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Summary: A country park important for wildlife. It is managed by Essex. It is usually thought of in two parts: northern part has car parks, visitor centre (run by EWT), and is mainly wooded; southern part has one parking area and is more open with grassland slopes and a large lake, with woodland to the north. The two parts are linked by footpaths that run through restored farmland.
Description: The northern part has some very old trees, notably Hornbeam, which are relics of the old deer park this area once was. There is a plantation of conifers (mainly Scots Pine) which is gradually being replaced by native trees, areas of ancient semi-natural woodland and more open heathy areas with Silver Birch, all on slopes of gravels and clay in the dips. The higher plants are well represented and the fungus flora is outstanding. The southern part has young and boring grassland providing open amenity land for flying kites especially as these low hills look south over Kent and get all the SW winds. The nearby Octagon Plantation is small but has several ancient woodland indicator plants in it.The large artificial lake has a dam at the southern end and a wet boggy area around the stream below the weir. The upper slopes are wooded (mainly native trees, but a few planted conifers), with some very slippery clay slopes and wet areas around the stream that feeds the lake. Rich flora and fungus flora. Both parts have lots of birds and butterflies as well as being rich in plants.
Reason for interest: An exceptional population of the uncommon newt species Palmate Newt Triturus (Lissotriton) helveticus exists within the picnic pond at the Visitors Centre. The picnic pond is home to at least four amphibian species Amphibian Species within the Picnic Pond (status) Palmate Newt - (Exceptional) Smooth Newt - (Low) Crested Newt - (Low) Common Frog - (Low) The picnic pond is considered to be unsuitable for the crested newt on the basis of its size and surrounding habitat. This is reflected on the abundance of palmate newts which favour small woodland ponds which are formed on acidic soils/geology. Crested newts are found in the pond in the late summer probably foraging on tadpoles and the smaller newt species. Less than 1 adult is found at a time while over 250 adult palmate newts are found on pond dipping trips organised by the Essex County Council and Wildlife Trust. Crested newts are found in much higher numbers in larger ponds further south in the more suitable area of the London clay. Toads are also found in larger numbers in the fish ponds located further south.
Comment: The restored park area and farmland between the older northern and southern parts is an area in transition. New trees have been planted and hedges planted. With time, some of the interesting species of wildlife, both flora and fauna, should move into the new areas, but at present there is little to see here. The two older parts repay separate study, as both are rich in biodiversity but rather different.
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