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Bradwell Shell Bank

252ac/102ha  SSSI, SPA, SAC

Grid ref: TM 035 081 (click for o/s map)

Updated 25/08/2014

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This nature reserve on the Dengie peninsula consists of some 30 acres of shell bank, together with extensive saltmarsh. A number of bird species nest here, and large flocks of waders can be seen roosting in autumn and winter. Parts of the shell bank are rich in flowers.

The reserve is run jointly by Essex Wildlife Trust and the Essex Birdwatching Society. The latter also operates Bradwell Bird Observatory, situated in the grounds of Linnett's Cottage on the edge of the reserve.

The shell bank is continuous between Tip Head and Gunner's Creek, but further south consists of a series of small cockle spits, many of which are separated by deep creeks and gullies. The adjoining saltmarsh in some places is several hundred metres wide.

Ringed plovers and oystercatchers breed on the shell banks, and the saltmarsh supports a wide variety of species including redshank, yellow wagtail, meadow pipit, reed bunting and linnet. In autumn and winter large flocks of up to 20,000 waders roost on the reserve at high tide. Snow bunting, shorelark and lapland bunting are occasional winter visitors.

A wide range of raptors frequent the area, among them hen harrier, merlin, peregrine and short-eared owl in winter; marsh harrier, sparrowhawk and hobby at other seasons.

The more stable parts of the shell banks are rich in flowers, including yellow horned-poppy, narrow-leaved birdsfoot trefoil, grass-leaved orache, sea rocket, sea holly, marram grass and occasional clumps of the locally rare sea kale. A wide range of specialised species can be found on the saltmarsh.

The mud and sandflats to the east of the reserve, extending some 3km from the shore, are part of the Dengie National Nature Reserve. These are internationally important for overwintering waders, and notably for grey plover, knot and bar-tailed godwit. Sales Point is a good spot from which to watch waders feeding, ideally when the tide is rising to cover the mudflats. As well as the waders just mentioned, you may see dunlin, redshank, oystercatcher and curlew.


Head for Bradwell-on-Sea (a mile inland!) via Latchingdon or Southminster, following the B1010/B1018/B1021 from Chelmsford or Maldon. Turn right in Bradwell by the church and follow East End Road to the car park at Eastlands Farm. The reserve is c.800m from there, beyond the chapel of St Peter's on the Wall. To reach it, walk northwards along the seawall to Sales Point, then southwards along the public beach to Tip Head Creek, which can be crossed easily at low tide.

Accessible at all times.

To see waders, time your visit to coincide with high tide. At Bradwell this is just before Southend and about 90 minutes before London Bridge. In order to protect breeding shorebirds, between April and August inclusive please keep to the seawall overlooking the reserve, or where no wall exists to the edge of the saltmarsh.

Access for the disabled can be arranged through the warden: call Essex Wildlife Trust on 01621 862960.

Do not attempt to cross Gunners' Creek, which is wide with deep mud in parts.

Photo © Owen Keen