East Ham Nature Reserve is a tranquil oasis nestling alongside the busy A13, offering the opportunity to enjoy nature at first hand. It is set in a nine-acre churchyard, which is one of the largest in Britain.
Since 1977 the churchyard has been managed as a nature reserve. It boasts a rich variety of wildlife and plant life. From butterflies to slowworms, lime trees to wildflower meadows, hedgehogs to wasps and many more all waiting to be discovered! The ancient Norman parish church of St Mary Magdalene, which is more than 800 years old, can be viewed by appointment.
Within the site there are many different habitats. The woodland, planted in the 1980s is starting to mature. In spring it is a bluebell wood, then the paths almost disappear under a froth of waist-high Queen Anne’s Lace (Anthriscus sylvestris). We have a constant battle to stop ivy taking over, covering the paths and strangling the trees.
The semi-improved neutral grassland is a rare and important habitat in this area. It is home to yellow meadow ants. Their anthills provide sunbathing places for a large number of common lizards and there is an exceptional population of slow worms in the grass. Unfortunately, aspen poplar and brambles are encroaching on the grasslands. We are controlling the brambles by digging them out and are looking into ways of reducing the number of poplars.
An important feature of the site is the hedge which runs behind the church and divides the wilder part of the reserve from the older churchyard. Planted in the 1980s, it replaced the old elm hedge, which died of Dutch elm disease. The new hedge is mainly hazel and hawthorn. Although there was an early attempt at laying, it became very sparse at the base, with big gaps between the plants. We have been laying the hedge, working on a section each winter. This means cutting partly through the trunks of the bushes, at ground level and laying them along the line of the hedge. The branches are woven together and held in place with hazel stakes and long hazel ‘weavers’ at a height of 4ft (1.2m). This forms a thick barrier right down to the ground, which is an excellent habitat for voles, shrews and other animals, providing them with a safe passage across the area.