652ac/264ha SSSI, NNR, SPA
Grid ref: TM 108 125 (click for o/s map)
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This large and important Essex Wildlife Trust reserve at the mouth of the Colne Estuary consists of a shingle ridge enclosing a considerable area of saltmarsh, through which Ray Creek flows. At the end of the 19th century a much larger area of shingle and sand stretched between Walton-on-the-Naze and St Osyth but has now mostly been developed by the holiday industry.
The reserve is rich in plants and animals, including many that are rare nationally or locally. The saltmarsh is a typical example of the habitat in Essex and supports golden samphire and small cord-grass (both nationally scarce) as well as sea wormwood, sea lavender and thrift. The shingle and sand ridge has many attractive plants which are now highly localised, such as sea holly, sea bindweed, sea spurge, yellow horned-poppy and sea kale. Nationally scarce species include sea heath, dune fescue, curved hard-grass, sea barley and rock sea-lavender. The stands of shrubby seablite are some of the best on the east coast.
The exposed mudflats, shell banks and shingle pools provide a feeding ground for large numbers of waders that arrive in autumn and winter. Colne Point is on a major migration route and, in autumn when the weather conditions are right, birds constantly stream through the reserve. Birds of prey are seen frequently, particularly at migration times. The saltmarsh is used as a winter feeding ground by brent geese and various ducks, with grebes and divers offshore. In summer there is a small nesting colony of little terns on the shingle, along with oystercatchers and ringed plovers. Other breeding birds include redshank, skylark, reed bunting and linnet.
The reserve is important as well for its invertebrates, with particularly good numbers of spiders, beetles and moths. A variety of solitary bees and wasps find the sandy substrate ideal for nesting. Many of these invertebrates are rare, nationally or locally, and a number of Red Data Book species (the rarest of the rare) are present
Access via the road running to Lee Wick Farm from St Osyth. A car parking space is provided just inside the reserve on the seaward side of the sea wall, but is liable to flood at very high tides. Please use the car park and do not drive along the track past the chalets which the Trust does not own. Please drive slowly and leave all gates as you find them.
Except for Essex Wildlife Trust members access is by day permit only, available from Trust HQ (01621 862960).
Migration periods for birds; summer for saltmarsh plants and insects.
Dogs not permitted.
During the breeding season (March to September) please walk below the last high tide mark as eggs and chicks are extremely difficult to see and are easily trampled. At high tides various parts of the reserve can be flooded for some time, including around the car park and either end of the footbridge (the only access to the main part of the reserve, so consult a tide table before you visit. Wear wellingtons or waterproof boots as it may be muddy, or even necessary to wade, at any time of the year.