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Aveley Marshes

AVELEY MARSHES, ESSEX 3:00

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THE AVELEY MARSHES lie immediately to the west of Purfleet in Essex on the other side of the Mardyke river. They comprise that part of the RSPB Rainham Marshes reserve which the public are allowed to visit by walking around a perimeter path. They're about 170 acres in extent, bordered to the north by the A13, to the south by the estuary, and partly to the west by an artificial hill made from a former landfill site, now covered by grass and dotted with gas vents like the funnels set in a pie crust.

The Marshes are a remnant of the historic militarised Thames, and were once used as an Army firing range before being handed over to the RSPB in 2000. The Ordnance Survey map from 1945, courtesy of the Vision of Britain website, shows the firing range with its shooting butts marked as black lines in the western part of the Marshes.

1945 Ordnance Survey map

Purfleet railway station is just out of view but a train halt is shown as a red dot a short distance before it. Smaller dashed lines leading from the halt suggest there were either roads, or perhaps even stretches of narrow-gauge rail, leading south to the old cordite store and west to the shooting butts. Part of the latter route is raised on a miniature viaduct, intersected by a footpath which goes through a short tunnel.

Foot tunnel

During the week there are metallic bangs and crunches from the scrapyards on the south side of the estuary, replaced at weekends with clay pigeon shooting and scrambler bikes. Traffic is heard all the time from the nearby A13 and, more distantly, the approaches to the Dartford River Crossing. It makes a big slate-slab of noise on which birdsong appears like chalk scribbles before being wiped away.

Aveley Marshes

I don't think it would be at all easy here to capture what many would consider a nice or clean-sounding wildlife recording – perhaps you'd be in luck if you camped out overnight on Christmas Eve. It's not obvious what the point would be, since doing so would ignore the marshes' status as survivors of an older landscape, now existing on sufferance among housing, roads and industry. The close management and protection which the RSPB reserve affords the marshes is perhaps a foretaste of how nature in general will be experienced in the future.