Blog Archives: WildEssex

The Wild Side of Essex with Naturetrek: late autumn at the Naze

The day dawned still and with a glimmer of hope in the eastern skies, although actually for most of the time it remained stubbornly grey and for a while a keen cool breeze sprang up, making us thankful for additional layers! But generally it was mild for the time of the year, and even warm enough for the newly blooming gorse to be giving out its alluring coconut scent.

A few more plants still in flower, and attracting the interest of flies at least, included Yarrow, Sea Mayweed, Hemlock and our local rarity, Hog’s Fennel.

Otherwise it was left to the lichens to add colour and form to the barkscapes and rewilding concrete tracks….

….along with Field Maple in autumn colour and Birch tops adorned with the knots of Taphrina fungal witches’-brooms.

Small birds were relatively few and far between , just a few Long-tailed Tits, Pied Wagtails, Meadow Pipits and Goldfinches, with singing Robins, migrating Skylarks and Starlings, and a remarkable number – at least ten – Cetti’s Warblers, of course heard not seen. But then evidence that there were more birds around than at first apparent: we chanced upon the two local ringers, Simon and Pat Cox, who were happy gives us an impromptu demonstration with a Robin and a Wren, and regale us with tales of their riches from earlier in the day.

Down at the shore, there were plenty of waders, including Grey Plovers and Curlews, and everywhere, in the air, grazing on the clay and upending in the lagoons, burbling bands of Brent Geese.

The salt marshes have largely descended into their winter brown, save for a few Golden-samphires still lighting up the scene, and exciting the nostrils with their shoe-polish aroma.  Also on the marshes, we spotted several spreading plants of the very scarce Perennial Glasswort, and stands of Cord-grass, their flower-heads almost wholly infested with the fruiting bodies of Cord-grass Ergot. Seemingly increasing every year, will this parasite prove to be the nemesis of its rather aggressively spreading host?

A stroll back along the beach then gave plenty of opportunity for beachcombing, from Piddocks and their borings, Slipper-limpets and Portuguese Oyster shells among many other New Kids on the Block, intermixed with Dog-cockles and Left-handed Whelks from the 3 million year-old Red Crag, and pyritized wood and copperas nodules from the 50 million year-old London Clay.

As the light started to fade, after a recent spate of erosion, the cliffs from below revealed vivid tales of our cataclysmic past: inundation by sea water and passage of a prehistoric Thames; upheaval of the land from continents colliding, buckling and faulting; ash-clouds from Scottish volcanoes; and dust-clouds from the icy plains of glacial East Anglia.

And finally, a sunset, by some trick of the cloudscape in exactly the same place on the horizon as the sunrise eight hours’ previously. A fine end to another great day out with Naturetrek.

#WildEssexWalks – beside the seaside at the Naze

Our last WildEssex walk of 2023 was a most enjoyable event. Against a backdrop of variable cloudscapes, a few spots of rain and some warm sunshine, our group of enthusiastic ladies were treated to birds, trees, lichens and mosses, fungi, rare plants plus fossils, shells and dramatic cliffs along the beach, in fact all kinds of everything!

Autumn colours abounded – red fruits, lichens giving some of the established trees atop the cliffs an eerie green or yellow glow, and the fresh green patches of moss on concrete hardstandings, a reminder of the chequered 20th century history of the site.

As befits this damp season, fungi were to be found everywhere, including Mosaic Puffballs in the grass, Birch Bracket gently killing and rotting its host Silver Birch tree, plus several species of mini – and most charming – fungi on tree branches.

Gorse of course was in flower, as more surprisingly was Sea Hog’s-fennel, along with a beautiful pink form of Yarrow.

When the sun shone a few invertebrates presented themselves, including this harvestman and Marmalade Hoverfly.

Our afternoon session was down on the beach, enjoying that whatever-age-you-are-it’s-fun activity of beachcombing.  Pyritized wood and fossilised shells were everywhere, the rusty hue of the latter indicative of many their millions of years stuck in the sandy cliff.

Erosion is a continual event along the cliffs, and there had been several recent landslides leaving dramatic profiles against the by-now-blue sky.

Being a Beside the Sea day, we were also on the lookout for birdlife.  One of the magical moments was the discovery of a Kestrel having an early lunch of a smaller feathered friend, using one of the ex-wartime gun batteries as a dining table. He was completely unfazed as we stood by watching and taking photos.

Along the shore were the usual suspects of Brent Geese, Grey Plovers,  Bar-tailed Godwits and various gulls, all going about their daily business of eating and shooing each other out of the way.

We are very fortunate to have this wonderful area on our doorstep –  a veritable time-machine enabling us to witness life over the past fifty million years!

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: a perfect autumn day…

In the depths of autumn, there are few places better to be than in somewhere like Beth Chatto Gardens, with the russets and gold of the season set off beautifully against a clear blue sky. Earlier this week, the air was chilled in the shade, but the sun still powerful enough to shed a layer or two and to stir the insect life into action:

Flowers are diminishing, but there are still enough to provide the insects with their basic needs before hibernation (or worse) beckons:

And the blooms seem extra-special when the leaves are also sprinkled with stardust:

As the flowers have faded so fruits and seeds take centre-stage…

… along with the foliage, its beauty magnified by the subtle low winter sunlight picking out textures that are unimaginable in the fierce light of summer.

And of course, especially dramatic when the greens are tinged with autumnal flame…

Beauty at every turn, and hope: the transition of the seasons bring promise of renewal and return next year.

This fleeting season can so easily be swept away by storm or frost, so do visit and enjoy it if you can. The gardens are open every Thursday, Friday and Saturday until the midwinter closure on December 16th Entrance – Beth Chatto’s Plants & Gardens. Rewild your mind!

#WildEssexWalks – at the head of the Stour Estuary

Oh no!  Shock horror! That was our first reaction when we climbed the steps to the top of the sea wall at Manningtree today.  Instead of an expanse of mud with myriads of feeding waders we were greeted with an almost high tide!  Either tide tables aren’t what they used to be, or (more likely) it was an early and exceptionally high tide, as it so often is around the time of the Hunter’s Moon.

However, we need not have worried: we still managed a lot of ‘birding’ – watching them fly in on to the strips of salt-marsh on the estuary, to feed, preen, get frisky and all the things birds get up to, and as the tide came in further and covered everything, fly off again.

Cormorants hung their wings out to dry in their customary fashion, and Little Egrets struck their poses in elegant style, occasionally flying over showing their black legs and yellow feet to good effect.  Several species of gull put in an appearance – Great and Lesser Black-backed, plus Herring, Black-headed and  a single Common Gull.

Large flocks of Redshanks and Avocets entertained us with their fly-pasts, and hunkered down on the marsh and open water respectively. Lapwings flapped by and a few Brent Geese were seen too, along with larger numbers of Teals, Wigeons and a few Mallards.

Black-tailed Godwits put in a show just as the tide was at its highest, calling to each other in their inimitable ‘Wit Wit’ way, but the biggest surprise was a group of ten Greenshanks, usually much more solitary than this.

All this against a backdrop of Moorhens in the ditch to the rear of the seawall, singing Wrens and a shouting Cetti’s Warbler in the scrub, and a lovely Red Kite circling leisurely overhead.

Of course, us being us, we also looked at any other wildlife we could find – plants including the bright yellow Tansy, a favourite with visiting insects and the beautiful Teasels, some containing a ladybird or two, perhaps already thinking of hibernating for the winter.

Common Reeds were starting to assume their autumn colours and Dog-roses were absolutely laden with luscious hips, presumably testament to our damp midsummer.

A Red Admiral flew overhead, a Harlequin Ladybird basked in a brief flurry of sunlight and on our way back down the steps we narrowly avoided standing on the largest of the chrysomelid beetles, Chrysolina bankii.

Having rescued the beetle, some of us retired to the local pub for a pint and bag of crisps and chat. All in all a very pleasant WildEssex event, in spite of the often rather dull and overcast (though thankfully dry) conditions – thanks all!

#WildEssexWalks – an autumn stroll along the Colne Estuary

The sun was shining brightly, the skies were blue. But the season had noticeably changed. A spiky northerly wind dropped the temperature by maybe 8 degrees Centigrade in just a couple of days , and we were straight into the depths of autumn. It felt like autumn, and it smelt like autumn especially in Grange wood, the humusy moistness laced with a distinct fungal musk. While all we could see were Birch Bracket, Fly Agaric and Penny Bun, nature’s recycling army is now advancing steadily.

And galls are now more in evidence than at any other time of year:

Down at the estuary, at was the highest of tides, the water barely moving during our two hours, so waders were few and far between, save for a scattering of Redshanks and Black-tailed Godwits, with a sixty-strong knot of Avocets hunkered down on the Fingringhoe mudflats. Looking inland, a few Meadow Pipits dashed around the grazing marsh as the ever-reliable Little Egrets stalked the borrowdyke and ditches.

There were still a few flowers, from Strawberry Clover on the sea wall to Cord-grass wantonly hanging its naughty bits to the wind…

… while the clocks of Sea Aster lit up with every ray of an ever-lowering sun.

But on the saltmarshes, the signals of the season are more in the form of colour changes, from greens to a kaleidoscope of yellows, russets and purples. The different species of Marsh Samphire each show their own characteristic autumn tint…

…while the sole species of Annual Sea-blite turns to every colour on the rainbow spectrum.

And even Shrubby Seablite, for so much of the year a stolid, matt-green presence on the sea walls, is touched with shining salmon highlights:

The fires of autumn are stealing across our landscape, and with early frosts in the forecast, those flames will surely be fanned. The next few weeks are full of promise, so enjoy them while you can! Thanks to all who joined us; our next couple of walks are detailed here.



#WildEssex on Tour: Harlow and the Stort Valley


After the success of last year’s three-day event to Burnham-on-Crouch, we decided a second one was in order – this time to the not-usually-associated-with-wildlife Essex town of Harlow.  Our band of enthusiastic ladies were game for anything, and we’d like to thank them all for their interest in all we arranged and their sense of fun!

Our base at the Harlow Mill Premier Inn was most comfortable, and sitting outside with a drink hearing the running water from the mill pond into the Stort Navigation Canal was just delightful.

We mixed some walking along canals with visits to gardens, a mill, a museum, churchyards and pubs, plus a train ride and a walk to the most odd, brutalist, (but exciting to Chris!) zig-zag bridge…

The main focus of course was the wildlife which we found at every turn – from our second-only sighting of a Southern Green Shieldbug to the exploding seed pods of Himalayan Balsam to Ivy Bees enjoying every Ivy bush we encountered.

Everywhere were bushes and trees absolutely laden with fruits and berries. And plenty of those fascinating structures, galls and leaf-mines, too.

Water played an important part of the trip, us spending a considerable part of the first two days enjoying walking along the banks of the River Stort and Canal.  Listening out for birds we heard the ‘peep’ and then the blue flash of a Kingfisher or two, the high pitched tinkling of Goldcrests, the screech of Parakeets (though no sightings, sorry Jean!), plus ubiquitous Robins and Chiffchaffs performing their autumn songs.  Ducks and Moorhens on the river were showing signs of Spring-friskiness – no doubt due to the day-length being similar to that of Spring when they would be getting up to such activities!

Insects along the way included dragonflies and damselflies, bees, hoverflies, grasshoppers, and an Alder Leaf-beetle (only the third record for Essex, but well established here judging from the number of holes in the leaves) and ladybirds of many types in various stages of their development.

The flowering season is coming to a close, but along with the beautiful but invasive Himalayan and Orange Balsams, there was plenty to see from festoons of Hops to strong-smelling Water Mint, and emerging fungi hinted at what looks like shaping up to be a bumper autumn.

A pleasant walk away from our hotel was the famous Gibberd Garden – a mixture of wild and more-tended areas, lots of sculpture and a castle with its own moat.  My heart went into my boots when, on arrival, the board outside stated it was ‘Closed for Private Function’ but that turned out to be an admin error  (phew) – so we got in OK and were virtually all alone to explore as we wished. Coffee and cake in the Barn were very welcome as the afternoon went on.

En route to the garden we had encountered several Juniper Shieldbugs (one trapped in a web, which we of course rescued) on an Ivy bush.  This is puzzling given that they are meant to spend their lives on Juniper and related species, and so we will be asking the experts about this unusual behaviour. There was a Cypress tree across the road, but why they should be branching out we don’t know.

On the final morning we went into the heart of Old Harlow, through the Greenway and on into Gibberd’s New Harlow  for a tour of some of the many green spaces, ‘The Lawn’ Uk’s first residential tower block The Lawn (Harlow) – Wikipedia,  and a churchyard full of gravestones covered in colourful lichens where many interesting stories were revealed by the two ladies working in the grounds.

We concluded our mini-break in the delightful Harlow Museum.  This has so much to enjoy – from a walled garden full of interesting plantings, (where Chris saw evidence of the Figleaf Skeletonizer moth for the first time, it only recently having arrived in the UK), to a gin still, to an unusual exhibition of Penny Farthings and other bicycles. It really is the epitome of a good local museum, and a credit to Harlow Council.


As organisers, we were thrilled with how the trip went, not only for the camaraderie and pleasure of being in each other’s company, but also for the excitement of discovering new things.  We will be sending records of the Southern Green Shieldbug, Alder Beetle and Figleaf Skeletonizer moth to county and national databases so evidence of our trip will be set down in the annals of history!

During our last evening’s meal we discussed the possibility of a 3rd Wild Essex on Tour trip next year – who knows we may even cross the border into another County!  Do get in touch if it is something you may be interested in.


The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: September sunlight

The past two weeks of unprecedented September heatwave since my previous Wandering Naturalist event have continued to prove one thing: we have changed our climate and will continue to do so unless we turn things around very quickly. Climate change (or as we should be thinking, climate collapse) is made up of shorter-term weather effects and the recent heat has certainly brought the season to a close for many plants in the garden. Likewise, the diversity of insect types is declining, although the numbers of Honeybees, bumble-bees and carder-bees in particular is still rising, presumably as their nests continue to grow. Hornets too, but not generally visiting the flowers themselves: they are working their way around the flowers trying to catch insects which they kill with a sting and take back to their nests to feed to their developing grubs.

The daisy family is really taking over as the main provider of nectar and pollen resources to the bees and a whole host of other insects, and will remain so now until the first frosts:

And a major addition in the Reservoir Garden since the last walk has been the opening of Phacelia flowers, now literally buzzing with life! A great species this to improve the wildlife-friendliness of any garden, they will self-seed merrily into any gaps.

Of course bees and the like are not the only creatures we want to encourage. Lots of others make up the garden food-web, as pollinators, predators, parasites, decayers, food for others and generally providing the services needed to turn a garden into an ecosystem. Just a few examples  are ladybirds, flesh-flies, parasite-flies and harvestmen:

Some dragonflies and damselflies also go on well into the autumn, though most of the summer species have now expired. Those we are likely to see for some time yet are Ruddy Darters and Willow Emeralds (both of which we saw mating), with a few Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers that didn’t hang around to be photographed.

And so to the butterflies and moths: during the two hours, good numbers of at least seven butterfly species were seen, taking advantage especially of Buddleia and Verbena.

Notable was a brand-new generation of  Green-veined Whites, along with two species of renowned migrant to our shores, at this stage of the year as likely to be progeny of spring immigrants rather than new arrivals: Painted Lady butterfly and a couple of Hummingbird Hawk-moths, always a delight to watch working their favoured flowers (today, Buddleia):

And all of the above set to a constant twittering background of migrating Swallows overhead, no doubt catching some of our insects to fuel their trans-equatorial flights to come, plus the squeaks of Meadow Pipits and Siskins, birds just arriving here from the far north-east to take up their winter haunts.

So summer may be over but the garden goes on, and will continue to do so until the weather turns much cooler; there are still plenty of flowers still to come and feed our creatures!

If anyone would like to join me in the garden looking at its wildlife, I am planning on repeating this walk (weather permitting) for the last time this year on 29th September, between 1100 and 1300. No need to book, just come to the garden (normal entry price – see our website for details) and ask at the Visitor Information Centre where I will be and when, and come along and find me! Nearer the time, if the weather is looking at all dodgy, please feel to contact me using the Contact tab above to check it is likely to be running.

Blogs of previous events in this series can be found at:

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: a butterfly bonanza! | Chris Gibson Wildlife

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: the steamy jungles of Essex!! | Chris Gibson Wildlife

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: the slide into Autumn… | Chris Gibson Wildlife

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: after the rain…….. | Chris Gibson Wildlife

Each one is fully illustrated with photos taken on the day; if anyone wants to know the identity of anything depicted, please feel free to contact me through the Contact tab.

Visit the Beth Chatto Gardens and be inspired to Rewild your Mind!

#WildEssexWalks – evening in the Wrabness Nature Reserve

‘Hunting High and Low’ – those elusive bush-crickets kept us searching during our lovely stroll, in beautiful evening sunshine, this week.  We knew that the Wrabness Nature Reserve was a hot spot for the glorious Great Green Bush-cricket, but sadly none were seen in the flesh.  Younger members of the group  (and Tim Gardiner, Essex Recorder for Orthoptera – grasshoppers and bush-crickets – who we met very fortuitously) assured us they were there in number, singing away, but it came with rather a shock that most of us ‘oldies’ couldn’t hear them….a well-known phenomenon that as we age we lose the ability to hear certain high frequencies/pitches. Luckily Chris had his trusty bat detector with him which was able to pick up the songs, not only this species but also Dark and Roesel’s Bush-crickets and so we all managed to listen in, even if only by remote! And all is not quite lost – later in the evening, perhaps as it was cooling, the song of some individuals did pop into our consciousness…

We did manage to see a couple of members of this group of charismatic insects, the well-camouflaged Speckled Bush-cricket and the tiny, compact Common Groundhopper.

That aside, there was plenty to enjoy – Wrabness Nature Reserve, managed by Essex Wildlife Trust (who will receive a donation from us for this event), has had a chequered history. From its early days as a mine depot it has been subject to all manner of planning applications, including for a prison, but thankfully all were rejected and it is now in safe hands, for the enjoyment of all, and somewhere that is called home by millions of plants, invertebrates as well as birds and mammals.

Below is a selection of the delights we met on our travels. Birds were singing their evening songs, and we caught a fleeting glimpse of a Turtle Dove as it flew over a hedge, while down the estuary, the air was filled with the evocative liquid bubbing of Curlews, and Redshanks, Dunlins, Grey Plovers and Turnstones fed at the water’s edge.

Apart from Orthoptera, other insects we chanced upon included a Buff Footman moth and one of the largest leaf-beetles Chrysolina bankii:

Reflecting no doubt the rather damp midsummer period, berry-bearing bushes were laden with the bounties of autumn:

And not only fruits, but also galls (here, Knopper Galls on Oak,  Sputnik Gall and Robin’s Pincushion on Rose) and microfungi (Sycamore Tar-spot and Willow Rust)….

… while as a foretaste of what may prove to be an excellent fungus season, we also found a troop of earthballs:

Which just leaves the flowers, of which there were many important sources of late-season nectar and pollen for our insects. As a brownfield site that has been allowed to naturally re-wild, the plants are a wonderful diverse, multicultural mix of species from all round the world, important native species like Red Bartsia and Common Toadflax intermixed with Broad-leaved Everlasting-pea and  a host of others of garden origins.

Our guest Co-Leader Eleanor (when she wasn’t eating blackberries!) took on the role of Assistant Photographer, and here are some of her efforts…

As always many thanks to our interested group for taking part and hope to see you all again soon.

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: after the rain……..

Heavy drizzle preceded the fourth in my series of  ‘Meet the Wandering Naturalist’ sessions in the Gardens, and although it stopped ten minutes before the start, the first walk was still a pretty sodden affair. Not that it prevented several interested visitors joining me strolling around and looking at nature…

… and realising how lucky we were, given the ring of lowering clouds all round!

Flying insects were relatively few and far-between, most sitting around forlornly, only the bumble- and carder-bees, safely wrapped in their fur coats, creating a buzz in the borders, with Nepeta, Hylotelephium, Salvia yangii, Caryopteris and Vitex agnus-castus being especially sought out.

With a hungry nest to provision, Hornets were busy flying around and entering their nest in a hollow Cherry tree, although the nest entrance was tantalisingly out of sight; however the occupants of one of the above-ground-nesting wasp species (perhaps Median Wasp) remained quiescent.

And even if the insects were few, there were always the rampant scentscapes to enjoy, as always after rain, along with the twittering of House Martins and Swallows migrating overhead and the plaintive autumn song of Robins starting to swell, and of course the displays of rain-drops on many a plant, especially the mercurial spattering on Alchemilla:

During the second hour though the weather changed markedly. The sun came out and turned the garden into a sweltering, humid cauldron, with butterflies (seven species) and dragonflies (three species) responding immediately:

Echinacea, Rudbeckia, Eupatorium, Scabiosa and Foeniculum quickly became the focus for foragers, bees and hoverflies especially, but also a whole lot more …

… and of course for predators keen on making a meal of the pollinators …

… as well as other lookers-on:

Summer may be ending but the garden goes on; there are still plenty of flowers still to peak, to brighten up our lives and deliver their sustenance to the natural world:

If anyone would like to join me in the garden looking at its wildlife, I am planning on repeating this walk (weather permitting) on both 15th and 29th September, between 1100 and 1300. No need to book, just come to the garden (normal entry price – see our website for details) and ask at the Visitor Information Centre where I will be and when, and come along and find me! Nearer the time, if the weather is looking at all dodgy, please feel to contact me using the Contact tab above to check it is likely to be running.

While one can never predict what nature will deliver, I imagine it will be the copious nectar and pollen sources of members of the daisy family Asteraceae, together with Hylotelephium ice-plants in the gravel areas and flowering Ivy in the hedges that will be sustaining insect life. Birds could be heading south overhead and maybe the first fungi of autumn will be sprouting. So much to look forward to!

Blogs of previous events in this series can be found at:

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: a butterfly bonanza! | Chris Gibson Wildlife

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: the steamy jungles of Essex!! | Chris Gibson Wildlife

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: the slide into Autumn… | Chris Gibson Wildlife

Each one is fully illustrated with photos taken on the day; if anyone wants to know the identity of anything depicted, please feel free to contact me through the Contact tab.

Visit the Beth Chatto Gardens and be inspired to Rewild your Mind!

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: the slide into Autumn…

What a difference a couple of weeks makes! Compared with my previous walk The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: the steamy jungles of Essex!! | Chris Gibson Wildlife, the third in my series of  ‘Meet the Wandering Naturalist’ sessions in the Gardens coincided with a rather dull, blustery day; that and the advancing season combined to reduce the insect activity substantially. Nevertheless, there was more than enough for all who joined me strolling around and looking at nature.

Butterflies in particular were well down from their superabundance of the past month, with just a few Small Whites, Holly Blues, Gatekeepers and Red Admirals on show.

And the available insect food sources have moved on with the season.  Buddleia, Lavandula and Eryngium are all but over (though where any flowers remain they are still exerting strong attraction) ……

… Bistorta, Nepeta and Origanum are perhaps starting to fade but a major draw nonetheless ….

… and now the daisy family is really beginning to assert itself as a force in the garden. Echinacea in particular is a magnet for bees, hoverflies and many more.

Of course we are lucky to have the space and different ground conditions to grow plants that provide sequential nectar and pollen resources through the year, and at the moment there is a whole host of others sharing the  role:

Honeybees, bumblebees and hoverflies are among the most numerous of insect visitors …

… while parasitic tachinid flies also seem to be especially abundant at the moment. While often overlooked, their role in parasitising lepidopteran and other larvae cannot be overstated. The more the garden supports predators and parasites, the more its insect abundance (what some may call ‘pests’) are kept in check without recourse to poisons. Let’s hear it for our army of tachinids, ladybirds and wasps!

Dragonflies, damselflies and bush-crickets are also part of this predator realm, albeit relatively minor players numerically. This normally camouflaged Speckled Bush-cricket showed up remarkably well on the vivid Lythrum flowers …

… and damselflies included both the typical late-season Willow Emerald and this beautiful lilac-fronted form of Blue-tailed Damselfly, echoing the colours of its chosen perch.

But the bonus from their being fewer insects on show was that there was more time to talk about other wildlife, plants in particular. Coming into late summer, many are in fruit, and none is more distinctive than the unique churro-like seeds of Meadowsweet:

And although it may be a stretch too far to call planted plants ‘wildlife’, certainly anything that has embraced its wild side by spreading itself around the garden deserves that name. In the Gravel Garden, Fox-and-Cubs is doing that in such an artistic way that surely Beth would have approved…

… while in the same area, Sickle-leaved Hare’s-ear weaves its filigree fronds as a golden thread, linking the beds thematically and also through the years: once native to Essex, and only to Essex, when its habitat was threatened by roadworks half century ago it was rescued by a band of botanists – and it is likely that some of the seed came into Beth’s hands, and garden.

If anyone would like to join me in the garden looking at its wildlife, I am planning on repeating this walk (weather permitting) on 1st September, between 1100 and 1300. No need to book, just come to the garden (normal entry price – see our website for details) and ask at the Visitor Information Centre where I will be and when, and come along and find me! Nearer the time, if the weather is looking at all dodgy, please feel to contact me using the Contact tab above to check it is likely to be running.

While one can never predict what nature will deliver, my guess is that with the end of the season firmly in sight, it will be the copious nectar and pollen sources of members of the Asteraceae and also just-now-opening ice-plants of the genus Hylotelephium (perhaps better known as Sedum) that will be sustaining late breeding attempts and provisioning others for hibernation.

Blogs of previous events in this series can be found at:

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: a butterfly bonanza! | Chris Gibson Wildlife and

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: the steamy jungles of Essex!! | Chris Gibson Wildlife

Visit the Beth Chatto Gardens and be inspired to Rewild your Mind!

#WildEssexWalks – an evening with trees and bats in Wivenhoe Park

Towards the end of a sunny summer day, #WildEssex headed for Wivenhoe Park, home of the University of Essex. Landscaped around Wivenhoe House in the mid-18th century, the park boasts lakes and grassland, some now commendably being allowed to bloom through the season, providing for both flowers (like Common Knapweed) and insects, here the galls in thistles formed by the picture-winged fly Urophora cardui ….

…. but most importantly, a collection of magnificent trees from all over the world. The oldest, native Pedunculate Oaks, certainly pre-date the hall, and provide habitat for all sorts of wildlife, including cracks and crevices for roosting bats, as we saw at the end of the walk.

This summer all the oaks are afflicted by Knopper Galls, taking the place of the acorns, in densities greater than we have ever seen before. The Jays may go hungry this autumn, although the also very abundant beechmast may help compensate.

Other exotics included Red Oaks, Mulberry and Walnut, the latter with the most wonderful sweet smell when its leaves are scrunched. So too with the many conifers, Coast Redwood with the most invigorating resinous aroma, mixing bitter oranges with parsley. Much more alluring than the other two of the redwoods of the world, Giant and Dawn Redwoods, also featuring in the park, or the north African Atlas Cedar and mid-USA Swamp Cypress: all have distinctive scent but none as memorable as Coast Redwood.

A  Cedar-of-Lebanon, de-rigueur for every aristocratic house in centuries past droops gracefully outside the main entrance, and in the same area there are groves of the more prosaic Horse-chestnut (aka Conker Tree). These two species do however share one feature: they are nowadays very rare, endangered even, in their aboriginal habitats, the mountains of the Middle East and Cyprus, and the Caucasus respectively. Thank goodness for parks, gardens and arboreta, Arks to help species from seriously troubled parts of the world survive into the future.

As the sun set around a quarter past eight,  twilight soon descended and we set up camp by the lower lake to await the emergence of bats. It started slowly but within an hour, just before it was fully dark, we were among them in abundance, between the trees, overhead and over the water. With the bat detectors we recorded mainly Soprano Pipistrelles, but also Common Pipistrelles and Daubenton’s Bats joining the feeding frenzy, a wonderful end to a lovely walk.

That’s it now for #WildEssex in August. Our next planned trips are to Wrabness Nature Reserve 4 September (also an evening trip) and Brightlingsea on 18 September, our annual charity event, this time supporting the wonderful work of Springmead Garden.

Late Summer at Landguard Point

It was a perfect summer day for a short foot-ferry trip from Harwich to Landguard Point…

The Harbour was millpond-still, overseen by huge blue skies and dramatic cloudscapes:

Waves lapped gently on the shingly shores as the port activities clanked softly in the background…

Out on the Common, most  flowering was over, apart from Sea Mayweed and Sticky Groundsel now at their peak …

…  with Rest-harrow erupting from the Rabbit-grazed turf and Yellow Horned-poppies still sending out blooms that flutter in the slightest breeze.

Otherwise it was the fading delights of a floral summer:

Duke-of-Argyll’s Tea-plant, as so often simultaneously flowering and fruiting, its goji berries having survived the depredations of superfood hunters and birds alike:

Some magnificent Robin’s Pincushions, galls caused by tiny wasps, adorned the Dog-roses, while several much larger Sand Wasps were provisioning their nests in the shingle:

A couple of mating Common Blues posed well, although the star insects – Dune Villa fly and Jersey Tiger moth –  were simply too fast in the mounting heat, and evaded the camera.

All this and more, including on the Essex side of the Haven, the mean streets of Harwich, nowadays lined with Shaggy Soldiers, a street-plant that wasn’t there a decade or so ago when we lived in the area…

… and the  biodiverse, bounteous, blooming beauty of brownfields: a magic multicultural mix of species from all over the world, today thronged in Small White butterflies!