Grid ref: TQ 725 971 (click for o/s map)
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This mixture of ancient and secondary woodland at the south-eastern end of Hanningfield Reservoir is leased to Essex Wildlife Trust by Essex & Suffolk Water. The reservoir itself is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its important populations of wildfowl, and is among the top places in Essex to watch birds.
Gadwall, tufted duck and pochard are three of the important species breeding on the reservoir, along with grebes, swans and greylag geese, and year-round coot numbers are nationally important. In some years thousands of swifts, swallows and martins can be seen feeding over the water during peak fly hatches.
Some 30 acres of the woodland, Well Wood and Hawk's Wood, are ancient in origin. Ditch and bank boundaries dating back centuries mark the extent of the old coppice and some of the original hornbeam trees survive. There is a great diversity of wildlife, with many species indicative of ancient woodland. Spring brings a fine display of flowers, in particular bluebell, yellow archangel and stitchwort. In summer, dragonflies and damselflies can be seen around the ponds.
From the visitor centre waymarked trails lead through the woodland to four birdwatching hides. Much of the reservoir can be scanned from the hides, with especially good views over an island that is popular with wildfowl and a raft provided for terns to nest. Around dusk in summer, hundreds of bats can be seen leaving the roof of the visitor centre, where they nest and roost
Turn off the B1007 (Billericay–Chelmsford) on to Downham Road and turn left on to Hawkswood Road. The Visitor Centre entrance is just beyond the causeway, opposite Crowsheath Lane.
Wickford–Chelmsford bus to Downham village and walk 800m down Crowsheath Lane.
Visitor Centre open daily 9 am – 5 pm, except Christmas Day and Boxing Day, serving refreshments and offering a wide range of optical equipment and gifts.
April–July for breeding birds in woodland and on water and for wild flowers; winter and migration periods for wildfowl.
Disabled parking and toilets at the Centre; disabled pathway runs from there to a bird hide equipped for disabled users.
Sorry, no dogs except guide dogs allowed on site.
For information about events and activities call the Centre on 01268 711001.