Blog Archives: WildBrightlingsea

Springmead Garden, Brightlingsea

Today, we were invited along to Springmead Garden in Brightlingsea to talk about Wildlife Gardening with Julie Ford, the Head Gardener and a group of local people. It was my second, and Jude’s first, visit to this delightful secret garden in the heart of Brightlingsea.

As soon as we entered the garden, leaving the noise of the busy road behind, the importance of this green space became apparent with Chiffchaff, Dunnock, Wren, Blue Tits and Robins in song, along with Blackbird and Song Thrush singing from the nearby trees, a Greenfinch wheezing and House Sparrows chirruping merrily. Embraced in the songs of the wild, we could ignore the threatening rain … and then the sun came out! Sheer bliss!!

The garden straddles the geological interface between London Clay and Thames sands and gravels, the point at which groundwater starts to move sideways not downwards, and emerges as a spring. The clue is in the name! Very close to the site of a villa, the Roman occupants clearly knew a thing or two and settled with an assured supply of fresh water in their front garden.

Subsequently forming the garden of one Captain Wenlock, he gifted this gem to the people of Brightlingsea. And after a period of neglect, since 2001 the Springmead Trust has lovingly restored it into its current shape.

If we had been asked there to give  masterclass in wildlife gardening, well our services were really not needed. Julie and her volunteers have done pretty much everything we could have recommended. No pesticides (poisons); plants left untrimmed overwinter in order to shelter beneficial insects, like ladybirds (greenfly-munchers); plants that some consider weeds like Red Dead-nettle unweeded, encouraged even, for what they provide to nature (today, along with Nepeta, feeding hordes of Hairy-footed Flower-bees). Even the lawn, in too many places a pampered, poisoned green carpet, here it is springy and tussocky – and with luck it will be allowed to provide for our Spring insects in No Mow May.

As Beth Chatto taught us gardeners decades ago, the secret of gardening success in a sustainable manner is ‘Right Plant, Right Place’: planting according to conditions produces happy plants that survive and thrive without copious, costly, ecologically destructive inputs of pesticide, fertilizer, peat and water.

Taking that to the next level, the secret of wildlife gardening is to ensure that Right Plant, Right Place extends to the ‘right plant’ being right for insects (especially providing pollen and nectar) which then go on underpin the food chains which result in the chorus of birdsong that welcomed us in.

But this is still a garden. It is obviously cared for, with no sign of the 20th century neglect. It is not just trying to create a pastiche of our countryside with plantings of native species. Natives and non-natives are mixed in all their multicultural glory, and almost all are of wildlife value – no blowsy, multi-petalled forms which promise everything to our native insects but deliver nothing.

The right plants are in the right places. By the spring, boggy conditions are home to Gunnera, irises, sedges and Shuttlecock Ferns…

…whereas on the higher, sandier ground it is Mediterranean herbs like Rosemary and Lavender, acid-green splashes of Euphorbia wulfenii and many, many more. All of which point the way to the future of gardening, the necessity for waterwise planting in the face of rampant climate collapse.

As naturalists, we were so pleased to see and hear the range of wildlife in the garden. And not just the commonplace –  potentially some rare and interesting things as well.  As is her wont, and near-magical skill, Jude spotted a practically invisible Early Grey moth, which as I focussed was photobombed by a bug. Subject to confirmation, this could be a critter called Rhyparochromus vulgaris, a rare recent arrival in Essex. [Confirmation of this identification has now come from i-record. According to the Essex Field Club map, this is only the second record for North Essex, the first also being in the Brightlingsea/Alresford Creek area in 2018].

After a splendid hour in an uplifting location, we will certainly be back. Not least because Jude immediately signed up as a Friend of Springmead Garden (only £5). Go along there (it is free!), enjoy, and perhaps you will do the same, maybe buying some of the wildlife-friendly plants propagated on site as well… And to add to the temptation, here are a few more photos demonstrating the beauty and interest of this spot, the green heart of Brightlingsea.

#WildEssex Walks: Brightlingsea East End

Thanks to our lovely group of nature fans for joining us on our walk at the East End of Brightlingsea. The weather was pretty perfect – fairly warm with just a bit of breeze to stop us overheating, and things just got better and better as we discovered wildlife along the way, including a surprise find at the end of the walk, and finishing off with a welcome pub lunch.

Having met at Hurst Green (we are reliably informed by a local friend that Hurst is an ancient word meaning ‘triangle’), we followed the quiet road down towards the estuary, taking in the views of the saltmarshes After a short walk along a section of seawall, we spent the last hour in the ‘plantation’ area searching out insects. A chance encounter with a dog walker alerted us to a large patch of orchids in the next field, which we duly checked out (having successfully negotiated the rather steep steps and board-walk) and weren’t disappointed!

So what did we find?  Too many things to mention for a complete list, but in summary:


Several species of Lepidoptera – Red Admirals, Green Veined Whites, Ringlets, Essex Skippers, Meadow Browns, Small Tortoiseshells and Peacocks (the latter in their larval stage – big fat caterpillars 😊).  Other larvae included Cinnabars on Ragwort, along with one flying adult.

Beetles – ‘thick thighs’, Two-spotted Malachites, 14-spot and Harlequin Ladybirds, evidence of Bark-beetle in the form of wonderful ‘aboriginal art’ on a dead Elm trunk…

… plus a large weevil Liparus coronatus with gold ring and blotches (rescued from certain crushing in the road in my hankie then released nearby): this is Nationally Scarce and something we have only seen twice before, and only within a kilometre of this very spot.

Bugs – Woundwort Shieldbug, Dock Bugs plus a few tiny weeny Green Shield-bugs in an early nymphal stage.

Flies – a few attractive hoverflies, including this Helophilus pendulus, plus a very small fly which liked one of our group and stayed with her for a while – it would seem to be, we think, a tiny example of a Slender-striped Robberfly.

Not many bees were encountered, but in the same insect group we found evidence of the ZigZag Sawfly on Elm, with larva munching.  These are so fascinating and new to the area only a couple of years ago!


Lots of second-brood singing including Whitethroats, Reed Warblers, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, Greenfinches and Blackbirds, while a Little Egret flew over at one stage.


Some of the many we admired included Teasel, Chicory, Woody Nightshade, Salsify and two Bindweed Species (Large and Hedge) on opposite sides of the track for comparison….

The trees in the plantation were predominantly native and included Aspen, rustling tremulously in the light breeze…

The sea wall produced Sea Beet and Crow Garlic with patches of Sea Wormwood, and Common Sea-lavender coming into flower on the marshes…

And of course, not forgetting the Pyramidal Orchids, dozens of spikes just about at their peak of flowering.

Something new for ‘Wild Essex’ walks, was a pub lunch to finish off proceedings. This was a very sociable end to an enjoyable morning – at least we found it so – and we hope everyone else did too! 😊 Thanks to the Rosebud for their friendly service and good food and beer.

Hope that you will all be able to join us on another event in the not-too-distant future.

#WildBrightlingsea Bug & Botany Walks – All Saints’ Churchyard and Moverons Lane

It almost felt like normal – a dozen wildlife fans and us being able to spend time together enjoying the natural world. Our venue this time was the large churchyard of All Saints’, Brightlingsea, followed by a potter along the adjacent lane.

All Saints’ Church itself is impressive – the decorative flint indicating its historic wealth and importance. The churchyard covers a vast area with quite a few trees and features such as log piles and an Insect Hotel, all of which are valuable homes for invertebrates. However, with the exception of some patches of Lesser Calamint (a sweet-smelling and Nationally Scarce plant), most areas seem to be mown (too) regularly to provide much assistance to wildlife. It is commendable to provide homes for things to live in, but these creatures also need places to feed and breed. But on the plus side, the church does welcome the large colony of Soprano Pipistrelles it hosts!

The morning got off to a dull start (and we were grumpy that the No 62 Bus had failed to turn up!), but things were soon brightened by a lovely Speckled Bush-cricket who was sitting on the fence hoping for some sun. Other invertebrates in the churchyard included a large spider (brought to our attention by its long legs poking out of a grave), plus a  Harvestman sheltering away from the wind. We spotted a brilliant green sawfly larvae on a gravestone – and it demonstrated very nicely the arrangement of legs on sawfly (which are types of wasp) larvae as opposed to lepidopteran (butterfly and moth) larvae, which in technical terms have fewer pro-legs.

Lichens are doing well in this holy space. These fascinating organisms are in fact each a composite of an algae living with a fungus, so not really species in their own right, though each are scientifically named, e.g. the Sunburst Lichen is known as Xanthoria parietina. Their ubiquitous presence is an indicator of the general comparatively good air quality as opposed to that of the pre-Clean Air Acts era, when acid rain had a negative effect on them.

It was lovely to see a few areas of pink Ivy-leaved Cyclamens – the phrase ‘small is beautiful’ is so apt, compared to the blowsy horticulturally enhanced varieties that are available. This is the only cyclamen that stakes any claim to native status in the British Isles, but not around here where it is derived from cultivation or deliberately planted. Irrespective, it is a welcome splash of autumn colour.

The weather brightened just as the walk was drawing to an end. The Ivy bushes along Moverons Lane were teeming with all kinds of life in the sunshine – Willow Emerald damselflies (a species which has colonised Britain over the past 20 years), Red Admiral butterflies and many types of bees and hoverflies.  Such a joy to stand and watch, listen and smell the flowers! Ivy gets a bad press, but it is such an important source of food and shelter to all kinds of insects and birds; it does not kill trees and it can provide protection to buildings that it grows up.

Elms are present along the lane – not large Elm trees that had once graced our countryside – but now thanks to Dutch Elm disease only the smaller shrub-like trees, which only grow for a few years before becoming overcome with infection by the fungus-carrying bark beetle  Scolytus scolytus. However, the galleries these creature make under the bark are truly beautiful and artistic. Other recent artistic additions to the nation’s fauna include the Zig-Zag Elm Sawfly which makes rather charming zigzags as it chomps its way along the leaves.  A sharp-eyed member of our group found a well-camouflaged Dark Bush-cricket nestling on a post, whilst Chris noticed this crazy moth caterpillar (a Grey Dagger moth).

Just as we were wandering back to the cars a Devil’s Coach Horse beetle scuttled across the road – rearing its back end up as a warning to us. These are a type of rove beetle, and totally harmless. We managed to shepherd it out of harm’s way before saying our goodbyes to the group.

Many thanks to you all for attending, hope that you enjoyed the morning and that you will be able to join us on another exploration of  nature before too long.

#WildBrightlingsea Bug & Botany Walks – Rope Walk and Brightlingsea Creek

It is amazing how much there is to be discovered on a short walk along the lanes and salt-marsh edge, even on a damp and dark morning.

There was no shortage of plants! Closest to the town, as always, there was the ‘Dog wee plant community’ – Common Mallow, Wall Barley and Hedge Mustard, all of which thrive on the high nutrient-levels.

Other plants we noticed in this area included the Hairy Bindweed, which is not at all common and it is good to know where it has a stronghold. It occurs here in two forms, including the ‘split-trumpet’ type.

Along the field margin we saw Hairy Buttercup and False Fox-sedge …

… and here we were also treated to a few insect delights: a Striped Slender Robberfly enjoying his (substantial) lunch, a Small Heath butterfly and the unmistakeable red-and-black Cinnabar moth. The combination of red-and-black (as well as yellow-and-black) in nature acts as a warning, and a deterrent to would-be predators – in the case of Cinnabars their larvae (yellow-and-black) feed on Ragwort which is known to contain toxins.

Along the sea wall more insects were waiting to be noticed (and not trodden on…some insisted on sitting in the middle of the path!).  These included the Nationally Scarce weevil Liparus coronatus (wonder if it is ‘coronatus’ due to the gold ring around its neck?) plus a rather splendid Ground Lackey caterpillar – again Nationally Scarce and a specialist of coastal and salt-marsh areas – and a magnificent Cream-spot Tiger moth, again largely a coastal species.

Two plants stood out as particularly interesting – Crow Garlic and the Duke of Argyll’s Tea-tree.

Important salt-marsh plants which we discovered at the furthest point of our expedition included Golden Samphire, Sea Wormwood, Shrubby Sea-blite, Sea Purslane and Sea-lavender. Each has different mechanisms for coping with living in salty conditions – some are more succulent-like and preserve fresh water in their stems, whilst others excrete salt onto their leaves – desalination plants in the true sense!

Birdsong accompanied us throughout the morning – amongst other avian life we heard Whitethroats and Skylarks, and saw Swallows, a Little Egret and an Oystercatcher chasing Crows away from its nest.

We so enjoyed the tranquility of the walk, thank you all, and hope that your efforts (and hopefully also our joint discoveries) will help to prevent the area being spoiled by yet more unsustainable and intrusive human activity.

#WildBrightlingsea Botany & Bug Walks – the Lido to the Lozenge

It all started so well – warm and humid –  though the darkening skies were a portent of the heavy rain that was to follow and which eventually brought our morning to a rather abrupt end!

Anyway, back to our morning which began with a look at the ‘Splash-zone’ salt marsh plants which make their home along the promenade, and thrive there thanks to the frequent splashing of the waves and, fortunately, the lack of applications of the dreaded Roundup, of which so many councils are inordinately fond. These plants included Sea Beet, Lesser Sea Spurrey and Buck’s-horn Plantain.  A rather attractive soldier-beetle Cantharis rustica put in an appearance whilst we were walking along this section.

Various birds provided the backdrop sound-scape  – Lesser Black backed and Herring Gulls over the water, whilst Cetti’s and Reed Warblers, Skylarks, as well as Blackbirds and Robins, accompanied us throughout the rest of the morning. Along the sea wall we were pleased to see flowering of lots of typical plants, both natives and non-natives, including Cow Parsley, Alexanders, the beautiful pink/purple Salsify which goes to bed at lunchtime, plus the pink-flowering Tamarisk, a lover of coastal regions.

Either by accident or design, (the previous growth of Gorse bushes having been removed last year), the bank along the road opposite the Lido is a mass of flowers including the not-so-common White Ramping Fumitory and Field Scabious, both loved by insects. Although insects were not out and about as much we would have liked, several were apparent, including a three-some of Dock Bugs on the dock leaves along this bank.

Once up on the sea wall, other insects presented themselves – green tortoise beetles, stretch-spiders (shining almost like burnished gold in the gathering gloom), a Bramble Sawfly, plus numerous other flies, bees and spiders. A few beetles made an appearance including Seven-spot Ladybirds and the relatively large leaf-beetle ‘Banksy’ (officially Chrysolina banksii)…

Some insects are only apparent by the traces they leave, for example leaf mines ( here, on the Spear-leaved Orache) – where very small insect larvae live the first part of their lives within leaf-tissue, and galls.

Galls are fascinating and a result of a plant’s reaction to an ‘attack’ by another organism, be it fungus, insects or mites. The affected plant, as a kind of damage-limitation exercise, creates a specific area to keep the perceived infection separate from the rest of the plant, hence the wonderfully varied galls that can be seen on many plants. The Oak is the champion as far as galls are concerned, and over 50 different types have been recorded on these trees, and today we did spot two – cherry and currant galls (above right) – on trees in the Lozenge.

We were disappointed not to be able to linger (because of the now persisent rain) in the delights of the Lozenge Community Nature Reserve, but perhaps we can revisit at another time.  Perhaps a summer evening with the bat detector and moth trap?  Let us know if this would be of interest to you. And next time hopefully we will get to sample the fare in the new Lido café!

#WildBrightlingsea – branching out with our Bug & Botany walks

As a recce for our new series of #WildBrightlingsea walks coming up (sadly tomorrow’s is postponed because of potentially dangerous winds), we headed there today. Only a short distance from Wivenhoe, it is more maritime in nature, with Tamarisk already looking its best, before the flowers actually burst open and the coral tones are diluted, and Duke of Argyll’s Tea-tree is now well into flower.

With winds rising in anticipation of the spring storm, some sheltered areas were teeming with insects, many of them getting into the summer of love, to the fragrant accompaniment of Hawthorn and Cow Parsley, the very embodiment of May. Dock Bugs were abundant on Hemlock, presumably insensitive to the toxins that render it so poisonous to us.

A selection of the other insects and invertebrates we found included Parent, Woundwort and Green Shield-bugs…

… a selection of hoverflies and dance-flies…

… along with weevils, crane-flies and Nursery-web Spiders …

… and finally, the stars of the day, a Large Velvet Ant and the fly Argyra diaphana, both pretty uncommon in Essex and the former also Nationally Scarce.

One thing that struck us as we walked around the town is that the benefits of reducing mowing may be gaining traction: a grassy bank opposite the Lido has masses of Bur Chervil (a rather scarce, largely maritime plant), and also White Ramping Fumitory and surprisingly early flowering Field Scabious. Whoever manages it, well done!

And in another example of amenity grassland delivering for wildlife, if allowed, the lawns around the Community Centre are another prime example. Heaving with interesting plants including Common Stork’s-bill, Small-flowered Crane’s-bill, and masses of Subterranean Clover, another scarce coastal plant, let’s hope these examples represent a deliberate decision to encourage nature that will go well beyond #NoMowMay!