Attenborough launches pioneering wild haven atop London’s waste

Saturday 11th May 2013

Family outside the new visitor centre at Thurrock Thameside Nature Park (photo: Family outside the new visitor centre at Thurrock Thameside Nature Park (photo: Matthew Roberts)

Skylarks sing and nature is restored as Thurrock Thameside Nature Park opens on one of western Europe’s largest landfill sites.

Sir David Attenborough officially opened Essex Wildlife Trust’s Thurrock Thameside Nature Park on Saturday 11 May 2013.

Positive change like this must become the norm – and The Wildlife Trusts across the UK are trying to make that happen - Sir David Attenborough

Thurrock Thameside Nature Park is an astonishing project, whose vital statistics push all boundaries of scale and wildlife recovery. It has transformed the environment of the nearby community. It is one of The Wildlife Trusts’ largest-ever restoration projects, restoring Mucking Landfill to recreate a range of fantastic wild habitats. The 120-acre site will eventually expand to cover 845 acres and sits on top of a ‘pie-crust’, which caps 50 years of waste from six London boroughs, up to 30 metres deep. This former landfill site now attracts rare bees, birds and reptiles and provides a wonderful haven, through a network of paths, bridleways and cycle routes, for people to enjoy.

L-R: Stephanie Hilborne (Chief Executive, The Wildlife Trusts), Sir David Attenborough and Jules Pretty (Vice President, Essex Wildlife Trust)Beside Mucking Creek on the north bank of the Thames Estuary, the Nature Park has been occupied since Stone Age times. ‘Mucca’ was a Saxon chieftain and ‘ing’ his enclosure. Tilbury Fort is only three miles away upstream, where Queen Elizabeth I made her rousing speech to troops in 1588, when England was under attack from the Spanish Armada. Also close by is Coalhouse Fort, built in 1861 to defend London. The new Cory Environmental Trust Visitor Centre reflects this history and is built in the style of a fort – it has already been shortlisted for Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors awards – and commands breath-taking 360 degree views over south Essex, the vast estuary and across to Kent.

Essex Wildlife Trust’s vision is to create a ‘Living Landscape’, which aims to be good for wildlife, good for local people and supportive of the local economy as a great place to visit. The restoration is reconnecting local communities to a stunning location they have not had access to for decades. Local people have been involved since the gates opened unofficially in July 2012 and enjoy wildlife events, stargazing and yoga; the education team welcome school visits. There is already a strong volunteer team helping to bake cakes for visitors and to care for the skylark-serenaded grasslands. The project has just been shortlisted for the Charity Awards 2013.

President Emeritus of The Wildlife Trusts, Sir David Attenborough says:
“This is the beginning of a new chapter in the history of this part of the Thames Estuary. The area has had its ups and downs. This wonderful nature area and the extraordinary new centre stand where there were once 230 Saxon dwellings - but in-between times the waste of six London Boroughs has been brought here. We live in a crowded country and we need to respect its limits to sustain us. Positive change like this must become the norm – and The Wildlife Trusts across the UK are trying to make that happen.”

Sir David Attenborough and John Hall (Chief Executive of Essex Wildlife Trust )at the opening on Saturday 12 May. Photo: Daniel Bridges

Contact information:
Emma Robertshaw (Media Officer for The Wildlife Trusts)
Office: 020 3603 6785 / Mobile: 07779 657515. Email:

Charlie Oliver (Media & Marketing Officer for Essex Wildlife Trust)
Office: 01621 862951 / Mobile: 07803 660348. Email:

Images are available for use with this news release. They are granted on a one-time use basis, in association with this release and the photographer must be credited.

Editor’s Notes:

1. Wildlife at the Nature Park
The Nature Park comprises of Thames Terrace grasslands (which dominate the current 120-acre site), ancient Essex woodland, new woodlands and hedgerows and lakes, ponds and reedbeds, including several designated as Local Wildlife Sites. It is flanked by Mucking Creek and directly overlooks coastal marshes and saltmarsh designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Protection Area (SPA). The Creek and Flats are home to thousands of wading birds, especially in autumn and winter. There are internationally important numbers of ringed plover and avocet, as well as nationally important numbers of grey plover, dunlin, black-tailed godwit and redshank. As much as 90% of the Thames Estuary SPA’s avocet population frequent Mucking Flats (a ‘floating flock’ of wintering avocets – up to 700 can be seen together, swimming in deep water – is the most remarkable sight). Other important species on the Nature Park, or adjacent to it, include: black-tailed godwit, yellow wagtail, reed bunting, Cetti’s warbler, cuckoo, skylark, nightingale, barn owl, brown hare, harvest mouse, wasp spider, great crested newt, grass vetchling and various orchids. Peregrine patrol the skies, while short-eared owls quarter the grassland.

In spring, the sound of several skylarks singing together is astonishing. Many of this ‘Red List’ species (meaning it is of the highest conservation priority, after a dramatic population decline in recent decades) are currently showing off their dramatic and tuneful display flight, singing from the heavens and parachuting back down to earth. It is hoped that dozens of pairs will breed at the Nature Park when it is complete.

The Nature Park is an important refuge for reptiles, including adder, and is also home to the scarce shrill carder bee and our fastest declining mammal, water vole. Harbour porpoise and grey seal are often seen in the estuary from the visitor centre. Thurrock Thameside Nature Park won the conservation category in the Observer Ethical Awards 2011. It is part of the wider Living Landscape of Thurrock - a mosaic in a network of woodlands and grasslands supporting notable wildlife on the terraces along the Thames.

Essex Wildlife Trust extends special thanks to the team and the funders that have made Thurrock Thameside Nature Park possible, including our key partner and owners of Mucking Landfill, Cory Environmental Ltd, Cory Environmental Trust in Thurrock, who provided the monies for the visitor centre, and Parkland’s/Essex County Council, who also provided vital funds.

2. Landfill
It has been a huge and ground-breaking enterprise to bring the project to fruition. Cory Environmental Ltd, owners of the Mucking Landfill, is committed to the site’s restoration and agreed a phased lease with Essex Wildlife Trust. The first piece of land leased from Cory Environmental Ltd was restored between 15 and 25 years ago and has a clean capping layer of 650mm of sandy gravelly clay, so there is no danger to the public. The leasehold agreement between Essex Wildlife Trust and Cory Environmental Ltd only leases this surface to the Trust: a ‘Pie-crust Lease’.

3. Visitor Centre
The Cory Environmental Visitor Centre is the focal point of the Nature Park and is built on top of the former landfill, which presented structural engineers Price & Myers with unusual challenges. Differential settlement caused by the landfill beneath could, potentially, cause the building to tilt, so jacks have been installed at 24 points around the visitor centre, so that the building can be lifted under careful control and lowered onto adjusted bearings. Architects Van Heyningen & Hayward worked to a brief to ensure that the visitor centre is sensitive to its surroundings. Timber fins act as a shield and it is camouflaged into the landscape. From land, it looks like the prow of a ship, overlooking the mouth of Old Father Thames; from the river it looks like a Martello Tower or fort. Tilbury Fort, where Elizabeth I gave her famous “Heart and stomach of a king” speech, in 1588, when England was under threat from the Spanish Armada, is just a few miles away.

The visitor centre has a spiral boardwalk around its outside to make the roof accessible to all. Southend Pier can be seen on a clear day, as can the cliffs of the north Kent coast. Omnipresent is the Thames; indeed, the Nature Park is a great place to watch boats, as well as birds, especially with the massive DP World London Gateway container port, which is due to open in late 2013, in full view. The centre offers a host of facilities to visitors, including educational tools for children and adults, and disabled access.

John Hall, Chief Executive of Essex Wildlife Trust, says:
“It is a great honour not just for Essex Wildlife Trust but for the local community that Sir David Attenborough is opening this remarkable project. ‘From landfill to Living Landscape’ has always been our vision for Thurrock Thameside Nature Park and now this is coming to fruition.”

Stephanie Hilborne, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts, says:
“Essex Wildlife Trust has done an astounding job to get this enormous restoration project off the ground. Wild places like this are vital to us all and the superb visitor centre at its heart means that after many decades of being off-limits, local people have wildlife on their doorsteps once more.”

Peter Gerstrom, CEO at Cory Environmental, says:
“I am delighted that the former Mucking landfill site is now being restored and will be a wonderful asset for the local community to enjoy for years to come. London’s waste, which was previously delivered to the site by river, is still being transported in this environmentally friendly way, but instead of being landfilled is now processed in a modern Energy from Waste plant on the banks of the River Thames, where its energy content is recovered to produce enough electricity to power 100,000 homes.”
5. Essex Wildlife Trust
EWT is the county’s leading conservation charity. It has more than 32,000 members, manages and protects over 7,250 acres of land on 87 nature reserves and two nature parks and runs eight visitor centres. The aim of Essex Wildlife Trust is to Protect Wildlife for the Future and for the People of Essex. It is supported financially by members, local businesses and grant making organisations. More than £120,000 was raised for this project by appeal to Trust members and the public – this was pivotal to the success of the project.

6. The Wildlife Trusts (TWT)
There are 47 individual Wildlife Trusts covering the whole of the UK. All are working for an environment rich in wildlife for everyone. We have more than 800,000 members including 150,000 members of our junior branch Wildlife Watch. Our vision is to create A Living Landscape and secure Living Seas. We manage around 2,300 nature reserves and every year we advise thousands of landowners and organisations on how to manage their land for wildlife. We also run marine conservation projects around the UK, collecting vital data on the state of our seas and celebrating our amazing marine wildlife. Every year we work with thousands of schools and our nature reserves and visitor centres receive millions of visitors. Each Wildlife Trust is working within its local communities to inspire people about the future of their area: their own Living Landscapes and Living Seas.

Tagged with: Living Landscapes, Essex Wildlife Trust, Visitor centre