This look at the Alders Brook investigates its location, its source, its present state and its potential. The Ordnance Survey Map appears to show the Alders Brook as nothing more than a channel of the Roding, but it is not that at all; it is a tributary of the Roding and a stream in its own right which should be a treasure of Newham and Redbridge.The stream is little known; it is probable that even residents of nearby Aldersbrook - named of course after the stream - are unaware of its presence! For information about the Aldersbrook estate, click here.
For a map showing the location of the Alders Brook - click here.
For a list of the plant species - click here.
For a historic map (1816) showing the brook - click here
Access to the Butts and hence to the Alders Brook may be made via a foot-tunnel under the railway line from Romford Road at Little Ilford or via the footpath which follows the perimeter of the cemetery either from Rabbits Road or from Empress Avenue. There is also access from the north via the Aldersbrook Exchange Land - the old Sewage Works site - in Epping Forest.
The area had an incredibly rural feel for part of Newham - something of a wildflower meadow together with a gentle stream. Although no plants of great rarity were found the overall effect was pleasant; species included red clover Trifolium pratense, white clover Trifolium repens, goat's rue Galega officinalis, tufted vetch Vicia cracca, meadow vetchling Lathyrus pratensis with some blackthorn Prunus spinosa and wild cherry Prunus avium forming something of a hedge between the meadow and the bridle path.
However in 2007 this effect was considerably spoilt by the laying of a 2 metre wide track, part of the Roding Valley Way, a combined footpath and cycleway through the London Boroughs of Redbridge, Barking & Dagenham and Newham. Instead of using the existing bridle path along the edge of the cemetery, the new route was insensitively laid across what was the meadow! For some years local conservation groups did attempt to enhance the meadow-aspect of the area, but now this would not really be a viable option. There is a considerable ground-cover of dewberry Rubus caesius, particularly near the allotments, and it is likely that this will invade much of what remains of the meadow. During 2015 and 2016, evidence of occupation in the form of "camps" could be found, reference perhaps to the numbers of refugees now present hereabouts?
North of the allotments, the new path also led to the severe trimming of some of the small but nice oaks and other trees and potentially may lead to stress on the root system of these. However, it has considerably improved access to the area by pedestrians as well as cyclists, and is a much easier walk in many parts which were almost invariably muddy and overgrown. However, the surfaced route veers away from the existing route to pass through the old gates of the Exchange Land site of Epping Forest (the Old Sewage Works Site). This means that this land, with its wealth of flora and fauna, now suffers a disturbance which it had not previously endured, and - for pedestrian visitors - a change in the ambience of the place. It is a shame that some lovely and unique wildlife areas have suffered - and all unnecessarily for the route of the existing path was perfectly adequate and - particularly at its northern end - could have benefited from surfacing.
It is interesting to note that the L. B. Newham Adopted UDP 2001 ( Unitary Development Plan ) includes the following statement : "Sites of nature conservation importance will be protected and enhanced". The encouragement of cyclists and provision of a hard-surface track cannot, I suggest - be protecting and enhancing the site. The boundary between Newham and Redbridge is quite complex here, and it may be that provisions and the routing of the track was made under L.B. Redbridge's jurisdiction, however, the Exchange Lands are now part of Epping Forest, so the continuation of the hard-surface route through the old sewage works must have been allowed by the City of London Corporation.
By and in the brook, plants found include water fern Azolla filiculoides, purple loosestrife Lythrum salicaria, amphibious bistort Persicaria amphibia, water pepper Persicaria hydropiper and water mint Mentha aquatica. For a full list of the plants of this area, click here.
At the southern end of the Butts, the brook encounters a concrete barrage, where the water is controlled as it passes under the main Liverpool Street railway lines. Adjacent to this is a foot-tunnel below the railway lines which allows foot and cycle traffic access to the Romford Road in Little Ilford. The brook of course continues beyond the barrage, but once again is inaccessible to pedestrians. It can be viewed from Lugg Approach - a short road off the Romford Road that leads to what was Aldersbrook Sidings - and it can be seen that the stream itself is full of vegetation (and rubbish) and that the banks are very overgrown, particularly with the invasive Japanese knotweed Fallopia japonica. During 2015 much - if not all - of the Alders Brook south of the railway lines had fences with notices warning of control areas regarding the knotweed.
It would not, it seems, be impossible to clear the stream-bank and tidy up the general environment so that a walking-route be established as an alternative to the present one between Romford Road and the Aldersbrook Bridle Path. This is Aldersbrook Lane - the remnant stretch of an old route that was the approach to Aldersbrook Manor, but which now passes through a housing estate. Considering the effort that has been put into the creation of the cycle route, perhaps this should have been considered. Lugg Approach and the old sidings site that was mentioned earlier is to be used in the work involved in the construction of a new railway station for Ilford. In the Crossrail Environmental Statement plans for this it is stated: "The site is, however, largely derelict. Overall this is a townscape of low quality and low sensitivity to change"(10.7.25). Perhaps at relatively small cost compared to all the other work being undertaken hereabouts there is an opportunity to give pedestrian and perhaps cycle access to the banks of the Alders Brook here and improve on the dereliction and low quality? This would also enable more direct and pleasant access to and from Ilford town centre from Wanstead Flats and to the Roding Valley Way route for Wanstead Park and beyond - a benefit to Redbridge as well as Newham residents.
Eventually the brook emerges from its over-vegetated cutting to join with the River Roding at Ilford Bridge, from where it can just about be viewed. Near to this point there is a considerable amount of traveller's joy Clematis vitalba, which is otherwise scarce in our study area.
For a list of the plants which have been found in the Alders Brook area - click here
For a map showing the brook - click here
For a historic map (1816) showing the brook - click here
A walking route via Aldersbrook Bridle Path which incorporates the Alders Brook is available here
(1) Cart. Sax. ed. Birch, no. 1037; cf. P. N. Essex, ii. 94.
(2) E.R.O., D/DQs 17.
(3) E.R.O., Map of manors of Wanstead, Aldersbrook &c., 1815–16
Conservation Management Plan Corporation of London, 2004
L. B. Newham Adopted UDP 2001 ( Unitary Development Plan )
Crossrail Environmental Statement - Chapter 10.