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Abberton Reservoir

59ac/24ha  SSSI, SPA

Grid ref: TL 962 177

Updated 31/12/2023.

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Abberton Reservoir is of international importance as a safe haven for birds. Huge numbers spend autumn and winter there. The numbers of the top seven species – wigeon, teal, mallard, pochard, tufted duck, coot and black-headed gull – run into thousands. Added to this there can be hundreds of shoveler, gadwall, goldeneye, pintail and great crested grebe.

In spring there is the unusual sight of cormorants nesting in trees – this is common on the continent but rare in Britain. Late summer brings the spectacle of large numbers of swans and ducks moulting – replacing their worn-out feathers – on the reservoir. Waders such as ringed plover, dunlin, ruff and black-tailed godwit are seen regularly on migration, exploiting the muddy margins.

Essex Wildlife Trust manages a nature reserve and visitor centre opened on higher ground in 2012 to replace the old one lost when Essex & Suffolk Water raised the levels of the reservoir. Areas were planted up to develop into woodland and scrub, bordering a large area of grassland leading down towards the reservoir.

Two bird hides overlook the reservoir and rafts on which common terns nest, and a third hide overlooks the developing woodland. There are several ponds. Surfaced paths give access to all the habitats and to the hides. There are fine panoramic views across the reservoir and surrounding villages from the higher ground.

Brown hare, skylark, lapwing and various butterfly species are attracted to the rough grassland, which has green-winged orchids and common spotted orchids, and dragonflies to the ponds.

Raptors including short-eared owl visit in winter and marsh harriers all year.


Five miles south-west of Colchester on the B1026 linking Colchester and Maldon, just outside Layer-de-la-Haye. Follow the brown signs. SatNav: CO2 0EU.

Open daily 9am to 5pm (closed Christmas and Boxing Day). Collect a permit from the centre – free to Essex Wildlife Trust members, otherwise a donation is requested.

Winter for huge numbers of wildfowl; May and June for breeding birds; August for moulting swans and ducks; migration periods for rarities.

Wheelchair and electric buggy available from the centre. Circular all-weather footpath suitable for wheelchairs and mobility scooters.

Dogs allowed only in the car park and on a short dog walk.

© Tom Heenan