A NEW community forest offering woodland walks and picturesque views has been officially unveiled.

Crays Hill Recreation Ground in Billericay now has an orchard of fruit trees, a pond and nearly 2,000 native trees and shrubs including oak, hazel and field maple for residents to enjoy. A wildflower meadow has also been planted.

The scheme, called the Forest of Life, cost about £6,000 and took two years to plan. It was funded by the Veolia Environmental Trust and the Woodland Trust.

Frank Ferguson, vice-chairman of Basildon Council’s regeneration and environment committee, said: “This project was inspired by a vision to restore wildlife habitats for the enjoyment of local communities.

“Residents visiting Crays Hill Recreation Ground can now enjoy a stroll through the pleasant new woodland of native trees before taking a rest on the bench next to the newly-dug pond. With an orchard of fruit trees located next to the car park and a meadow of wildflowers on its way, this community forest really does offer something for everyone.

“Thanks to Veolia Environmental Trust and the Woodland Trust for making this possible and creating the largest new woodland in Billericay since the Eighties.”

It is part of the Living Landscapes project run by the Essex Wildlife Trust and aims to restore, reconnect and recreate wildlife rich sites in rural and urban areas.

The recreation ground land, which is owned by Basildon Council, was given its new name by children from Crays Hill Primary School. After winning a competition with their Forest of Life suggestion the schoolchildren were invited to help plant five fruit trees in the orchard.

Nathan Hume, volunteer and ecologist, added: “I am delighted that the community forest has finally come together after years of planning. It has been a real team effort thanks to the support of Basildon Council, funding from the Veolia Environmental Trust and Woodland Trust, and a helping hand from Crays Hill Primary School.”