Tiptree Heath

Winter workers!Articles

Posted by Joan Pinch 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.

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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!


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First 2018 BlogArticles

Posted by Joan Pinch 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.

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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.

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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.

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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 around, loving the hot weather.

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

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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 winterArticles

Posted by Joan Pinch 19 Mar, 2017 15:46:43

Blog imageThe 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.

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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.

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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 heathNews

Posted by Joan Pinch 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!Blog imageBlog image

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Hard work and hard hatsArticles

Posted by duncan 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!

New YearNews

Posted by Joan Pinch 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
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Pony updateNews

Posted by Joan Pinch 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.

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Tuesday Group's county awardNews

Posted by Joan Pinch 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!


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July updateArticles

Posted by Joan Pinch 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 delayNews

Posted by Joan Pinch 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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Health Walks 10th anniversaryNews

Posted by Joan Pinch 06 May, 2015 16:09:06

44 health walkers from all stages during the last 10 years celebrated our anniversary today. On display were some original registers showing the history of the walks.

Looking back to 2005 there were 5 leaders trained to lead health walks and, following a publicity campaign, our first walk on 4th May consisted of 4 leaders and 4 walkers.

Numbers rose to the steady teens for a couple of years, then into the twenties and suddenly rocketed up into the low 40s in 2014. The group has always been not just sociable, but also interesting and active, including in its support for the heath. Our warm up exercises were filmed by the Colchester RecCreate project in 2005 and distributed to other areas in the borough, but our main claim to fame was an article in 2010 in an international World Wildlife Fund research report on ‘The contribution of protected areas to human health’.

We now have 8 trained leaders who have been the mainstay of the success of the walks, and are much appreciated. The walks are now administered by The Ramblers and MacMillan and we recently received accreditation from them. If you would like to join us on a Wednesday morning, just turn up at 10.30am and introduce yourself to us. We walk anything up to 2 miles, but it’s possible to do a shorter walk if you’d prefer and, by the way, we do end up at The Ship – for coffee of course.

Dawn Chorus WalkNews

Posted by Joan Pinch 06 May, 2015 15:50:02

Having heard no nightingales on the heath this year I was getting quite worried and asked John Thorogood to do his best to find us one on the walk. Seventeen of us set off at the later time of 4.30 (a half hour lie in compared with previous years!), and John kept quiet about the two nightingales he'd heard from the car park. We made a beeline for the Keyes Triangle (across the road) and had got quite close to the Braxted Road before we heard a faint snatch of song, competing quietly with all the songthrushes that had woken up. I guess that our nightingale was a young inexperienced one, and we thought we heard another one joining in. It was a big relief, and John created his usual magic for us.

The sightings list was as follows (in order of hearing) -
Tawny Owl
Great tit
Carrion crow
Blue tit
Green woodpecker
Red legged partridge
Lesser whitethroat
Greater spotted woodpecker

A total of 22, but one of our walkers went back to his car and spotted two more species immediately.

All except two of us then sat down to a well earned breakfast at 6.45am.
Thanks go to John for all his knowledge and gentle explanation, and Sue and Di for their help with the breakfast.

Spring has arrived!Articles

Posted by Joan Pinch 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 MoveNews

Posted by Joan Pinch 04 Jan, 2015 11:37:52

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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 workersArticles

Posted by duncan 24 Nov, 2014 10:09:40

Blog imageOn 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!