Tiptree Heath

Tiptree Heath

End of the winter

ArticlesPosted by Joan Pinch 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.

Joan



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Duke of Edinburgh work parties on the heath

NewsPosted 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!



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New Year

NewsPosted 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 update

NewsPosted 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 award

NewsPosted 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!

Joan

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July update

ArticlesPosted 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!




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Exmoor pony delay

NewsPosted 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 anniversary

NewsPosted 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.

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Dawn Chorus Walk

NewsPosted 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) -
Nightingale
Mallard
Pheasant
Songthrush
Robin
Tawny Owl
Chiffchaff
Wren
Blackcap
Great tit
Blackbird
Chaffinch
Carrion crow
Rook
Woodpigeon
Cuckoo
Blue tit
Green woodpecker
Whitethroat
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.

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Spring has arrived!

ArticlesPosted 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.

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Exmoor Ponies Move

NewsPosted by Joan Pinch 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.


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Exposing the heather

ArticlesPosted by Joan Pinch 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)!

Joan
9/9/2014


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Bat Evening

NewsPosted by Joan Pinch 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.

Joan
9/9/2014

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Roy Cornhill

NewsPosted by Joan Pinch 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.
Joan
9/9/2014





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Woodpecker fledge in time for the fair

NewsPosted by Joan Pinch 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.

Joan





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