First recorded as common land in 1401 Tiptree Heath is one of the largest remaining lowland heaths in Essex. According to the first map of Essex (1777) the heathland stretched all the way from Maldon to Colchester but now all that remains are the 25 hectares at Tiptree.
The site has a Special Scientific Interest (SSI) designation for its three native species of heather, Common Ling, Bell Heath and Cross-leaved Heath that are rarely seen growing together in one place; we identified the first two. This was our first visit here and we chose September especially to see the heather in flower. We enjoyed our visit so much and agreed that we would return next year in May and having had a request from a group member to visit bluebell woods, we could combine Tiptree and the nearby Shut Heath Wood Nature Reserve.
The Essex Wildlife Trust manages the heath both manually and with the help of animals including Exmoor Ponies that we came across in one of the enclosed grazing compartments. We started our visit, heading east crossing a section of heath that looked beautiful in the sun with a blueish haze filtering through the trees ahead. Speckled Wood Butterflies were numerous and we had good sightings of them, as they lay motionless exposing their wings and showing their distinctive eye-spots.
We were lucky also to find some large specimens of the mushroom the edible Cep boletus edulis, which have now been sliced and are drying in a member’s home for future use. Entering the woods we came across areas favoured by Treecreepers that entertained us with their typical characteristic of working their way up the tree trunks.
Amongst this wildlife there are also wooden sculptures carved on dead tree trunks.
From Tiptree we went on to Abberton Reservoir and from the Visitor Centre saw Reed Buntings, Swans, Cormorants and a hovering Kestrel. Noticing on the sightings board that a Great White Egret was to be seen from the hide in Hide Bay we made our way there, and weren’t disappointed. Seeing the Great & Little Egrets together it was clearly visible that the Great Whites are a foot or so longer than the Little Egrets and, had we seen them in flight, we would have noticed that the wingspan of the Great White (up to 5½ feet) is about two feet greater than that of the Little Egret. We then made our way to the causeway, from where we saw numerous ducks, geese, wagtails and a few waders.
Birds: Tiptree – Robin, Blue, Great & Long-tailed Tits, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Treecreeper, Willow Warbler, Green Woodpecker, Collared Dove, Wood Pigeon, Kestrel and Buzzard.
Abberton – Reed Bunting, Swallow, Kestrel, Swan, Greylag & Canada Geese, Mallard, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Little Grebe, Ruff, Wood Sandpiper, Redshank, Pochard, Wigeon, Coot, Lapwing, Yellow & Pied Wagtails, Common Tern, Cormorant, Great White & Little Egrets, Grey Heron, Black-headed, Lesser & Greater Black-backed Gulls. Heard: Jay, Wren, Great-spotted Woodpecker.
Flowers: Tiptree – Great Willowherb, White Deadnettle, Toadflax, Dandelion, Tormentil, Bramble, Common Ling, & Bell Heath Heathers, Spear thistle, Scarlet Pimpernel, Yarrow, Chickweed, Knapweed, Buttercup, Ragwort, Sow Thistle, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Common Centaury and St John’s Wort.
Abberton – Ox-Eye Daisy, White Clover, Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Bristly Ox-Tongue, Scabious, Fleabane,
Butterflies: Large & Small White, Speckled Wood, Holly Blue.
Other: Hoverfly, Exmoor Ponies, Seven Spot Ladybird.