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Tiptree Heath

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.

Exmoor Ponies Move

News Posted on 04 Jan, 2015 11:37:52

Sadly, it’s time to give our remaining four ponies (the ones that we rescued from Cornwall) a change of scenery.

We’ve decided this for a couple of reasons, the first being that they are needing now to search hard for food, and signs of this are when they start to rip off whole branches of gorse, and also nibble at the heather. On its own, hunger is not a major problem, because their constitution requires that they enter the Spring having lost weight so that they are not at risk of laminitis when they gorge the lush new Spring vegetation.

However, with the recent wet weather producing increasingly large areas of mud and puddles to spread across the heath, the ponies’ trampling could cause damage to emerging seedlings in the more sensitive parts, so it’s best to give the heath a rest as well as the ponies.

They will be going to one of the Danbury Reserves near to Little Baddow Heath on Tuesday January 6th. Our original 4 ponies came from Dunwich to that area to be prepared by Liz and Leanne for facing dogs and walkers at Tiptree.

How long the ponies stay at Danbury depends on weather and vegetation, but I expect they will return to us in the Spring.

The original 4 ponies are at Great Holland Pits near Clacton, enjoying a Reserve there which is a mixture of heathy grassland and outcrops of woodland. We expect all the ponies to move sites from time to time, since their grazing capabilities are useful for a number of Reserves.

It’s going to be strange for the heath to be without grazing animals, but we look forward to their return.

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)!


Bat Evening

News Posted on 09 Sep, 2014 11:27:17

Last Friday a small group of us, led by Neil Bedford, Senior Reserves Manager of Essex Wildlife Trust and a keen bat observer, set off expecting to wait for at least an hour before we registered our first bat on the detectors that we were carrying.

Neil stopped in the open area by the Memory Tree while it was still light and, while he was explaining details to us, first a serotine bat flew around, with its characteristic straight flight punctuated by dives when it was catching a moth, then a noctule bat flew across our patch of sky.

From then on, a bat circus seemed to happen! Common and soprano pipistrelles flew at head height around a bunch of saplings close to us, and the noctule and serotine carried on hunting. It was good to register the different frequencies on our bat detectors and to hear the feeding ‘zips’ when they ate a moth.

We weren’t able to count exactly how many there were of each species, but at a guess at least 10 pips, and possibly 2 of each of the others. What a magic evening, the best yet, and all in low light so that we could see as well as hear them. Thanks to Neil for his enthusiasm and knowledge that helped to identify all that was going on.

We pushed our luck too far, by visiting the race around pond in the hopes of hearing daubenton bats, but I think the vegetation has covered too much of the water to be of interest to them.


Roy Cornhill

News Posted on 09 Sep, 2014 11:14:10

We are very sad to report the recent death of Roy Cornhill, a Tiptree Naturalist who, as a member of Colchester Natural History Society, amassed a large amount of knowledge and skill in wildlife and habitat management.

During the last few years he has helped us with identifying some of our rarer species on the heath, such as the Heath Bee (bombus jonellus) which has only been found in two sites in Essex. He also recently walked with John More and me to give advice on management methods to progress our heath restoration.

Roy gained his knowledge over the years by frequent trips around the country in the company of Professor Ted Benton of Essex University, where they both made sightings and picked up information from others, and we were very grateful for his help and friendship in our small neck of the woods. Last year he joined our Tiptree Living Landscape team and planned surveys of the wildlife sites across Tiptree, leading small groups to all of them.

Roy will be sadly missed, his funeral is on September 12th and although he was a quiet unassuming man who tried to avoid the limelight, I’m sure it will be well attended by many naturalists from the Colchester area.

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.

Woodpecker fledge in time for the fair

News Posted on 23 Jun, 2014 09:07:39

More magic moments, and they come at unexpected times. While Scott, the parish council officer, was mowing the “fairground” for us, there was a lot of commotion coming from just inside the wood by the stream. Most of the noise was from adult green woodpeckers, but also an undertone of grunts and strange noises. Two ladies had flagged up that there were baby birds in the area and we’d been keeping a covert watch (just like Springwatch!).

Later in the morning, Ron, Sue, Di and Jane came after an emergency callout to help rake away the mown grass nearest to the pony fence (ponies may choke if they swallow fresh mowings which don’t need to be chewed first). Now that the tractor had gone, we could hear the woodpecker noises clearly, and homed in on the large willow stump alongside the stream. After a few muttered sounds, a grey head appeared with a pale pink cap, looked around and quickly disappeared again. We could hear the parents calling from across the stream, apparently encouraging the chick to come out.

The final result was that Sue saw the chick fly from the hole and it seemed to go down into the nettles. We decided to leave it to start its new life. I still hear the woodpeckers around the woods there, and hopefully the chick is doing well.

If you are reading this and have any more related information to share, do get in touch with the website.


2014 Heath Fair

News Posted on 22 Jun, 2014 09:50:25

After a couple of years off, the Heath Fair returned and it was a great day, if a bit overcast.

The bouncy castle and fun slide was enjoyed by the younger children, as
was the Punch and Judy show ( and I think the adults enjoyed that too) –
thanks also to Marcel to MC-ing the event so well.

The Fair helps to fund the costs of the upkeep of the heath, through the
entry donations and some of the stalls – the coconut shy was a great

The other stalls come and make the day what it is, raising awareness of
their own causes, and make some funds for themselves, but add colour and
fun to a little corner of the Heath.

The ponies came and had a look to see what was happening too!

Thanks to

…everyone who helped with the setup and take down of the fair, and helped in the car park, on the gates

…to Liz and Di on the refreshments

…to the stall holder who we had to move twice for a couple of reasons (sorry!), but always had a smile

…and everyone who came!

Special Thanks

To the Heath Fair committee, without their hard work and meetings
over the months it could not have happened – Joan, Claire, Di C, Di W,
Jane and Jean.

See you next time!

Heath May happenings

News Posted on 04 Jun, 2014 17:49:35

What a brilliant start to May, at 4am, with the Dawn
Chorus Walk on the heath! 30 species of
bird were seen or heard, the highlights being 4 nightingales, a lesser
whitethroat and greylag geese flying over on their way to Tiptree Quarry. The following week at the Evening Walk,
again 30 species were identified, this time the spectacle of a hobby flying
over the treetops was the most exciting experience of a wonderful evening.

The results of those walks were the best in recent
memory on Tiptree Heath, and lists can be seen below.

Magic moments occur frequently, and the visit of
90 Year 5 and 6 pupils from St Luke’s during the same week contained many of
them. They learned about the animals,
plants and history of the heath, and got really interested, some in the glass
bottles and pots rising to the surface in the Quarry, which had been put there
in the early 1900s; some in the holes in the banks, during which activity a boy
watched a bluetit flying into its nest in the trunk of an oak tree; some were
fascinated by the trees and heathers. I
think the teachers and parents enjoyed themselves very much also.







Blue tit

Blue tit












Great tit

spotted woodpecker










black backed gull





tailed tit










legged partridge








Tawny Owl









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.


News Posted on 23 Apr, 2014 21:07:59

Even if the winter and spring merged, we have had some migrants on the heath – chiffchaffs, willow warbler, blackcap, garden warbler and
cuckoos have been spotted and heard, which is great to hear these anywhere, but even better on the heath.

The nightingale may well have arrived – Malcolm Brown thinks he
heard a short burst of its song yesterday – but the whitethroats and linnets are
singing beautifully and can be heard and seen all over the heath. With the
recent warm weather grass snakes and common lizards have been seen all over the
place. We may also have some red-legged partridges nesting.

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