Image credit: Friends of Foots Cray Meadows
This woodland area, to the west of the River Cray as it heads north on its journey away from the main Foots Cray Meadows, provides a fascinating walk by the water.
This stretch of river between Five Arches and Water Lane is amongst the most productive for birds in the Meadows. The wooded areas play host to a myriad bird species including song thrush and blackbird (redwing and fieldfare in winter), great, blue and long-tailed tits, chaffinch, wren robin, dunnock, chiffchaff and blackcap (in summer), jay, goldfinch in the alders and many more.
The river itself is an important habitat for grey wagtail, little egret, grey heron and the stunning kingfisher. Sadly many of these birds suffer extreme disturbance from dogs entering the river. There were once at least two pairs of kingfisher breeding but it is believed they have moved further along the river to less disturbed areas outside the meadows.
Extensive work to remodel the banks has been carried out – but fallen trees are often left in position to give the area a wonderful feel of a dense woodland rather than what it is now, a strip by the flowing chalk stream. This woodland is the remains of what was an ancient Wet Alder woodland and it used to flood.
Some of the old water channels can still be seen within the woodland. Some work to revive and coppice the alder stalls have been previously undertaken by the London Borough of Bexley.
River Cray Project – Foots Cray Meadows and Thames21 – received funding from Enovert Community Trust and Bexley Council to carry out works on the banks from spring 2020 through to the following year.
The scheme involved citizen science, physical works to improve the River Cray and community engagement activities along the river.
The funding was made available for “the conservation of a specific species or a specific habitat where it naturally occurs” – in this case chalk stream habitat.
The enhancement works, downstream from the Five Arch Bridge, was to counter over-widening of the uniform riverbed, over-shading, and lack of in-channel and marginal vegetation.
Woody debris, in the form of trees and brush sourced from around the site, was introduced into the river to mimic natural processes, narrowing the channel, encouraging dynamic flow patterns and a varied riverbed profile as well as allowing greater opportunity for in-channel and marginal vegetation to develop naturally. This was also designed to benefit wildlife including invertebrates, fish and birds.
If you are lucky, whilst walking along the river’s edge here, you may spot a flash of kingfisher blue as these shy birds can frequently be seen feeding along this stretch of the river.