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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.


Hard work and hard hats

Articles Posted on 01 Feb, 2016 08:45:08

This year the Duke of Edinburgh students are having their sessions on the Saturday afternoons, separate from the normal weekend work parties. This means that some of the usual volunteers help out at these sessions as well.

The first session was a bit “wet” but everyone got stuck in and enjoyed it.

The second was drier and sunny, and the task was to help clear the stream from the car park pond, that would eventually flow to Abberton reservoir. As the session is only for 3 hours that would have been a bit ambitious! But after splitting into teams, each section was cleared of the banks of bramble, reeds and overhanging branches, along with removing any debris from the stream.

No-one fell in!

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!

Spring has arrived!

Articles Posted on 26 Mar, 2015 18:51:31

I’m really glad to see that the heath has started to dry out, and can announce that most paths are now walkable. The only wet areas now are the far western wood and parts of the bottom area towards Wilkin’s. I’d like to think that the ditch clearing done by the Tuesday work party 3 weeks ago had the effect of ‘pulling out the plug’ and allowing standing water to start draining away.

When the sun shines we are seeing tree creepers, green woodpeckers and the song thrushes are really belting forth with their repetitive songs. If you stop and watch the birds, you see that they are starting to pair off ready for mating and raising their broods. Already there is a clutch of 13 eggs in a mallard’s nest under a gorse bush, and notices will go up tomorrow to warn dog walkers to take care to protect nesting birds.

The winter work parties have finished with a successful year of work leading towards the end of our restoration in two years’ time. The adult volunteers have been brilliant, and we had a really good Duke of Edinburgh group this year who worked very hard and were cheerful and enthusiastic.

Muntjac deer have been seen this week, as well as the first chiffchaff, which tells us that Spring is here.

Another first was a Forest School class run by Laura Todd, a teacher at Tiptree Heath School. It was amazing to see the Year 1 class becoming ‘Tiptree Heath hedgehogs’ and finding all sorts of interesting things on the ground underneath the trees.

I spoke to a walker this week who told me that he’d learned, as a boy, all about the heath history of pony races and fairs from his father. We do have an interesting heritage on the heath.

Work Parties – Wet workers

Articles Posted on 24 Nov, 2014 10:09:40

On the Work Parties ( Weekends or Tuesdays) we are a tough sort and the rain that we had on Saturday ( 22 November) wasn’t going to stop us, or even stop us getting a fire for the burning of the waste.

This time we were over the road on Keyes Triangle, and we tackled the gorse and the blackthorn with the bow saws, clippers and the brush cutters. Also this was a session that the Duke of Edinburgh group helped at, and the evidence of the amount of mud on them, showed how well they had worked.

We have also had a lady and her two daughters helping out at the recent weekends and while the youngest wasnt looking forward to the wet, once she got involved she hardly noticed the rain.

Good job all round!

Exposing the heather

Articles Posted on 09 Sep, 2014 11:43:44

Each summer there is what we call a ‘management walkabout’ of the agencies involved in either taking part in or advising on our heathland restoration project. The advisors come from Natural England, Essex Wildlife Trust, Colchester and Tiptree Councils and TCV, a conservation charity based in Colchester. Peter Wilkin, who owns the heath, chairs the group and is very supportive of decisions made and actions carried out.

This year our Natural England advisor commented that the progress was good. We were rather concerned at the amount of scrub vegetation that appeared to be smothering the new heather so that we couldn’t see most of it, and he gave us permission to brushcut the open area round the memory tree in August to cut the small birch saplings down to the ground. Normally we would wait until at least the end of September, but the bird nesting season had finished so we should be save to cut.

This prompted swift action. First of all to ask EWT to set up a brushcutter course for 4 of our Tuesday afternoon volunteers, where the practical part would be on our open area, then they could continue the work on Tuesdays afterwards. Secondly to confirm 4 volunteers who agreed to be trained – Josh, Malcolm, Patrick and Jane. We managed to book all for September 2nd, and already they are working on the birch and finding more patches of ling and bell heather.

Watch this space – at least, the space that will be made to allow the heather to flourish (photos to follow)!


Mayor’s Charities

Articles Posted on 05 Jul, 2014 16:38:24

Every year the Mayor of Colchester chooses 6 charities that benefit from the Mayoral events, and we are honoured that the Mayor, Cllr John Elliott has chosen us to be one of this charities. The full list of charities and events can be found on the Mayor’s Charities page.

Also we will be helping out on some of these events.

Work Parties

Articles Posted on 15 May, 2014 22:31:05

The winter work parties and Tuesday groups aim to re-establish the heather and to keep areas open, free of dense vegetation and the encroaching scrub.

The volunteers range from a 14 year old up to (and beyond!) 70 year olds – newcomers are always welcome. The work parties are fun and even if it’s raining we usually manage to light a fire to keep warm and to burn the cut vegatation.

There have been specific projects, including the Stream Restoration Project.

See the Working Parties page for the latest Working Party dates.

Night Life

Articles Posted on 23 Apr, 2014 21:13:31

The Heath after dark by Joan Pinch

Things happen on the heath after dark, many of which over the centuries best forgotten. From the animal world we see evidence of night time activity of foxes, mice and voles, but there are one or two that we haven’t noticed for some time. One is the badger, and a survey by the North East Essex Badger Group carried out recently found no signs of them spending time to feed here, and all holes of their old sett had either closed up or fallen out of use. There was therefore no point in holding our planned Badger Walk on April 12th expert could explain the Group’s plan to vaccinate badgers in this area to prevent any sort of cull being necessary in the future.

The Barn Owl has not been seen around the heath since the middle of last year, and there is something we can do to encourage it to return. One of our volunteers, Rod Pennick, is a very skilled craftsman and he was asked if he could make a barn owl box to give shelter and for breeding. Rod in fact made two boxes from a design recommended by Norfolk Wildlife Trust. Rod and his brother Mike spent a Tuesday afternoon work party putting up the boxes on the edges of the two large open areas. Their locations were chosen by Malcolm Easton who is a trained surveyor for Essex Wildlife Trust. He will check the boxes from time to time and keep records of their use.

From the human point of view, it’s good to report the Tiptree Scouts on a recent Orienteering event after dark. Their leader Mark Carter commented that they had a great evening, found all the markers that they could, and even managed to do some stargazing as well. They are pictured at the start, working out their route.

There was a bit of a crisis this week, with a pair of bluetits trying to build a nest in the box on the path from the car park, which is a very busy route. The box was actually a robin nest box, used originally for accessing free poo bags when we could get them, and the large hole had been covered with a notice. The bluetits had managed to get behind the notice and had laid down the basis of a nest. Reluctantly I removed the notice to discourage them from completing the nest, since it’s better for them to start again now somewhere else, than desert the nest due to too much disturbance when there are eggs in it. If they do continue with the box, then they’ll be brave enough to stand a good chance of succeeding. Watch this space.

Talking of bluetits, my nest box camera is showing that the mother has finished building her nest and she spent last night sleeping in it, but I haven’t seen any eggs yet. I think she may be covering them with feathers after she’s laid them, one at a time.