Corporate report

Essex's National Nature Reserves

Published 31 October 2008

Blackwater Estuary

Blackwater is the largest estuary in Essex and a great place to get a real sense of coastal wilderness. The reserve is split into 3 main areas: Old Hall Marshes, Tollesbury Flats and Salcott Flats.

Access to Old Hall Marshes is free, but donations are welcomed and opening times are between 9 am-9 pm or dusk, if sooner.

The Tollesbury and Salcott flats are intertidal mud and sand flats, which are exposed at low water. This part of the reserve is closed to the public as it is a sensitive intertidal zone. However, you can view the mudflats from the adjacent sea wall.

Main habitats: mudflats, salt marsh, grazing marsh, reedbeds, fresh water, intertidal mud and sand

Area: 1031 hectares

Management: Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB) and Natural England

Features of interest

Old Hall Marshes are home to a range of breeding and over-wintering waterfowl. It is estimated that 4000 Brent geese feed on the marshes in winter, along with other waterfowl such as teal and shelduck. A population of bearded tits enjoys areas of reedbed. The site also supports a number of nationally important plant and invertebrate species, including 24 species of butterfly, along with dragon and damselflies, most notably the scarce emerald damselfly.

A recent survey showed the Tollesbury Flats to be the richest area of the Blackwater for its diverse invertebrate populations. In particular, these mudflats are a very important area for native oysters, which explains why it is also a good place to spot the striking red-beaked oystercatchers.

As well as oystercatchers, the tidal mudflats of both Salcott and Tollesbury are excellent feeding grounds for other waders, such as redshank, dunlin, curlew and greenshank, and waterfowl such as wigeon and goldeneye. In winter time, these are great areas for spotting migrants from northern Europe, such as grey plover, ruff and birds of prey such as hen harriers.

View maps:

Directions

Due to the intertidal nature of the Tollesbury and Salcott sites, access is restricted but both can be viewed from the adjacent sea wall (running south from the village of Tollesbury along the coast to Maldon). Old Hall Marsh has a public footpath on the sea wall around the whole site (walk approximately 4 kilometres north of the village of Tollesbury).

Permits are required to enter the site and for parking. On site, a permit from the RSPB allows you to access other paths leading to viewing screens that allow visitors to watch birdlife on the lagoon. For more information, telephone the RSPB on 01603 660066.

On foot

The sea wall that runs from north and south of the village of Tollesbury provides good views of the reserve. The wall runs south from Tollesbury to Maldon, passing the Tollesbury Flats part of the nature reserve, and runs north past the Old Hall Marshes section of the reserve.

By rail

The nearest train station is Kelvedon, from where you can catch a bus to Tollesbury or cycle.

By bus

There are bus services to Tollesbury or to Maldon.

By road

If you wish to park to visit the Old Marshes section of the nature reserve, you need to ring the RSPB for parking permits beforehand. From the A12, take the B1023 to Tolleshunt D’Arcy. Turn left at the village maypole, right down Chapel Road, then after 1.6 kilometres turn left into Old Hall Lane. For visiting the Tollesbury Flats and Salcott Flats, there is public parking in the village of Tollesbury from where you can walk along the sea wall.

Contact

Email enquiries@naturalengland.org.uk
Telephone: 0300 060 3900

Colne Estuary

Colne Estuary National Nature Reserve is made up of 3 diverse areas: the grazing marshes of Brightlingsea, intertidal mudflats at East Mersea Flats, and salt marsh and shingle at Colne Point. Entry is by permit only.

Main habitats: grazing marsh, ditches, ponds, intertidal mudflats, salt marsh, sand dune

Area: 576 hectares

Management: Natural England and the Essex Wildlife Trust

View maps:

Features of interest

The extensive ancient grazing marsh at Brightlingsea is covered with large anthills of the yellow meadow ant - an indication that the marsh hasn’t been ploughed for a long period of time. About 100 cattle graze on the marshes for most of the summer period. A system of sluices controls the water levels on the marsh and its ditches and ponds; all fed from a spring lying above the marsh.

East Mersea Flats is an important area for waders and waterfowl, especially as a feeding ground in winter. There are significant populations of grey plover, black-tailed godwit, dunlin, sanderlin and turnstone and waterfowl such as Brent geese and widgeon. Pacific Oysters, an invasive alien species, have unfortunately been introduced to the area and need managing so that they don’t out-compete native oysters and other native species.

Colne Point’s salt marsh and shingle also attract a wide variety of bird life, and is an important area for breeding birds. In summer months, you can see ringed plovers, oystercatchers and the nationally rare little tern at Colne Point.

Further information about Colne Point, its wildlife and special features is on the Colne Point page of the Essex Wildlife Trust’s website.

Directions

The reserve is 10 to 15 kilometres south east of Colchester.

The nearest railway station is in Wivenhoe, 6 kilometres to the north of the reserve.

Brightlingsea Marshes are adjacent to the town of Brightlingsea. The town is accessed via the B1029 (from the A133). A regular bus service from Colchester is provided by First Essex Buses. Access to Brightlingsea Marsh is by permit only; however, the marshes can be viewed from sea wall which runs from Brightlingsea to Colchester.

Colne Point is 5 kilometres south of Brightlingsea. The nearest village is St Osyth (off the B1027) and there are First Essex bus services to the village from Colchester and Clacton. Normal access is limited to members of the Essex Wildlife Trust. Non-members must contact the trust for prior permission by telephoning 01206 729678.

The East Mersea reserve is 5 kilometres to the east of West Mersea town (on the B1025). There are First Essex bus services to the town from Colchester. East Mersea flats are not open to the public for safety reasons. However, they can also be seen from the sea wall. Alternatively, on the other side of Mersea Island there is a country park called Cudmore Grove which is open to the public.

Contact

Email: enquiries@naturalengland.org.uk
Telephone: 0300 060 3900

Dengie

Main habitats: coastal

Area: 2,366 hectares

Management: Natural England

This NNR is currently closed to the public. This will be because:

  • the site is unsafe
  • our tenure of the land does not allow public access
  • the site is so fragile that any form of access would damage the wildlife interest

Contact

Email: enquiries@naturalengland.org.uk
Telephone: 0300 060 3900

Hales Wood

Main habitats: woodland

Area: 8 hectares

This NNR is currently closed to the public. This will be because:

  • the site is unsafe

  • our tenure of the land does not allow public access

  • the site is so fragile that any form of access would damage the wildlife interest

Contact

Email: enquiries@naturalengland.org.uk
Telephone: 0300 060 3900

Hamford Water

Unlike many of the other Essex NNRs, Hamford Water is not an estuary as it does not have a major river running into it. Instead it is classified as a coastal embayment that has been formed due to a natural dip in the underlying geology of the area. The bird life that this variety of habitats attracts is outstanding, especially the waders and waterfowl that can be seen in winter.

The Stone Point area of this reserve is currently closed to the public due to ground nesting birds.

Hamford Water is a coastal embayment with mud flats, marsh, and sands that is known for its large populations of over-wintering birds.

Main habitats: salt marsh, intertidal mud flats, coastal, grazing marsh, sands, shingle, small freshwater ponds and ditches

Area: 1,448 hectares

View a map of the reserve (148KB)

Management: most of the reserve is managed by Natural England. Skippers Island is managed by Essex Wildlife Trust

Features of interest

In winter months, you can see the overwintering populations of waders and waterfowl that the site is known for, including dark-bellied Brent geese, black tailed godwits, redshank, ringer and grey plover and shelduck. There are a number of birds that breed on the site, including nationally important colonies of little tern and avocet.

The coastal grasslands above the salt marshes also support one of Britain’s rarest plants – sea hog’s fennel. Hamford Water is one of only 2 sites in the country where you can find this plant, which is the food plant for the caterpillars of the nationally rare Fisher’s estuarine moth.

The reserve is also a good place to spot common and grey seals.

Directions

All land on the site is in private ownership and permission must be obtained for access. Most of the reserve is closed due to ground-nesting birds. However, you can view a large proportion of the site from the surrounding sea wall which runs from Dover Court (Harwich) in the north to Walton-on-the-naze in the south. The reserve is approximately 5 kilometres south of Harwich and 1 kilometres north of Walton-on-the-naze.

On foot

The sea wall runs from Dover Court in Harwich to Walton-on-the-naze.

By train

The nearest train station is Walton (2 kilometres away).

By bus

Regular bus services run to Harwich and to Walton-on-the-naze.

By boat

Regular boat trips run from Walton-on-the-naze to see the seals.

By car

To the north the area is bounded by the B1414 (accessed via the A120) and in the south by the B1034 (accessed via the A133).

Access is limited but the area can be viewed from a sea wall that surrounds much of the site.

Skippers Island is part of the NNR managed by the Essex Wildlife Trust. Visitors can access the island but must have prior permission to do so. For details telephone the trust on 01206 729678.

Contact

Email: enquiries@naturalengland.org.uk
Telephone: 0300 060 3900

Hatfield Forest

Hatfield Forest is a small Royal Forest that has survived since medieval times. The area is a mosaic of open grassland, coppiced woodland, and marshland.

Main habitats: woodland, wood pasture

Management: National Trust

Further information about the NNR, its wildlife and how to visit is on the Hatfield Forest pages of the National Trust website.

Contact

Email: hatfieldforest@nationaltrust.org.uk
Telephone: 01279 870678

National Trust
Hatfield Forest
Takeley
Bishop Stortford
CM22 6NE

Leigh

The flats at Leigh NNR support a wide variety of birds, particularly migratory species.

Main habitats: coastal

Management: Essex Wildlife Trust

Leigh NNR encompasses Leigh Sands (an intertidal area) as far south as a channel called Ray Gut, and also included the eastern half of Two Tree Island. The island is the only part of the reserve that is accessible.

Further information about the NNR, its wildlife and how to visit is on the Two Tree Island pages of the Essex Wildlife Trust website.

Discovering Britain is an exciting series of geographically-themed walks that aim to bring the stories of our landscape alive and to inspire everyone to explore and learn more about Britain. You can follow a walk which takes in this National Nature Reserve.

Contact

Email: admin@essexwt.org.uk
Telephone: 01621 862960