The Roding Valley Way comes at last - work to start on shared-use path through the Exchange Lands

On Tuesday and again today, I walked alongside the Roding, on the top bank above the river through what was once a sewage farm. Now it is part of Epping Forest, and to my mind is one of the nicer parts of the whole of the Wanstead area. On Tuesday there were six Teal, a Heron and a Grey Wagtail - which was feeding by the fresh-water outlet (known as the sluice) about midway along the whole Roding stretch of the Exchange Lands. The river here is a pleasure, with gentle meanders, a deep-pool near where Water Voles once could be seen, a breeding place for Banded Demoiselles, and who knows - a visiting place for Otters!

There was snow on the ground on both these occasions - so no golfers on the Ilford bank and on both days nobody else at all -so perhaps it was not surprising that the Heron was there again on Thursday, still a Teal, and this time a Smew and a Goosander. The latter are wary birds - not so used to disturbance as even the Herons are - and even my presence disturbed them. Goes to show, perhaps, what might use the river here if it were not so disturbed?

But disturbed it will be after the snow has gone, for the long-dreaded work on the shared-use path is to be started as soon as conditions allow - probably within the next few days. After that, the presumably more people will start using the path, and the majority will almost certainly be cyclists. I say long-dreaded, for it was quite a few years ago now that I was engaged in discussion at the early stages of these proposals, and asked that instead of the path through the sewage works - now more often known as the exchange lands - be used, the exisiting route known as the Bridle Path alongside the east boundary of the cemetery be upgraded as a cyclist's alternative. This wasn't to be, as it was perceived that it wasn't such a pleasant route and there were boundary and upkeep issues relating to the London Boroughs of Newham and Redbridge. So the City of London allowed it over Epping Forest, and I'm sad that they did without consultation - however meaningless that seems to be in so many cases.

As it happened, I walked the bridle path between the cemetery fence and the exchange lands on Tuesday. Albeit there was a fair bit of snow on the ground, it was a pleasant enough walk, marred only by the problem of re-accessing the sewage works site where the path bears sharp left at the corner. I must say, that stretch (ie towards the Aldersbrook Estate at Empress Avenue) is not so pleasant because of its narrowness and how rutted it is. The prior bit, though, I still maintain is nice enough as it is wide and green - the tree-cover actually gives it that! But that is a matter of opinion. At least this time it was walk-able - when I tried it some while back it was in such a state of non-management as to be all but impassable.

The River Roding at WansteadThe River Roding viewed from the Exchange Lands - 7th February 2012The proposed route gives better views, I have been told, which makes it better for the shared-use path - which is part of what makes it a pleasure to be able to walk there without (at present) having to give way to cyclists and joggers! But that is a bit selfish, I know. However - it may not be so apparent to multi-path users - and a good example of this is along  such paths as exist along London's canals and the River Lee - that a minority (which includes myself) actually find it both dangerous and tiresome to have to move (or even be shoved) aside by faster-moving traffic. What I was suggesting is an alternative.There is at present a relative tranquillity of the top bank of the river way through the wilderness area (as it is sometimes called on City of London maps).

The fact that over the last few days - from my own visits and from those of bird-watchers - so much wildlife activity in and adjacent to the river may have something to do with the weather itself, but may well also reflect that since there aren't even golfers on the opposite bank at the moment, the wildlife has been less disturbed. Today there was Smew,  Goosander and six Teal - plus Herons and lots of Wrens feeding down by the water. I suggest that increased traffic after the path is put through will decrease the wildlife which is generally there, not to speak of the birds and animals which make use of the vegetation adjacent to the path in the exchange lands.

So, in effect, how I read it is that because LBN and LBR cannot decide ownership and costs for maintenance of the existing path, (the Bridle Path - though it isn't one), it is easier to put it across Forest Land with no installation or maintenance costs to the Epping Forest Conservators, and to have LBR maintain it? The existing path through the exchange lands is easy to walk on and past experience as a cyclist suggests to me that there would be no trouble cycling on it as is. Hence, I see a lot of money being spent on upgrading something that doesn't require it except in so far as it is to be known as a shared-use path and hence must take on a different 2.5 metre character - to the detriment of wildlife and presumably a minority of people who like it as it is. So much for wildlife - so much for minorities and ambiance. However, I have been told that  the work to be undertaken is a slight widening at some points and a soft resurfacing, so perhaps at least in that respect things won't be so bad.

I wonder why, though, did the City of London press ahead with this without any consultation that I was aware of, when with regard aspects such as signed walking routes in a few areas of the Forest, and how to spend £170,000 on Wanstead Flats, they did consult?

Well, it'll all settle down eventually; it'll probably look quite nice in there when that has happened, and it will open up a through-route to a few more people. I shall be using the shared-use path because it will be marginally easier to walk on than it is now, but it won't be the same.

For more on the Old Sewage Works site (the exchange lands) click here

Paul Ferris, 9th February 2012