Landscapes come alive with Land of the Fanns projects

THE Land of the Fanns, spanning 185 square kilometres from south west Essex to east London, is an area rich in history, diverse in landscapes and full of fascinating characters and stories.  The five-year Land of the Fanns Landscape Partnership Scheme has worked with partners to bring those stories and histories to a wider audience and help people discover and appreciate the landscapes in their local area.

There are 11 projects underway at key sites across the Land of the Fanns which aim to help interpret the landscape for the public so they have a better understanding of what lies before them. Interpretation can take many forms including public events, exhibition boards and imaginative guidebooks. To help highlight the significance of the history and wildlife at a number of key sites the Land of the Fanns project has helped facilitate the development of a range of inspirational historic, fictional human and wildlife characters to be used in interpretation. These characters were recently showcased at the very successful fortnight long Tales of the Fanns walking festival and finale event at Langdon Hills Country Park. 

These projects have not only helped people understand the history behind the sites, but they have also involved volunteers throughout lockdown, giving them an opportunity to become actively involved in their local area.

Highlights of the projects underway include:

The Land Trust has worked to produce a fabulous mural for the visitors’ centre at Davy Down in South Ockendon depicting the changing landscape over millennia. Using the character of a Pilgrim the mural depicts the significance of Davy Down along the route for C13th  pilgrims travelling from York to Canterbury in memory of Thomas a Beckett who was murdered in Canterbury. 

Visitors can travel back though time as they descend into Essex Wildlife Trust’s unique Chafford Gorges, nestled between Lakeside and Chafford Hundred. Here, two characters, Ned the Neanderthal and Mo the Mosasaur, will soon be greeting visitors on a series of new information boards explaining the earliest history of the site.

At the wonderful medieval manor of Valence House in Barking & Dagenham, the Dig for Victory Garden is being brought back into use and the Great Survivors’ Trail is being designed to show how the house was used during and after wartime. Here the character of Mr May, first owner of the house, helps tell the story of his home and the intriguing history of the humble tomato in Essex.  

Work at the Victorian gardens and grounds at Langtons in Hornchurch has involved the creation of a wildlife pond and boardwalk, built over an area of marshland and a dry riverbed. Fantastic woven willow tunnels, shelters and new signage help to make a visit to this special site more informative, offering new insights. 

Lisa D. Lock, Langtons Gardens Activity Officer said The work has opened up a previously unused area, and now people walk to the pond and pause to look for wildlife, and large groups can be seen picnicking in an area that used to be empty except for occasional dog walkers. Biodiversity has also improved drastically – we have seen frogs, newts and dragonflies use the pond, and birds, bees and foxes etc. come to drink at the pond.”

Further out into Essex, at Weald Country Park, new interpretation will soon bring to life the history of this once vast estate which dates back to the 12th Century. New information boards and leaflets with walking routes around the park are being finalised, so watch this space! Paths in the park, and particularly around the lake, have recently received a makeover, whilst opening up views and restoring the reedbeds have enhanced the site for wildlife and visitors.

At the Thames Chase Forest Centre in Upminster, where the Land of the Fanns team is based, the story of the original 18th century farm has been brough to life with the help of a character called Burt the farmer. The Forest Centre encompasses the historic farm buildings of Broadfields Farm where Farmer Burt welcomes visitors to the carefully preserved threshing barn to learn about the farming year. 

Mary Wright, Interim Joint Chair, Thames Chase Trust, said “Interpreting the many historic and diverse sites within the landscape of the Land of the Fanns in a very visual and informative way that leads you into the social history of the communities who have lived and worked in the east London fenlands. Many, I am sure, will have family memories passed down of how life and these sites have influenced the changing landscape around them.”

Similarly, at Eastbrookend Park in Barking & Dagenham the character of gravel digger Jim Baxter, tells the story of the origins of the site which was once a gravel pit. Rubbing trails, for children to enjoy, also highlight the site’s wildlife and diversity of habitats.In Havering, the Friends of Bedfords Park Walled Garden have used the C17th character of Charles Ellis Heaton, the owner of the Manor which once stood on the site, and Annie Wragg, the gardener’s wife, to help interpret the site. Working remotely throughout lockdown, students from South Essex College have been creating four period costumes to dress mannequin displays as part of a future exhibition at Eastbury Manor in Barking & Dagenham.

Not far from Upminster, Pages Wood has become home to a number of wildlife characters including Verity the Water Vole, highlighting the importance of this animal’s recovery, and Horatio the Hedgehog. A new trail through the wood was routed in 2020 with amazing chainsaw carvings of wildlife, created by Game of Thrones sculptor, Simon O’Rourke, along the route.

Finally at Langdon Hills, the ancient carved wooden statue of woodsman, William Langdon Woodward, which once stood in Basildon town centre, has been restored and will soon find a home here.  Combined with brand new leaflets, maps and welcome notice boards, this will also help enhance the visitor experience.

Benjamin Sanderson, Land of the Fanns Scheme Manager said “It’s fantastic to see these interpretation projects finally coming to fruition. The characters really help bring the stories behind the sites to life, helping to showcase the diversity of history and wildlife that is so unique to this area.”

The Land of the Fanns is a unique £2.4 million Landscape Partnership Scheme, awarded £1.36 million by the National Lottery Heritage Fund in 2016. The five-year Scheme brings together nine partner organisations with a commitment to work towards a shared goal of enabling local people to discover, restore and enjoy what’s special about the local landscape. 

Thames Chase Trust is the lead partner in the Scheme and other partners are: Essex County Council, Forestry England, Thames Estuary Partnership, Brentwood Borough Council, London Borough of Havering, London Borough of Barking & Dagenham, Thames21 and Thurrock Council.

To find out more about the Land of the Fanns and how you can get involved in environmental and heritage projects, please go to www.landofthefanns.org

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