Wat Tyler CP
Grid ref: TQ 739 867 (click for o/s map)
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Wat Tyler country park is named after the leader of the Peasants' Revolt of 1381. Originally part of the Pitsea Hall estate, it was grazed until the late 1800s, then used to make and store ammunition, and after that for industry. The past industrial use of the site has created some strikingly unusual habitats – nowhere else in Essex can you see mature woodland consisting almost entirely of hawthorn, for example, which normally plays second fiddle to larger trees like oaks.
The hawthorn hedges planted many years ago have spread to dominate the site, crowding other shrubs such as blackthorn, dogwood, elder and wild rose out to the margins. In places the hawthorn has formed a dense canopy under which very little else grows except for fungi in autumn. Elsewhere it has been coppiced to ground level, and in other parts forms impenetrable cover that is good for many songbirds.
There are many ponds, ditches and creeks both within and around the park and consequently in summer dragonflies are everywhere, including the scarce emerald damselfly.
The clearings and the broad rides are rich in wild flowers including blue fleabane, brookweed, yellowwort and vervain – because of the poor soil they are able to compete with more aggressive grasses. On sunny days these open areas are crowded with grassland butterflies such as the skippers and common blue, and day-flying moths including the six-spot burnet. Hobby and long-eared owl have nested here.
Three hides overlook the saltmarsh and mudflats of Timbermans Creek. Wading birds and ducks often feed on the mudflats, especially when driven off the estuary by the rising tide. Sparrowhawks and other birds of prey can sometimes be seen hunting over the rough ground beyond. Further hides overlook Pitseahall Fleet, frequented by bearded tits, and the scrape on the landfill site beyond the fleet (where RSPB has placed a live webcam: www.southendrspb.co.uk/serspbcam/webcam.htm)
From the roundabout in Pitsea where the A132 joins the A13 follow Pitsea Hall Lane south across the railway and into the country park.
Train to Pitsea, then walk south 800m down Wat Tyler Way.
8 am to dusk all the year round. Visitor centre open daily except Saturdays but may be closed when warden is out on site.
May–June for birdsong and early flowers; July for butterflies and dragonflies and saltmarsh colours; migration periods and winter for visiting birds.
Easy access trail all round the site. Wheelchair access to hides.
RSPB helps to man the centre and runs events from there. For more information visit the Southend RSPB website at www.southendrspb.co.uk.