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West Wood, DAWS HEATH, Castle Point District, TQ805880, Potential Local Geological Site
Site name: West Wood and Valerie Wells Wood (formerly Cottage Plantation)
Grid reference: TQ 805880
Brief description of site:
West Wood has a varied geology and the shows the influence of the changing soil conditions from valley floor to hill top. The Prittle Brook flows through the centre of the wood where the bedrock of the lowest ground is Claygate Beds. This is overlain by Bagshot Sand higher up on the valley sides. On the highest ground are disused gravel pits revealing ancient gravel laid down by the River Medway which flowed across this area in the early Ice Age.
West Wood is owned by Castle Point Borough Council. The adjacent Valerie Wells Wood to the north-east (formerly known as Cottage Plantation) was bought by Essex Wildlife Trust in 2013.
Summary of geological interest
The varied geology has influenced the species of trees that exist from valley floor to hill top. The Prittle Brook flows in the valley in the centre of the wood, which is underlain by a bedrock of Claygate Beds. To the north and south the rising ground gives way to the overlying Bagshot Sands.
On the highest ground, to the north and south, there are overgrown shallow pits where ‘exotic’ gravel can be found. This is Daws Heath Gravel, which outcrops on each side of the valley on the north and south boundaries of the wood.
Daws Heath Gravel is an ancient remnant of a terrace of river gravel deposited by the River Medway when it flowed across eastern Essex in the early part of the Ice Age, perhaps as much as a million years ago, and contains unusual rock types, including some from the Weald of Kent (see also Pound Wood Nature Reserve in Daws Heath).
Details of gravel pits
Valerie Wells Wood (formerly Cottage Plantation) has several small shallow pits visible, overgrown and full of leaf litter, etc. They are indicated on the map on p.104 of Oliver Rackham's Woods of South East Essex (1986) in the centre of the area, to the east of the main track running north/south through the wood. There are also two deeper, and clearly more recent, pits a little further south on the west side of the main track. These are not marked on Rackham's map. These deeper pits provide an opportunity to create a permanent, publicly-accessible exposure of Daws Heath Gravel.
To the west of Valerie Wells Wood is Rag Wood, which is private property. Rackham notes "many pits" on his map of the wood and these still exist. They are concentrated in the southern half of the wood.
In West Wood there is an obvious depression to the east of the path leading from Valerie Wells Wood into West Wood proper which may be another gravel excavation. The main gravel pit area in West Wood is situated to the west of the footpath through the wood and is bisected by the woodbank that runs east/west through the middle of the upper half of the wood. The ground in this area is very disturbed, and badger activity is continually bringing gravel to the surface. It is noticeable that much larger flints (up to 10 cm or more) and occasional sizable pieces of chert occur here. Although very overgrown with brambles, the apparent outlines of squarish pits are more visible during winter months, especially after heavy snow, when the undergrowth has been flattened.
Daws Heath Gravel in West Wood
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Reference: Rackham 1986 (map on page 104)
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