Last week I went to Fairlop Country park in Essex in search of an American Blue Winged Teal which has been present there for a few weeks. I wasn’t successful in seeing the bird but was fascinated by the history of the site.
Originally part of Hainault Forest until the mid 19th Century when it was cleared for agricultural use. It was farmed until the early 20th century when an airbase was built on the site, which remained in use for both World Wars. After it ceased operations in the late 1940s, it became popular among motorcyclists. Indeed I got speaking to a gentleman in the cafe, who told me that he used to ride his motorbike around the disused runways of the airfield. The land passed into the hands of the London County Council and then on its demise to Redbridge Council and was leased for sand and gravel extraction, which continues on part of the site today. In the 1990s a development lease was granted and there was a plan to build an all-weather racecourse, but most residents strongly objected to the development. A public campaign followed to preserve the site as open space. At the 2002 planning inquiry, the inspector ruled in favour of the developer, but this was overturned by central government. The developer lodged an appeal but this failed when the developer went bust in 2005. Redbridge Council bought the development lease back from the administrator with a view to developing the site as an open space for local residents. It now has a cafe and restaurant and a number of play areas and sailing facilities. An area of the park is also being developed as a nature reserve.