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Walthamstow Marshes

There are many ways to approach Walthamstow Marshes and one route takes us through an industrial estate, crossing a bridge and leaving behind the factories and lorries - and suddenly arriving here in the countryside with the sight of cattle grazing in the fields. The experience is almost unreal.

This site is one of the best places to pick blackberries in late summer and people come here to forage for herbs and plants. Rose hips tumble down over the brambles and wildflowers are in abundance, untidy but colourful.

Cattle chew the cud contentedly and are an essential part of managing this natural wild space – they are belted galloways, big beasts who keep the more dominant plants from spreading and strangling the more fragile plants.

Cattle have grazed here for over a thousand years and now they have been returned to play their part in the management and conservation of this river valley grassland.

Around 400 different plants have been identified here – including some of Britain’s rarest plants, creeping marshwort, brookweed and yellow loosestrife. Hop sedge has returned after an absence of half a century.

With such an extensive mix of vegetation there are more than 500 species of insects. There are also a wide variety of birds including reed, sedge warbler and reed bunting.

Walking along the pathways is a joy, whether there is grass or earth that is dry and worn down or gravel that crunches underfoot.

On a lovely sunny day it must seem dreamlike for anyone working in the factories to escape to this landscape. We can look all around and imagine how the past was when this area was surrounded by country estates and farms.

And just over a century ago this is the exact spot where the first ever aeroplane flight with a British crew took off and flew across this land.

We can picture the past but those people saw the future.

Walk from Lea Bridge Station or from Walthamstow Wetlands, Leyton Marshes or Springfield Park


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