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Tiptree Heath

More ponies and wild flowers

Uncategorised Posted on 01 Sep, 2020 10:18:21

All 8 ponies are now back on site. The other 4 arrived in the early evening one day last week and settled down very quickly.Now that the weather is cooler they are all eating a wider variety of vegetation, including small birch saplings, which is very pleasing, because we have loads of them!

I am still concerned, though, that a few people with young children are getting too close to the ponies, in spite of the blue signs posted on every gate round the fence. We have many reasons why this should not happen, listed on the metal signs at the front of the heath.

Another pleasing sight is a flower that had not been seen on the heath for a number of years – the devil’s-bit scabious. It is one of the rarer flowers associated with heathland, and listed as desirable for this site by Natural England. Two years ago one plant appeared, followed by another one elsewhere last year. This year we have 3 large patches totalling roughly 100 flower heads in the same area; the photo shows just a few of them.

We hope that winter work parties will start soon, and are also planning to restart the weekly health walks.

They’re back!

Uncategorised Posted on 04 Aug, 2020 16:22:59

Four Exmoor ponies returned from Tollesbury Wick to Tiptree Heath last Thursday. After a few bursts of skittish running around they have settled in well. So far they have been nibbling at the bracken, brambles and gorse as well as finding a few bits of grass, which is their favourite. Nearly all visitors to the heath have behaved very carefully with them, not approaching too close or trying to feed or stroke them.

They all have names and these 4 are called Petrel (the smallest darkest one), Shadow (the more red coloured one), Peregrine (the palest, tallest one) and Plover, who has the whitest marking round his eyes.

The Trustees of the Friends of Tiptree Heath have been on site at times to talk to people and monitor how things are going, and have had some good conversations with lots of interested walkers.

If all goes well, in the next week or so we hope to have the remaining 4 ponies join these ones.

Sightings this week include common lizards, a bullfinch near the car park, and kestrels as well as the usual jackdaws and woodpeckers.

The ling is now blooming well, alongside the vibrant bell heather and the cross leaved heath is just about hanging in there, but most of its petals have turned brown.

Enjoying the shade of the trees
Just a little grass left
Fresh ling, older cross leaved heath

July Update

Uncategorised Posted on 21 Jul, 2020 09:43:13

Update 21st July 2020

All 3 heathers are in bloom together at the moment and make a lovely sight.

The bell heather – Erica cinerea – is the spicy pink one; the cross leaved heath- Erica tetralix –  has pale pink (bell shaped also) petals and is starting to fade, and the common ling – Calluna vulgaris – has spiky stems of much smaller lilac coloured flowers.

The bell heather thrives in drier soil; the cross leaved heath likes wet conditions, and the ling can cope with both.

Most heathland sites only have two of the three types, because they are either wet or dry heaths.  Tiptree Heath is unusual – we say, special! – because it is sandy, gravelly soil overlaying London Clay, and in patches where the clay is nearer to the surface the soil will retain its moisture for longer.  The heath is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and this is one of the reasons why.

The not so good news recently is that we have had to resort to closing the car park overnight, following increasingly frequent noisy and disruptive incidents involving young people and vehicles.  A derelict caravan was also dumped there, but Colchester Borough Council wardens were very quick to get it removed.  The police have supported us where they can and are carrying out regular patrols along the road and around the area.

I hope in the next Blog to have news of the imminent arrival of the Exmoor ponies.

Common Ling
A patch of Bell Heather
Cross leaved Heath surrounded by Ling

More lovely flowers

Uncategorised Posted on 03 Jul, 2020 17:54:59

Another week of mixed weather has brought on the wild flowers. The pink rosebay willow herbs are making a good show, looking as though they have been planted in a flower bed. The cross-leaved and bell heathers are forming larger clumps of pale and spicy pink. Yellow St John’s wort is shining bright, but I’m pleased to say that this year there is hardly any ragwort in flower.

Although good for insects, in particular the cinnabar moth (with yellow and black stripey caterpillars), ragwort is poisonous when dried and its alkaline content is concentrated. It can be fatal to horses if they graze in a paddock full of it later in the year . Each year on the heath our volunteers use ragforks to dig up any threatening plants. Some of the plants we look at have already been stripped of their flowers and leaves by the caterpillar.

There are also some lovely shades of green, especially when the morning sun shines on the bracken, and the evening sun on the birches.

All the Spring nesting birds, except for the nightingales, are still singing, so you can be sure of good sounds when you visit.

Back from furlough, I’ve been working a stage at a time to keep paths open for walkers. Soon Tom, the heath volunteer assistant warden, will be back to help out. He will definitely be needed now that the vegetation is growing so quickly, especially the brambles!

I’ve also removed some of the more dilapidated dens that were built earlier with large logs and were becoming not only dangerous, but also an eyesore. For any children, or dads, who enjoy making dens, the Scout Association website gives ideas on how to make good ones, but because the heath is public common land, only natural materials should be used, preferably smaller ones!

Again I am pleased to report that, in this current situation, heath users have been very mindful of other people, which is much appreciated. Others often say that when they drive past the car park looks full, but there has always been plenty of space to walk apart from others.

Hope you enjoy being able to be out again and visit the heath.

Joan Pinch
Tiptree Heath warden

Welcome to Tiptree Heath 2020

News Posted on 25 Jun, 2020 16:22:31

This is the first Heath Blog since lockdown began and the furlough of the heath warden ended.

Although all guided walks have been suspended for the time being, work has been continuing on the heath, done mainly by others, while being careful to keep to social distancing guidelines.

Our contractor KJR completed the fencing and gates, bar a few minor adjustments.  They have done a very good job in all extremes of weather, including the 3 major storms and the recent heatwave.  You will notice the tracks left by the vehicles in the wet weather, but these are gradually disappearing and slightly wider paths are left, which is also of benefit to walkers.

KJR returned to carry out weedwipe on denser areas of birch saplings.  Roundup was applied and the compartments were shut until it became safe.  We can already see the tops of some of the birches starting to fade.

Remaining Essex Wildlife Trust staff carried out bracken bruising, a process which nicks bracken stems at points, causing the fern to divert its energy coming from the sun into mending the nicks, and therefore it has little or no energy left to grow tall the following year.

There have been many visitors to the heath during the good weather, and behaviour and respect for the site and other people has been very good.  Very little rubbish and dog poo was left behind, and walkers took trouble to social distance, but were polite and friendly at the same time.

Nature has had an amazing time!  We were hosts to 5 singing nightingales, 3 near the roadside from the car park pond to the far end, and 2 in the section across the road.  The amount of birdsong has been wonderful, with our usual visiting species of chiffchaff, willow warbler, blackcap, garden warbler and mistle thrush adding to our all year round residents – the songthrush, wren, robin, goldfinch and long tailed tit.

The heather has just come into flower, and the cross leaved heath (pale pink heather) which is our rarest type, is showing itself in far more clumps than seen for a good few years.  We also had some spectacular honeysuckle which managed to grow about 20 ft up a tall aspen tree (shown in the photo).  It has faded, but is still there near the bottom bridge across the stream.

We are starting to make plans for the Exmoor ponies to return to the heath.  At the moment we’re looking at risk assessments as to when, how many and so on.

The aim of these blogs from now on is to give the reader an idea of what is happening and what there is to see on the heath at this particular moment.  This week the birds are still singing in good voice, their enthusiasm matched by the bees on all of the bramble flowers.  The solitary bees and digger wasps are also busy digging holes in the harder baked paths. 

The tall, bright pink rosebay willow herbs shine out amongst the other vegetation, but the heathers catch the eye as you walk past.  The heath flowers that can be seen are bell heather (spicy pink), heath milkwort (tiny blue flower), heath bedstraw (like a small alyssum flower) and tormentil (4-petalled yellow).

If you visit, hope you enjoy it, while staying safe!

Joan Pinch

Warden, Tiptree Heath

Essex Wildlife Trust

Three views taken this week of the open heath, the shady paths and the digger bees and their holes in the bare paths. Last month’s high honeysuckle finishes the gallery.

Update on dog poisoning reports January 9 2019

News Posted on 10 Jan, 2019 15:47:14

We received through Facebook yesterday evening a report of 5 dogs being killed by poisoning on Tiptree Heath. The heath warden and Trustees had heard no previous reports and, after contacts with local vets in Tiptree, Witham, Maldon and Colchester, with the help of Kerry, a dog walker, we established that these vets had also heard nothing.
Walkers have seen no signs of antifreeze deposited in the few puddles that
remain on the site and have not themselves reported any concerns about anything else they’d seen.

The lady who had posted the report was genuinely concerned at what she had heard from others and had decided to post a message. I have asked her to get one of her contacts to ring me to give further details.

While awaiting these details we are treating the news seriously and warning notices have been posted around the car park and on nearby gates, and regular patrols are being carried out.

Anyone walking their dog on the Heath is advised to keep the dog on a lead and be vigilant, and if they have any concerns contact their own vet. Any more details can be obtained
from me on 07842 110051.

We will add to this update as soon as we have any further information.

Joan Pinch

Tiptree Heath

Winter workers!

Articles Posted on 21 Oct, 2018 07:45:05

We held the first weekend work party of the winter last Sunday, with a group of 11 joining in.
Our task was to continue towards the completion of the thinning out of the woodland on the western side of the stream. John felled a few small trees and the rest of the volunteers cleared two clumps of birch saplings near to the middle bridge. The Exmoors decided to help early on and nibbled some of the newly cut birch branches, as you can see from the picture at the bottom! Unfortunately, they didn’t take to the flavour of the birch leaves and soon walked away.

A common sound over the heath at the moment is the call of buzzards as they circle overhead.
Families of long tailed tits are darting between trees and making their
repeated slurring ‘tsirrup’ call. On the ground there is plenty of evidence of minotaur beetles starting to construct their maze-like tunnels ready for their larvae. You can see rabbit-poo size holes appearing near to paths and also in the vicinity of pony dung. The minotaur beetle is named after the mythological monster because of the shape of its tunnels, but is in fact a dung beetle, slightly smaller than a stag beetle and without its ‘antlers’. At this time of year you may also see the odd dead beetle, where I suspect a bird has tried to eat it and leaves most of it behind when it decides it doesn’t like the taste.

Winter work parties will take place on the second Sunday mornings of each month from 9.30 to 12.30.
If you’d like to join us, bring suitable tough clothes and a snack for the break. We will provide tools and protective equipment. The next work
party is on November 11th.
Hope to see you then!


First 2018 Blog

Articles Posted on 29 Aug, 2018 14:51:57

I’m ashamed to admit that this is the first Blog of 2018 from Tiptree Heath, so it will try to catch up on all that has happened this year.

Needless to say it has been another busy year, with a lot of progress made by the many conservation volunteers who managed to achieve all the requirements for the site laid down by Natural England.

The winter work parties concentrated on tree thinning and large scrub clearance, with a focus on gorse which had become quite dense in what were open areas.

The Tuesday group took on extra tasks requiring some previously untried skills, with a last minute need to replace nearly 40 fence posts in April and May so that the Exmoors could return in mid-May. It wasn’t just the men who used their muscle power and the posts were replaced in time for the ponies’ return on May 17th.

A couple of not-so-successful events, however, were the bracken bruising which we attempted using a Ford Ranger truck which wasn’t quite up to the job, and the weed-wiping of birch saplings which was hit by a rogue rainstorm, undoing most of the effects of the treatment.

The great thing about Tiptree Heath volunteers is that most of them don’t just make one type of contribution, and some of them joined in with fundraising to achieve a total of over £1,600 with the Heath Fair, and also selling such items as mugs, pens and torch keyrings.

The Wednesday morning Health Walks regularly attract between 30 and 40 walkers who are guided by volunteer walk leaders. They’re not put off by extremes of weather either.

We’ve had some great wildlife walks this year, with lots of visitors joining in from places well beyond Tiptree. At our Bee & Butterfly walk recently the group rushed around with bug jars and came up with an amazing list of bees and grasshoppers, not many butterflies, though, since it was a cloudy day.

We were sad to hear of the death of Bernie Chapman at the end of last year. Bernie had been a loyal Health Walk leader since 2006, and his family asked if a bench could be created on the heath in his memory. The photo shows the walkers surrounding the bench with Susan, his partner and also a Health Walk leader, sitting on the bench.

Changes are afoot at Essex Wildlife Trust. We now have a new line manager of the heathland restoration project, Neil Bedford.
Neil has worked for the Trust for many years and also leads our evening Bat walk coming up on September 7th. He is keen to maintain the progress that has been made with our conservation work. We also have a new officer, Graham Foxall, who will deal with more of the heavier practical needs that our volunteers aren’t qualified to carry out. He has been to our site over the last two years to carry out deer surveys for us.

The changes will mean that Alan Brown, our previous Reserves Officer, will gradually be dealing more exclusively with sites on the other side of Colchester. Alan has been invaluable to us in many ways – tree safety checks and felling, forage harvesting, fence repairs, bridge building, and his recent work, with the help of a volunteer from south Essex, produced the wonderful bench in memory of Bernie. I’d like to record here our thanks to Alan for all that he has done for the heath over the years.

The barn owl boxes have been used by anything except barn owls, including jackdaws, pigeons, squirrels and finally their hatches are gradually being covered over by hornets building substantial nests in them! Other wildlife sightings have included buzzards, red kites, sparrowhawks and a hobby, together with the rare Heath Bee and the Heath Mining Bee, both seen at the recent walk. Butterfly numbers have been vastly improved this year with species including ringlet, speckled wood, red admiral, peacock, gatekeeper, small skipper, comma. The moths seen included the speckled yellow and cinnabar day-flying ones and the star of the Moth Evening was the Poplar hawkmoth. Muntjac are regular visitors and the odd roe deer has been seen. Lizards and grass snakes were round, loving the hot weather.

Star visitor of the year was this turkey who came along with his canine friends for a walk!

It’s now time to look forward to another winter season of conservation to help the heath on its way to an even better condition as regards the heathland part, but also to maintain its variety of habitats which encourage so much wildlife.

29 August 2018

End of the winter

Articles Posted on 19 Mar, 2017 15:46:43

The winter work party season has come to an end now that the sap is rising and the birds are starting to pair up and build nests. The buzzards are circling overhead in ones, pairs and even larger groups ready for their courting rituals. Blue tits are investigating holes in trees, especially in dead or dying birches, and the linnets have been seen in a small group darting around the trees by the stream, getting ready to venture out into the open with the warmer weather.

A very large amount of work has been fitted in this winter, not only by the weekend groups, but also the Tuesday group and especially by Alan Brown, our Essex Wildlife Trust Reserves Officer.

We were concerned about the rapidly spreading bramble across the whole site, and a few of us started to brushcut as much as possible. It was a very slow process and in the end we asked Alan if he would bring the forage harvester to the heath: you can see the amazing results if you go for a walk round the site. He even tackled the dense scrub across the road and cleared a small area near the beginning of that section.
Alan has since been back, with Bones, our other Reserves Officer, to carry out tree felling in key areas of thicker woodland. We much appreciate all their efforts.

I was pleased to have the presence and support of a Voluntary Assistant Warden, Rachel Beach, for most of the winter. She had achieved a degree in conservation at Writtle College and was looking for a job, but wanted to keep up her practical skills working with us. Last week Rachel was successful in starting a job as Seasonal Ranger with Buckinghamshire
County Council which will last until November and hopefully lead to something further. We’re pleased for Rachel, but sorry she’s left, having made a huge contribution to our weekday work.

Our Higher Level Stewardship Agreement was due to come to an end on January 1st as long as we were accepted for a new Countryside Agreement. We’re still awaiting written confirmation that we have been accepted, but all paperwork from government has been delayed, so fingers are still crossed.

We are now recording bird sightings on BirdTrack, the BTO’s data recording system. If any keen birders are reading this and would like to join in, please contact me on 07842 110051 for the heath logging in details.

The Wildlife Walks led by visiting experts will start with the Dawn Chorus walk on April 27th.
Please check the events page for details of all those arranged so far.


Duke of Edinburgh work parties on the heath

News Posted on 17 Feb, 2016 15:23:20

Tiptree Heath has a long term ongoing link with Thurstable School through its Duke of Edinburgh volunteer groups attending work parties. The link was set up by Science teacher Peter Wilson over 30 years ago.

This year was no exception and a hard working group of nine Year 10 students, and their parents, joined us at four 3-hour work parties over the last two months. We were not lucky with the weather on two of those occasions, but decided it all helped to add to the character building!

Projects worked on included reducing the invasion of gorse across the heath by cutting and burning large stands; clearing the stream by removing the undergrowth which was growing into it and would pollute it when
the leaves drop. One of the nastiest jobs was to break into a dense thicket of blackthorn on the triangle across the Maldon Road and cut out the worst ready for burning. Blackthorn can be very painful if you don’t handle it with respect, and I’m pleased to say there were no injuries.

All in all an excellent job was done by the youngsters, and they were a friendly, thoughtful group.
Each work party was attended by 4 or 5 of our heath volunteers to advise
on techniques and to keep everyone safe.
The Mums and Dads were also a major asset to the groups and I’d like to thank everyone for taking part in what was a very worthwhile effort to help us maintain our heathland restoration progress towards ‘favourable condition’.

Below are a few pictures of the action. The first one is taken at the end of the first week, and the second shows the blackthorn before cutting. The last picture sums it all up – exhausting!

New Year

News Posted on 07 Jan, 2016 07:37:49

First of all a wish to everyone for a happy and healthy new year. Although good progress was made with the conservation project, 2015 wasn’t the best of years for people associated with the heath, and we hope that 2016 will be much better.

One of the exciting things to look forward to is the aerial photography coming up during the Spring months. We have been watching with interest for over a year the training and qualifying of two owners of a film company to fly drones safely and accurately photograph, and they are now ready to get going. We are awaiting final permissions from Essex Wildlife Trust, then will wait for some decent weather opportunities before the leaves on the trees sprout.

The state of the paths is deteriorating following the regular recent bouts of rainfall. We experimented on December 15th with the remains of the material used to re-surface the path from the car park, by using what was left over to fill in the well of the nearest kissing gate. That well is still firm and dry, so we will continue very soon with other kissing gate wells, especially the one near the middle bridge over the stream.

The Exmoors will move to Tollesbury on January 12th to prevent too much trampling, although there is still food available for them from the gorse and birch shoots. Believe it or not the grass is still growing also. My plan is that all 8 ponies will then return together to the heath at the end of April.

There are plenty of raptors around hunting for food – buzzards regularly call while soaring above the treetops, a kestrel was perched on top of the Memory tree this week watching for prey, and we see and hear evidence of sparrowhawks which have preyed on small birds. The gorse is flowering well, and should continue until May. In between the dark, damp mornings there have been some lovely sunrises which are magnificent when seen through the trees at the back of the heath. The photo below shows one of them.

The first work party of the year will be on Sunday January 17th from 9.30am until 12.30. It’s a good chance to enjoy the fresh air and work off those extra pounds put on over the holiday. If you’d like to join us, just bring yourself, with a mid-morning snack and suitably clothed and shod, and we’ll provide tools and safety equipment.
Hope to see you there.
Joan Pinch
7th January 2016

Pony update

News Posted on 07 Dec, 2015 17:00:45

We have decided to make the Exmoors work harder for their keep!

There is a large area just inside the first fence from the car park which has been dense undergrowth for many years. It consists of tall gorse, blackthorn and bracken, with patches of bramble spread across it, all of which have prevented the ponies doing no more than nibbling some of the gorse on the outside edges.

So, that amazing Tuesday group (see the last blog) set to and brushcut plugs of bramble, thus providing corridors into the scrub, and the ponies set to even before the work party had finished. We gain the benefit from them trampling as well as eating, and hope to see a further area of heathland reclaimed there in the next year or so. The photos show them hard at work.

Our other 4 ponies which left Tiptree in July went on to Little Baddow, then to Great Holland Pits near Clacton and now have come back to Tollesbury Wick for the rest of the winter. We hope there will be enough food on the heath for these 4 to stay until after Christmas, after they changed compartments this morning. Their next move will be to join the others at Tollesbury.

Tuesday Group’s county award

News Posted on 07 Oct, 2015 12:19:43

Last Saturday’s Essex Wildlife Trust AGM held an exciting event for Tiptree Heath volunteers. The efforts of the hard working Tuesday work party group during the last 18 months were recognised with a Living Landscapes Award, and the presentation was to be made at the end of the business part of the AGM, attended by about 3,000 people.

Diana Childs and Jane Casement arranged to attend the AGM to receive the award and were supported by Sue More, chairman of FoTH. The presentation was made by none other than Iolo Williams, of Springwatch fame, who showed a passionate interest in the conservation carried out by all volunteers in the efforts to help wildlife in this country.

There are more photos to come, but the one below was taken by Daniel Bridge, until recently employed by EWT and now a freelance photographer and course leader.
The citation for the award gained by our volunteers was for their work in a wide range of fields, including

Conservation towards the restoration of Tiptree Heath including brushcutting scrub, maintaining open paths and felling trees using hand tools.

Ditch clearance to enable groundwater to flow away from flooded areas on the site, including creation of a deep trench to ease flooding on a well used path.

Carrying out car park repairs for the busy common.

Helping with preparation and running of successful Heath Fairs

Installation of barn owl boxes and placement of reptile survey mats

Assistance with dormouse checks

Clearance and planting round a school pond.

Surveying of hedgerows and butterfly transects

Assistance with water vole translocation at Fingringhoe

Well done to the Tuesday Group, and many thanks for all their involvement and hard work!


July update

Articles Posted on 13 Jul, 2015 21:20:34

Summer has at last come, with lovely outbursts of cross leaved heath and bell heather all over the heath. The 8 ponies arrived in May and now 4 have gone for a ‘mountain holiday’ to Little Baddow. (Well, they’re now in a field with a slope, anyway, on the Danbury Ridge.)

The downside of summer is the rampant nature that the brambles take on. Apparently they can grow up to 18 inches a day just as their fruit develops. One whole path has become totally closed off because of this and is in urgent need of being brushcut.

The annual management walk took place recently and the visiting group, including the heath owner, Peter Wilkin and representatives from Natural England, Essex Wildlife Trust, Colchester Borough Council, Colchester Natural History Society, TCV and the Friends of Tiptree Heath, looked at the effects of last winter’s work programme. On the whole all were pleased with the results, but we do seem to have an increasing amount of bramble. We decided that next Autumn we will do more clearing of patches, alongside all the other work. Mark Iley, the Essex Biodiversity Co-ordinator, who masterminded the plan for grazing in the early days, joined us. He had not seen the heath for a few years and was very impressed to see so much more heather right across the site.

Wildlife walks have been well attended and all very interesting. Fred’s heath flora walk took place on a very hot day, but he picked out a lot of unusual species, including the allseed which is only found on this site in Essex, and explained why some of them live on the heath. Our next walk is on August 19th with Ted Benton, a renowned Essex expert identifying the many species of bees and butterflies that live on the heath, including the rare ones.

It’s been good to welcome Beavers, Brownies, Rainbows and other children’s groups to the heath on summer evenings. Pond dipping goes down especially well, but unfortunately there’s now less water in the pond due to evaporation during the hot weather. It’s a good job they like bug hunts as well!

Exmoor pony delay

News Posted on 06 May, 2015 18:05:49

Due to the extreme wind today, Wednesday, it was decided not to try to move the ponies from Tollesbury to the heath. A journey followed by a change of scene could make them slightly unsettled and high winds at the same time could add a great deal of anxiety for them.

We hope to move them on Monday May 11th instead.

The photos below were taken recently at Tollesbury Wick. The ponies are starting to moult, but looking very healthy.

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