make pedestrian walking uncomfortable, and at least one horse was being ridden on the day after. However, it would seem a nonsense for the adjacent riding school and livery stables not to have some access to the site - and certainly to the Roding Valley Way when complete - so long as the use is considerate to pedestrians and the environment of the site.

On that same day - January 10th - it was also noted that a considerable amount of hedge-cutting had taken place recently, and this had included a "scalping" of some track-side areas which were home to some of the site's more interesting plant species. These include Great Mullein, Stone Parsley, Whitlow Grass and Dewberry. Initial enquiries to the City of London Corporation resulted in a lack of knowledge of this, as did enquiries to London Borough of Redbridge. It was suggested, however, that it might have been carried out by National Grid, as their power lines cross the site. It may be noted that work on these power lines was carried out in 1994, and one result was that one of the nicest track-ways across the site was damaged so much that it had only just recovered from the ankle-twisting rubble that was put down to facilitate their vehicular access by 2008! It seemed that once again the Sewage Works site may be under threat from outside influences beyond the control of the Conservators of Epping Forest. (for an update on this, see here)

During the initial investigation on the damage done in at the end of 2010, I learnt that the area known as Redbridge Field was in fact managed by the London Borough of Redbridge as a recreational green until Barhale did their works for Thames Water during 2007 and 2008. It was at this point that Redbridge were made aware that the land was never registered to them, and the land actually belonged to Thames Water and T.f.L.(Transport for London).

By May 2012, the hard-surface of the Roding Valley Way foot-and-cycle path had been extended (as feared) from the point at which it had finished at the boundary with the Exchange Lands to cross the site from North to South, joining the existing West-East hard-surfaced cycle-path at a T-junction. This resulted in the country-like track-way that was mentioned earlier finally being destroyed to become - in effect - a surfaced road. It may be noted here that although posts with signage indication the Roding Valley Way were erected here and elsewhere, in fact the link between this point and the Way north of Redbridge Roundabout was not yet in existence even in 2013.

What had once been known as Redbridge Field - since the digging of the bore-hole and the erection of the pumping-facilities associated with it - by 2011 could no-longer be referred to as a field. A mowing regime was no longer taking place and much of the site had reverted to herb-cover, with a few desire-line pathways becoming established across it. This included a route by which horse-riders from Aldersbrook Livery Stables were accessing that portion of the Exchange Lands adjacent to the River Roding. Although this change in habitat meant that no longer could people use it comfortably for picnics or games, the vegetation undoubtedly was of more benefit to wildlife. During 2014, the Aldersbrook Riding Stables suggested the desire to establish paddocks for their horses in the this area, and some local consultation was made with interested parties - including the Wren Group and Wanstead Wildlife. Subsequently it was understood that negotiations took place with the site's owners (Thames Water?), and in August 2016 apparently permission was granted.

wp marker boundary stone efEpping Forest Boundary MarkerBecause the original 'footprint' of the old sewage works is now divided into effectively three areas, there is something of an anomalous relationship with the adjacent Wanstead Park. The east and west portions of the area have become part of Epping Forest, whilst the central portion remains the property of Thames Water. Epping Forest has certain by-laws, and these are signposted at significant entries to the Forest. Wanstead Park has its own by-laws, differing from those of the rest of the Forest, and thus on entering or leaving the Park or the Exchange Lands, there are Epping Forest sign-posts between the two!

Other signs of Epping Forest boundaries may still be found nearby. There are a series of concrete markers inscribed “EF”, with an arrow pointing in either direction away from the letters. These marked the original boundary of Epping Forest with its neighbour, the sewage works. They are located at ground level parallel to the northern edge of the sewage works area, near the bottom of the dividing bund.

For a review of the wildlife of the Aldersbrook Exchange Lands, click here

The photograph of the development of the Wilderness area in 1994 was taken by Jennifer Charter of Aldersbrook. Other photos are my own. (Paul Ferris)