Blog Archives: WildWivenhoe

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: the abundance of May…

A prefect day in May, and the Beth Chatto Garden was teeming with life…

Let the Feeding and Breeding commence! First the feeding: the plants may largely be non-natives, but they still supply nectar and pollen to the needy:

It was particularly exciting to see my first Painted Lady of the year. Vast numbers were reported moving through France a week ago, and this was (hopefully) in the vanguard of a substantial invasion this summer.

And this plump caterpillar munching a rose  was that of a Copper Underwing moth:

On the breeding front, Red Mason Bees were provisioning their nest holes, and love was in the air for damselflies and Speckled Wood butterflies (look carefully and you can see a second pair of antennae).

And all around the garden, insects of every description basking in the knowledge (or so I like to think) that they are as safe here from the insidious barrage of deadly pesticides as anywhere in our landscape.

And of course there was also a flower or two(!) and fantastic foliage, all helping to support this abundance of life. Come and visit the garden and find it for yourselves….

The Bounty of May in Cockaynes Reserve

It was a wonderful morning for a walk. The Cuckoos were calling and more Speckled Yellows were on the wing than I have ever seen before. The newly-minted wildlife was performing superbly, and the following is a selection of the pictures. Few words: just enjoy the bounty!

Best find of the day, however, deserves a mention: a Slender-horned Leatherbug, a species we have never seen before and a rather local insect of dry habitats in south-eastern England.

A selection of other bugs included the eggs of a Gorse Shield-bug and dancing Birch Aphids at the end of many twigs:

In addition to the flighty Speckled Yellows,  Latticed Heaths were on the wing, and the mass of munchers included Drinker, Lackey and Dunbar moths:

Fresh dragons and damsels were on the wing, at least six species in total:

And on top of all that, a kaleidoscope of beetles, flies and spiders…

Not forgetting the mini delights of the flowers on the bare gravels, including Smooth Catsear (‘the smallest “dandelion” in the world’) at one of its very few Essex sites.

All in all, a May morning to remember.

Hawthorn and Cow Parsley Time

Everyone has their trigger, that sensory experience which strips away the years. For me it is the musky, musty, mingled scent of Hawthorn and Cow Parsley after a May shower, my personal madeleines. Back to the 1960s, a schoolchild in shorts (some things never change!), cycling around the lanes on the Yorkshire Wolds, finding my feet and laying down my roots in Nature.

And as so often, this year it coincided with the most bounteous explosion of diversity. This week in #WildWivenhoe has seen a tentative Spring transformed, the trees enveloped in every shade of green…

…fresh foliage catching the light, and bringing beauty even to a Nettle…

… new flowers appearing daily…

…and old friends, including non-native beauties like (Ever)Green Alkanet and Lilac doing the heavy lifting of feeding the insect masses. To denigrate these because of their provenance is pure ecoFascism.

And the appearance of new insects has been simply stupendous. That most stunning of beetles, Neon-striped Tortoise Beetle, emerged en masse on our Sea Beet (some three weeks earlier than last year) while Two-spotted Malachite Beetles have started on their long summer of gracing our umbellifers, the new ones having that special bit extra iridescence.

And of course a host of other beetles too….

Another mass emergence in the shape of Phoenix Flies, a nationally scarce species with its stronghold along the Essex coast…

Hoverfly diversity has shot up over the week….

…with lots of other flies also in the mix.

Basking bugs adding to the bounty….

And then the rest…a wonderful mix of spring stragglers and summer emergers, from the first damselflies and bush-cricket nymphs to scorpion-flies and Elm Zigzag Sawflies.

The delights of the natural world, solace in our troubled times. And thank goodness for #NoMowMay, helping to provide the nectar and pollen resources which underpin these riches. Well done Wivenhoe Town Council, where the Daisies and Dandelions of the King George V field are now supplemented with Buttercups and Red Clover, Germander Speedwell, Sand Spurrey and Subterranean Clover — something for everyone!

Wivenhoe Wood – a Symphony in Blue

The very end of April; a sunny morning; no wind; a wander in Wivenhoe Wood – a  recipe for one of the most sublime natural experiences: peak Bluebell! Not just the swathes of blue fading into the far distance, but also (arguably even better) the sweet, intoxicating aroma hanging heavy in the air. Heaven Scent indeed!

Right on the edge of town, the Bluebells are there for everyone to see and smell, the best vistas moving around the wood in the wake of the coppicing regime undertaken by Colchester Borough Council. And there are thankfully few signs of a dilution of  colour and scent from hybridization between the native Bluebells and the gardener’s approximation, Spanish Bluebells.

As always, there was much more on our walk yesterday. Oak trees were profligately shedding pollen into the air and insects basking in the dappled shade…

Blue has erupted in the woodscape after the almost equally impressive showing this year of white Wood Anemones. And from here on into the summer, the blue will fragment, first with white Greater Stitchwort and Garlic Mustard, then deep Yellow Archangel, and finally drawn pleasingly together studded with the pink of Herb-Robert and Red Campion.

But pure blue leaves the lasting memory. Do get out and enjoy it soon as it will have faded within a couple of weeks….

And remember not to take it for granted. Our visions of blue are bluer than many have seen before us, benefiting both from the eradication of Wild Boars several centuries ago and from the light which boosted our woodland flowering after the Great Storm in 1987. We cannot rely on storms (hopefully coppicing is more assured), and with the likely return of rampantly foraging Boars before too long, the replacement of monoculture blue with a more diverse kaleidoscope of colour is perhaps only a matter of time.

#WildEssex Walks: Cockaynes Reserve in spring

As often when we offer two dates for a walk, the weather is vastly different each day.  This was definitely the case with our little forays to Cockaynes for this month’s Wild Essex events. Monday was blowy and cold, whilst on Tuesday the sun shone, and the wind had dropped.  (Sorry Keith!).

This report covers some of the highlights that we saw, heard and smelled over both days. As to be expected, the warmer conditions on Tuesday brought out more of our insect friends. In line with the calendar (how do they know?) a St Mark’s Fly was seen, slightly askew with one wing out and the other not.  Possibly it had just emerged and not fully ‘filled out’. St Mark’s Day is 25th April! The following day we witnessed two ‘in cop’ doing what they need to do in the few days that they are alive as adults.

A little Pine Ladybird was busying itself keeping warm on a woodland leaf, and we found some Brown Tail moth caterpillars, new escapees from their conspicuous nest-webs. Their body hairs contain an unpleasant irritant and so contact should be avoided.  The only birds that can eat them are Cuckoos which have specially designed digestive processes to cope.

Famous and important residents to this site are the ‘Bunny Bees’ (Colletes cunicularis) which make holes in the sandy banks on the reserve. These are rare and it is always a pleasure to see that they are still enjoying living near us in Wivenhoe. And a host of other solitary bees were out and about in the sun including this ‘mini-miner’:

Evidence of other insect life was found, without seeing the critters themselves – leaf miner moths which lay their eggs between the surfaces of leaves and the larvae eat and grow, making patterns in leaves as they go, before emerging when fully fed, and also little cases of micro moths which were easy to spot on the rushes.

An Acorn Weevil showed its snout within the unfurling wings of an aquiline Bracken, and a tiny Dyseriocrania subpurpurella micromoth nestled into a Cow Parsley umbel. The warmer sunshine brought out butterflies on Tuesday, including Speckled Woods, Orange Tips, Large Whites and a Peacock.

We were privileged to hear lots of bird song in the couple of hours, and this varied day-to-day too.  We caught the dulcet tones of numerous Mediterranean Gulls (did I say dulcet?  – more like a posh squawk!)  – numbers in this area at the moment are at an all-time-high.  Add to that Chiffchaffs, Song Thrushes with their three-song call,  angry Cetti’s Warblers, rhythmic Reed Warblers, liquid Blackcaps, the increasingly rare Willow Warbler, Robins, Great Tits, Wrens, a bit-of-bread-and-no- cheese Yellowhammer, Linnet (below), Goldfinches and the odd snatch of Nightingale song, but sadly we did not witness its full and beautiful melodious warble.

Happily there was plenty of plant life to enjoy on both days.  This whole area was once woodland, and fortunately after the gravel extraction programme in the 80s, it was not merely filled in, capped with clay and turned over to agriculture, but was allowed to remain and rewild, giving us the reserve we know and love today. Working parties do great stuff in keeping some of the scrub under control to allow the important (and unusual in Essex) stands of Heather to thrive. These would soon be crowded out if Silver Birch and other trees were allowed to take hold.  Other interesting flora included Gorse at its peak, Town Hall Clock,  Opposite Leaved Golden Saxifrage, Thyme-leaved Speedwell, Wavy Bittercress, Greater Stitchwort, Ground Ivy and Heath Woodrush…

…and of course Bluebells, albeit a little worryingly with quite a few hybrids with Spanish Bluebell, paler, less delicate and of lower value to native pollinators.

Fungi are always fascinating, and we were delighted to find examples of King Alfred’s Cakes and a Mazegill bracket fungus.

As always we enjoyed the company of our groups – always willing to listen to Chris’ stories and ask questions and generally join in.  Thank you all!  Look forward to another walk with you before too long. Some of you asked about our fantastic close-up binoculars: they are Pentax Papilio II 8.5 x 21. We would recommend them thoroughly, and it is just a pity we are not on commission, given the number of pairs that have been bought by our ‘bug and botters’ over the past four years!

#WildEssex Walks: Alresford Old Church to the creek

Thank you all for coming along to our walk today.  The weather was absolutely perfect – bright sun, blue sky with a gentle breeze to keep us all cool.

Gorse, that most important of plants for early pollinators, was out in profusion, and we make no apologies for starting this little blog with blue (sky) and yellow (gorse)– nature’s reflection of the Ukraine flag – a tiny, though heartfelt, show of solidarity with those suffering untold pain and misery in ‘civilized’ Europe.

This month’s event was the first time we have taken our group on this particular route, and was more of a lengthy walk than we sometimes do. Starting at the old, ruined church of St Peter we wended our way through lanes, down steps and across stepping stones until we reached the trail from Wivenhoe.  This path was once the railway line (Crab and Winkle line) which ran to Brightlingsea pre-Beeching. It is now a popular walkway, with good visual and actual access to the estuary.

The church is an interesting structure; destroyed by fire in 1971, it has acquired a beauty which only old ruins can and the churchyard itself has (at least in other years and we are hopeful for this) been managed for wildlife with areas unmown and allowed to do their own thing, although at the moment with little else showing other than (planted) Wild Daffodils. Among the grassland there are of course lots of those fascinating structures, lichens, on gravestones (see Chris’ gallery of ‘Lichenscapes’ Lichenscapes | Chris Gibson Wildlife).

So what did we see?  We had billed this event as seeing ‘first signs of Spring’ and we were certainly rewarded with lots of early Spring flowers, each an important source of energy for early emerging insects. Lesser Celandines, Greater Stitchworts, Red Dead-nettles and Common Stork’s-bills, not to mention a few (surprisingly early) Bluebells, were decorating the hedgebanks and field margins.


Blackthorn and Cherry-plum were in flower (the latter by now almost over), many of these shrubs buzzing with flies and bees making good use of their stores of food, and those biological pest-controllers par excellence, the ladybirds, were spotted here and there.  Who needs nasty poison sprays to keep aphids at bay when these beautiful little jewels will do the job for you?

Although not a Spring species, King Alfred’s Cakes, a hard, globular fungus was found on a dead Ash tree overhanging the path.

Those flying wonders-of-nature, butterflies, were out and about. How on earth caterpillars get transformed into these works of flying art is a mystery to science. We saw Peacocks, Commas and Small Tortoiseshells, but no sign of any Brimstones, although they are on the wing at the moment. And always a delight (to us if not to the bees their larvae parasitize), Bee-flies were just starting to emerge…

Birdsong filled the air; we heard numerous Skylarks, Blue and Great Tits, Robins, Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and many others whilst strolling down to the estuary. The shore birds are beginning to leave our coastline now, the few still remaining included Black-tailed Godwits, Curlews, Shelducks, Teals and Brent Geese we enjoyed watching going about their daily lives of probing mud for scrummy little worms or nibbling on vegetation, all the while keeping their collective eyes open for real or perceived threats.  Lots were disturbed by a Little Egret which landed among them (perhaps looking too much like a Marsh Harrier),although in reality the female Sparrowhawk which flew over at the same time was more of the threat at least to the smaller birds.

The last leg of the ramble was up Ford Lane, ascending from sea-level to the peak of the Essex Alps, where Cow Parsley in very early flower gave a final taste of spring, a last boost to carry us through the cooler conditions forecast for the week to come.

#WildEssex walks: the rising tide at Mistley…

Thank to all who joined us this week for our inaugural Wild Essex walks in Mistley. Two walks in two days, both timed to see the last two hours before high water, the estuary birds being forced up the Stour before our eyes in the face of that advancing waters. It was a new destination, enjoyed by all, and somewhere we will no doubt visit again. Doing the two walks also showed how different the tide can be between days: presumably a function of air pressure, the exposed mud at Mistley Quay at the same time relative to High Water was only a fraction on the second day of that on the first. The  numbers and variety of birds were perhaps less than had been anticipated, but the recent gales had no doubt forced some to take refuge in more sheltered areas..

We met at Mistley station and it was good that some chose to travel by train (and we shall aim to promote public transport on some of our future events, where practicable). The changeable weather saw high wind gusts, showers of rain, sunny spells and rainbows over Suffolk, all of which added to the experience.

In total 46 species of bird were totted up over the two days (see attached list). No real surprises, but was good to see some of the less well-known ducks on the estuary including Pintails and Goldeneyes.  Swans were everywhere – on the water by the quay and sleeping all over the verges and on the sandy shore. They and indeed all the other birds seem pretty oblivious to human beings and passing traffic – shows how things can become habituated, and why this site is arguably the very best place to see with ease a good selection of the three quarters of a million northerly-breeding water birds that visit the Essex coast every winter.

Two of the most important wading bird populations on this stretch are the Black-tailed Godwits and Avocets. First day, the godwits numbered barely a hundred, but the second there were at 800; conversely some 200 Avocets were feeding along the channel only a couple of hundred meters away on Tuesday, but Wednesday, they (and more) were right across the other side hugging the Suffolk shoreline.

Among the six species of gull that were frequenting the Port was one splendid Mediterranean Gull, a long-stayer in these parts and just coming into breeding plumage. Day 1 it remained stubbornly on the sand-bar, but next day it was on the quayside fence and even taking bread from from the hands of the bird feeders…and fending off the hordes of Black-headed Gulls single-handedly.

Spending a few moments looking over Hopping Bridge to the lake which is part of Mistley Place Park, an animal rescue centre, we listened for woodland birds and heard a selection, all added to our list, along with Moorhens, an Egyptian Goose and one one day only a single Little Egret. Rather surprising the almost lack of egrets, but they could have been displaced by the storms.

Local folklore has it that Matthew Hopkins (infamous Witchfinder General) is buried in the park, but no proof has ever been found. And still on the historical theme, we took a short detour into the graveyard surrounding the two famous Mistley towers Mistley Towers | English Heritage ( part of the planned re-development of Mistley Thorn as a spa town 350 years ago.

In addition to birds, we noted some spring flowers – crocus, snowdrops (very appropriate in a week that Galanthomania came to the fore Snowdrop bulb sells for a record-busting £1,850 – Gardens Illustrated – pretty things …but…..! ) In addition, Sweet Violets, Stinking Iris fruits, Winter Heliotrope leaves and London Plane tree bark added to the visual feast.

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: Spring steals in…

It may be barely mid-February, but such has been our winter (or lack thereof) so far that Spring was already well under way in the Beth Chatto Gardens today. After a frosty start, a day of glorious sunshine warmed the world up and brought out the insects – bumblebees, Honeybees and hoverflies – adding to last week’s tally in similar weather of Peacock and Brimstone butterflies and even a day-flying Pipistrelle Bat! Today’s star attractors were the already fading flowers of Winter Aconite.

But there were plenty of other flowers coming out as well, each adding to Nature’s restaurant, which will keep rolling on through the seasons…

What connects all of the above? The fact that they are not native to Britain, examples of the way that any gardener can ‘improve upon Nature’ by adding nectar and pollen to the menu outside the peak season. But there are a few native plants as well, from planted Spurge-laurel to the guerrilla nectar providers like Red Dead-nettle springing up in more neglected corners.

But it is not all about the flowers! A garden like this benefits from the fruits and tussocks of seasons past, somewhere safe for the insect army of garden helpers to sleep through the winter. If only more gardeners  were able to let go of the sterile idyll of overtidiness …

And then of course the new-sprung leaves, rich in colour and intensified by the low February sunlight …

Such tranquil delights on our doorstep, and the great news is that the gardens awaken from their winter slumber next week and reopen to visitors. Give it a go: let Spring into your life! More details from Entrance – Beth Chatto’s Plants & Gardens

#WildEssex Walks: Trees in Winter – buds and bark

Two years ago, in a very different world, we ran our last midwinter tree walks around the KGV. The blog linked here focussed on the buds and twigs, and gives a good idea of the features to look for on a selection of the species to be found. Of course, the identification of trees in winter also uses a further series of characteristics, from fallen leaves, shrivelled fruits and the nature of the bark, elements we brought into our #WildEssex walks this month. Here is a selection (photographed during our recce in much more pleasant weather than the fog of the Saturday walk!).

ASH – in addition to its unmistakeable black buds, mostly in opposite pairs, with flattened twig tips, Ash also has smooth, pale bark, often covered in lichens, and usually has some of the bunches of keys from last summer perched in its boughs.

OAK – the plump, chestnut-coloured buds are clustered at the tips of the twigs that arise from the branches that come from the trunk, covered in deeply ridged bark, the fissures more or less continuous, running down the trunk. Sometimes, in older specimens, the trunk is divided, by coppicing or pollarding, especially on old ownership boundaries where distinctive trees were used to define those boundaries legally, by way of a ‘perambulation’.

BEECH (upper two) and HORNBEAM (lower two) – The elongate, pointed shape of the buds of these two species is similar, but those of Beech are set at an angle to the twig, while those of Hornbeam are curved into the twig.  Beech often has dead leaves still attached in midwinter, and smooth, silvery bark, with raised lines, rounded in profile, running down it. Hornbeam bark is similarly smooth, but the trunk is usually fluted, like a rippling muscle.

And then to three fast-growing, often small species, good at colonising suitable habitats:

WILD CHERRY has clusters of buds borne on short, woody pedestals, and peeling, copper-coloured bark formed into distinct hoops around the trunk…

… while SILVER BIRCH has lovely white bark, delicately drooping branch tips, and often has remnants of last year’s seeding catkins at the same time as the coming summer’s catkins are starting to emerge…

… and ELDER has deeply ridged grey bark, often covered with mosses. It is also the first of our trees to burst into leaf, a true harbinger of Spring.

ELM is often distinguished as much by its dead stems, the victims of Dutch Elm Disease, as by its living features. But on a living trunk, the herringbone branching pattern of the twigs is usually apparent, as often are the main branches clothed in corky wings of bark.

Another tree bedevilled by disease is HORSE CHESTNUT, especially worrying in view of its rarity in its native Caucasus. The big, swollen buds with sticky scales are well known, but the horseshoe-shaped leaf-scars and smooth bark breaking into a patchwork of plates are equally distinctive.

Similar in name, but very different (and completely unrelated), the SWEET CHESTNUT is often noticeable by its halo of dead leaves lying on the ground, as they take several months to decay away. Its plump buds sit on ‘shelves’ on the ridged twigs, and the bark of a small tree is smooth and silvery, in marked contrast to an older tree  where the bark is strongly fissured, twisting around the trunk.

Two of our most distinctive winter trees are WHITE POPLAR, with its graceful, upswept branches, whitish twigs and buds, and hoops of large, diamond-shaped lenticels on its bark….

… and the smooth, grey bark, large, turgid buds, almost fit to burst, and beautiful bud-scales,  edged in maroon and fringed in white, of SYCAMORE.

Finally, mention must be made of the evergreens, historic adornments to the grounds of the former Wivenhoe Hall. The red-boughed SCOTS’ PINE (top) is one of only three native conifers in Britain, CEDAR-OF-LEBANON (middle) is another species threatened in its native Middle Eastern home, and HOLM OAK (bottom), native to the Mediterranean basin. But the presence of leaves or needles doesn’t necessarily make identification easier: it is always worth getting to know their distinctive fruits, tree shapes and bark. No rest for the botanist, even in midwinter!


#WildEssex New Year Plant Hunt 2022

Each year, the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland organises a New Year plant hunt, encouraging botanists and other interested folk out of their midwinter slumber to see what plants are flowering in a walk lasting between one and three hours. This year, we (the newly branded #WildEssex) made our contribution around the Wivenhoe Waterfront…

It is a very simple survey, an example of citizen science. But based on the principle that enough monkeys with enough typewriters and enough time will produce the Complete Works of Shakespeare, then enough bleary-eyed plant hunters producing enough lists will eventually produce statistically valid results. And important results, linked to the serious issues for the natural world (and us!) around climate collapse, helping to shape local, national and international efforts to reducing the human footprint on our planet.

First up, and one of the most interesting, if diminutive flowering plants: Early Meadow-grass. Until a few years ago, this was known only from the extreme south coast of Britain, but presumably under the influence of climate change, it has spread right through the Essex coast, and now Suffolk and Norfolk.

Neatly bookending our walk, the final new species we found, Jersey Cudweed, has a very similar recent history, colonising the block paving of Wivenhoe within the last decade.

In total we found 35 species in flower, slightly more than last year’s total of 30. One cannot read too much into the difference: this winter has been exceptionally mild (indeed we were walking on the warmest New Year’s Day in recorded history, itself a worrying statistic) but there were a dozen pairs of keen eyes, whereas last year under Covid restrictions we were only two…

Most of the species were of course wholly to be expected, including annual plants of disturbed areas (aka, rather perjoratively, ‘weeds’) such as Common Field Speedwell, Petty Spurge, Annual Mercury, Groundsel and Red Dead-nettle.

Also expected were the flowers of Gorse: ‘when Gorse is in flower, kissing is in season‘ – it flowers all year round, fortunately for us but especially for the bees that were actively seeking sustenance in preparation for the next cold snap.

But there were also totally out-of-season flowers. Ragwort, on the sea wall, and Sea Aster with Common Cord-grass on the salt marsh were especially notable, together with Ox-eye Daisy, Yorkshire Fog and Wild Carrot in two of Wivenhoe’s new no-mow, no-sow greenspaces, alongside the more expected Daisy and Dandelion, the insect-sustaining plants that no-mow May is made for.

Another small group of flowering species was those which habitually use sheltered environments such as walls: Trailing Bellflower, Greater Periwinkle and Ivy-leaved Toadflax, three examples of plant refugees from more southern montane zones.

Finally, there was a notable concentration of plants with geographical names indicating their origins from other parts of the world: Jersey Cudweed and Mexican, Guernsey and Canadian Fleabanes. All very expected in an urban locality with plants from all over the world grown in gardens around us, but in the context of our survey, perhaps a clarion call that all the world must work together to tackle the problems on our planet.

Naturally, although a botanical trip, we didn’t overlook other wildlife. Our massed sharp eyes found the scarce fungus Cord-grass Ergot, a large caterpillar on Sea Beet that we think might be the larva of the Small Square Spot moth, and brightest of all, a huge number of Rosemary Beetles, the mobile jewels that adorn many a garden Rosemary or Lavender, mostly paired and in the process of making more beetles. All a very hopeful sign for a wildlife-filled 2022!

#WildWivenhoe Bug & Botany walks: a crisp winter’s day at the Naze

Having Walton-on-the-Naze on our doorstep is surely one of the delights of living in our part of Essex. And delightful it surely was on our Fossils and Birds walk on the coldest day of the year – sub-zero temperatures but in sparkling sunshine, we could see for miles out to sea, the still air  punctuated by only the lapping of the waves and the burbling of the Brent Geese one to another.

Standing on the beach looking at the cliffs, you really are looking back many millions of years in time. The whole area, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, is one of the finest geological sites in Britain, comprising layers of London Clay, topped by Red Crag.

The stunning redness of the Crag is due to oxidisation of the sand and shell layer laid down over 3 million years ago when Walton was, as now, at the edge of the sea, just prior to it being engulfed in the turmoil of the last Ice Age. Fossils of many kinds and shell debris can be readily be found on the beach, most stained an attractive red colour, distinguishing them from otherwise-identical modern shells.

A combination of the seeping of rainwater downwards, lubricating the clay surface, and storm wave pressures makes the whole area prone to landslips and substantial coastal erosion, which although exciting for geologists and fossil-hunters, nevertheless is extremely worrying for those with buildings atop the cliffs! One vulnerable structure is of course the famous Naze Tower, a 300 year old leaning landmark, built by Trinity House for navigational purposes and today a popular art-gallery and tea room.

Some years ago a local dispute raged as to what to do – completely surround the whole Naze with a sea defence?  Extremely expensive and would prevent geological discovery and the ‘production’ of sand which feeds our local seaside resorts. Or let the whole area eventually fall into the sea? A compromise was sought and about ten years ago an additional 170 metres of defence was built. Now known as the Crag Walk, this allows a safe walkway, and provides a chance to study the cliffs at close quarters, whilst learning about the geology and wildlife from interpretation boards. It also protects the area immediately below the tower.

And so to our beachcombing….many delights awaited the patient explorer, including a shark’s tooth spotted by Chris – probably 50 million year old and looking in pretty good nick! (the tooth that is!), from an inhabitant of the subtropical London Clay lagoon which then covered most of what is now Essex.

‘Boring piddocks’ Chris was heard to exclaim at one point….to whom or what was he referring? Turns out Piddocks, also known as Angels’ Wings, are attractive shells which bore vertically in the soft London Clay, making perfectly round holes as they do so. Equally modern are the Slipper Limpets accidentally introduced to our waters a century ago.

Other delights included ancient pyritised wood (turned to ironstone), and copperas nodules (which some suggest are fossilised poo or ‘coprolites’). Fifty million years old!

The left-hand coiling whelks Neptunia contraria are interesting as most gastropods coil in a dextral way; these left-handers from the warmer Red Crag seas can be dated at over two million year old. It’s hard to get your head round numbers like this!

Although quite slippery on the London Clay platform, areas of sand became more accessible as the tide receded and we were particularly struck by the beautiful dendritic drainage tree-shapes in the sand. 

In addition to the wonderful beach treasures, we were able to see and hear many birds who make that area their home…the ubiquitous Brent Geese, as well as  Herring and Black-headed Gulls. In addition entertaining us running up and down the beach were several Turnstones, Grey Plovers, Curlews and Sanderlings. On the cliffs, Rock Pipit and Robin, their singing suggesting they were migrants defending their winter territories, and overhead several small flocks of Siskins, also migrants, flew northwards.

A very enjoyable end to our 2021 season – thank you all. Fingers crossed we can go ahead with our 2022 programme as planned, as #WildWivenhoe Bug & Botany walks are rebranded as simply #WildEssex: we try to do the lot!

The grassland fungi of Wivenhoe’s New Cemetery

We have always valued the grassland in Wivenhoe’s New Cemetery highly for its biodiversity. Created around the start of the 20th century, and on the gravelly soils that sit atop the Wivenhoe Ridge, the quality of the turf, undamaged by the pervasive modern scourges of pesticides or fertilizers, is apparent from the springy, diverse grasses, and abundance of interesting plants such as Mouse-eared Hawkweed and Field Scabious.

This autumn however, in common apparently with many other sites in southern England, other features have come to the fore: a remarkable range of interesting and often attractive grassland fungi.

From corals to clubs and puff-balls to waxcaps, the latter a kaleidoscope of colour from white to yellow, orange through to crimson, the show this year has been magnificent, indeed better than we have ever seen before. Which highlights one of the big conservation issues for grassland fungi, simply knowing where the best sites are, as the fungi produce fruiting bodies only very sporadically, sometimes not showing for several years at a time.

Now we know this site is of value for its fungi. And more important than we might at first appreciate: a national expert  commented to me when I posted the photos on Twitter ‘From the data I hold there are very few quality grassland fungi sites in Essex. So the cemetery & its grassland is very important as you obviously know’. Thanks to Wivenhoe Town Council for keeping it that way.

So where else in the area might be equally good? Well, any of our local grasslands, whether part of the ‘no mow, no sow’ enhancement project or not, have the potential. The only similar shows of grassland fungi I have ever seen round here were in Wivenhoe Park a couple of years ago, and the KGV back in 1987. Indeed it was memory of the latter showing that helped convince me the lower end of KGV would be good for our first foray into hay meadow management five years ago.

But, confounding my hopes and expectations a wander round KGV this year, while it did provide a few fungi, was certainly not exceptional. Just goes to show the unpredictable and evanescent nature of fungal fruiting, and why we should grasp all opportunities we can to record it, evidence for the protection that grassland fungi so desperately need.